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General Assembly Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural)

The General Assembly Third Committee focuses its discussions on social, humanitarian and cultural concerns that arise in the General Assembly, although its work often overlaps with that of other United Nations organs, including the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies. Human rights, education and cultural preservation are typical issues for the Third Committee. Notably, the Third Committee would not discuss the legal implications of human rights matters, as those are discussed by the Sixth Committee, nor would it call for special studies or deploy monitors, as those tasks are handled by the Human Rights Council. The Third Committee also adheres to the purview guidelines of the General Assembly as a whole.

Protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons Protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) face distinct circumstances from refugees, returnees and asylum seekers but share the unique trauma of being lost within their own borders. IDPs typically leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, violence, human rights violations or disasters. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that, of the record 100 million forcibly displaced persons in 2021, 59.1 million were displaced from their homes but did not cross a State border, a substantial increase from 2020. This number has almost certainly risen in 2022 due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which is estimated to have internally displaced 7.7 million people, or approximately 17.5 percent of Ukraine’s population. Internal displacement is a complex issue that has roots in economics, social, security and other global issues. Internally displaced people face discrimination, human rights abuses and conflict preventing them from enjoying their life and their rights. This issue requires international advocacy and cooperation as well as the work of many actors such as non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations and governmental groups.

IDPs encounter unique challenges and differ from the other refugee populations because they do not cross international borders. Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides formal recognition of the right to seek asylum in another state, while the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or Refugee Convention, and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees provide a definition of refugee status and clear delineations of the rights of refugees as well as obligations of States Parties. However, none of these documents explicitly commented on the status of IDPs, providing protection instead specifically to those who fled their state of origin. Other human rights law, such as the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the Fourth Geneva Convention) and its 1977 amendments focused on protection of victims of international and internal armed conflicts, do provide protections to IDPs, banning forced displacement while theoretically providing protections against violence and discrimination. However, the lack of specific guidance regarding IDPs, coupled with the assumption that States would ensure the protection of their own citizens, led to gaps in protection and gray areas of international law. The first census of IDPs was conducted in 1982 and showed that 1.1 million people were internally displaced across 11 States. However, these numbers began to rise rapidly; by 1995, conflicts in Africa and Eastern Europe led to 25 million internally displaced persons across 40 States. 

Noting the increase, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) asked the Secretary-General to conduct a system-wide review of protections to IDPs in 1991. The resulting report led the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative for internally-displaced persons in 1992. The work of the Special Representative, who published reports in 1993, 1996 and 1998, ultimately led to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, adopted by the General Assembly and UNCHR in 1998. The 30 listed principles included protecting established internationally-recognized rights and freedoms, recognizing national authorities’ responsibility to protect IDPs and exploring feasible displacement alternatives prior to displacement without violating the rights to life, dignity, liberty and security of IDPs. 

In 2005, the Global Protection Cluster (GPC) was created to coordinate the work of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in supporting IDPs. Led by UNHCR, the GPC provides resources for field support of IDPs and advocates for their protection in the development of international human rights law. The GPC also supports the development of national and regional approaches to the protection of IDPs. One such regional solution is the 2009 African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention, which aims to provide clear delineations of the obligations of States Parties to IDPs within their own borders. This work has also been supported by the 2010 Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Framework on Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons, which seeks to create a human rights-based approach to allowing IDPs to successfully and sustainably integrate or reintegrate into their communities without fear of discrimination or violence.

Despite increased international attention and additional resources, the number of IDPs continues to rise rapidly, due in part to the escalation in conflicts across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Americas. The United Nations continues to focus much of its efforts in prevention of internal displacement on the 2018 Multi-stakeholder Plan of Action for Advancing Prevention, Protection and Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons, or GP20. GP20, a reference to the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, seeks to improve engagement with and coordination of States and NGOs. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is seeking to continue the work done through the GP20 with a new GP2.0 initiative

Despite these actions, NGOs and Member States have criticized the United Nations for its lack of action on IDPs, including poor coordination across the United Nations System and failure to include IDPs in humanitarian and sustainable development discussions. The Secretary-General responded by creating the High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement in 2019. The High-Level Panel published a report in 2021 with recommendations for how States and non-state actors can work to provide assistance and durable solutions to IDPs, leading the Secretary-General to create the Action Agenda on Internal Displacement in June 2022. The Action Agenda has three specific goals—prevention, protection and assistance, and the creation of durable solutions—as well as 31 discrete action items the Secretary-General commits to in cooperation with United Nations agencies, States, development partners and NGOs.

While United Nations agencies have committed themselves to carrying out the Action Agenda and NGOs have generally applauded the commitments put forward under the Action Agenda, they have also expressed continued concern about the coordination of these programs and of the ability to implement them at national and regional levels. In the meantime, IDPs continue to face obstacles to achieving durable solutions. These obstacles regularly intersect with other human rights issues, with women, children and people with disabilities among those facing unique impediments to attaining their rights while displaced.

While internal displacement due to armed conflict and violence and represents the largest historical cause of internal displacement, over 60 percent of those internally displaced during 2021 were displaced due to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. In some instances, States experience the compounding effects of simultaneous armed conflict and natural disasters: Haiti experienced civil unrest due to the assasination of its president in July 2021 followed by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake and tropical storm one month later. Conversely, scarcity of resources due to climate change can create new conflict. Furthermore, natural disasters and climate change can displace people who are already internally displaced, destroying camps and other temporary housing. With 2020 and 2021 being two of the hottest years on record and the World Bank estimating that 143 million people could be internally displaced due to climate change by 2050, the slow-onset effects of climate change are a rapidly escalating threat.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • What challenges do States face regarding the conflict between international law and sovereignty? 
  • How can the United Nations work with States and regional bodies in providing protection, assistance and durable solutions to internal displacement?
  • How can the United Nations and Member States respond to the challenges of climate change and disaster-related internal displacement?

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The Right to Food The Right to Food

The right to food is generally considered to be the right to obtain food for oneself in a manner that maintains personal dignity and in ways that are accessible, available, culturally appropriate, sustainable and safe. This is essential to basic survival, the maintenance of an adequate standard of living and other fundamental human rights. The right to food encompasses the distinct concepts of food security, which entails reliable access to food; and hunger, which is severe food insecurity leading to undernourishment. The United Nations set a goal of ending hunger and achieving food security for all people as part of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Despite this, the number of people experiencing food insecurity has risen 500 percent since 2016. As of July 2022, 345 million people are currently facing hunger and 924 million are facing food insecurity. Overlapping challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting supply chain effects, ongoing armed conflict and climate change have all made it more difficult to ensure that people are able to achieve their fundamental right to food.

One of the first major international discussions on the right to food was at the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture convened by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in 1943 (the term “united nations” refers to the 44 States represented at the meeting). The work done at this meeting led to the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945. Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights considered food alongside housing, healthcare and other social goods necessary to maintain an adequate standard of living. Article 11 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) echoed this framework, noting access to food as both part of an adequate standard of living and necessary to achieving a fundamental right to be free from hunger. The 1974 World Food Conference took further action on hunger; the resulting Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition proclaimed that all people had the inalienable right to freedom from hunger and malnutrition while calling for increases in food production to allow States to meet their needs. Later human rights instruments, such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, also incorporated language regarding freedom from hunger and an adequate standard of living.

In 1996, FAO convened a World Food Summit to address concerns over rising hunger and malnutrition. The outcome documents of the summit, the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action, created seven distinct commitments towards the goals of eradicating hunger and food insecurity, ranging from increasing participation in sustainable agriculture practices and access to global trade to protecting the environment and ensuring access to food in the face of natural disasters. In 1999, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the body responsible for monitoring compliance with the ICESCR, affirmed that Article 11 explicitly protects the right to food while also laying out a framework for evaluating what such a right entails. At the same time, the General Assembly adopted the Millenium Development Goals, a set of eight human rights goals to be achieved by 2015. Among those goals was Target 1.C, which aimed to halve the number of people who suffered extreme hunger. According to the 2015 MDG Report, this effort was nearly successful, with the overall percentage of persons suffering from hunger falling from 23.3 percent in 1990 to 12.9 percent in 2015. In 2004, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also adopted the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security. The Voluntary Guidelines provide a framework for States, with issues ranging from good governance, management of market systems for food access and sustainable growth in agricultural production.

In 2015, building on the relative success of the MDG Target 1.C, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set the goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030. SDG 2 includes eight specific targets and corresponding indicators to measure progress. Despite this focus, many hunger and food security numbers began to stagnate or worsen in the years after 2015, with the total number of those suffering from hunger beginning to rise the same year. FAO’s report on the state of global food security and nutrition identifies four key factors driving the rising numbers: conflict, extreme climate events, economic crises and inequality. These factors often intersect or overlap, creating additional complexities.

The onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic has also rapidly undone a significant amount of global progress. The economic effects of the pandemic—including job losses, higher food prices and increasing debt held by States—have caused increased hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity. The United Nations hosted a Food Systems Summit in 2021 with the hopes of responding to the lack of progress on hunger and food security through an approach centered around building sustainable food systems, or the interconnected processes of producing, processing, distributing and consuming food. In particular, the summit focused on responses to the ways food systems were challenged by the pandemic. The outcome document for the summit identified 15 action areas to allow stakeholders to build more sustainable and resilient food systems that are more responsive to community and environmental needs. However, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food has questioned the outcomes of the Summit, arguing that it failed to fully consider a human rights perspective and neglected marginalized groups and Member States.

As of 2022, progressive realization of the right to food remains deeply imperiled. The WFP and FAO have identified 20 distinct “hunger hotspots” across four continents where they expect food insecurity to worsen and hunger to increase in 2022. While many of the actions necessary to provide support are well understood, implementation remains a substantial challenge. Furthermore, the ongoing rise in food insecurity predates the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to the need to reconsider larger issues that lead to lack of access and include groups that are disproportionately affected by food insecurity.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • How can the international community respond to the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ability to achieve a right to food?
  • How can the regional and national stakeholders be engaged to support strategies for increasing access to food?
  • How can the international community work towards realization of the right to food in the face of challenges such as conflict, extreme climate events, economic crises and inequality?
  • What can the United Nations do to try and achieve the goal of zero hunger by 2030?

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