Longform General Statement for the Third Committee
New York, New York
November 18, 2021
SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD
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. Any reaffirmation of such Conventions or treaties, or obligations set forth therein, applies only to those States that are party to them.
We understand abbreviated references to certain human rights in these resolutions to be shorthand references for the more accurate and widely accepted terms used in the applicable treaties or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we maintain our long-standing positions on those rights. We do not read references in resolutions to specific principles, such as proportionality, to imply that states have an obligation under international law to apply or act in accordance with those principles. We also reiterate our long-standing position that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) applies only to individuals who are both within the territory of a State Party and subject to its jurisdiction. The United States strongly condemns harassment, gender-based violence, and other acts that can amount to human rights violations or abuses, but believes it is important for resolutions to accurately characterize these terms, consistent with U.S. law and our international obligations. 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.
Specific Points of Clarification
Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion or Belief: The United States strongly supports the freedoms of expression and religion or belief. We oppose any attempts to unduly limit the exercise of these fundamental freedoms. We strongly believe that these fundamental freedoms are mutually reinforcing and that the protection of freedom of expression is critical to protecting freedom of religion or belief.
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda): The United States supports the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals as a voluntary global framework for sustainable development that can help put the world on a more sustainable and resilient path and advance 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. The United States also underscores that paragraph 18 of the 2030 Agenda calls for countries to implement the Agenda in a manner 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 institutions and processes, including negotiations and does not prejudge or serve as precedent for decisions and actions underway in other fora. For example, the 2030 Agenda does not represent a commitment to provide new market access for goods or services. The Agenda also does not interpret or alter any World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement or decision, including with respect to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Further, citizen-responsive governance, including 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.
Trade: The United States supports strong and growing trade relationships around the globe. We welcome efforts to bolster those relationships, increase economic cooperation, and advance prosperity for all people, within the appropriate institutions.
It is our view that the UN must respect the independent mandates of other processes and institutions, including trade negotiations, and must not comment on decisions and actions in other fora, including at the WTO. While the UN and WTO share some common interests, they have different roles, rules, and memberships.
The UN is not the appropriate venue for these discussions, and the United States does not consider recommendations made by the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council on these issues to be binding. This includes calls to adopt approaches that may undermine incentives for innovation, such as technology transfer that is not both voluntary and based on mutually agreed terms.
We underscore our position that trade language negotiated or adopted by the General Assembly or Economic and Social Council, or under their auspices, has no relevance to U.S. trade policy, for our trade obligations or commitments, or for the agenda at the WTO, including discussions or negotiations in that forum.
The “Right to Development”: The “right to development” is not recognized in any of the core UN human rights conventions and, in any case, does not have an agreed international meaning.
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: As the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) provides, each State Party undertakes to take the steps set out in Article 2(1) “with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights.” 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. Therefore, we believe that these resolutions should not try to define the content of those rights. The United States is not a party to the ICESCR and the rights contained therein are not justiciable as such in U.S. courts.
COVID-19-Related Measures: The ICCPR sets forth the conditions for permissible restrictions on certain human rights, including that any such restrictions must be in conformity with law and necessary in a democratic society for, inter alia, the protection of public health. 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. We also note that language in certain resolutions this session appears to construe emergency measures as meaning restrictive measures. However, not all measures responsive to this health emergency restrict the enjoyment of human rights; for example, many States, including the United States, have implemented measures aimed at improving care and providing economic support.
COVID-19 Vaccine Access: We continue to promote global cooperation to end the pandemic. Recent examples include hosting the September 22 Global COVID-19 Summit at which the United States announced a commitment to supply an additional 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, boosting our global commitment to 1.1 billion doses. The United States wishes to clarify that we are engaged in facilitating access to safe, effective, and quality-assured COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. Multilateral and regional efforts to improve global access should rely on products that have been listed for emergency use or prequalified by the World Health Organization (WHO), or that have been authorized by stringent regulatory authorities/WHO-Listed Authorities, such as the Food and Drug Administration or European Medicines Agency. Unsafe, ineffective, or substandard or falsified vaccine products could have adverse public health consequences and undermine confidence in the global response effort and in safe and effective COVID-19 tools.
Global Public Goods: The United States understands that references to immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health refer to the global public health benefit resulting from extensive immunization of the global population.
Right to Education: The United States strongly supports the realization of the right to education. As educational matters in the United States are primarily determined at the state and local levels, we understand that when resolutions attempt to define or prescribe various aspects of education, or call on States to strengthen or modify them, this is done in terms consistent with our respective federal, state, and local authorities. We likewise understand references to the “right to a quality education” to refer to the right to education as enshrined in core international human rights instruments. Moreover, the United States is firmly committed to equal opportunity and equal access to education. Additionally, with respect to “special measures,” including affirmative action, we understand these references consistent with our domestic laws in these areas.
International Humanitarian Law: The United States is deeply committed to promoting respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and the protection of civilians in armed conflict. We note that IHL and international human rights law are in many respects complementary and mutually reinforcing. However, we understand that, with respect to references in these resolutions to both bodies of law in situations of armed conflict, such references refer to those bodies of law only to the extent that each is applicable. We do not necessarily understand references to conflict, IHL, or IHL terms of art in these resolutions to mean that, as a matter of law, an armed conflict exists in a particular country or to supplant States’ existing obligations under IHL.
International Refugee Law: The United States strongly supports and advocates for the protection of refugees and other displaced persons around the world, and we urge all States to respect the principle of non-refoulement, while also supporting safe, dignified, and sustainable repatriation or return of migrants ineligible to remain. In underscoring our support for this principle, we wish to clarify that U.S. international obligations with respect to non-refoulement are the provisions contained in Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (applicable to the United States by its incorporation in the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees) and in Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We note that we understand references to international refugee law in certain resolutions to be referring to the obligations of States under the relevant treaties to which they are party.
Recognition of any Right relating to the Environment: The United States is committed to taking ambitious action to address environmental challenges, including continuing our work with international partners to share our experience with concrete domestic actions to protect the environment. We also recognize that climate change and environmental degradation impact the enjoyment of human rights and affirm that when taking action to address environmental challenges and climate change, States should respect their respective human rights obligations. Nevertheless, the United States has consistently reiterated that there are no universally recognized human rights specifically related to the environment and we do not believe there is a basis in international law to recognize “right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment,” either as an independent right or a right derived from existing rights. We do not see any resolution introduced in this session as creating such a right, altering the content of international law, or establishing a precedent in other fora.
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The United States reaffirms its support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As explained in our 2010 Statement of Support, the Declaration is an aspirational document of moral and political force and is not legally binding or a statement of current international law. The Declaration expresses the aspirations that the United States seeks to achieve within the structure of the U.S. Constitution, laws, and international obligations, while also seeking, where appropriate, to improve our laws and policies.
Sanctions: The United States does not accept that sanctions amount to violations of human rights. Among other legitimate purposes, sanctions can play an indispensable role in responding to human rights violations and abuses and threats to peace and security.
Consular Notification: The United States notes that individuals do not have a right to consular notification or access, rather, this right belongs to states.
Rights of the Child: The United States does not understand references to the rights of the child or principles derived from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the principle that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children, as implying that the United States has obligations in that regard. We also understand references to recruitment or use of children as referring to the recruitment or use of children in violation of international law, including, where applicable, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Legal Obligations of an Occupying Power: The law governing belligerent occupation, including as reflected in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection Civilians in Time of War, imposes obligations on Occupying Powers that must be met. While we strongly support the resolution on the situation of human rights in the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, the resolution urges certain actions by the Occupying Power in that territory that are not reflected in the law of belligerent occupation. For example, even though Occupying Powers have the duty under the law of belligerent occupation related to ensuring and maintaining public health and hygiene in the territory they occupy, an Occupying Power does not otherwise have the specific obligation to ensure the fair distribution of fresh- water resources, as stated in the resolution. Although the United States supports these calls as a policy matter, the United States does not understand the resolution as changing or reflecting the law of belligerent occupation.
Enjoyment of Human Rights: We note that the United States cannot “ensure” the enjoyment of human rights by individuals because non-state actors, or other factors beyond State control, can impact their enjoyment as well.
Reservations: Notwithstanding suggestions otherwise in certain resolutions, we note that reservations that are compatible with the object and purpose of a treaty are a regular and acceptable part of treaty practice under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
References to Violence: The United States notes that certain resolutions inaccurately refer to a range of activities and concepts, including hate speech and racism, as “forms of violence.” We reiterate our long-standing concern with equating speech and ideas with violence, noting that,
however odious they may be, ideas and hateful speech that does not rise to the level of a true threat or incitement to imminent violence are protected under the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Likewise, harassment and bullying, while condemnable, do not necessarily constitute violence.
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.