The 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council took place from 10 – 27 June 2014. Below are some highlights of sexual rights-related to Resolutions, discussions, UPR outcomes and parallel events that the SRI engaged with during this session.
Resolution on the ‘Protection of the Family’
A resolution entitled ‘Protection of the Family’ tabled by Bangladesh, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Qatar, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Uganda was adopted by the Council this session. The resolution calls on the Council to convene a panel on the subject during its 27th session and to remain seized of the matter.
Action on the resolution witnessed hostile methods, specifically the “No Action” Motion, which Russia introduced to stop discussion on an amendment calling for reference in the resolution to the recognition of existence of ‘various forms of the family’ (as highlighted in many UN resolutions). The amendment was proposed by a cross-regional coalition of 33 states. A subsequent amendment was tabled by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that attempted to limit the concept of family to forms based on “the union of a man and a woman.” A vote was taken on the “No Action” Motion which the core group just won (22 in favour, 20 against, with 4 abstentions).
Following this, a number of states highlighted the existence of ‘various forms of the family’ and the importance of ensuring the rights of individuals within the family, and expressed disappointment at the core group’s unwillingness to consider previously agreed upon language, despite it having been raised consistently during informals and bilaterals discussions on the draft resolution. Thus, pointing out the inadequacies of the draft resolution, a vote was called on it
The vote proceeded as follows:
In favour (26) of the text (A/HRC/26/L.20/Rev.1): Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, UAE, Venezuela and Viet Nam
Against (14) Austria, Chile, Czech republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, Republic of Korea, Romania, UK, USA
Abstentions (6) Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Macedonia Cuba did not vote.
The adoption of this resolution represents the first step towards cementing the patriarchal and heteronormative family as well as misusing international standards to imply that it is a subject of human rights protection in and of itself. This is clearly part of a broader, long-term strategy of some conservative States that has the potential to cause regress in women, children’s, LGBTI rights, among others, for example with regards to early and forced marriage, marital rape, sexual abuse of children, etc., by using the resolution as a means of promoting a narrow, exclusionary and patriarchal concept of “the family” that denies equal protection to the human rights of individuals who belong to the various and diverse forms of family that exist across the globe.
Resolution on ‘Violence Against Women’
The resolution ‘Violence against women as a barrier to women’s political and economic empowerment’ (A/HRC/26/L.26) tabled by Canada was adopted at the Council this session. It was co-sponsored by 53 member states (a significant drop in number from previous years).
Sixteen of the resolution’s traditional co-sponsors, namely France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Switzerland and Uruguay (accessible here), as well as the EU speaking as a group (accessible here), expressed concern with the final version of the text, specifically its weak references to sexual and reproductive rights. The group of sixteen states have thus far refused to co-sponsor the resolution. The US expressed similar concerns regarding the lack of attention paid to women’s sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, specifically the resolution’s failure to recognize the critical sexual and reproductive health services that survivors of violence must have access to, such as emergency contraception, safe abortion, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, and screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Such concerns arose from the initial draft presented by Canada, which did not contain any references to sexual and reproductive rights and health, and intensified from Canada’s consistent reluctance to meaningfully integrate suggestions on these issues during informal negotiations on the draft resolution, when constructive attempts were repeatedly made to strengthen the resolution by States such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil the EU, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the US, and Uruguay, among others.
In the end, the resolution contains two very general references to sexual and reproductive health and rights, which several traditional co-sponsors of the resolution found inadequate: Preambular Paragraph 19: “that respecting and promoting sexual and reproductive health, and protecting and fulfilling reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences is a necessary condition to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women,” and Operative Paragraph 6 (k), which calls on states to reduce “barriers to women’s social, economic and political empowerment, including by promoting and protecting sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.”
Annual full-day discussion on women’s rights: The day comprised of two panels. The morning panel, entitled “The Impact of Gender Stereotypes on the Recognition and Enjoyment of Women’s Human Rights,” highlighted international human rights obligations related to gender stereotypes, underscored how gender stereotypes/gender stereotyping hinders the achievement of women’s human rights and impedes their human rights, discussed some of the key challenges and good practices in addressing gender stereotypes and made recommendations for addressing gender stereotypes. Recommendations included establishing education and public awareness-raising programmes, conducting evidence-based research to raise the awareness of the legal community of the harms of judicial stereotyping, advocating for legal and policy reform to prohibit judicial stereotyping, and training health officials on the harms of gender stereotyping, specifically as it is an obstacle to positive health outcomes and a violation of human rights. Specific recommendations arose regarding women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, which called for greater respect for women’s bodily autonomy, confidentiality and young women and girls’ evolving capacities, the establishment of clear guidelines on informed consent, and the elimination of third party authorization requirements for sexual and reproductive health services and information. Recommendations also arose regarding the General Recommendation 19 on violence against women of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which recommends ensuring criminal proceedings are conducted in impartial and fair manners and free from stereotypical notions regarding the victim’s gender, age and disability. The Committee also recommends that states provide regular training on the Convention, its Optional Protocol and General Recommendation 19.
The afternoon panel, entitled “Women human rights and the sustainable development agenda,” examined the structural inequalities holding women and girls back from realizing their rights, discussed how gender inequality and violence against women undermine full realization of women’s rights and how these issues should be addressed in the post 2015 sustainable development agenda. The panel made strong arguments in favour of the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights, a stand alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment and the mainstreaming of gender equality throughout the post-2015 development agenda. Recommendations from panellists included meaningful integration of: women’s domestic work and unpaid care, a focus on violence against women and women’s bodily autonomy and integrity, the elimination of discriminatory laws which deprive women of their right to access resources, land ownership and freedom of movement and occupation, commitments made within the context of the women’s peace and security agenda, mechanisms to support civil society and specifically women’s rights organizations, and strategies to engage men and boys including support for public awareness raising and education to achieve gender equality. On the issue of sexual and reproductive health and rights, two strong recommendations emerged which included the need to recognize adolescent girls sexual and reproductive health and rights outside and beyond maternal health as well as young people’s access to comprehensive sexuality education. Panellists also agreed that the post-2015 development agenda must be grounded in a human rights-based approach, with emphasis on the indivisibility and universality of human rights. They also agreed that the means of implementation of the new agenda include concrete investments in the critical areas discussed alongside effective accountability mechanisms. Specific recommendations on this point included aligning the post-2015 development agenda with existing human rights accountability mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review and the work of treaty monitoring bodies.
Panel on preventing and eliminating child, early and forced marriage: The panel discussion built on the findings of the OHCHR report which was mandated by resolution A/HRC/24/23 and allowed for a discussion on good practices, challenges and remaining gaps, including in the following areas: ensuring a human rights-compliant legal framework to address CEFM, addressing the root causes of CEFM, including poverty, lack of education and cultural and religious practices supporting CEFM, addressing the continuum of harm experience by victims, and promoting successful programmatic interventions. The panel was an opportunity to share good practices in addressing cultural norms that support CEFM including through community-led approaches. Furthermore, the panel allowed for a discussion on how CEFM can form part of the ongoing discussions on the post-2015 development framework.
The SRI’s partner, CREA, was represented on the panel by Ms. Pooja Badarinath, Programme Coordinator, Advocacy and Research (CREA). Ms. Badarinath discussed the relationship between CEFM and control over women’s bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive rights. Ms. Badarinath also discussed the prevalence of sexual violence in early and forced marriages, which can result in unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and negative health outcomes, and the human rights violations they entail. Ms. Badarinath concluded with an analysis of the root causes associated with the practice, including deeply rooted patriarchal norms which perpetuate gender-based inequalities, norms and stereotypes, and strategies to address the practice, including the provision of comprehensive sexuality education.
High-level Panel on the identification of good practices in combating female genital mutilation: The panel focused on progress made, good practices, and challenges and obstacles encountered in the effort to eliminate FGM. It addressed the needs of girls and women who suffer the consequences of FGM. Panellists highlighted promising practices and initiatives at the national, regional and international levels, as well as remaining challenges to address FGM and recommendations on the way forward. Such initiatives include the collection of age-disaggregated data on the topic, support for strategies to address negative gender stereotypes and norms, strengthened collaboration among UN agencies, and between UN agencies and relevant government Ministries, strengthened accountability mechanisms for the implementation of existing domestic laws and support for lobbying activities for the enactment of effective domestic legislation on the issue, mechanisms to enable the meaningful participation of young women and girls in decisions that affect their lives and awareness raising activities, among other initiatives to address the issue.
Sexual rights-related parallel events
Criminalization of sexuality and reproduction: Looking at the intersections: 12 June 2014: The SRI, in partnership with, Amnesty International, Ipas and UNAIDS, hosted a parallel event examining the interplay of the criminalization of sexuality and reproduction with the international human rights framework. Topics of discussion included the ways criminalization of abortion, sex work, HIV transmission and other aspects of sexuality and reproduction relates to control over one’s choices, restriction on autonomy and disregard for consent. Panellists explored these issues through an intersectional lens to enable a discussion of effective and rights‐based strategies to restore the control of every person over their sexuality, body and life. Click here for more information.
Outcomes from the 18th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) were reviewed during this session. Fourteen countries were reviewed:
- Afghanistan: accepted recommendations to address harmful traditional practices including child, early and forced marriage, to eliminate discrimination against women and to put in place a plan, to improve implementation of the 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Rejected recommendations to abolish the practice of prosecuting women for “moral crimes” and to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Watch the webcast, here.
- Cambodia: accepted recommendations to eliminate patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes, to provide free treatment to people living with HIV, to further develop the health sector and to provide sexual and reproductive health information. Little attention was paid to the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Watch the webcast, here.
- Chile: accepted recommendations to review the penal code, namely article 373, and other laws in order to prevent discrimination against LGBTI persons, to provide adequate information on family planning and to establish the family as the fundamental unit of society. Rejected all recommendations related to abortion, clarifying that the right to access abortion services does not fall under the definition of sexual and reproductive rights. Watch the webcast, here.
- Comoros: accepted recommendations to cooperate with UN agencies on efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality, to establish a minimum legal age for marriage and to carry out a revision of the various legal systems to ensure that its treatment of women is uniform and in line with provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Rejected recommendations to address discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Watch the webcast, here.
- Cyprus: accepted recommendations to enact legislation to recognize civil partnership and to amend the Criminal Code to explicitly prohibit incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination against persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Watch the webcast, here.
- Dominican Republic: accepted recommendations to protect LGBT persons against gender-based violence and discrimination, to strengthen the National Strategic Plan for the Reduction of Maternal Mortality 2012-2016 and the National Plan for the Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy and to continue its efforts in adopting HIV/AIDS care programs. Rejected recommendations to decriminalize abortion in cases of incest or rape and to guarantee sexual and reproductive rights. Watch the webcast, here.
- Eritrea: accepted recommendations to eliminate discriminatory practices against women and children, allocate resources for awareness-raising activities for women and girls’ empowerment, and to hold perpetrators of violence against women accountable. Rejected recommendation to launch a national dialogue and campaign to tackle all forms of discrimination against LGBT persons. Watch the webcast, here.
- Macedonia: accepted recommendations to undertake awareness raising activities address discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Rejected recommendations to specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination n the Anti-Discrimination Act. Watch the webcast, here.
- New Zealand: accepted recommendations to allocate resources to address violence against women and to enhance efforts to provide equal access to health services. Committed to voluntarily examine recommendations from the National Human Rights Commission and UPR stakeholder submissions regarding the legalisation of abortion, and to consult with civil society organizations in examining these recommendations. Watch the webcast, here.
- Slovakia: accepted recommendation to safeguard the health care choice to have recourse to conscientious objection. Partially accepted the recommendation protect the right to life from conception, stating decision from the Constitutional Court which rejected the establishment the absolute ‘right to life’ from conception. Therefore, rejected wording ‘from conception’ from the recommendation. Watch the webcast, here.
- Uruguay: accepted recommendations to prevent, investigate, and seek remedy for the victims of homophobic and transphobic crimes. Rejected recommendation affirming that the ‘family is the natural and fundamental group of society based upon the stable relationship between a man and a woman. Watch the webcast, here.
- Vanuatu: accepted recommendations to address the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and children and to take the necessary steps to ensure that the principles that guarantee equality between men and women are applied in judicial proceedings and that socio-legal services are made more available to women. Watch the webcast, here.
- Viet Nam: accepted recommendation to enact a law to fight discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and to exert greater efforts to further reduce the child mortality rate. Watch the webcast, here.
The SRI collaborated with organizations and individuals in preparing six reports for: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, New Zealand and Uruguay.
All Outcome Reports from, containing decisions on all recommendations can be accessed here.
Sexual Rights UPR database
The Sexual Rights Initiative has launched a Universal Periodic Review (URP) Sexual Rights database. This database allows you to access and search all the sexual rights related recommendations and references made during the Universal Periodic Review through several categories including: State under Review, Source of Reference, Type of Reference and Thematic Issue, using either the basic or advanced search options. For more information, click here.
SRI oral statements
- Annual full day discussion on women human rights: The Impact of Gender Stereotypes on the Recognition and Enjoyment of Women’s Human Rights; the statement focused on eliminating negative gender stereotypes in developing laws and policies
- Annual full day discussion on women human rights: Women human rights and the sustainable development agenda; the statement focused on the integration of sexual and reproductive rights into the post-2015 development agenda
- Agenda Item #3 – Promotion and Protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development: interactive dialogues with the Working Group on discrimination against woman in law and practice and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education; the statement focused on comprehensive sexuality education
- Agenda Item #3: Promotion and Protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development: interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children; the statement focused on the risks associated with conflating trafficking and sex work
- Agenda Item 3: Promotion and Protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development: interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women; the statement focused on the Special Rapporteur’s visit to India
- Agenda Item 3: Promotion and Protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development – General Debate; the statement focused on the rights of individuals with families
- Agenda item #8 (General Debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action); the statement focused on various forms of the family, and protection of the human rights of individuals within the family
- Panel discussion on preventing and eliminating child, early and forced marriage; statement focused on the criminalization of marital rape and married young women and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health services and information
- Response to Cambodia’s UPR outcome
- Response to Uruguay’s UPR outcome
- Response to Eritrea’s UPR outcome
- Response to New Zealand’s UPR outcome
- Response to Dominican Republic’s UPR outcome
- Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health: Mr. Danius Puras (Lithuania)
- Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children: Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (Italy)
- Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression: Mr. David Kaye (USA)