HRC36 Oral Statements

Published on September 16, 2017

The 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council is took place from 11-29 September 2017. Here are transcripts of oral statements made by the Sexual Rights Initiative.

Annual discussion on integration of a gender perspective

I make this statement on behalf of the Sexual Rights Initiative.

We welcome the theme of this discussion as it provides an opportunity to focus on accountability mechanisms for the 2030 Agenda and States’ commitments to achieving gender equality.

Data from the first two UPR cycles show that gender equality and women’s rights feature prominently in State recommendations. Yet, their language and national reports regularly lack specificity on the laws, policies and budgets that are crucial for the realization of gender equality. Moreover, egregious sexual and reproductive rights violations that directly impact gender equality and the overall goals of Agenda 2030 continue to be neglected by States. Specific examples of neglected issues, derived from the SRI’s Sexual Rights UPR database, include denial of safe abortion, restrictions on adolescent access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, inhumane treatment of migrants and refugees, and violence against sex workers, all of which are directly connected to treaty obligations and SDGs 1,3, 4, 5, 10 and 16. At a time when we are observing a worrying tendency to step back on women’s rights, especially on reproductive and sexual rights, at national, regional and global levels, we cannot afford to ignore the opportunities presented by the UPR to hold states accountable.

We must recognize that while the SDGs present a global and forward looking agenda, they are insufficient to ensure the full range of human rights to which women and girls are entitled, especially their sexual and reproductive rights. The Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, including the UPR, can help strengthen the legitimacy of the SDG processes by aligning recommendations and reporting with SDG indicators focused on law and policy reform that meet human rights standards.

The potential exists for the SDG and UPR processes to be mutually reinforcing and complementary to the advancement of gender equality. However, for this happen States must listen to what women and girls from the country under review are telling them are the major barriers to gender equality, and deliver specific, measurable and achievable recommendations.

I thank you.


Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development

Thank you Mr President.

I make this statement on behalf of the Sexual Rights Initiative. We congratulate the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development on his appointment to this new mandate.

The Women’s Human Rights Defenders International Coalition frames the global crises within which human rights defenders do their activism within 5 key factors:

  1. The global capitalist crises
  2. The crises in democracy
  3. Religious extremisms and fundamentalisms
  4. Patriarchy and heteronormativity
  5. Militarism and conflict

The Coalition of African Lesbians includes in this list of factors that define the current global crises environmental exploitation and degradation. The causes and consequences of this hostile context can be addressed by this Council through deploying the concept of right to development. This right enables us to bridge the gap between civil and political rights on the one hand and social, cultural and economic rights on the other. None of us need to be reminded that there is sufficient wealth and resources in the world to ensure that everyone can live in dignity and enjoy good health, having their basic needs met.

The Sexual Rights Initiative thanks and affirms the Special Rapporteur for reminding us all that. 

The Charter of the United Nations mandated the United Nations to higher standards of living; full employment; conditions of economic and social progress and development; solutions to international economic, social, health and related problems; international cultural and educational co-operation and universal respect for and observance of human rights

The World Conference on Human Rights emphasised the importance of removing obstacles to development, including human rights violations, racism, colonialism and foreign occupation; of promoting peace and security; and of increasing the resources devoted to development.

In keeping with the concerns articulated by the Special Rapporteur on the barriers to the implementation of the Declaration on the Right to Development, the Sexual Rights Initiative calls on States to:

  1. Desist from the politicisation of the right to development and to respect and act to implement the Declaration on the Right to Development in accordance with human rights standards and obligations;
  2. Engage actively in promoting, protecting and fulfilling the right to development with the same commitment and vigour with which they advocate for civil and political rights in recognition of their interdependence;
  3. Reaffirm the Special Rapporteur’s clarion call regarding the universality of human rights and that the promotion of, respect for and enjoyment of certain human rights and fundamental freedoms cannot justify the denial of other human rights and fundamental freedoms; and
  4. States to heed the injunction of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development to bring to the discussion the paradigm of choice – the right of every individual to participate in, to contribute to and to enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development in order to achieve sustainable development;

We look forward to the work and future reports of the Special Rapporteur and to observing the co-operation of all states in this Council in addressing issues related to the right to development.

Thank you Mr President.


Item 6: Universal Periodic Review Outcomes – Brazil

Not delivered orally due to time limitations

Thank you Mr. President,

Action Canada makes this statement on behalf of Ipas and the Sexual Rights Initiative. We welcome Brazil’s acceptance of a number of recommendations relating to ensuring universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in accordance with its commitments made at the Montevideo Consensus amongst others, and to continue expanding access to voluntary termination of pregnancy so as to ensure the full recognition of sexual and reproductive rights.

In addition, Brazil stated that it will continue to ensure access to safe abortion as long as it is subject to existing laws. Unfortunately, this is not enough and completely disingenuous. Current legislation on abortion is highly restrictive and not fully implemented preventing women and adolescent girls to have access to services that provide safe and legal abortions. In most of health services health professionals are permitted to refuse to perform the procedure requested by sexual violence victims. It is no surprise to learn that clandestine and unsafe abortions disproportionately affect poorer, socially excluded, black and rural women and that complications from unsafe abortion represent one of five causes of preventable maternal mortality in Brazil.

It should also be noted that these circumstances were increased during the public health emergency declared by The World Health Organization relating to the Zika epidemic. The government’s inadequate response to the epidemic failed to prevent harm and to protect women’s sexual reproductive health rights and the protocol on the health care response to the virus, elaborated by the Ministry of Health failed to address relevant reproductive rights, including access to safe and legal abortion for women not willing to continue their pregnancies with many uncertainties about future health consequences, as well as access to information on the risk of sexually transmitted infections, among the traditionally underserved populations living in the most affected areas in the Northeast.

The Brazilian government’s commitments made in this UPR on ensuring universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services including on expanding access to voluntary termination of pregnancy without discrimination, means that it must comply with its obligations under international human rights law. We call on the government to reverse discriminatory policies and practices, and review punitive laws that impose unnecessary suffering for women in most need.

Thank you,


Item 6: Adopción de los Resultados del EPU – Ecuador

Gracias Señor Presidente,

Hago esta declaración en nombre de la Iniciativa por los Derechos Sexuales y Taller Comunicación Mujer de Ecuador.

Apreciamos el compromiso de Ecuador con el proceso del EPU y su aceptación las recomendaciones recibidas de redoblar sus esfuerzos dirigidos a eliminar la discriminación y la violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas, y la búsqueda y enjuiciamiento a los autores de actos de esa naturaleza, como también las recomendaciones que llaman a adoptar medidas para prevenir, investigar y sancionar las manifestaciones de violencia, intolerancia y discriminación contra personas LGBTI, investigando, enjuiciando y castigando a autores de dichos actos.

Asimismo, tomamos nota del reconocimiento por parte de Ecuador de la existencia de las llamadas “clínicas de rehabilitación y las terapias de “reorientación sexual” y la aceptación de las recomendaciones solicitando medidas para erradicarlas, eliminando las prácticas de internación forzosa de personas LGB. Destacamos que sobre esta situación Ecuador ya recibió recomendaciones en el ciclo anterior y sin embargo estos establecimientos y prácticas continúan vigentes.

Mientras tomamos nota del compromiso de Ecuador en este EPU, quisiéramos resaltar que para la efectiva implementación de estas y otras recomendaciones aceptadas son necesarias medidas adicionales y fundamentales, entre otras, reunir información permanente y actualizada permita conocer, analizar y evaluar su situación, el diseño de políticas y programas integrales sobre la materia y la asignación de un presupuesto suficiente.

Por este motivo instamos a Ecuador que tome estas medidas adicionales ya que permitirán una implementación integral y efectiva de las recomendaciones aceptadas.

Muchas gracias,

Item 6: Universal Periodic Review Outcomes – United Kingdom

Thank you Mr President. Action Canada makes this statement in collaboration with Alliance for Choice Northern Ireland and the Sexual Rights Initiative.

We regret that out of the 227 recommendations the UK received to improve its human rights record, it chose to accept less than 100 recommendations – a paltry 42 per cent. This represents a blatant disregard for the integrity of the UPR process and calls into question the UK government’s willingness to uphold international human rights laws and norms.

In its national report, the UK proclaimed itself a champion in opposing ‘modern forms of slavery’. However, the continued criminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland and the UK’s rejection of recommendations to address this grave human rights situation belies this assertion. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery has stated that forced ‘motherhood’ experienced by women and girls in countries which restrict or deny access to abortion should be classified as a form of ‘modern slavery’.

While access to safe abortion is legally permitted in England, Scotland and Wales, women and adolescent girls in Northern Ireland are denied this very same choice and are forced to travel abroad to access safe and legal abortion, provided they have the means to do so. If they do not have the means, they are forced to continue pregnancies against their will or risk criminal prosecution by seeking out safe but illegal medical abortions.

The criminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland is incompatible with international human rights obligations. It is a violation of the rights to health, to non-discrimination, to privacy, to life, to liberty and to security of the person and to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment.

We call on the UK government to put to one side the politics that have sustained this discrimination, fulfil its obligations as the duty bearer for the implementation of human rights within its jurisdiction as per the Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and devolved administrations, and realise the human rights of all women and girls in Northern Ireland.


Item 6: Universal Periodic Review Outcomes – India

Thank you Mr. President

Action Canada makes this statement on behalf of the Sexual Rights Initiative.

We welcome the fact that 12 countries made recommendations to India regarding the need to recognise marital rape as a form of rape, however we are deeply concerned that India has not accepted these recommendations and that it continues to favour the exception on marital rape.
Only a few days ago, on 29th August 2017, in an affidavit filed before the Delhi High Court the Central Government stated that “(I)t has to be ensured adequately that marital rape does not become a phenomenon which may destabilise the institution of marriage apart from being an easy tool for harassing the husbands,”.

India’s commitments under CEDAW and other international instruments require it to recognize marital rape as a serious form of violence against women, punishable under its laws. In India’s 4th and 5th periodic review under CEDAW, the Committee observed that Indian rape laws need to reflect the realities of sexual abuse experienced by women and to remove the exception of marital rape from the definition of rape.

Further, while India received eight recommendations on access to healthcare, education and other benefits for persons with disabilities, we are disappointed that specific issues faced by women with disabilities were not addressed by the Council. While laws on violence against women are applicable to women with disabilities, systems and procedures are not equipped to deal with the specific concerns of women with disability. All recommendations concerning the rights of people with disability should incorporate the reality of human rights violations faced specifically by girls and women with disability.

We strongly call upon the Indian government to implement the recommendations on removing the exception to marital rape in its penal laws. To put the institution of marriage before the basic human rights of a person to be free from sexual violence is unacceptable. We also urge the Indian government to recognise and address the holistic sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls with disabilities and its impact on issues around access in accordance with General Comment 3 of the CRPD.

Thank you


Item 6: Universal Periodic Review Outcomes – Indonesia

Thank you Mr President. Action Canada makes this statement on behalf of the Sexual Rights Initiative.

We welcome the Government’s acceptance of recommendations related to the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education, early and forced marriage and reproductive health. We urge the government to take practical and meaningful steps to implement these recommendations with the full involvement of women, adolescents and their advocates, in accordance with human rights standards.

However, we are perplexed that, at the same time, the Government decided not to accept recommendations to repeal discriminatory laws that violate women and adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights including those that restrict access to health services, information and commodities. These two different positions are incompatible in law and practice. Further, the explanation provided by the Government for not accepting particular recommendations is wholly inadequate in that a list of reasons were applied to all noted recommendations regardless of substance.

The Government’s own national report states that “reducing maternal mortality and improving access to sexual and reproductive healthcare across the country continues to be high priority on the national agenda”. Yet the reality is that access to these services are dependent upon ones’ marital status, denying unmarried women, adolescents and people of diverse sexualities and genders access to life saving and life changing healthcare to which they are entitled. During his visit to Indonesia in March of 2017, the Special Rapporteur on Health expressed particular concern over policy or legal barriers related to the realization of sexual and reproductive rights and that this exposed women, adolescents and marginalized communities to violence and discrimination.

We take this opportunity to remind the Government of Indonesia that discrimination on any grounds is prohibited under international human rights law and to strongly encourage the Government to review the laws and policies that serve only to deny individuals’ their human rights.

Thank you


Item 6: Universal Periodic Review Outcomes – Poland

Thank you Mr. President,

This statement is made on behalf of the Sexual Rights Initiative.

During the 27th session of the UPR as many as six states (France, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada) recommended that Poland guarantees access to safe and legal abortion. Iceland and the Netherlands recommended full and effective implementation of the European Court of Human Right judgments on the issue of women and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health-care and services.

We welcome these recommendations made to the Polish Government and stress that we are disappointed that Poland decided to respond by selectively choosing to highlight information that presents itself as a State that faultlessly realizes the right to legal abortion, contraception, and sexuality education. The reality and practical execution of sexual and reproductive rights in Poland is very different from the one presented by the representatives of the Polish Government.

Regarding access to abortion, the Polish Government referred to the possibility to obtain the service free of charge in three cases as stated in the act on family planning, human embryo protection and conditions of permissibility of abortion. What the State has failed to mention, however, is the fact that in practice Polish hospitals and doctors do not comply with the law. Many doctors successfully prolong the medical and bureaucratic procedures in connection with termination of pregnancy in order to exceed the deadline to perform a legal abortion. Doctors also refuse to perform procedures claiming their right to conscientious objection. This refusal to care without timely referral to another service provider is clearly overused by doctors and is in use in entire hospitals in Poland. It is also used to deny prescriptions for contraceptives or referrals to prenatal testing.

Accessing a legal abortion in Poland has become almost impossible – there are entire parts of the country that fail to meet women’s need in this regard, such as the Podkarpackie Voivodeship. The Polish State fails to recognize the numbers of abortion that are performed in illegal and thus unsafe setting. The official numbers issued by the Ministry of Health refer to a population of almost 39 million and in 2016 there were only 1098 reported legal abortions. This is clearly an underestimation of the reality.

We call on the state of Poland to fully and effectively implement the recommendations received during the 3rd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review process and comply with its obligations under international law.

I thank you.


Panel discussion on the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls

Thank you Mr President,

Action Canada makes this statement on behalf of the Coalition of African Lesbians and the Sexual Rights Initiative.

We welcome this panel and its emphasis on the need for an intersectional analysis and approach to confronting and countering racism and xenophobia. Across the globe violent nationalism and populism are gaining ground on the streets and in governments. These racist and xenophobic sentiments and violence follow the same well-worn paths of the trans-atlantic slave trade and colonialism, which views black bodies as the dehumanized ‘other’ and consequently always available to violence, exploitation and denigration.

The High Commissioner’s report highlights the many impacts and manifestations of intersecting discrimination and violence on women’s lived realities. Yet missing from this important analysis is how capitalism and free market fundamentalism, racism and heteropatriarchy are co-constitutive, and serve to deepen existing inequalities and oppressions. Privatisation and extractivism – two hallmarks of neo-colonialsim and globalized white supremacist capitalism – continue to deprive those on the margins from their land, livelihoods, essential services and life-saving medicines. Black and migrant women in the global north and south are disproportionately affected by this with devastating impact on their quality of life, autonomy and fundamental freedoms.

We must continue to create spaces and maintain mechanisms that focus specifically on addressing these forms of discrimination and violence. We must also ensure that every mandate, mechanism and institution addresses the ways in which race, nationality, among other social and identity markers shapes lived realities – to not do so is to condone and perpetuate it.

It is also equally important to recognise the work of black feminists in advancing social justice and human rights. Black feminists across the globe are resisting oppression and violence in bold, courageous and innovative ways. And yet, they remain conspicuously absent and excluded from decision-making spaces such as these.

The question we have for the panel is what more can be done to ensure better representation, voice and inclusion of black and migrant women in UN spaces?

Thank you


Item 6: Universal Periodic Review Outcomes – The Netherlands

Thank you Mr President. Action Canada makes this statement in collaboration with Rutgers and the Sexual Rights Initiative.

We welcome the Government’s acceptance of the recommendations by Belgium and Slovenia related to comprehensive sexuality education and to paternity leave.

We note that in its response, the Government of the Netherlands gives the impression that these recommendations have already been fully implemented. However, we see still see room for improvement in order to fully meet its obligations.

Although elements of sexuality education are included in the national education policy, independent research shows that it is only incidentally taught, and that a comprehensive approach to sexuality education is often missing. The national education policy is not in line with the international commitments to comprehensive sexuality education as defined by UNESCO, which requires a structural approach. Further, training on the delivery of comprehensive sexuality education to new and existing teachers is not integrated into the regular training of teachers.

The Government of the Netherlands refers to an expansion of paid paternity leave from two to five days. However, sufficient follow up to this recommendation by Slovenia asking for ‘paid paternity leave of adequate length’ requires more than five days in order to meaningfully participate in their child’s care.

Therefore, we urge the Government to:

  • Ensure that in addition to sexuality and sexual diversity, gender equality and sexual rights are indeed compulsory elements of the curriculum, and that more concrete instructions will be provided to schools to ensure that comprehensive sexuality education is actually taught in all schools and classes, touching upon all the essential topics outlined by the UNESCO Guidelines.
  • Ensure all teachers are provided with training on comprehensive sexuality education by structurally including it in new teachers’ curriculum, as well as by training existing teachers;
  • Substantially increase paid paternity leave beyond the minor increase from 2 to 5 days that is currently foreseen.

Thank you


Item 6: Universal Periodic Review Outcomes – South Africa

Thank you, Mr. President.

Action Canada makes this statement in collaboration with the Sexual Rights Initiative.

Of the 243 recommendations made by member states to South Africa many echo the recommendations made in the previous cycle, having been pointed out by civil society. These relate to a set of commonly identified injustices – gender based violence, HIV and AIDS, poverty, inequality and discrimination.

The repeated commitments by the government of South Africa to addressing these issues are undermined by the historical and ongoing extraction of the country’s natural resources by multinational corporations; the political economy of aid, whose conditionalities represent the modern face of old colonialism in the name of development and human rights; corruption; poor and inconsistent political leadership on policy, institutional transformation and delivery; lack of coordination between government ministries; lack of recognition and an enabling environment for meaningful participation by civil society groups (who all too often are relied on to do the work of government service provision in relation to HIV and GBV) – all packaged within a macroeconomic and political framework that privileges the rich and the powerful and deepens already existing and multiple inequalities including race, class and gender, amongst others.

More than half of South Africa’s population — over 30 million people —live in poverty or on less than two and a half dollars per day. This represents three million more people living in poverty today than in 2011. Closer inspection of the data reveals the ways in which poverty, like any other social injustice or concern in South Africa, is profoundly raced and gendered. Race, class and gender – among other identity and geographical markers – continue to dictate the destiny of those who reside within South Africa’s borders.

We call on the government of South Africa to undertake:

  • Focused and sustained prioritization of key areas that pertain to the lived realities of people facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and exclusion demonstrated through adequate resourcing, proper coordination and open and transparent monitoring and evaluation and accountability to those most affected.
  • Disciplined and rigorous implementation of the many progressive laws and policies and where necessary to engage in law reform to align laws, policies and practices to ensure accordance with the Constitution. This includes the full decriminalization of all aspects of adult sex work, ensuring access for women and girls to safe and legal abortions, and the roll out of comprehensive sexuality education.
  • Develop with the involvement of civil society and other key role-players a plan for effective and accountable delivery of the UPR outcomes paying particular attention to the expressed needs and realities of women and others who have been excluded and marginalized.

Finally, we call on international donor / financing community to challenge the dominant market approach and conditionality-driven aid architecture, and establish one based on gender equality, human rights and sustainability.