Human rights questions once again dominated the agenda of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). The negative effects of extreme poverty on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights and a declaration in support of human rights defenders were the major themes in the Committee's deliberations this year. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the world confronted the impact of globalization on the economies of many developing countries, the intense debate in the Committee on the right to development reaffirmed its importance as an integral part of all human rights.
Beginning its session on 16 September, the Committee completed its programme of work on 23 November, devoting more than half of its 53 meetings to human rights questions. After an extensive and spirited debate on human rights and their various aspects, coveting the advancement of women, the protection of children, the question of refugees and international drag control, the Committee recommended over 30 resolutions. On 9 December, on the eve of the commemoration of the Universal Declaration's anniversary, the General Assembly successfully concluded the Committee's work, approving all 59 resolutions and 5 decisions recommended by it. Of these, only 9 were adopted by recorded votes.
Committee Chairman Ali Hachani of Tunisia, who noted that the Committee had completed its work "after considerable efforts", with most of the resolutions approved by consensus, said it had made a positive contribution to the international community's review of progress in strengthening human rights.
Human rights defenders
On the recommendation of the Committee, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Egypt, speaking on behalf of 28 countries, told the Committee that although it supported the Declaration, the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms by individuals should not undermine the sovereignty of States, their territorial integrity or the principles of non-interference. The exercise of such rights and freedoms must also be weighed in the context of the cultural, economic and social backgrounds of the concerned country.
Racism and racial discrimination
The General Assembly, adopting three resolutions recommended by the Committee on racism and racial discrimination, decided to observe the year 2001 as the International Year of Mobilization against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Expressing deep concern at the growing manifestations of racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination against migrant workers, the Assembly called upon States to review and, where necessary, revise their immigration policies to eliminate all discriminatory policies and practices against migrants.
Advancement of women
The General Assembly adopted four resolutions on the advancement of women. It urged all States to accede to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as soon as possible so that universal ratification of the Convention can be achieved by the year 2000.
Women and children, the Committee agreed, were victims of massive violations of human rights in armed conflicts. There was general acknowledgement of the historic significance of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Many speakers welcomed particularly the designation of rape, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and other forms of sexual violence as crimes against humanity.
It called on Governments to criminalize trafficking in women and girls in all its forms and to condemn and penalize all offenders, while ensuring that victims are protected.
Concerned by traditional or customary practices affecting the health of women and girls, the Assembly called on States to implement policies prohibiting such practices. It urged Governments to involve, among others, educators, religious leaders, traditional leaders and the media in publicity campaigns to promote greater awareness of how these practices violate the human rights of women and girls.
Reaffirming the goal of 50/50 gender distribution in the United Nations system by 2000, the Assembly also called upon the Secretary-General to monitor the strategic plan of action for improving the status of women in the Secretariat.
Recognizing that children particularly needed to be protected, as the victims of today were likely to turn into the aggressors of tomorrow, the Assembly adopted two resolutions recommended by the Committee on promoting and protecting the rights of children, and urged all States to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child as soon as possible. It also focused on children with disabilities, refugee children, street children, children affected by armed conflict and displacement, as well as child labour and the sexual and commercial exploitation of children.
On protection of children affected by armed conflict, the Assembly urged States and other parties in armed conflict to adopt measures to end the use of children as soldiers and ensure their demobilization and effective disarmament.
It urged all Governments and parties in complex humanitarian emergencies to allow humanitarian personnel to safely and efficiently perform their task of assisting children.
The Assembly also recognized the particular vulnerability of refugee and internally displaced children to the damaging effects of such conflicts, stressing the special vulnerability of child-headed households. By another resolution, it condemned exploitation of unaccompanied refugee minors, including their use as soldiers or human shields in armed conflict and their forced recruitment into military forces.
The Assembly called upon States to work towards the progressive and effective elimination of all forms of exploitative child labour, urging them to eliminate its worst manifestations, such as forced or bonded labour and other forms of slavery. States should set specific target dates for eliminating child labour and ensuring full enforcement of laws and legislation, in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Labour Organization standards. States should also adopt effective measures against the sexual exploitation of children and condemn and penalize local or foreign offenders, while protecting the victims of the practice.
The Assembly strongly urged Governments to take urgent measures to prevent the killing of children living or working on the streets, as well as combat torture and violence against them. States should also take all necessary legislative measures to ensure that children with disabilities fully enjoyed their rights, and to enable their full social integration and individual development by making education accessible to children with special needs.
Addressing the special situation of girls, the Assembly urged States to institute legal reforms to ensure that the...