During the Human Rights Council 22nd session, Freedom house, International Commission of Jurists and ARC international along with several other Human Rights advocacy groups organised a side event aiming to debate the compatibility of Russia’s Traditional Values Resolution with the Universal Human Rights mandate. This is timely as the long awaited Advisory Council Report was issued in December and the council is set to vote again on this resolution in this session.
A very strong panel and a very fruitful floor discussion brought forth and cemented various concerns for WILPF. WILPF has always opposed this motion as it jeopardizes the rights of those who are most marginalized by society namely women, LGBTQI identities, youths, and ethnic and religious minorities but it also directly undermines the universality of the Human Rights mandate. Indeed by its very definition, a traditional value cannot be universal.
Russia has argued that adding traditional values to the declaration will make “traditional populations”, which remain undefined, feel less alienated from Human Rights. However, if this really is an issue it indicates the need for Human Rights outreach and education rather than a (very damaging) amendment to the declaration itself. Indeed in the last few months we have already seen a rather distressing development whereby the Russian high criminal court invoked “traditional values” in swearing in laws which deny LGBTI groups the right of freedom of speech and assembly. If this resolution is already being used to this regressive end, where will it go from here? Deny the right to vote to minority populations and religions? Justify damaging traditional practices such as forced marriage or genital mutilation? So many progressive ideals can be thwarted by invoking this undefined term “traditional values”.
What makes this resolution so dangerous is that it is dressed up in the vocabulary of cooperation and the guise of better understanding. Many minorities and indigenous peoples believe it speaks to them and will ensure respect for and the preservation of their ways of life. It actually may even be used to undermine their cultures. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations is the document in terms of protection for these rights and should be relied on.
There is a need to differentiate between values and practices. Traditions and cultures change and evolve over time to seek to institutionalise conservative interpretations of how values must be practiced which discriminate and erode fundamental human rights are dangerous and should be opposed. For this reason, CEDAW and other human rights conventions use the terminology “harmful practices”.
This resolution is an overt attempt by Russia to undermine the Human Rights mandate and maintain a conservative, patriarchal status quo. This resolution makes the existence of pluralist societies a utopic ideal and hampers the progress of Human Rights education.
This resolution must be stopped where it stands, we must mobilize our governments to stand against it, particularly South American governments. We must inform, educate and urge other NGOs to act.