General Statement in a Meeting of the Third Committee

Jason Mack
Counselor for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 13, 2020


I would like to start by thanking the Third Committee Bureau and our colleagues for the spirit of cooperation. We take this opportunity to make brief but important points of clarification on some of our key priorities for the Third Committee. We underscore that these and other UN General Assembly resolutions are non-binding documents that do not create rights or obligations under international law. The United States understands that General Assembly resolutions do not change the current state of conventional or customary international law. We do not read resolutions to imply that Member States must join or implement obligations under international instruments to which they are not a party, and any reaffirmation of such Conventions or treaties applies only to those States that are party to them. Moreover, U.S. co-sponsorship of, or our joining consensus on, resolutions does not imply endorsement of the views of special rapporteurs or other special procedures mandate-holders as to the contents or application of international law.

Points of Clarification

COVID-19: The United States is leading the global response to COVID-19. The U.S. Government has allocated $20.5 billion for the development of vaccines and therapeutics, preparedness efforts, and foreign assistance. Our global efforts build upon decades of U.S. investment in life-saving health and humanitarian assistance, and we continue to ensure that the substantial U.S. funding and scientific efforts remain a central and coordinated part of the worldwide effort against this deadly virus. We are achieving real results by helping nations around the world respond to COVID-19 and therein protecting the United States.

Universal Health Coverage: The United States aspires to help increase access to high-quality health care, both for improved health outcomes and for better preparedness as we see with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as made clear in the 2019 UNGA Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage (UHC), it is important that each country should develop its own approach to achieving UHC within its own context. Another critical aspect of successful UHC we wish to highlight is the necessary role of partnerships with the private sector; civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations; and other stakeholders. As we said at the time of the adoption of the Political Declaration, patient control and access to high-quality, people-centered care are key.

Women’s Equality and Empowerment: Consistent with the Geneva Consensus Declaration, the United States is committed to promoting women’s equality and to empowering women and girls. The United States is leading through our Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, which seeks to enhance opportunities for women to participate meaningfully in the economy and advance both prosperity and national security, as well as through the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. Accordingly, when the subject of a resolution text is “women,” or in some cases “women and girls,” our preference in this context is to use these terms, rather than “gender,” for greater precision. The United States does not consider the outcome documents from the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women to be the product of consensus.

International Criminal Court (ICC): The United States does not and cannot support references to the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute that do not distinguish sufficiently between Parties and Non-Parties, or are otherwise inconsistent with U.S. positions on the ICC, particularly our continuing and longstanding principled objection to any assertion of ICC jurisdiction over nationals of States that are not parties to the Rome Statute, absent a referral from the UN Security Council or consent of such a State. Our position on the ICC in no way diminishes our commitment to supporting accountability for atrocities.

Sexual and Reproductive Health: Consistent with the Geneva Consensus Declaration, signed by countries representing every region of the world, we assert that there is no international right to abortion, and each nation has the sovereign right to legislate its own position on the protection of life at all stages, absent external pressure, especially from the UN.

The United States defends human dignity and supports access to high-quality health care for women and girls across the lifespan. We do not accept references to “sexual and reproductive health,” “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights,” or other language that suggests or explicitly states that access to legal abortion is necessarily included in the more general terms “health services” or “health care services” in particular contexts concerning women. The United States believes in legal protections for the unborn and rejects any interpretation of international human rights to require any State Party to provide safe, legal, and effective access to abortion. As President Trump has stated, “Americans will never tire of defending innocent life.” Each nation has the sovereign right to implement related programs and activities consistent with their laws and policies. There is no international “right to abortion,” nor is there any duty on the part of States to finance or facilitate abortion. Further, consistent with the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action and the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and their reports, we do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our global health assistance. We also do not recognize references to non-UN negotiated conferences, summits or their respective outcome documents. We believe that the General Assembly should only include references to conferences and summits clearly mandated through UN modalities resolutions ─ such as this year’s Beijing+25 ─ and other ones, such as the Nairobi summit, have no direct or indirect place in any UN resolutions.

Refugees and Migrants: The United States maintains the sovereign right to facilitate or restrict access to its territory, in accordance with its national laws and policies, subject to our existing international obligations. The United States does not endorse or affirm the Global Compact for Migration or the New York Declaration.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: The United States recognizes the 2030 Agenda as a voluntary global framework for sustainable development that can help countries work toward global peace and prosperity. We applaud the call for shared responsibility, including national responsibility, in the 2030 Agenda and emphasize that all countries have a role to play in achieving its vision. The 2030 Agenda recognizes that each country must work toward implementation in accordance with its own national policies and priorities, and we will interpret calls that reaffirm the 2030 Agenda or call for the full implementation of its Sustainable Development Goals to be aspirational.

The United States also underscores that paragraph 18 of the 2030 Agenda calls for countries to implement the Agenda in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of States under international law. We also highlight our mutual recognition in paragraph 58 that 2030 Agenda implementation must respect, and be without prejudice to, the independent mandates of other processes and institutions, including negotiations, and does not prejudge or serve as precedent for decisions and actions underway in other fora. For example, this Agenda does not represent a commitment to provide new market access for goods or services. This Agenda also does not interpret or alter any World Trade Organization agreement or decision, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property.

Further, citizen-responsive governance, including the respect for human rights, sound economic policy and fiscal management, government transparency, and the rule of law are essential to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Finally, the 2030 Agenda states that “no one” will be left behind. We believe any alteration from the 2030 language, such as “no country left behind,” erodes the people-centered focus of the Agenda and distracts from the many multi-faceted and multi-stakeholder efforts to advance sustainable development.

Climate Change: With respect to the Paris Agreement and climate change language, we note that U.S. withdrawal from the Agreement took effect on November 4, 2020. Therefore, references to the Paris Agreement and climate change are without prejudice to U.S. positions. We affirm our support for promoting economic growth and improving energy security while also protecting the environment. The United States does not support references to climate change in resolutions that are inconsistent with this approach and those that do not respect national circumstances and approaches.

Trade: The United States believes that each Member State has the sovereign right to determine how it conducts trade with other countries. Moreover, it is our view that the UN must respect the independent mandates of other processes and institutions, including trade negotiations, and must not involve itself in or comment on decisions and actions in other fora, including the World Trade Organization. The UN is not the appropriate venue for these discussions, and there should be no expectation or misconception that the United States would understand recommendations made by the UN General Assembly on these issues to be binding

The “Right to Development”: The “right to development,” which is not recognized in any of the core UN human rights conventions, does not have an agreed international meaning.

Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: The United States is not a Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the rights contained therein are not justiciable as such in U.S. Courts. We note that countries have a wide array of policies and actions that may be appropriate in promoting the progressive realization of economic, social, and cultural rights. We therefore believe that resolutions should not try to define the content of those rights, or related rights, including those derived from other instruments.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): The ICCPR sets forth the conditions for permissible restrictions on certain human rights, including conformity with law and necessity in a democratic society for, inter alia, the protection of public health. The ICCPR likewise establishes the conditions under which derogation from some obligations under the Covenant may be permitted. The language in these resolutions in no way alters or adds to those provisions, nor does it inform the United States’ understanding of its obligations under the ICCPR.

Education: As educational matters in the United States are primarily determined at the state and local levels, when resolutions call on States to strengthen various aspects of education, including with respect to curriculum, we understand them consistent with our respective federal, state, and local authorities.

And finally, it is our intention that this statement applies to action on all agenda items in the Third Committee. We request that this statement be made part of the official record of the meeting. Thank you, Chairperson.