HRC35 Oral Statements

Published on June 27, 2017

The 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council took place from the 6th to the 24th of June 2017. The SRI made oral statements related to sexual orientation and gender identity, poverty, women’s rights, peaceful assembly, family, and physical and mental health. Continue reading for complete transcripts of each statement.

 

Sexuality and gender continue to be sites of oppression, discrimination, violence and subject to harsh religious, legal, political, economic and social control. They have become the sites of geopolitical contestation and are often leveraged to win elections, obscure or justify human rights abuses in other areas and cynically used to subvert the universality of human rights.

Sexuality and gender continue to be sites of oppression, discrimination, violence and subject to harsh religious, legal, political, economic and social control. They have become the sites of geopolitical contestation and are often leveraged to win elections, obscure or justify human rights abuses in other areas and cynically used to subvert the universality of human rights.

Attempts to narrow down or collapse the broad range of sexuality and gender rights to single issues – be they abortion, sex work, or sexual orientation and gender identity – run the risk of undermining the ways in which all of these rights intersect and are interrelated. Rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression are, and should always be articulated as, part and parcel of sexuality and gender related human rights.

A rigorous analysis of the root causes, both systemic and structural, which sustain violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is critical. It reveals connections between oppressions faced by individuals and groups, and the common denial of freedom to exercise autonomy of our bodies and lives. This root cause analysis helps to surface the links between poverty, inequality and issues of sexuality and gender, and therefore seeks to create real and tangible changes to the oppressive status quo.

Institutional reform, most commonly articulated in the demand for decriminalization of same sex practices and improved responses to discrimination and violence by the criminal justice system, are important steps that member states must undertake. On their own, however, they are insufficient to address the structural drivers or to change the patriarchal and homophobic norms and values that justify and normalize such violence and discrimination.

We urge the SOGI IE through his work with States and civil society, to integrate a broad and holistic perspective to sexual rights and to also be attentive to the ways in which women with non-normative sexualities and gender expressions are specifically invisibilised and silenced, while other groups remain privileged by patriarchy which remains present within mainstream work on sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Poverty We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty which clearly articulates the ways in which poverty and economic insecurity threaten the enjoyment of human rights. The report is a clarion call to the human rights system to address with urgency the deepening of inequality and poverty as an integral part of promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights. Ignoring this call creates a real and imminent risk that the majority of the world’s citizens will deem human rights as irrelevant to their lives.

Mr President, the domination of free market ideology and current system of capitalism has failed to trickle down, as promised, as those at the top accumulate vast wealth by exploiting workers and the environment with impunity. The results of this unabated greed continues to be felt most by those with the least social protection – women, migrants and young people.

Against this backdrop we welcome the report’s review of the various arguments surrounding the introduction of a universal basic income. However, we note the absence of a gendered or feminist analysis in the otherwise strong report. Women have not only written about, but have often been at the forefront of struggles for unconditional, universal basic income. Due to a range of structural and institutional drivers that suppress women’s economic autonomy, women, on average, face greater and more complex forms of insecurity than men and would benefit especially from its introduction. Feminist and intersectional analysis must be central to addressing poverty and economic inequality if the lives of those most affected are to be improved in a material and sustainable way.

We would like to ask the Special Rapporteur on the possible entry points to promoting a feminist analysis of extreme poverty within the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms?

 

Men and boys can play a crucial role in preventing discrimination and violence against women and girls. They can also be key actors in working alongside women in challenging the harmful gender stereotypes and norms, attitudes and behaviors that reinforce and perpetuate this violence and discrimination.

Efforts must be made to integrate gender perspectives into national and international laws, policies and programs which seek to eliminate the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and conditions of disadvantage, their root causes and consequences, and their impact on the advancement of women. Engaging men and boys in work to advance gender equality involves not only working with individuals on behavioural change in their own personal lives, but also in mobilizing support for structural changes throughout society and in the institutions that reinforce gender sterotypes and norms, including in the socio-cultural, economic and political arenas.

Yet the role and importance of the engagement of men and boys is still a contested issue even in this Council, and among the many states who systematically attempt to avoid addressing, discussing and incorporating such notions and language into international human rights instruments, national legislation and policies, even in those that specificly relate to the human rights of women and girls.

It is evident that the lack of priority for change is linked to the benefits that men actually receive from perpetutating gender inequality and who, therefore, resist change towards more equitable gender relations. As a result, men are still rightfully considered, the “problem” in gender equality policy discussions. A transformative approach to gender is required, and one that calls on all stakeholders to join efforts in opposing norms and stereotypes that perpetuate patriarchal systems that privilege men and boys on macro and personal levels

 

The Special Rapporteur’s report on violence against women, its causes and consequences and its broad focus on shelters and protection orders is another important step towards eliminating violence against women. We appreciate the human rights based approach to the integrated services and protection measures in response to violence against women.

Violations of women’s rights are most often multiple and of an intersecting nature. This is also true in regards to access to shelters and other state funded facilities providing women care and support. Economic insecurity, lack of safe and affordable housing, precarious migration status, stigma related to sex work and drug use, sexuality and gender identity based discrimination, are among the barriers women face when seeking refuge from violence. Policies and programs designed to increase access to shelters must also address these underlying and concurrent factors.

While emphasizing reforms to service provision and protection orders aimed at supporting individual survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence, we must also name, expose and work to dismantle the root causes – patriarchal norms which devalue women’s lives and safety. Further, States have a clear obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent violence against women from occurring in the first place, to guarantee access to all health, legal and social services necessary in the aftermath of violence, to end impunity for violence against women and to provide effective remedies when the State fails survivors.

States must not be lulled into complacency by the dealing with the symptoms of violence and not the causes.

 

We welcome the Report of the High-Level Working Group on the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents as a significant contribution to the 2030 Agenda. Its commitment to an intersectional and human rights based approach to women’s health and rights is a positive step that must be championed at the highest levels. With the publication of this report and the numerous related strategies and commitments, we expect action.

Agenda 2030 calls for the integration of human rights at all stages of development and sets a target of universal access to sexual and reproductive health. A human rights based approach to sexual and reproductive health is built upon the basic understanding that all persons have the right to control all aspects of their sexuality, their life and their body. Access to safe and legal abortion is a key component of this understanding which can no longer be ignored. This has been widely recognized and supported by the treaty bodies, the Special Procedures, in the Working Group’s report and demanded by women as essential to their health and their freedom.

Women’s human rights must be respected, protected and fulfilled at all times, and especially now in light of the rising threats to the human rights agenda worldwide where women’s bodies are the literal and figurative battlefields. Laws and policies guaranteeing women’s human rights, especially sexual and reproductive rights, must be put in place and implemented without delay. Harmful gender norms at the root of attempts to control, victimize and criminalize women must be exposed for what they are. States must be held accountable for their international obligations to women and girls, as there cannot be sustainable development if half the world’s population is unable to make decisions about their own lives and bodies.

We urge States to implement the recommendations of the Working Group’s report along with related commitments to women’s health and rights. We also remind the States that the full realization of women’s sexual and reproductive rights is an essential element of the Sustainable Development Goals and human rights that is not optional, it is a necessity.

 

We welcome the Working Groups’ report on good and promising practices to eliminate discrimination against women in law and practice. We support their advancement of the ‘living law’ approach which places legal change in context and recognizes the immense work of women’s rights advocates in creating the conditions that make legal reform possible. We encourage States to take heed of this approach during their reporting to the UPR and the Treaty Bodies and also UN agencies in their quests to document “best practices” on a range of topics, especially regarding women’s rights.

In all countries, the law acts as both a shield and a sword in the fight for women’s rights. In some cases, it embeds norms and standards that protect women from discrimination, while in others, it criminalizes and punishes them for exercising their rights to autonomy and self-determination. This is starkly demonstrated by the imprisonment of women who have illegal abortions, State sanctioned violence against women who have the audacity to speak out against fundamentalisms and impunity for family members that kill women because of their perceived sexual transgressions.

Women are often skeptical of the law as a site of positive change, and for good reason. The passage of laws are borne from and operationalized through patriarchal institutions that often do not serve the needs or realities of women’s lives. However, we can not ignore the power of the law in our societies and so we work to change the institutions from root to branch to ensure that it works for us and not against us. We appreciate the Working Group’s commitment to capturing this nuanced and sometimes paradoxical undertaking in its report.

Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to commend the Working Group for its important contributions to the Council since its inception. Their reports, public statements, country visits and engagement with civil society have greatly enhanced the content and quality of debate on women’s rights at the Council and beyond.

 

As the Spacial Rapporteur’s report states, the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are essential components of democracy.

The report highlights the contributions of civil society in strengthening and promoting human rights, as well as the achievements made.

However, it presents an incomplete analysis of a deeper phenomenon currently occurring in all regions of the world in which States are effectively blocking civil society from being able to play its role in society and in many cases condoning reprisals against those seeking accountability for violations of human rights.

There can be no doubt that civil society is under immense pressure. Some governments are using legal and illegal tactics to shrink its space. They target organizations that work on contested issues, mainly related to groups that are vulnerable, including those that work on issues related to defending gender and sexuality, protecting and promoting the human rights of women, adolescents, and LGBTI persons amongst others.

Many governments are attempting and succeeding in closing space for civil society to operate through a broad range of strategies such as prohibitions, refusals and delays to registrations, restrictions on their activities, using anti-propaganda language and protection of minors laws, arrests and detentions during protests and restrictions on the ability of CSOs to access to resources.

As the Special Rapporteur recognizes, with closing spaces for Civil Society, state and non-State actors around the world today are attempting to destroy the hope that brings action and consequent change that every society needs to fully enjoy human rights.

We calls upon States, as a matter of priority, to ensure that their domestic legislation and policies are consistent with their international human rights obligations and commitments in relation to rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and opinion, to pay particular attention to the safety and protection of women and LGBTI persons and human rights defenders from acts of intimidation, harassment and arbitrary detentions in the context of peaceful protests and to ensure accountability in their obligations related to this matter.

 

We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur which addresses key mental health issues directly and indirectly related to gender and sexuality and which seriously impact on the full enjoyment of human rights.

As the report notes, multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination continue to impede the ability of individuals, including women, girls and adolescents, to realize their right to mental health, stating that discrimination and inequality are both a cause and a consequence of poor mental health, with long-term implications for morbidity, mortality and well-being.

It also recognizes that harmful gender stereotypes and stigma undermine healthy relationships, social connections and the supportive and inclusive environments that are required for the good mental health and well-being of everyone.

We applaud the report’s attention to the negative impact that the biomedical model has had and that through the proliferation of diagnostic classifications, reduces the diversity of human lives to a catalogue of mental illnesses. This is then used to justify interventions based on stigma without a solid scientific basis and constitutes a pathologizing instrument that promotes stigma and exclusion rather than guaranteeing the promotion of a non-discriminatory approach to sexual diversity and bodily autonomy.

A clear example is when mental health diagnoses have been misused to pathologize identities and other diversities such as the pathologization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons that reduces their identities to diseases, which then compounds the stigma and discrimination faced.

We call upon the Human Rights Council, the United Nations and member states to publicly acknowledge and to take effective action to eliminate patterns and practices that perpetuate gender inequality, harmful stereotypes, pathological biomedical model, violations of sexual and reproductive health amongst others which undermines the realization of the right to the enjoyement of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

 

In Vienna, States reaffirmed their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In that vein, we would like to express our strong concerns about the draft resolution on the protection of the family [A/HRC/35/L.21 on “Protection of the Family: Role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights of older persons.”]

Together with NGOs working on the rights of older persons, we highlight that this resolution reinforces ageist stereotypes, fails to adequately recognize older persons as individual rights holders and falls far short of States’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfil their rights. We reject its limited focus on ‘protection and assistance’ and failure to reflect research showing that the family is the primary site of violence against older persons. [We also note that the resolution ignores the work of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing and ignores the conclusions of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.]

This resolution is one of a series of Protection of the Family resolutions that aim to subvert the universality of international human rights; stifle diversity and autonomy; and to shift rights protections away from family members, including older persons, into the institution of ‘the family’. We are concerned that the resolution attempts to instrumentalize older persons and their rights towards these ends.

We are also concerned by the resolution’s failure to recognize that various forms of family exist everywhere, and its stating that “the family plays a crucial role in the preservation of cultural identity, traditions, morals, heritage and the values system of society,” without recognising that families can perpetuate discriminatory and harmful values and traditions, particularly against older women. Culture and tradition are not static or homogeneous; we all have equal human rights to participate in and create culture. [When powerful institutions attempt to claim ownership over, or enforce ‘authentic’ interpretations of culture, tradition, or values, individuals – particularly those who are marginalized or vulnerable – are denied their fundamental rights.]

For these reasons, we do not believe this draft resolution is in line with human rights principles and standards and therefore call on the Core Group to withdraw it or for members of the Human Rights Council to amend or vote against it.

 

*Joining and supporting organisations:

  • Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
  • ARC International
  • Association for Women’s Rights in Development
  • Civil Authorize Negotiate Organization – Myanmar (C.A.N-Myanmar)
  • Coalition of African Lesbians
  • CREA
  • Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie van Homoseksualiteit – COC Nederland
  • HelpAge International
  • International Commission of Jurists
  • International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
  • International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)
  • International Longevity Centre Global Alliance (ILC GA)
  • OUtRight Action International
  • Sexual Rights Initiative