HRC33: Sexual Rights Recap

Published on October 06, 2016

The 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council took place from the 12th to the 30th of September 2016. Here is an overview of resolutions, panel, oral statements and side events related to sexual rights that took place during the session.


The HRC33 Recap provides information on some of the key sexual rights related:

  • Resolutions
  • Panels and Discussions
  • Oral Statements
  • Side Events

all of which the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) was engaged with during the session.


Sexual Rights-related Resolutions

Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human right

The Council adopted by consensus its biannual resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity. The resolution represents an advancement to women’s human rights on several counts.

However, fourteen amendments tabled by Russia aimed to significantly reduce the potential advances in the resolution, five of which went to a vote. The amendments targeted references to the CESCR General Comment 22 on the right to sexual and reproductive health and the CRPD General Comment 3 on women and girls with disabilities, and the call for States to remove third party authorization for health services ( agreed language from resolution A/HRC/RES/32/4), insisting on the qualifiers of the ICPD and Beijing Platform for Action for agreed language on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and sought to change the title of the proposed panel on maternal mortality and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

These five amendments were voted on and accepted by a majority of States in the Council. While the text remains strong and represents important advances in several areas, the number of amendments put forward and their acceptance by the Council members illustrates the continued challenges to advancing women’s rights to equality, health, life, information, privacy and control the number and spacing of children, among others. It is especially disappointing that the Council would backtrack on language agreed only three months ago in the Elimination of Discrimination against Women resolution at the June session regarding the removal of third party authorization for information and health services.


How the resolution advances women’s human rights:

  • highlights the linkages between human rights obligations related to ending preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and the SDGs and the Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health;
  • recognizes the obligation of States Parties to the ICESCR to take steps to achieve the full realization of the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health as an integral part of this right;
  • recognizes that sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, in accordance with the PoA of the ICPD and the Beijing Platform and the outcome of their review conferences are integral to the progressive realization of the right to health;
  • upholds the principles of formal and substantive equality within comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and services, while including the need to address intersecting and multiple forms of discrimination;
  • reaffirms women’s right to have control over, and to decide freely and responsibly on, matters related to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence;
  • recognizes the importance of identifying, within the SDGs framework, appropriate national indicators in reducing maternal mortality and morbidity with full respect of States relevant human rights obligations and commitments;
  • recognizes the large disparities in the maternal mortality rate between and within countries, between women with different incomes, between rural women and women living in urban areas;
  • notes with concern the higher rates of maternal mortality and complications in pregnancy and childbirth for adolescent girls under the age of 15;
  • recognizes the exacerbated risk of maternal mortality and morbidity in armed conflict and humanitarian emergencies;
  • identifies unsafe abortion, poverty, lack of access to services, discrimination against women, gender inequality and gender-based stereotypes as factors that can lead to maternal mortality and morbidity.
  • urges states to address these interlinked causes utilizing a human rights-based approach;
  • requests states to integrate a human-rights based perspective, addressing the impact that discrimination against women has on maternal mortality and morbidity, in maternal mortality and morbidity initiatives;
  • calls upon states to assess accountability mechanisms, where they exist, while ensuring access to justice for women and girls and to build accountability into interventions and strategies;
  • calls on states to ensure the meaningful participation of women and girls in all decisions that affect them;
  • calls upon all relevant actors to strengthen their efforts to reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity including through, amongst others, the application of the OHCHR technical guidance;
  • Decides to convene a panel at the 34th session of the human rights council on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity as a human rights priority for all states including in the context of the implementation of the 2030 agenda.


Click here to read the SRI statement



The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation A/HRC/33/L.19

The resolution was Adopted by vote of 42-1-4 and led by Germany and Spain. It includes the following reference to menstrual hygiene and stigma: “Deeply concerned that the lack of access to adequate water and sanitation services, including for menstrual hygiene management, especially in schools, contributes to reinforcing the widespread stigma associated with menstruation, which negatively affects gender equality and women’s and girls’ enjoyment of human rights, including the right to education and the right to health.”

Click here to read the resolution



Sexual Rights-related Panels & Discussions

Annual half-day discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples
Theme: The causes and consequences of violence against indigenous women and girls, including those with disabilitiesThe panel discussion will be based on a holistic approach to the issue of violence against indigenous women and girls, recognizing that such violence is deeply influenced by ethnicity, gender, and historical factors, and that addressing such violence requires an intersectional approach to human rights.The SRI delivered an oral statement addressing the legacy of colonialism, perpetuated by post-colonial power structures, patriarchy, gender norms and stereotypes and neo-liberal economic policies, which denies indigenous women’s agency, excludes indigenous women from development paradigms and increases vulnerability to violence and abuse. Read the statement »

Click here to read the SRI statement


Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms
Theme: Gender integration in the resolutions and recommendations of the Human Rights CouncilThe panel discussion will take stock of experts’ analysis on how a gender perspective has so far been integrated in the resolutions of the Council and in the recommendations of the universal periodic review (UPR), with a view to make concrete recommendations
The SRI delivered an oral statement addressing the failure of the Council from substantively taking up most of the findings and recommendations of the different mechanisms in a way that is meaningful for women and girls. We called on this Council to stop using women’s bodies as the battlefield in which geopolitical and ideological debates are fought and to work together to advance women’s human rights as is your duty and obligation. Read the statement »

Click here to read the SRI statement



SRI Oral Statements

Visit the SRI


Visit the SRI website for transcripts and video footage


Outcomes from the 25th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) were reviewed during the 33rd session of the HRC. The following fourteen countries were reviewed: Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Thailand.

SRI delivered statements to six countries:

SRI also made statements on: 7



SRI Side Events

Bodily Autonomy & Sexual Rights

HRC33 Panel: Bodily Autonomy & Sexual Rights


The panel articulated the benefits of advancing a holistic and intersectional understanding of bodily autonomy, explored the interlinkages between sexual rights issues affecting bodily autonomy, and encouraged the Human Rights Council to continue to produce contextualized analyses of sexuality and gender in relation to bodily autonomy. Click here for highlights »


Global Action on Safe and Legal Abortion

Global Action on Safe and Legal Abortion
In recognition of the Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, the panel Global Action on Safe and Legal Abortion shared different country experiences of advocating for safe and legal abortion, highlighted the human rights obligations of States to provide access to safe and legal abortion, and discussed opportunities to utilize HRC mechanisms to affect policy and legal changes at the national level.


more info about the HRC
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.

Click here for more information on HRC33