During the 29th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, four UN Special Procedures — the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography — sent a letter to the President of the Human Rights Council expressing concerns regarding the debates on the Protection of the Family resolution.
Archive for July, 2015:
The SRI joined more than 50 NGOs in calling upon the U.N. Human Rights Committee to elaborate on the measures States must take to realize women’s right to life, including by guaranteeing access to safe and legal abortion, and other sexual and reproductive health services. The joint statement is below.
Distinguished Committee Members:
I wish to thank the Committee for the opportunity to deliver this brief statement on behalf of over fifty human rights organizations from across the globe. We welcome the Committee’s decision to draft this general comment and believe that it presents a critical opportunity for the Committee to elaborate on states’ obligations to realize all people’s, particularly women’s, right to life on the basis of equality and nondiscrimination, taking into account the risks that women and girls face to their lives as a result of their reproductive capacities and their gender. We wish to highlight three issues in this regard.
First, across jurisdictions and in all regions of the world, states parties to the Covenant have continuously failed to give effect to their obligations under Article 6 to guarantee all individuals access to the full range of quality reproductive health services, which are essential for safeguarding their lives and health. As the Committee has repeatedly recognized, women’s lives and health continue to be jeopardized as a result of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity, stemming from poor maternal health services, lack of reproductive health information, inadequate access to contraception, and restrictive abortion laws. In addition to guaranteeing access to quality maternal health care and enabling women and girls to prevent pregnancy, reforming restrictive abortion laws and guaranteeing access to safe abortion services is essential to the realization of the right to life due to the well-documented link between unsafe abortion and maternal mortality. In light of this, we urge the Committee to more fully elaborate on the specific measures states must take to eradicate preventable maternal mortality and morbidity, including by guaranteeing all individuals access to quality maternal health services, reforming restrictive abortion legislation, ensuring access to safe abortion services, and providing a range of quality contraceptives free from discrimination, violence and coercion.
Second, while it is firmly established in international law and standards that the rights enshrined in Article 6 begin at birth and do not apply prenatally, at times states parties to the Covenant have claimed that domestic laws and policies which violate gender equality and human rights are permissible because they seek to protect the right to life prior to birth. Such laws and policies have profoundly detrimental implications for the enjoyment of Covenant rights, including the right to life.
For example, some states parties have invoked a right to life prior to birth to justify complete bans or highly restrictive abortion laws, which compel women and girls to carry to term pregnancies that pose a threat to their lives or health, or that result from rape or incest. In countries across the globe, these laws have repeatedly resulted in the withholding of critical, and sometimes lifesaving, medical treatment. Furthermore, although some states parties with laws that protect the right to life prior to birth may permit abortion under narrow circumstances, in practice these provisions often effectively result in total abortion bans. Such laws also create two-tiered systems, where the more privileged can seek illegal but safe abortion services from private providers, while the poor and marginalized, including those with disabilities, migrants and racial and ethnic minorities, are forced to jeopardize their lives and their physical and mental health. This is in direct contradiction to the Committee’s repeated calls for states to liberalize restrictive abortion laws to bring them in line with the Covenant and to guarantee access to abortion services.
In light of the critical nature of these human rights violations, and the ongoing attempts by some states to invoke a prenatal right to life under Article 6 in order to justify such laws, policies and practices, we urge the Committee to utilize the opportunity in the elaboration of this general comment to reaffirm that the rights enshrined in Article 6 of the Covenant accrue at birth and do not extend prenatally. This long established principle of the Covenant and general international law follows from the plain text of the Covenant, the travaux preparatoires, and the Committee’s decisions, general comments, and concluding observations.
Third, and finally, where states parties put in place measures to protect or promote fetal interests, the Covenant requires that such measures must not infringe on individuals’ human rights and must be consistent with state obligations under the Covenant. As Article 6 does not apply prior to birth, the right to access reproductive health services, including abortion, should not be understood or treated as an exception to Article 6. Rather, any state measures that restrict access to reproductive health services, including abortion, must be strictly scrutinized for compliance with the Covenant and be consistent with the rights to life, equality and nondiscrimination, privacy, and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Abortion Rights Campaign (Ireland)
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
Action for Choice (Ireland)
Advocates for Youth
Akahatá Equipo de Trabajo en Sexualidades y Generos (Argentina)
Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAP)
Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW)
Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
Catholics for Choice
Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir, México
Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Central America Women’s Network (CAWN)
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) (Argentina)
Children’s Rights Information Network
Coalition of African Lesbians
Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment (Ireland)
Consorcio Latinoamericano contra el Aborto Inseguro (CLACAI)
Danish Family Planning Association
Doctors for Choice (Ireland)
European Humanist Federation
Federation for Women and Family Planning (Poland) Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE) (Mexico)
Global Justice Center
Gynuity Health Projects
Health Education and Research Association (HERA) (Macedonia)
Human Rights Law Centre (Australia)
Human Rights Watch International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion
International Commission of Jurists
International Humanist and Ethical Union
International Women’s Health Coalition
International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, City University of New York Law School
IPPF European Network
Irish Council for Civil Liberties
Irish Family Planning Association
Lawyers for Choice (Ireland) Marie Stopes International
Mujer y Salud en Uruguay (MYSU)
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
PROMSEX (Centro de Promoción y Defensa por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos)
Reproductive Health Matters
Sexual Rights Initiative
Spanish Federation of Family Planning (FPFE, Federación de Planificación Familiar Estatal)
Women Enabled International
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR)
Women’s Link Worldwide
Alicia Ely Yamin, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University
Dame Margaret Sparrow, Past President Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand
Dr. Manisha Gupte, Co-Convenor, Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM)
Mindy Roseman, Human Rights Program, Harvard University Raquel Irene Drovetta, National Council of Scientific and Technical Research, Argentina
Rebecca Cook and Bernard Dickens, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Sam Rowlands, Centre of Postgraduate Medical Research and Education, Bournemouth University
During the 29th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the SRI collaborated with national-level organizations and advocates to deliver oral statements regarding outcomes from the Universal Periodic Review ‘s (UPR) of Guyana, Kenya, Turkey, and Spain.
The SRI also delivered statements pertaining to:
- Item 8: Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action: General Debate’ – 00:30:59
- Annual Day of Discussion on Human Rights of Women
- Realizing the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl
- Item 3: Clustered ID with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
- Item 3: Clustered ID with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
- Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development: General Debate
See below links to all oral statements delivered by the SRI, with their corresponding video recordings.
SRI: Oral Statement – Response to Grenada’s UPR Outcome – Not delivered
The Sexual Rights Initiative condemns the adoption of the Protection of the Family resolution by the UN Human Rights Council on Friday the 3rd of July. This is a set back to the advancement of the human rights of individuals as it seeks to elevate the family as an institution in need of protection without acknowledging the harms and human rights abuses that are known to occur within families, or recognizing that diverse forms of family exist.
An obstructive procedural tactic of a No Action Motion (NAM – a procedure by which it is proposed that no decision be taken on a particular matter) was used to prevent consideration of one of the proposed amendments that would have strengthened the text and made a provision to be inclusive in the protection of diverse families. The No Action Motion passed by ONLY one vote. With the exception of one, other positive proposed amendments could not pass. A vote to withdraw the entire resolution was also brought but failed.
While this is a setback and serves to further polarise the HRC, it is heartening that the strength of the opposition to the resolution was considerable. How this resolution will now be used needs to be monitored closely. It is likely, for example, to be referenced in regressive positions taken on the Post-2015 development agenda.
At the UN Human Rights Council’s 29th session, a core group of 12 States (Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia) tabled the highly contentious resolution: Protection of the family: The contribution of the family to the realization of the right to adequate standard of living for its members particularly through its role in poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development.
This resolution follows on from a voted resolution adopted at the Council in June 2014 entitled, Protection of the family which called for the holding of a panel on the subject in September 2014. The 2014 Resolution was only adopted following a No Action Motion called by the core group to prevent voting on an amendment that recognised that in different contexts, various forms of the family exist.
The bringing back of such a damaging and divisive resolution at this session reaffirmed the core group’s intent to not only continue to subjugate, and thus deny the rights of individual members of the family in favour of the family unit, but to refute the notion that violations actually take place within the family unit, and also to attempt to influence the Post-2015 development agenda. The text of this resolution is extremely problematic in that amongst other concerns it sought to elevate the family as an institution in need of protection without acknowledging that families perpetuate patriarchal oppression, traditions and harmful practices, and that human rights abuses do occur within families (i.e., marital rape, child abuse, FGM, early and forced marriage, dowry related violence, so-called “honour” killings and other forms of domestic violence). Further, the core group continuously did not include in the text the recognition that various family forms exist, despite many delegations requesting them to do so. Without such recognition, it cannot be assured that the family-friendly and family-oriented public policies referred to in the resolution will address the needs of all family members in diverse families.
During negotiations the above issues were raised countless times by States from all regions, yet the core group continuously refused to address them in the text. As such, states from different regions were left with little option other than to table a number of amendments in a bid to ensure the text was more balanced. Four of these amendments were positive in that they sought to rectify the highly imbalanced text, the remaining amendment was tabled by Pakistan which sought to polarise the issue even more. It called for an additional paragraph: Recognizes that men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the rights to marry and to found a family, bearing in mind that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Clearly this amendment was problematic as not only does it negate same-gender marriages, but also was not raised at all during the open negotiations.
Amendment L37 was brought by Brazil, Chile, South Africa, Uruguay and this sought to insert a new paragraph (PP4bis) recognising that in different cultural, political and social systems, various forms of the family exist. This amendment was positive – and based on agreed language from countless consensus documents – recognising the diversity of family structures. However, a NO ACTION MOTION was called on this amendment. The resulting vote and passing of the motion by a solitary vote meant that no further discussion could take place on the content of this amendment.
No Action Motion (NAM)
- For – 22
- Against – 21
- Abstained – 03
No Action Motion PASSED
Brought by Albania, Ireland and Norway on paragraph OP6. The amendment sought to delete language from the paragraph stating that the family plays a crucial role in the preservation of cultural identity, traditions, morals, heritage and value system of the society. This was another progressive amendment to remove a troublesome provision that sought to portray traditions, morals and values as only ever being positive thus negating harmful traditional and customary practices and such.
- For – 18
- Against – 23
- Abstained – 5
Brought by Belgium, Luxembourg and Uruguay and based on consensus language from A world fit for children (2002). This amendment called for the deletion of 4 problematic paragraphs (OPs 10, 11, 12 and 13) and their replacement with the following paragraph OP10bis: Reaffirms the need to promote and protect the rights of the Child, and in this regard calls upon States to render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities in the best interests of the child, bearing in mind that a child should grow up in a safe and supportive family environment and giving high priority to the rights of the children, including to survival, protection and development. A positive amendment that recognises the child as rights holders within the family and emphasises the principle of the best interests of the child. This amendment was accepted orally by the core group and hence no vote was required.
Brought by Albania, Denmark and Norway. This amendment called for inserting language in the chapeau of paragraph OP23 to add and its members after the word family and to delete the phrase as the natural and fundamental group unit of society. In addition, the amendment called for the inclusion of the words and its members after the word family in paragraph OP32. Again this positive amendment wanted to bring emphasis to the rights of individual family members.
- For – 19
- Against – 23
- Abstained – 04
was brought by Pakistan and sought to insert a new paragraph (OP4bis) in the resolution to read Recognizes that men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the rights to marry and to found a family, bearing in mind that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. This was a very hostile amendment. Not only would this exclude marriages of individuals of the same gender, but it was brought at the last minute without any discussion during negotiations. This was withdrawn by Pakistan once the amendment on diversity of family forms was obstructed.
VOTE ON ENTIRE TEXT AS ORALLY REVISED
Following the voting on amendments, there then followed a vote on the entire resolution (as orally revised). Ireland called for a vote on the entire text of the resolution.
- In favour of keeping the text – 29
- Against the text – 14
- Abstained – 04
As such, we have a voted resolution that will be used to advance highly contentious family values and family-oriented policies at the expense of the human rights of individuals within the family unit and to the detriment of already marginalized families and individuals.
The Sexual Rights Initiative welcomes the adoption by the United Nations Human Rights Council of three resolutions that advance gender equality, empowerment and the human rights of women and girls. These resolutions are entitled:
- Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate all Forms of Violence Against Women: Eliminating Domestic Violence
- Strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage
- Elimination of discrimination against women
The resolution on Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate all Forms of Violence Against Women is an annual resolution run by Canada. This year, it focused on eliminating domestic violence, which has never been the focus of a resolution at the Council before now.
Through this resolution, adopted by consensus, and co-sponsored by 87 countries so far, the Council expresses grave concern over the prevalence of domestic violence, including intimate partner violence. It reiterates that States must eliminate harmful practices that women and girls are subjected to such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and cannot invoke custom, tradition, or religion to avoid doing so.
The Council calls upon States to penalise acts of domestic violence, including marital rape, partner violence, so-called “honour” crimes, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. It also asks States to eliminate legislation and practices that discriminate against women and girls, ensure access to justice and remedies for domestic violence, train public officials, and empower women in the realm of decision-making, education, decent work, social services, financial resources, property and inheritance.
The Council calls for the access of women to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services, and the promotion and protection of their reproductive rights and the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality. It also urges States to support civil society initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality and addressing domestic violence, including those undertaken by women’s organizations and women human rights defenders.
This is the first ever UN resolution to use the terms ‘intimate partner violence’ and ‘comprehensive sexuality education’.
While the resolution as a whole was adopted by consensus, four tabled amendments were voted on.
1st amendment: replace ‘intimate partner violence’ with ‘spousal and non-spousal violence’ in paragraph PP 9
- For – 13
- Against – 24
- Abstaining – 7
Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela did not vote
2nd amendment: replace ‘intimate partner violence’ with ‘spousal and non-spousal violence’ in paragraph OP 8(a)
- For – 13
- Against – 24
- Abstaining – 7
Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela did not vote
3rd amendment: replace ‘comprehensive sexuality education’ with ‘comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education’ in paragraph OP 8(h)
- For – 14
- Against – 21
- Abstaining – 9
Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela did not vote
4th amendment: replace ‘partner violence and marital rape’ with ‘spousal and non-spousal violence’ in paragraph OP 9(a)
- For – 12
- Against – 24
- Abstaining – 8
Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela did not vote
The votes on amendments were followed by votes on the retention of two paragraphs of the tabled text, containing reference to partner violence and marital rape:
- For – 29
- Against – 5
- Abstaining – 12
Venezuela did not vote
- For – 30
- Against – 3
- Abstaining – 14
The resolution on ‘Elimination of discrimination against women’ is an annual resolution run by Colombia and Mexico. The resolution this year focused on discrimination against women in cultural and family life, drawing upon the powerful annual report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice. It was adopted by consensus, and co-sponsored by 60 countries so far.
Through this resolution the Council affirms that discriminatory, repressive and violent practices against women must be eliminated. It calls upon States to guarantee gender equality in cultural and family life through national legal frameworks, including nationality national laws, eliminate domestic violence, combat multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination faced by many women and girls, and provide gender equality training to public servants.
The Council calls upon States to oppose all forms of marriage that constitute a violation of women’s and girls’ rights, and to ensure equal rights in respect of marriage, dissolution, ownership of property, guardianship and adoption of children. It emphasized the need to ensure women’s and girls’ access to education, financial and social services, formal legal systems, justice and effective remedies.
The Council failed to recognize the importance of sexuality education in addressing gender inequalities; women’s and girls’ right to have control over one’s sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights; and the need to repeal laws that criminalise adultery, or pardon marital rape and rapists who marry their victims.
During negotiations on the resolution, a number of States strongly criticised the afore-mentioned report of the Working Group as well as parts of the text of the resolution for, in their view, representing culture and religion as problematic instead of interpretations and distortions of culture.
The resolution on Strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage was run by 14 countries: Argentina, Canada, Ethiopia, Honduras, Italy, Maldives, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Uruguay, and Zambia.
The first resolution on this issue was adopted by the Council in September 2013, and led to the development of a report and a panel discussion. This year’s resolution was the first substantive resolution at the Council on the issue. It was adopted by consensus, and co-sponsored by 88 countries so far.
The Council, through this resolution, recognizes that child, early and forced marriage violates the human rights of girls and women, and is caused primarily by deep-rooted gender inequalities, norms and stereotypes. Accordingly, it emphasizes the importance of the empowerment of and investment in women and girls, informing them about their legal rights, and ensuring their participation in all levels of decision making. It also calls upon States to ensure women’s and girls’ reproductive rights, right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, and rights in marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, ownership of land and productive resources.
Crucially, this is the first ever UN resolution to make reference to the human rights of girls to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights. This is an advance from the 2014 UN General Assembly resolution on the same subject where girls were excluded from this reference.
Further, the Council calls upon States to enforce laws and policies to prevent the practice, and to remove provisions that enable perpetrators of rape, sexual abuse or abduction to escape prosecution and punishment by marrying their victims. It also urges States to provide a range of support services to girls, adolescents and women who have already been subjected to child, early and forced marriage.
The Council emphasizes the critical importance of ensuring women’s and girls’ access to justice, accountability mechanisms and remedies, education, training, decent work, social protection, sexual and reproductive health information, education and services. The importance of changing social norms and raising community awareness, including with adolescents, families, and community leaders is also emphasized. Finally, it requests the convening of an expert workshop to review existing strategies to address child, early and forced marriage and make recommendations for further action by States.