The 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council took place September 10-28, 2018. Below you will find information on some of the key sexual rights related resolutions, oral statements, annual discussions, as well as information on the SRI side event and videos.
- Statement on the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion: More than 200 civil society organizations from around the world came together to sign this statement in the lead up to the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. The statement is available in English, French, Spanish and Russian.
- In support of the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, the Sexual Rights Initiative organized a side event on “Regional Developments in Abortion Law and Policy Reforms” during HRC39.
- The Sexual Rights Initiative with the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Global Justice Center, Arrow, Rutgers, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, Plan International, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, the Federation for Women and Family Planning, Akahatá and the White Ribbon Alliance welcome the major gains on women’s and girls’ rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights at HRC39. Click here to read our statement
Sexual Rights-related Resolutions
Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights in humanitarian settings A/HRC/39/L.13/Rev.1
Led by Burkina Faso, Colombia, New Zealand and Estonia and co-sponsored by 46 countries as of 28 September 2018, this biennial resolution focuses on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity (PMMM) in humanitarian settings. It recognizes that in humanitarian settings pre-existing patterns and structures of discrimination and inequalities are exacerbated and lead to high rates of PMMM. It emphasizes that respecting, protecting and fulfilling women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights is crucial to prevent MMM. The resolution frames MMM as an issue intrinsically linked to women’s right to bodily autonomy and thus to their right to have control over and to decide freely and responsibly on matters relating to sexuality, including in humanitarian settings. Consequently, the resolution urges states to ensure that laws, policies, practices as well as international assistance are in line with international human rights law and thus respect women’s bodily autonomy and privacy and their equal right to decide autonomously on matters regarding their own lives and health. The resolution draws attention to the situation of adolescent girls and urges states to guarantee universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including safe abortion in accordance with international human rights law and where not against the law.
The resolution encourages states to deliver the Minimum Initial Service Package for Reproductive Health at the onset of humanitarian emergencies. Accordingly, the resolution calls upon states to place women and girls at the centre of humanitarian preparedness and response and to ensure their effective and meaningful participation in decision making processes, including through feminist networks and women’s rights organizations. It also urges states to ensure access to justice, accountability mechanisms and effective remedies to prevent and address human rights violations, including by considering integrating sexual and reproductive health into the mandates of investigative bodies established by the Human Rights Council. Importantly, the resolution requests the High Commissioner, in collaboration with relevant UN agencies, humanitarian entities and civil society organizations, to organize a two-day meeting in 2019, to discuss good practices, gaps and challenges in the application of a human rights-based approach to the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity in humanitarian settings, and to submit a summary report thereon to the Human Rights Council at its forty-second session.
Specific language advancements relating to sexual rights include:
- Urges all States to eliminate preventable maternal mortality through the removal of legal barriers and the development and enforcement of policies, good practices and legal frameworks that respect bodily autonomy and guarantee universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, evidence-based information and education within a human rights-based approach, including for family planning, safe and effective methods of modern contraception, emergency contraception, universal access to health care, including quality maternal health care, such as skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care, safe abortion in accordance with international human rights law and where not against national law, the prevention and treatment of reproductive tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, HIV and reproductive cancers, and the integration of sexual and reproductive health into national health strategies and programs for all women and girls, including adolescents;
- Urges States to ensure that laws, policies and practices respect women’s bodily autonomy and privacy and the equal right to decide autonomously in matters regarding their own lives and health by bringing laws and policies concerning sexual and reproductive health, including international assistance policies, into line with international human rights law and repealing discriminatory laws relating to third-party authorization for health information and health-care services, and combating gender stereotypes, norms and behaviours that are discriminatory;
- Calls upon States to support gender equality and women’s rights and the rights of the child, including within families, through awareness-raising initiatives, including in schools and in displaced and refugee camps and settlements, especially education and public awareness-raising, including through the media and online, the incorporation of curricula on all women’s and girls’ rights into teacher training courses, including the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination, and ensuring universal access to evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education consistent with the evolving capacities of the child;
One amendment containing two changes was tabled against this resolution by the Russian Federation:
- A/HRC/39/L.31 to change pp24 as follows: Deeply concerned that women and girls living in humanitarian settings are disproportionately exposed to a high risk of violation of their rights, including through trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence, systematic rape, sexual slavery, forced sterilization forced pregnancy, harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and lack of accessible and appropriate sexual and reproductive health care-services, evidence-based information and education,
including comprehensive sexuality education consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, lack of access to peri-natal care including skilled-birth attendance, and emergency obstetric care, poverty, underdevelopment, all types of malnutrition, lack of access to medicines and medical equipment, human and material shortages facing health care systems; humanitarian and funding shortages affecting hospitals, technical assistance, capacity building and training needs; lack of access to water and sanitation, resulting in heightened risks of unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortion and maternal mortality and morbidity;
- A/HRC/39/L.31 to change op12 as follows: Calls upon States to support gender equality and women’s
and girls’rights and the rights of the child, including within families, through awareness-raising initiatives, including in schools and in displaced and refugee camps and settlements, especially education and public awareness-raising, including through the media and online, the incorporation of curricula on all women and girls’ rights into teacher training courses, including the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination, and ensuring universal access to evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education consistent with the evolving capacities of the child;
ADOPTED BY CONSENSUS
Led by Venezuela on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and co-sponsored by 118 countries as of 28 September 2018, this resolution stresses the interrelatedness between the right to development and the Sustainable Development Goals, and considers the right to development to provide a vital enabling environment for the full realization of the Sustainable Development Goals. It recognizes that inequality is a major obstacle to the realization of the right to development and expresses concern about the human rights violations and abuses committed by transnational corporations and other business enterprises. The resolution requests that the Working Group on the Right to Development begins discussions on the scope and content of a legally binding instrument on the right to development, to prepare a draft legally binding instrument to serve as a basis for substantive negotiations and requests the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee to prepare a report on such on instrument to be presented to the Council at its 45th session.
Adopted by vote: click here to see the voting chart
Led by Botswana, Czechia, Netherlands and Peru and co-sponsored by 47 countries as of 26 September 2018, the resolution recognizes the crucial role of equal and effective participation in political and public affairs in the promotion of democracy, rule of law, social inclusion and economic development. It also emphasizes its critical role in advancing gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. The resolution encourages the use and dissemination of the draft guidelines prepared by the OHCHR on the effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs including a focus on participation in electoral processes, in non-electoral contexts and at the international level. The resolution requests the Office of the High Commissioner to disseminate and promote the use of the guidelines and to prepare, in consultation with States and all other relevant stakeholders, a follow-up report on good practices and challenges faced by States in using the guidelines, and to present it to the Human Rights Council at its forty-eighth session;
One oral amendment was tabled against this resolution by South Africa, China and Pakistan
1. A/HRC/39/L.14/Rev.1 to change op1 as follow: Presents these guidelines as a [ADD voluntary] set of orientations for States, as well as for, where appropriate, other relevant stakeholders in relation to the effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs;
Adopted by vote: click here to see the voting chart
Led by Germany and Spain and co-sponsored by 50 states as of 28 September 2018, the resolution focuses on the needs of women and girls in relation to the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. Though the resolution does not touch upon the human right violations and structural inequalities generated by the privatisation of water in many countries and frames women and girls’ needs and challenges in a very narrow way, some advancements are worth noting. The resolution acknowledges the interlinkages between universal and equitable access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. It recognizes that women and girls’ lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, including menstrual hygiene management, which constitutes a major barrier to gender equality and prevents women and girls from realizing their full potential. The resolution further draws attention to the reality that women and girls shoulder the main burden of collecting household water, which negatively affects their empowerment and can expose them to gender based violence. It expresses concern over the stigma and widespread shame associated to menstruation and menstrual hygiene and calls upon states to address negative social norms by ensuring universal access to hygienic products and gender-sensitive facilities. Further, it calls upon states ensure women’s full, effective and equal participation in decision making on water and sanitation management. The resolution recognizes that accountability should encompass both judicial and non judicial remedies and calls for the development of gender responsive indicators monitoring mechanisms.
One amendment containing two changes was tabled against this resolution by Kyrgyzstan.
1. A/HRC/39/L.11 to change op3 as follows: Reaffirms that States have the primary responsibility to ensure the full realization of all human rights and must take steps, nationally and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of their available resources, to achieve progressively the full realization of the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation [ADD on their own territories] by all appropriate means, including in particular the adoption of legislative measures in the implementation of their human rights obligations;
2. A/HRC/39/L.11 to change op7 (b) as follows: to ensure the progressive realization of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation for all [ADD within own territories] in a non-discriminatory manner while eliminating inequalities in access, including for persons at risk and marginalized groups, on the grounds of race, gender, age, disability, ethnicity, culture, religion and national or social origin or on any other grounds;
Adopted by vote: click here to see the voting chart
Led by Brazil, Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, Philippines, Slovenia and Thailand and co-sponsored by 51 countries as of 28 September 2018, the resolution of the World Programme for Human Rights Education intended to focus on youth, but youth is mentioned only three times in the resolution. The resolution recognizes the essential role of the right to education, including human rights education among youth in the prevention and eradication of all forms of intolerance and discrimination. Therefore, it encourages states to provide human rights education and training for educators in formal and non-formal education and training. Further it decides to make youth the focus group of the fourth phase of the World Programme for Human Rights Education with special emphasis on education and training in equality, human rights and non-discrimination and inclusion and respect for diversity.
ADOPTED BY CONSENSUS
SRI Oral Statements
The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery presented her report on the impact of slavery and servitude on marginalized and migrant women workers in the global domestic economy. The report comprehensively addresses the many forms of discrimination faced by the migrant women workers in the global domestic economy including but not limited, discriminatory working conditions, lack of access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights. SRI made a statement welcoming the report, highlighting neo-liberal economies with its attendant privatized systems and services that prioritise profits over people, reinforce patriarchal structures that compound unpaid care burdens on women, particularly migrant women. The statement called for recognition of all women’s unpaid labour and its contribution to the economy and States to respect, protect and fulfill migrant domestic worker’s human rights without exception including the right to health, to be free from violence, to fair working conditions and to bodily autonomy and integrity.
The Special Rapporteur on the right to development presented his report on the connection between the right to development and equality, the consequences of inequalities within countries on the enjoyment of the right to development. The SRI statement welcomed the focus on inequalities and highlighted the need to foreground discussion around inequalities in the structures and systems that cause and perpetuate inequalities. This includes patriarchy, racism, classism, nestled within larger neoliberal economies. The statement called for people-centered and rights-based approach to development by all States and further called for ensuring accessible, available, acceptable and good quality health-care for all persons.
Joint Oral Statements
The Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples presented a thematic study on the attacks against and the criminalisation of indigenous human rights defenders and reflects on available prevention and protection measures. The report highlights the gendered impact of criminalisation of Indigenous women human rights defenders and recommends States to put in place protection measures that are culturally appropriate, consider gender aspects and developed jointly with communities concerned. SRI and AWID submitted a joint statement honoring Berta Caceres, a feminist, Indigenous land and territory defender and demanding accountability for violations of rights of indigenous communities by State representatives, private security companies, and corporations. The statement also called for the strengthening the regulatory framework for business’s behavior with legally binding measures such as legally-binding measures such as the instrument developed by the IGWG to regulate TNCs and other business enterprises.
Joint statement with AWID – not delivered orally
Item 8 General Debate – Joint statement of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, the Coalition of African Lesbians, the Association for Progressive Communications, and the Sexual Rights Initiative
Colombia received 221 and accepted 183 of these. Twenty-eight recommendations were noted. Recommendations addressing SRHR, all of which were accepted by Colombia, included establishing a protection programme for women human rights defenders, ensuring access to sexuality education and friendly youth reproductive health services, and full access to abortion, acess to SRH services for women and girls with disabilities. SRI collaborated with Akahata and Equipo Colombiano de Investigación en Conflicto y Paz to produce a report on sexual violence, patriarchy, armed conflict, “corrective” rape, racist ethnic class and structural violence, women, lesbians, bisexual, campesinas, and historical discrimination. A statement was delivered during the adoption of the report drawing attention to the absence of recommendations that address the intersectional nature of violence and discrimination and the particular protection gaps and lack of redress for women with non-normative sexual orientation and gender identity who experience violence and discrimination.
Cameroon received 196 recommendations. Of these recommendations, Cameroon accepted 135, noted 24 and rejected 38. Cameroon explained that recommendations were rejected on the basis that they issues which “Cameroonian people find objectionable as a whole and are not in conformity with our cultural and religious values”. Cameroon accepted a number of recommendations on HIV, for the most part general recommendations relating to combatting discrimination against persons living with HIV and AIDS: Intensify efforts to combat discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS (Lesotho) However, recommendations relating to other SRHR concerns were noted – these included recommendations relating to sexual and reproductive education for girls women and girls, preventing sexual harassment in schools.
Cameroon rejected recommendations that addressed violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and also rejected one recommendation on abortion.
SRI collaborated with the Coalition of African Lesbians and the African Sex Workers Alliance to produce a report that focused on criminalization of sex work; sexual and reproductive health and rights; HIV; discrimination; violence and was submitted with the Coalition of African Lesbians and African Sex Workers Alliance.
Bangladesh accepted 178 and noted 73 of the 251 recommendations received. Bangladesh accepted recommendations on SRHR themes of early and forced marriage, combatting violence and discrimination as a way of realizing sexual and reproductive rights. Recommendations relating to recognition of marital rape, decriminalization of same sex conduct and ensuring young people’s access to sex education and reproductive health services were noted.
SRI collaborated with the Right Here, Right Now network to produce a stakeholder report that focused on young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights; comprehensive sexuality education; unsafe abortions; early and child marriage; health services for youth with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities; gender inequality; gender-based violence; youth friendly health services; maternal mortality.
SRI and the Right Here Right Now Bangladesh Platform collaborated to deliver a statement at the adoption.
Of the 275 recommendations received, Canada accepted in full or partially 208 recommendations and noted 67. Canada accepted SRHR recommendations made in relation to ensuring equal access to abortion and CSE, investigation of and response to rights violations of vulnerable women, including forced sterilization and murder of indigenous women, strengthening the legal framework on sexual violence, and addressing violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Canada noted one SRHR recommendation that called for the adoption of a national action plan on gender-based violence with participation of civil society organisations, particularly indigenous women’s organisations. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights and the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, in partnership with the SRI, both submitted stakeholder reports that addressed the rights violations of persons engaging in sex work resulting from the criminalized status of sex work in Canada. Despite these submissions, no recommendations relating to sex work were raised by reviewing states. The Canadian government also did not address the substance or recommendations made in these stakeholder reports.
Abortion Side-Event at HRC 39
In support of the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, the Sexual Rights Initiative organized a side event on “Regional Developments in Abortion Law and Policy Reforms”.
Panelists highlighted regional developments in abortion law and policy reform, shed light on regional commonalities and differences that have led to change, and illustrated the ways in which different stakeholders have used human rights law to develop innovative strategies to advance the right to access safe and legal abortion in their region.
Click here for a transcript of the panel!
Summary of Annual Discussions
Theme: Gender integration and human rights investigations: strengthening a victim-centred approach
The speakers of the panel explained that a lack of gender integration in investigations meant that human rights violations related to gender and sexuality, such as marital rape, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and the deliberate deprivation of essential sexual and reproductive health services, were not being recognised. Likewise assaults against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; and attacks on female human rights defenders, were not accounted for. Integrating a gender perspective in investigations was important because it broadens the scope of protection and the impact of the conflict. The panel also highlighted that a gender analysis does not mean only to report on sexual violence, but it implies looking at how power relations and how social structures impact a person’s experience.
Theme: Participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the development and implementation of strategies and projects in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
Speakers highlighted that the Sustainable Development Goals were a recognition that people needed to be at the centre of development. However, in some cases development projects were implemented under the disguise of poverty reduction without the informed consent of the affected Indigenous peoples. This led to violations of their rights and the destruction of traditional culture, language, land and human heritage. Indigenous peoples are one of the world’s most disadvantaged, and most left behind people. There were around 1,000 Universal Periodic Review recommendations on the rights of Indigenous peoples linked to their rights in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals. One of the main issues of the recommendations was participation in decision making, specially of women, access to justice, birth registration, and lack of attention to the intersections between discrimination and sexuality and gender.
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Created in 2006 to replace the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Council is the foremost international body for the promotion and protection of human rights and can be used to bring substantial pressure on governments to take steps to implement human rights norms. The Human Rights Council is comprised of governments of countries that are members of the United Nations and is an important venue to develop and advance sexual rights as a critical part of the international human rights framework.