United States General Statement on Issues Relevant to Multiple Third Committee Resolutions

November 7, 2019

U.S. Statement as Submitted for the Record


The United States takes this opportunity to make important points of clarification on some of the language we see reflected across multiple resolutions. 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 States must join or implement obligations under international instruments to which States are not a party, and any reaffirmation of such Convention applies only to those States that are party to it. For the United States, this understanding includes references to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which we are not party. Moreover, U.S. co-sponsorship of or consensus on resolutions does not imply endorsement of the views of special rapporteurs or other special procedures mandate-holders as to the contents of international law. We note that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not create binding obligations on States.

Points of Clarification

Universal Access to Health Care: The United States aspires to help increase access to high-quality health care, but we understand that each country should develop its own approach to achieving access to health care within its own context. The United States also recognizes the important role of partnerships with the private sector non-governmental organizations, including faith-based organizations, and other stakeholders. As we said at the time of the adoption of the Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage, patient control and access to high-quality, people-centered care are key.

Women’s Equality and Empowerment: The United States is committed to promoting women’s equality and to empowering women and girls. Accordingly, when the subject of resolution text is “women,” or in some cases “women and girls,” our preference is to use these terms rather than “gender” for greater precision. Further, the United States recalls the unequivocal objections of two delegations to the adoption of the so-called Agreed Conclusions of the 63rd meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which included substantive concerns the United States shared. Many of those same problems are endemic amongst Third Committee resolutions, including problematic references to abortion, the proliferation of ill-defined gender jargon, and the inclusion of language that undermines the role of the family. The United States does not consider the outcome documents from this year’s meeting 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 the U.S. position on the ICC, particularly our continuing and longstanding 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.

Additionally, the United States notes that any references to certain acts as crimes against humanity or war crimes under the Rome Statute should be understood in the context of how those terms are defined in the Statute itself, including that crimes against humanity must include a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population and/or pursuant to a state or organizational policy.

Sexual and Reproductive Health: 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,” “safe termination of pregnancy,” 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 (such as General Comment 36 on the International Covenant on Civil and Political 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.

Migration: 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 did not participate in the negotiation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), objected to its adoption, and is not bound by any of the commitments or outcomes stemming from the GCM process or contained in the GCM itself. The GCM and the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants contain goals and objectives that are inconsistent and incompatible with U.S. law, policy, and the interests of the American people. We refer you to the National Statement of the United States of America on the Adoption of the GCM, issued December 7, 2018.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: We underscore that the 2030 Agenda is non-binding and does not create or affect rights or obligations under international law, nor does it create any new financial commitments. Further, the United States understands any references to “internationally agreed development goals” to be referring to the non-binding 2030 Agenda.

The United States recognizes the 2030 Agenda as a 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.

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 forums. 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 WTO agreement or decision, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property.

Further, 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: The United States submitted formal notification of its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to the United Nations on November 4, 2019. The withdrawal will take effect one year from the delivery of the notification. Therefore, references to the Paris Agreement and climate change are without prejudice to U.S. positions.

With respect to references to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special reports, the United States has indicated at the IPCC that IPCC acceptance of such reports and approval of their respective Summaries for Policymakers does not imply U.S. endorsement of the specific findings contained in the reports. References to the IPCC special reports are also without prejudice to U.S. positions.

Trade: As President Trump stated to the General Assembly on September 25, 2018, the United States will act in its sovereign interest, including on trade matters. This means that we do not take our trade policy direction from the United Nations. It is our view that the United Nations must respect the independent mandates of other processes and institutions, including trade negotiations, and must not involve itself in decisions and actions in other forums, including at 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 heed decisions made by the Economic and Social Council or the General Assembly on these issues. This includes calls that undermine incentives for innovation, such as technology transfer that is not voluntary and on mutually agreed terms. Further, the United States is disappointed to see references to the “world financial and economic crisis.” We note that impacts of the financial crisis are no longer of any real relevance and continued references to it detract from efforts to focus both on today’s challenges and on the steady global economic growth we are experiencing.

We take this opportunity to make important points of clarification regarding the reaffirmation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Specifically, we note that much of the trade-related language in the Addis outcome document has been overtaken by events since July 2015; therefore, it is immaterial, and our reaffirmation of the outcome document has no standing for ongoing work and negotiations that involve trade.

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. Furthermore, work is needed to make it consistent with human rights, which the international community recognizes as universal rights held and enjoyed by individuals and which every individual may demand from his or her own government.

Also, we continue to be concerned that the “right to development” referenced in resolutions this year protects states instead of individuals. States must implement their human rights obligations, regardless of external factors, including the availability of development and other assistance. Lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights. To this end, we continually encourage all states to respect their human rights obligations and commitments, regardless of their levels of development.

Therefore, we continue to oppose reference to the “right to development” in resolutions presented in the General Assembly this session

ESC Rights: As the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights 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 interpret references to the obligations of States as applicable only to the extent they have assumed such obligations, and with respect to States Parties to the Covenant, in light of its Article 2(1). 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.

Education: The United States is firmly committed to providing equal access to 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, this is done in terms 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.