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Human Rights Council Wrap-Up: A Conservative Backlash?

28 March 2013

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!

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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