Third Committee Opens Seventy-Sixth Session amid Calls for Vaccine Equity, Closing Entrenched Divides that Keep Women, Minority Groups Oppressed

Published date01 October 2021
Publication titleASEAN Tribune

1 October 2021 (United Nation) General Assembly President Says Cooperation 'Paramount' to Strengthening Trust in United Nations, Calls for Improved Consensus-Building

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) opened its seventy-sixth session today, with delegates emphasizing the importance of protecting the most vulnerable groups - women, children, older persons, indigenous people and minorities among them - as the pandemic continued to claim lives and livelihoods around the globe.

Addressing the Committee as it began its work, General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) called the forum 'the bedrock of delivering concrete improvements for the lives of the people we serve'. At the same time, enhancing consensus and cooperation in its work is 'paramount to strengthening the trust of people in the United Nations system and in multilateralism'.

He went on to list the challenges ahead, including climate change, gender equality, racism and xenophobia. The Committee must take decisive action, he said, creating and developing policies to fight against the social, humanitarian and cultural divides that have only deepened during the pandemic.

During their general debate, delegations recognized the entrenched roadblocks to delivering on their social development commitments, with many focusing on the pandemic and the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

The representative of Gabon, speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, noted with concern that only a miniscule amount - some 2 per cent - of more than 5.7 billion doses had actually reached the arms of people in Africa. International efforts are needed to ensure that equitable distribution is stepped up, he said.

In a similar vein, Guinea's delegate, speaking for the 'Group of 77' developing countries and China, called for equal access to vaccines at prices that are affordable. To achieve this, several mechanisms could be deployed, including the World Trade Organization's intellectual property rights agreement, he said, recommending that COVID-19 vaccines be considered global public goods. Guatemala's representative, speaking for the Central American Integration System, similarly called for the vaccine to be shared around the globe at a nominal price, given that the pandemic had disproportionately impacted those living in extreme poverty.

Delegates readily acknowledged that the challenges ahead are not limited to the pandemic. They also spoke of continued discrimination and hardships faced by women, children, older persons, the lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, those living with disabilities, ethnic and racial minorities, migrants and indigenous peoples.

Malawi's delegate, speaking for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), emphasized that gender equality is a fundamental human right required for the full realization of social development. He went on to describe the Community's Protocol on Gender and Development, established with the aim of achieving full gender parity throughout the region.

The representative of Mexico, speaking for the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, described myriad obstacles. Pointing to the cultural diversity of indigenous communities, she said the vast number of indigenous languages have a vital role to play in maintaining the identity of these populations. However, these identities are in jeopardy, she warned, as 'every two weeks, somewhere in the world, a spoken language dies with its last speaker'.

South Africa's delegate, speaking for the LGBTI Core Group, noted that despite great strides made since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, 68 countries criminalized consensual same-sex relationships. There are 13 countries that have laws criminalizing the existence of transgender persons, while an additional 37 criminalize them by weaponizing existing laws. All such legislation should be eliminated. 'Everyone should live free and equal independently of who they are and who they love,' she said.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, took the opportunity to highlight the plight of child labourers, expressing concern over an increase in such behaviour for the first time since 2001. With that in mind, the European Union and the Latin American and Caribbean Group will bring a resolution on child rights to the Committee during this session, he said.

Several delegations spoke out against racism, xenophobia and intolerance, with Azerbaijan's delegate, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, noting that migrants often bore the brunt of such attacks. States should demonstrate that there is no impunity for perpetrators by bringing the force of existing law to bear on them.

Nigeria's representative, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, meanwhile, noted that hate speech during the pandemic had led to increased discrimination against Africans and those of African descent, as well as Asians and those of Asian descent.

In other business, delegates expressed their views on three programmes under the Committee's proposed 2022 budget (programmes 14, 20 and 24) on which the Committee on Programme Coordination did not provide recommendations. The representatives of Brazil, Egypt, Cuba, Russian Federation and Syria said these programmes should be reviewed by the Third Committee and then be sent to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Financial) for review. The representatives of the United Kingdom, United States and an observer for the European Union meanwhile said they should be addressed by the Fifth Committee alone.

The Committee then approved its organization of work.

Also speaking today were representatives of China (on behalf of a group of countries), Chile (on behalf of the Group of Older Persons), Malaysia (on behalf of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Croatia, Pakistan, Israel, Ghana, Philippines, Peru, Liechtenstein, Singapore, Afghanistan, Canada, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Kenya, Netherlands, Zambia, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Cambodia, Argentina, Norway and Australia.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Syria, Belarus, China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Turkey, Canada and Cyprus.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 1 October, to continue its debate on social development.


AHMED TIDIANE SAKHO (Guinea), speaking on behalf of the 'Group of 77' developing countries and China, called for the recognition of COVID-19 vaccines as global public goods. International solidarity is needed to support developing countries during the recovery phase. He stressed that discussions on social development should continue to focus on the impact of COVID-19 and address the different forms of inequality, by implementing the 1995 World Summit for Social Development outcome and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He reiterated the importance of ensuring equitable access to vaccines at affordable prices, by using the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and the WTO Doha Declaration. He also urged the international community to eliminate extraterritorial laws against developing countries. Expressing support for the Durban Declaration and its Programme of Action, which provide a comprehensive roadmap to end to racial discrimination, he said strengthening multilateralism and promoting North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation is essential for fostering sustainable development. Further, the international community should prioritize family policies and address discrimination against older persons. Noting that his delegation will submit four draft resolutions during the seventy-sixth session, he invited Member States to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family in 2024. He concluded by reaffirming support for the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and emphasizing the need to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States and associating with the Group of 77 and China, commended the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention for its efforts to fight COVID-19. Recognizing the WHO's lead role in controlling the spread of the virus, he drew attention to the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic. He expressed concern about the continued obstacles to distributing the vaccine in Africa, as only 2 per cent of more than 5.7 billion doses have been administered there. Pointing to the controversy around recognition of vaccines and vaccine passports, he called for intensified international solidarity to ensure fair and equal distribution. Advocating for accessibility and affordability for everyone, including those in vulnerable situations, he urged the international community to reinforce laws that prohibit racial discrimination and to help ensure their implementation. Recognizing the importance of international and national strategies, as well as a monitoring mechanism to eradicate extreme poverty, he underscored the need to empower women in rural areas and in conflict-stricken economies, and affirmed that the advancement of women is a priority for the African Group.

ZHANG JUN (China), speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said Member States should address the pandemic with a global response based on unity. He expressed concern over use of unilateral coercive measures, which run counter to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and cause a shortage in essential supplies such as food, water and medical equipment needed to combat COVID-19. He pointed to the Secretary-General's 26 March appeal to waive sanctions that undermine countries' capacities to respond to the pandemic, calling for the immediate lifting of unilateral coercive...

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