By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. General Assembly committee on Tuesday condemned Syria for widespread human rights abuses and expressed concern about such violations in Iran, North Korea and Myanmar, but also welcomed pledges by Iran and Myanmar's presidents to improve some areas.
The draft resolution on Iran was approved with 83 votes in favor, 36 against and 62 abstentions; the draft on Syria was adopted with 123 votes in favor, 13 against and 46 abstentions; while the drafts on North Korea and Myanmar passed by consensus, although some states disassociated themselves with the texts.
The draft resolutions were approved by the 193-nation assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, and will be put to formal votes next month in the General Assembly. They are expected to pass with similar support.
The resolutions on these four countries have become an annual rite. They deepen international pressure and further isolate those states but have no legal consequences. All four countries lobby hard against the adoption of the resolutions.
While the draft resolution on Iran expressed concern at serious ongoing abuses, it also welcomed pledges by Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani on human rights issues such as eliminating discrimination against women and members of ethnic minorities and promoting freedom of expression and opinion.
It also praised Rouhani's plan to implement a civil rights charter and encouraged Iran "to take concrete action to ensure these pledges can result in demonstrable improvements as soon as possible and to uphold the government's obligations under its domestic laws and under international human rights law."
The U.N. envoy on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, told the committee last month that Iran's rights record should not be overlooked amid overtures to the West by Rouhani. He criticized Tehran for executing 724 people in 18 months, including dozens after Rouhani was elected in June.
Rouhani is a relative moderate who has opened a door for compromise on Iran's nuclear program after years of escalating confrontation with Western powers. Six global powers and Iran are due to meet again in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss ways towards a diplomatic deal.
Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said the draft U.N. resolution "does not acknowledge the positive human rights developments in the Iranian society."
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has taken a long-term approach and genuine measures to safeguard all human rights of its people," he said.
SYRIA SLAMS SAUDI
The Syria draft resolution strongly condemned "the continued widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms and all violations of international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities and the government affiliated shabbiha militias."
More than 100,000 people have been killed during a 2-1/2 year civil war in Syria that has forced millions to flee.
"Our Syrian colleague will try to distract attention from what is happening in his country and criticize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other co-sponsors," said Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdullah al-Mouallimi. Saudi Arabia led the drafting of the text, which was co-sponsored by more than 60 states.
"I would like to state frankly that perhaps we are not devoid of errors but we do not bombard our citizens by jets and we do not destroy them by tanks and nor do we kill thousands of our youngsters or destroy our children by toxic gases."
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari accused Saudi Arabia of "fanning the flames" of the conflict in the country. Syria has long accused Gulf Arab states Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as Britain and France, of arming the rebels.
Ja'afari said the Third Committee was being used for "interventionist political objectives."
"The introduction by the Saudi delegation ... of a draft resolution criticizing the situation of human rights in Syria is a strange paradox in itself because the Saudi regime is the last one that is entitled to talk about human rights," Ja'afari said.
Saudi Arabia, a patriarchal society that applies an austere version of Sunni Islam, has repeatedly been slammed for its record on women's rights. Saudi Arabia grants fathers guardianship over their daughters, giving them control over who they can marry and when, and it is also the only country in the world where women are barred from driving.
NORTH KOREA, MYANMAR
The North Korean draft resolution expressed "very serious concern at the persistence of continuing reports of systematic, widespread and grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights."
North Korea is one of the world's most reclusive and repressive nations, accused of starving and torturing thousands of people in a network of prison camps while taking extraordinary steps to prevent its citizens from fleeing to South Korea or other nations.
A North Korean U.N. delegate said that Pyongyang totally rejected the resolution and said "there are no human rights violations in my country as mentioned in this draft resolution.
"Regrettably we have not seen a single instance called into question when serious human rights violations are committed by Western countries," he said.
The Myanmar draft resolution expressed "serious concern about the situation of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State, including repeated instances of communal violence and other abuses in the past year and about attacks against Muslim minorities elsewhere in the country."
The U.N. envoy on rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, told the committee last month that violence against the Muslim minority was feeding a wider anti-Muslim feeling, posing a serious threat to the country's economic and political reforms as it emerges from decades of military rule.
The draft resolution also welcomed the Myanmar government's commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.
"We have opened up the country and reached out to the international community for broader engagement," a Myanmar U.N. delegate said. "At a time of such unprecedented engagement we have opted for cooperation in addressing human rights issues."
He said Myanmar had concerns about "sensitive and undesirable" language in the draft but did call for a vote as part of its ongoing reform process. "We do recognize that there remain some human rights challenges in our country," he said.
Several countries spoke out generally during the Third Committee meeting on Tuesday against resolutions by the General Assembly that target specific countries, arguing that rights issues should be dealt with by the U.N. Human Rights Council.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Gary Hill)