The General Assembly decided today that it will convene a high-level meeting on 22 September to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, while also reaffirming its commitment to eliminating sexual exploitation and abuse from the entire United Nations system.

Acting without a vote, the 193-member Assembly adopted the draft resolution “Scope, modalities, format and organization of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” (document A/75/L.128).

By the terms of that text, the meeting will consist of an opening plenary, two consecutive round tables and a closing plenary.  The speakers at the opening session will include the Assembly President, Secretary-General, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Head of State of South Africa, as well as one speaker from each regional group.  Representatives of non-governmental organizations and youth — both of which are actively engaged in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance — are to be selected by the Assembly President.

Acting again without a vote, the Assembly adopted the draft resolution “United Nations action on sexual exploitation and abuse” (document A/75/L.129), by which it reaffirmed its commitment to the zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse throughout the United Nations system, including its agencies, funds and programmes.

By other terms, the Assembly underscored that troop- and police-contributing countries bear responsibility for investigating and holding their personnel accountable for perpetrating acts of sexual exploitation and abuse, in accordance with their national laws.

Speaking in explanation of position were the representatives of South Africa, Guinea (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Russian Federation, Belarus, China, Mexico and the United States.  Egypt’s representative introduced the draft “L.129”.

The General Assembly will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.

Twentieth Anniversary of Durban Declaration

The General Assembly had it before the draft resolution “Scope, modalities, format and organization of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” (document A/75/L.128), by which the 193-member organ would decide that the event will be held on Wednesday, 22 September.

According to the draft, the meeting would consist of an opening plenary from 9 to 11 a.m., two consecutive round tables from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 to 5 p.m., and a closing plenary from 6 to 7 p.m.  The Assembly would also decide that the general debate on that day will be held from 11 a.m. to 2.45 p.m., from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m., and that the arrangement does not constitute a precedent.

Also by the text, the Assembly would decide that the speakers at the opening plenary will include the Assembly President, Secretary-General, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Head of State of South Africa, one speaker from each regional group, and representatives of non-governmental organizations and youth, both of whom are actively engaged in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and who are to be selected by the Assembly President.

Further, the Assembly would decide, without setting a precedent, that Member States speaking at the opening plenary may submit a pre-recorded statement by their Head of State or Government, head of delegation or other dignitary, to be played in the General Assembly Hall after introduction by their representative physically present in the room.

The representative of South Africa, speaking in explanation of position before vote, highlighted the procedural nature of the draft resolution, noting that it acknowledges the critical contribution of stakeholders across sectors in eliminating racism.  It seeks to bring Governments, academia and civil society together to align actions towards that common goal, she added.  Thanking Member States for their support and constructive engagement, she recalled that the operative paragraph on civil society and non-governmental organizations was discussed at length to find language that might be consensual.

The Assembly then adopted draft resolution “L.128” without a vote.

The representative of Guinea, speaking in explanation of position on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, expressed concern about operative paragraph 10, noting that the Group presented an alternative proposal proposing the deletion of the phrase “for final decision by the General Assembly” and the footnote associated with that paragraph.

The representative of the Russian Federation expressed his delegation’s opposition to the wording of operative paragraph 10, saying it is not in line with the Assembly’s rules of procedure and the established practice.  Whereas the Russian Federation welcomes the important contributions of civil society to the implementation of the Durban Programme of Action, their participation should not be contrary to the intergovernmental basis of the United Nations, he emphasized, saying his delegation therefore distances itself from that paragraph.

The representative of Belarus said his country is one of the 180 participating in events to commemorate the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  Citing the Secretary-General’s statement that “we are here to learn and not to celebrate”, he noted that some countries who said that they will not participate in the September event have been “imposing opinions on how the event should be organized”.  Some Member States continue to undermine the sovereignty of others, he said, adding that all those who are against that approach are accused of opposing NGOs and civil society.  He expressed regret that some States are not prepared to discuss the matter constructively, saying Belarus distances itself from operative paragraph 10.

The representative of China, expressing support for holding a high-level meeting on 22 September to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration, said it is regrettable that the position of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China on operative paragraph 10 of the text was not adopted.  China reaffirms the importance of civil society efforts in eliminating racism and racial discrimination, she added.  Noting that Member States could have reached consensus on a no-objection basis, she said some countries are ignoring institutional arrangements regarding the participation of NGOs in high-level meetings.  By deliberately challenging the no-objection practice that has taken years to shape, they are causing serious damage to consensus and unity, she cautioned, disassociating her delegation from paragraph 10.

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Also before the Assembly was the report of the Secretary-General “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse” (document A/75/754), and the draft resolution “United Nations action on sexual exploitation and abuse” (document A/75/L.129).

The representative of Egypt, introducing draft “L.129”, said his delegation facilitated several informal consultations and received inputs that enriched the text, which builds on previous resolutions and applies to the entire United Nations system.  It addresses the issue of support for victims, accountability and the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, and prioritizes preventive measures, he said.  As a major troop-contributing country, Egypt trains its peacekeeping personnel and actively participates in Africa’s capacity-building programmes in that field, he added.

Acting without a vote, the Assembly adopted the text, by which it reaffirmed its commitment to the zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse throughout the United Nations system, including its agencies, funds and programmes.

By other terms, the Assembly noted with concern that the pandemic exposed those in vulnerable situations to increased risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, and limited the Organization’s capacity to provide victims and relevant Member States with assistance and to investigate allegations.

The Assembly urged the Secretary-General to continue to prioritize preventative action across the United Nations system, in particular throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response.  It also called upon the Secretary-General to remain actively engaged, and in collaboration with Member States, to scale up efforts to create a harmonized approach to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse throughout the United Nations system.

Further by the text, the Assembly reaffirmed that all categories of United Nations personnel must be held to the same standard of conduct so as to keep people safe from harm, while also preserving the credibility, impartiality, integrity and reputation of the United Nations, and that it remains committed to further consideration of ways to ensure managerial, command and individual accountability.

Stressing the importance of Member States holding those responsible for sexual exploitation and abuse to account in a timely and appropriate manner, the Assembly emphasized that accountability rests upon the cooperation of Member States and that international cooperation must be enhanced.

The Assembly also underscored that troop- and police-contributing countries bear responsibility for investigating, and holding their personnel accountable for perpetrating acts of sexual exploitation and abuse, in accordance with their national laws.

The representative of Mexico expressed regret that the text does not reflect her country’s main national priorities despite her delegation’s constructive engagement.  Highlighting Mexico’s feminist external policy, she emphasized that equality means a life free of discrimination, especially for women and young girls, as they are the main victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.  The text should include a clause recognizing that, she said, pointing out that the final version does not include a gender perspective on human rights.

The representative of the United States said that eradicating sexual exploitation and abuse requires a multifaceted approach that includes survivor‑centred responses and approaches to prevention that attack the root causes and contributing factors.  Expressing disappointment that the resolution does not recognize the importance of addressing survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse, he said the terms “victims” and “survivors” each have their place.  While “victim” is a legal definition frequently used within the justice system, “survivor” is used as a term of empowerment, he noted, calling upon the international community to recognize the vital importance of a survivor-centred approach.

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