On 30 April 2012 the Foreign Secretary William Hague launched the UK’s 2011 Human Rights and Democracy report.
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Since then, the UN membership has negotiated a number of legally binding instruments on specific areas of human rights, from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
In addition, numerous non-binding Declarations, Guidelines and other documents have been negotiated to give colour to the legally-binding rights and set standards in specific areas.
Apart from the negotiation of legally-binding human rights treaties, the UN’s bodies dealing with human rights also negotiate non legally-binding resolutions which develop the standards set out in the treaties and look at how they are implemented.
In the UN General Assembly human rights are dealt with in the Third Committee which meets annually in New York in October and November. All UN member states have the right to take part in the plenary sessions and to table and vote on resolutions. Resolutions are broadly divided into thematic issues such as torture, racism, and the rights of the child, and resolutions that concentrate on a particular country. All new human rights instruments must be approved by the General Assembly. Negotiations on those instruments therefore take place in the General Assembly. The first new human rights treaty of the 21st Century was the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This was mandated by the General Assembly in 1991 and completed in 2006. The Convention aims to acknowledge where disabled people have had difficulty in accessing their rights and commits States to measures in a large number of areas which will guarantee better observance of disabled people’s human rights in the future.
In 2011, at the sixty-fifth session of the General Assembly, the Third Committee considered 56 draft resolutions, more than half of which were submitted under the human rights agenda item. Third Committee also adopted by consensus important resolutions on women’s and children’s rights, including a US-led resolution on women’s political participation, which paved the way for the work of UN Women in this area.
The UN General Assembly voted in favour of three human rights resolutions on Iran, DPRK and Burma. All were passed by a record majority of votes.
The Foreign Secretary William Hague said:
“The UN General Assembly has made a valuable contribution to human rights today, by drawing attention to three countries where serious abuses still take place and urging their Governments to take action.’
William Hague also welcomed the passage of a UK drafted human rights resolution on the repression in Syria. He said:
“This UNGA resolution sends a signal of united condemnation of the Syrian regime’s systematic human rights abuses. I welcome the wide support it received, including the fact that it was co-sponsored by Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Turkey. It calls on the Syrian government to end the appalling violence and implement the Arab League’s plan of action without delay.”
All of the resolutions and break downs of the votes can be found here along with all other third committee resolutions.