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UN Week – 9/17/12

September 21, 2012

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

John and Douglas Carey, Editors

In this issue: limits on Iranian nukes; mining native peoples’ lands; death penalty; “democratic and equitable international order.”

Limits on Iranian nukes.

US Ambassador Susan E. Rice, speaking at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on September 13th, stated that: “The United States Government has been very clear, and President Obama himself personally has been very clear, that it is a matter of utmost priority and is a matter of U.S. policy that we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. * * *

“We will do what it takes to ensure that they do not get one. No options are off the table, including the military option, and we are not pursuing nor will we accept a policy of containment. That’s the bedrock, baseline principle. * * *

“In 2010, the passage of Resolution 1929 * * * not only set the bar higher so that every nation on the planet is legally obliged to prohibit all kinds of engagement with Iran in the financial sector, in the insurance sector, in terms of nuclear materials, in terms of ballistic missiles, in terms of arms trade. But it laid a foundation as well for the United States, the European Union, some of our Asian partners, some of our Arab partners, to layer on additional national sanctions. * * * so that since July, Iran has been facing the toughest economic pressure that has ever been mustered. And it’s having a devastation impact.

“Their oil production is down 40 percent in one year. Their economy, which had been growing robustly, in now shrinking at 1 percent a year. The value of their currency has plummeted 40 percent.”

Mining native peoples’ lands.

Last month the Human Rights Council published a “follow-up on indigenous peoples and the right to participate in decision-making, with a focus on extractive industries.” A/HRC/21/55. The document concluded:

“44. The right of indigenous peoples to participate in decision-making in the area of extractive industries is dependent upon the recognition of their rights to self-determination and to permanent sovereignty over their lands, territories and resources. The guarantee of these rights, in turn, will be of benefit for all in terms of promoting sustainable development and environmental protection, as noted by the Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples’ permanent sovereignty over natural resources:

“Indeed, increased extractive activities on indigenous peoples’ traditional lands, territories and resources without guarantees for their rights often create public disorder, health concerns, political and social instability, and legal uncertainty.

“The analysis of recent international law shows that there have been substantial developments in international law and State practice with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples to own, use, control, and manage their lands, territories, and resources. . . In most instances, these developments reflect greater recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights to authority over their lands, territories, and resources and to their own decision-making power regarding their use and development.

“45.The result is increased recognition of the right of indigenous peo-ples to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent.” Id. at 12-13.

Death penalty.

In a 22-page interim report from the Special Rapporteur, Juan E. Méndez, published in August 2012, he “recalls that actual practices of the death penalty must comply with the absolute prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and explores whether States can guarantee that the method of execution or the conditions of persons sentenced to death do not inflict illegitimately severe pain and suffering.” He also “explores if there is an evolving standard to consider the death penalty as running afoul of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.” A/67/279 at 2.

UN Member States are divided on the death penalty, so this new approach will probably intensify the debate, beginning with the General Assembly session that is about to begin. Some States that retain the death penalty may assert that their methods of execution cannot cause pain or amount to torture because condemned persons are anesthetized or rendered unconscious of pain before being executed. States favoring abolition will no doubt reply by arguing that mental anguish amounting to degrading treatment or punishment is still being inflicted.

According to normal UN practice, the Méndez report will be debated at length but no formal action will be taken for or against it in view of its controversial nature. It may have an indirect effect in death penalty States by entering into the consciousness of political, medical and spiritual leaders who may in turn influence their constituents.

“Democratic and equitable international order.”

In this new area of UN investigation, Independent Expert Alfred M. de Zayas, a Cuban-American formerly attached to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has issued “preliminary views” on “the implications of a culture of equity based on common sense and common interest.” A/HRC/21/45 at 1.

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