The 34th regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) took place from 27 February to 24 March 2017. WILPF actively participated in the session particularly to draw attention to the impact of conflict on women and their persistent exclusion in peace processes all over the world, which threatens the achievement of sustainable peace.

The following are some highlights of our activities at the session and relevant HRC outcomes on the areas we focused on.

Syria: not all is lost – women’s voices are heard at the Human Rights Council, now action on the ground needs to follow

On 14 March, the Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria (CoI). On that occasion, WILPF made a statement urging the international community to remedy the collective failure in Syria by supporting the CoI’s call on all States to “immediately cease the supply of weapons to warring parties and curb arms proliferation in Syria”. [1]We also asked why the CoI’s report did not include gender-disaggregated data nor did it refer to any sexual or gender-based violence crimes, despite vast evidence from local sources. In her reply, Karen Abuzayd, a CoI member, announced that the CoI would soon be publishing a thematic paper on sexual violence in the conflict. She also maintained that the CoI does not collect disaggregated data “as a matter of course”, but when there is reliable, corroborated data according to the Commission’s legal standard of proof, they do disaggregate.

On the same day, the Council held a high-level panel discussion on enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention in Syria. WILPF made a statement, drawing attention to the demands made by the Syrian campaign Families for Freedom. We reiterated their key message to prioritise the issue of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention above everything else in the peace talks. This February, we had the honour to welcome five courageous Syrian women representatives of this campaign in Geneva. They drew attention to the terrible fate of Syrian detainees and their families.

On 16 March, the Council adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Syria. We had planned to speak during this debate but unfortunately did not get a speaking slot (the number of speakers for UPR outcome debates are limited). Last year, WILPF, jointly with several Syrian grassroots organisations, made a submission to Syria’s review and engaged in the UPR.

The Council also extended the CoI’s mandate.[2] It urged, once again, the Syrian authorities to grant the CoI immediate, full and unfettered access to the country. It “calls upon the international community to support the leadership and full and meaningful participation of women in all efforts, including decision-making, with the aim of finding a political solution to the conflict”[3], welcoming the “participation of the Women’s Advisory Board and civil society in the United Nations-led talks, in order to ensure that all resulting peace-building efforts are gender-responsive and consider the differential impact of conflict on women and girls, and their specific needs and interests”.[4]

Ukraine – protecting women’s economic and social rights is indispensable for meaningful participation in peace efforts

On 22 March, we made a statement on the impact of austerity measures on women’s economic and social rights during the Interactive Dialogue with Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour ,on the High Commissioner’s Update on Ukraine. We reiterated our concerns raised in our joint submission to the CEDAW Committee earlier this year; as well as in our joint submission for the Universal Period Review of Ukraine. Austerity measures, required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have a disproportionately negative impact on women, which prevent them from meaningful participation in Ukraine’s decision-making processes.

During the Interactive Dialogue, Finland also addressed women’s economic and social rights, highlighting that “women are key drivers of socio-economic development” and drawing attention to the fact that “the conflict has exacerbated the existing challenges for women to fully enjoy economic and social rights.” Finland asked Mr. Gilmour to “highlight measures to ensure women’s economic and social rights in the conflict-affected areas”. Mr Gilmour responded that restrictions on women’s freedom of movement should be decreased, making it easier to ensure safe passage at check points across the conflict line, thereby ensuring increased access to, for instance, health care services or income-generating activities for women.

Whilst the respect for women’s economic and social rights is an end in itself, WILPF is highlighting that it is vital to be aware that the violation of these rights has wider implications, as it hinders women to effectively participate in decision-making processes. The exclusion of women in the current critical political developments in Ukraine runs counter to the UN Security Council resolution 1325 and threatens the prospect for sustainable peace in Ukraine.

Libya and Yemen – women’s systematic exclusion needs to be counteracted immediately

The implications of excluding women in peace processes were also subject in WILPF’s HRC34 side event held on 21 March 2017. Activists Rasha Jarhum and Lina Salim from Yemen, and Inas Miloud from Libya spoke about their experiences to fight for peace in an environment of ever-growing levels of insecurity and violence in their countries. The three energetic and brave women spoke about the causes of multi-dimensional insecurity in both countries and gave disturbing testimonies on how state and non-state actors are determined to exclude women from any public decision-making fora. The side event, chaired by WILPF Secretary-General Madeleine Rees, provided insights into the preliminary findings of a WILPF study based on local consultations with women leaders, activists and IDPs in Yemen and Libya.

Later that day, Inas Miloud read a statement during the Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Update on Libya, calling upon the international community to stop financing military operations in Libya. Transfers of weapons risk escalating the existing crises in the country. WILPF and the Libyan organisation Together We Build It urged States to “honour their commitments to include women in all decision-making levels”.

In her concluding remarks, Deputy High Commissioner Kate Gilmore referred to WILPF’s statement, she emphasised the key issue of access to small arms, facilitated by their proliferation through emerging online markets. She affirmed that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will, among other things, “press hard on the issue of justice”, including the “participation of women in […] processes of constitutional elaboration.”

The Council adopted a resolution on “technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya”.[5] Among other things, the resolution addresses the particular impact of continued human rights violations on women, and underscores the importance of “equal and full participation of all members of Libyan society, including women, civil society and youth, in the political process”.[6] It urges all relevant stakeholders to “facilitate the full, equal and effective participation of women in activities relating to the prevention and resolution of the armed conflict, the maintenance of peace and security and post-conflict peace-building”[7] and urges the government to further empower women […] by ensuring their full representation in politics, the police and the judiciary. While we are pleased to see that the importance of women’s participation is being considered in the resolution, we will continue to press for actual action on the ground.

Initiative for a treaty on transnational corporations and other business enterprises– reiterating our demand to include a gender perspective

On 9 March 2017, the Chair of the intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights presented her report to the Council via video message. WILPF, jointly with the NGOs Geneva Infant Feeding Association, the Corporación Humanas Chile and Friends of the Earth made a statement. We reiterated our demand that the treaty include a gender perspective. As we have highlighted in intergovernmental working group’s sessions, the meaningful participation of affected women in the drafting process is essential; and demanded that the treaty address the gendered impact of corporate activities.

What else happened at the Council at its 34th regular session?

For more information and a comprehensive summary on adopted resolutions and other outcomes, see UNOG’s Recap or ISHR’s outline; for a comprehensive summary of resolutions/ panels and other events related to sexual rights during the HRC 34 see Sexual Right’s Initiative’s Recap.


[1] UN index A/HRC/34/64, paragraph 109

[2] A/HRC/RES/34/26.

[3] UN index A/HRC/RES/34/26, operative paragraph 37

[4] UN index A/HRC/RES/34/26, operative paragraph 37

[5] A/HRC/RES/34/38

[6] UN index A/HRC/RES/34/38, preamble paragraph 13

[7] UN index A/HRC/RES/34/38, operative paragraph 21