After 4 weeks of many enriching civil society events, many intense negotiations and a lot of procedural UN meetings, the session of the 22nd Human Rights Council (HRC) was closed last Friday. We are left with 39 new decisions that will be published here, some of which will have an impact on the future of the recognition and implementation of human rights.

Photo of a session of the Human Rights Council

But this session of the HRC will also be sadly remembered as a session in which the High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), Mrs. Navi Pillay, was attacked publicly by the delegation of Sri Lanka, after many human rights defenders from civil society had been reporting similar events. The HRC, led by its President, strongly stated that any intimidation or reprisals against individuals and groups will not be accepted.

Indeed, at a time where human rights defenders are under threat all around the world, the Council’s clear-cut position on the subject is essential to remind member States of their obligations to protect their right to freedom of expression and to demonstrate, and indeed to respect and protect their right to life.

Among the decisions taken, we can underline the Resolution extending the mandate of the Working Group on Private Military and Security Companies and we welcome the Working Group on the use of Mercenaries’ initiative to join the discussion. WILPF will closely follow these discussions to ensure that these companies have to comply with the highest standards of human rights and, in particular, that the linkages between the use of military forces and the trafficking and sexual abuse of women by these actors is acknowledged and taken into account. Read our official statement read out during this Session here.

Also, a resolution called upon the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. WILPF attended the adoption of the Sri Lanka Universal Periodic Review Report (UPR) and a moving film about the impunity that the population is suffering after years of conflict.

The importance of gender equality in all aspects of human rights was also pointed out by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and a resolution by the HRC acknowledged some of these aspects, although more could have been said on how gender equality may contribute to the advancement towards food security.

The resolution on the Right to Food was very wide in acknowledging the many implications of international trade on world hunger. However, some member States, such as the USA and the EU, clarified that they did not align themselves with some parts of the Resolution referring to the dangers of free trade agreements. The USA further clarified they do not endorse any obligation imposed on them regarding the right to food of citizens of other countries.

The resolutions that were expressly not passed also depict the current situation of the human rights arena. The draft resolution “Protection of the Family”, suggested by a coalition of countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, UAE, Uganda and Zimbabwe) has seriously worried civil society organisations, including WILPF. This draft resolution did not highlight the rights of the individual members of the family and the family as a tool for realizing those rights. Instead, it seemed to solely emphasize the protection of a “natural” nuclear family. All attempts by civil society and other member States to include language used in the past in other UN resolutions acknowledging the various forms of family were rejected by the coalition, ultimately leading to the resolution being withdrawn.

It should be remembered that the ‘family’ is not and cannot be a subject of rights under any human rights instrument. Instead, the family is considered as a fundamental group unit of society to be protected, but this is ultimately for the wellbeing of its members. For this reason, it is essential to acknowledge that families need to reflect the equality of all its members and, indeed, that many forms of families exist. The protection of the family should therefore not, under any circumstances, discriminate against members of less common forms of families (such as monoparental families, unmarried couples, extended families, and same sex couples and their family).

Even though the Resolution has not passed, this should be a warning sign to be read along with the dreadful negotiations of the CSW “Agreed Conclusions” in New York a few weeks ago. Within these two bodies both discussing human rights issues, we have experienced how language that could be used ten years ago is now unacceptable for some countries, especially when it comes to women’s rights and LGBTI rights. In this way, some countries (among which Russia, Qatar, Egypt, Libya, the Vatican city and many others) have been abusing the good will to take decisions by consensus, such as is the practice in CSW, to block decisions and to force backlashes toward conservative language extremely harmful for women’s and LGBTI’s rights. For instance, violence against women based on their sexual orientation or gender identity has been left out of the CSW agreed conclusions and the term domestic violence has been used instead of intimate partner violence, which would have been more inclusive.

In the context of the HRC, even though the draft resolution was withdrawn, it is appalling that any attempt to include formerly agreed language acknowledging the various forms of families that exist, ran against a brick wall.

It seems that a new wave of conservatism has arrived to the human rights arena, and it has made a backlash on women and LGBTI’s rights as their main common goal. It is therefore important that all human rights defenders remain active so that we keep being heard!