The 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council took place from June 18 to July 6, 2018. Below you will find information on some of the key sexual rights related resolutions, oral statements and annual discussions. All of which the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) was engaged with during the session.
- Significant advances to sexual rights were made during resolutions at this session of the Council such as ground breaking advances on the elimination of discrimination against women and girls.
- The Sexual Rights Initiative, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Association for Progressive Communications, the International Service for Human Rights, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, the World Young Women Christian Association welcome the major gains on women’s and girls’ rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council. Read our joint statement.
Sexual Rights-related Resolutions
Eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and girls
Led by Mexico and Colombia and co-sponsored by 60 countries prior to adoption, this annual resolution focused on removing obstacles to women’s progress and empowerment in economic life. The resolution is ground breaking in its framing of women’s economic rights as being restricted by structural gender discrimination arising from patriarchal economic, social and political systems and by articulating State obligations to change these systems. The resolution also makes critical connections between economic empowerment and women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights, bodily autonomy, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and marital status, and impunity for all forms of violence against women and girls including sexual harassment at work. The resolution expresses profound concern over the backlash against the advancement of women’s and girls’ rights and explicitly links this global phenomenon to economic crises and inequality, retrogressive lobbies and the instrumentalization of religion and culture to deny women and girls their rights to determine the course of their own lives.
To eliminate discrimination against women and girls in the context of economic life, the resolution reaffirms women’s right to decent work and equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, stresses women’s right to equal and full participation in decision-making processes, calls upon States to ensure gender-responsive social protection systems and women’s rights to economic and productive resources, including ownership and control of land, natural and other productive resources, property, inheritance, financial services. The resolution also urges States to develop and protect an enabling environment for the full participation of women’s civil society organizations and women human rights defenders and to ensure women’s’ and girls access to justice and accountability mechanisms.
Specific language advancements relating to sexual rights include:
- The removal of legal barriers and the development and enforcement of policies, good practices and legal frameworks that respect bodily autonomy (the first ever UN resolution in either New York or Geneva to reference bodily autonomy)
- The enforcement of policies, good practices and legal frameworks that respect …. safe abortion in accordance with international human rights law and where not against national law (the most advanced language on abortion since the Beijing Platform of Action in 1995)
- Ensure universal access to evidence-based Comprehensive Sexuality Education (the first unqualified reference in a DAW resolution and the strongest formulation of CSE yet)
- Recognition of the right to sexual and reproductive health (as per General Comment
- 22 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights)
5 amendments were originally tabled against this resolution, 3 by the Russian Federation and 2 jointly by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation.
Russian Federation amendments to Discrimination Against Women (DAW) resolution:
1. A/HRC/38/L.23 To change PP21 as follows:
Reaffirming that the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls includes their right to
have control over and to decide freely and responsibly on matters relating to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, and that equal relationships in matters of sexual relations and reproduction, including full respect for the dignity, integrity and bodily autonomy of the person, require mutual respect, consent and shared responsibility for sexual behaviour and its consequences, in accordance with international human rights law.
2. A/HRC/38/L.24 To change OP4 (e) as follows:
To support gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights, including within families, through long-term awareness-raising initiatives, especially education and public awareness-raising, including through the media and online, the incorporation of curricula on all women’s rights into teacher training courses, including the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence,
and ensuring universal access to evidence based comprehensive sexuality education;
3. A/HRC/38/L.25 To change OP7 as follows:
Urges States to promote and protect
and fulfil sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, in accordance with the Beijing Platform for Action and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the outcome documents of their review conferences, and to respect, protect and fulfil the right of every individual to have full control over and decide freely and responsibly on all matters relating to their sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion and violence, including through the removal of legal barriers and the development and enforcement of policies, good practices and legal frameworks that respect the right to bodily autonomy and guarantee universal access to sexual and reproductive health, services, evidence-based information and education, including for family planning, safe and effective methods of modern contraception, emergency contraception, prevention programmes for adolescent pregnancy, maternal health care, such as skilled birth assistance 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 programmes;
Egypt, Russian Federation and Saudi Arabian amendment
1. A/HRC/38/L.34 to change PP6 as follows :
Underscoring that international human rights law prohibits discrimination, inter alia, on the basis of sex and gender and that national legislation should adhere to each State’s international obligations,
and to change OP3 (e) as follows:
Promote legislation, regulation, policies and programmes that facilitate all women’s economic empowerment, ensure equal pay for equal work or work of equal value and prohibit all forms of discrimination, including in the workplace and in education, such as discrimination against women and girls based on pregnancy, maternity, marital status, age, race, sex or gender, as well as violence and harassment against them, including sexual harassment and harassment occurring in digital and online spaces;
2. A/HRC/38/L.35 to change PP19 as follows:
Strongly condemning discrimination and gender-based violence against women and girls in all its forms, in digital contexts and offline, in public and private spaces, including harassment, sexual and online harassment, domestic violence, including intimate partner violence, ex-partner violence, stalking and so-called ”honour-based” violence, and recognizing that they constitute violations or abuses of women’s and girls’ human rights and are a manifestation of gender inequality and a major impediment to the achievement of women’s economic empowerment, independence and social and economic development, imposing short- and long-term costs on society and individuals…
Prior to voting, and following further bilateral negotiations, 3 of the amendments were withdrawn: L23, L25 and L34. This meant that only two amendments were voted on: L24 (on comprehensive sexuality education), and L35 (on intimate partner violence), which were both rejected.
[NB with the USA withdrawing from the HRC, and until their seat is reallocated within WEOG, 46 members vote instead of 47]
Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq all made Explanations of Position on different paragraphs of the resolution following the vote
ADOPTED BY CONSENSUS
Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women: Preventing and responding to violence against women and girls in digital contexts
Led by Canada and co-sponsored by over 70 countries prior to adoption, this is the first resolution at the Council to consider violence against women and girls in digital contexts. The resolution seeks to balance women’s and girls’ rights to be free from violence online and offline with the obligation to protect, respect and fulfil all persons’ rights to freedom of opinion and expression, association and privacy. The adopted text reflects this balance by recognizing the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to advance women’s and girls’ rights while stressing that violence against women and girls, online and offline is a global phenomenon rooted in historical and structural inequalities in power relations.
The resolution charts new territory by elaborating on the forms of online violence targeted at women and girls including harassment, stalking, bullying, threats of sexual and gender-based violence, death threats, arbitrary or unlawful surveillance and tracking, trafficking in persons, extortion, censorship and the hacking of digital accounts, mobile telephones and other electronic devices, with a view to discrediting women and girls and/or inciting other violations and abuses against them. The resolution also calls upon states to provide effective remedies for violence that takes place in digital context, including remedies that protect the privacy of women and girls and condemns violence used to intimidate women and girls who are exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
Women’s and girls’ access to information online and ICT technologies was recognized as critical to enable them to make informed and autonomous decisions in matters regarding their own bodies, lives and health, including their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. The resolution further recognises that encryption and anonymity should not be restricted because it can empower women and girls to access information and ideas, to seek help, assistance and guidance and to freely explore and express ideas related to their identity and human rights.
The resolution also calls upon states to implement comprehensive sexuality education as an important strategy to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women of all ages, to eliminate prejudices and to promote and build decision-making, communication and risk reduction skills for the development of respectful relationships based on gender equality and human rights;
Two amendments were tabled by the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
1. A_HRC_38_L.32 To change OP10 (f) as follows:
Developing and implementing educational programmes and teaching materials,
including comprehensive sexuality education, based on full and accurate information, for all adolescents and youth, in a manner consistent with their evolving capacities, with their meaningful participation, with appropriate direction and guidance from parents and legal guardians, and with the active involvement of all relevant stakeholders, in order to empower them to safely use and navigate digital technologies, to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women of all ages, to eliminate prejudices and to promote and build decision-making, communication and risk reduction skills for the development of respectful relationships based on gender equality and human rights, as well as teacher education and training programmes for both formal and non-formal education;
2. . A_HRC_38_L.33 To change OP11 (d) as follows:
Ensuring the promotion and protection of the human rights of all women and their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences, including through the development and enforcement of policies and legal frameworks, and strengthening health systems that make quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health-care services, commodities,
information and education universally accessible and available, including in digital contexts, including, inter alia, safe and effective methods of modern contraception, emergency contraception, prevention programmes for adolescent pregnancy, maternal health care, such as skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care, which will reduce obstetric fistula and other complications of pregnancy and delivery, safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law, and the prevention and treatment of reproductive tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, HIV and reproductive cancers, and recognizing that human rights include the right to have control over and to decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free from coercion, discrimination and violence;
Amendment L33 was withdrawn by the amendment co-sponsors prior to the vote, meaning only one amendment was voted on (comprehensive sexuality education). L32 was voted on and rejected.
ADOPTED BY CONSENSUS
Elimination of female genital mutilation A/HRC/38/L.9
Led by Togo on behalf of the African Group, the resolution clearly states that FGM is a human rights violation and can constitute torture. This is an advancement from previous resolutions on this theme at the Human Rights Council which did not frame FGM as a human rights violation.
- Recognizes that patriarchal norms and inequalities are drivers of FGM and call for the implementation of strategies that sexist stereotypes and negative norms and attitudes.
- Welcomes the growing global consensus on the need to take appropriate measures to prevent and eliminate female genital mutilation, and recognises that this practice cannot be justified by religious or cultural arguments.
- Denounces the medicalization of FGM.
- Calls upon states to ensure access to justice and accountability mechanisms for survivors including redress, reparations and remedies.
- Calls also upon states to ensure the participation of women and girls in the development of integrated, comprehensive and coordinated measures, strategies and policies to prevent and eliminate all forms of female genital mutilation.
ADOPTED BY CONSENSUS
Human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS A/HRC/38/L.12
Led by Brazil, Colombia, Mozambique, Portugal, and Thailand, the resolution recognizes progress made in the response to the HIV epidemic, but points out that progress is uneven across regions, countries and populations; and that populations most in need of HIV services continue to be left behind. It specifically recognizes that women and girls are more vulnerable to HIV infection and that they bear a disproportionate burden of the impact of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, including the care of and support for those living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. It also expresses concern at the high prevalence of HIV among key populations.
Regarding the prevention and elimination of the HIV epidemic, the resolution stresses the need to adopt a life course approach to address the holistic needs and rights of people living with, at risk of and affected by HIV, including with regards to stigma, discrimination, violence and abuse. The resolution recognizes the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and the specific health-care needs experienced by migrant and mobile populations, as well as refugees and crisis-affected populations. Further, it acknowledges the lack of respect, protection and fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, recognizes the specific needs of young people living with HIV or affected by HIV and calls upon states to ensure their access to sexual and reproductive health care. The resolution requests the High Commissioner to organize a one-and-a-half-day consultation in 2019, to discuss all relevant issues and challenges pertaining to the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights in the context of HIV response, with a focus on regional and sub regional strategies and best practices;
AGREED BY CONSENSUS
Civil Society Space: engagement with international and regional organizations A/HRC/38/L.17
Led by Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, the resolution encourages States to support diversity of civil society participation, with particular emphasis on underrepresented parts of civil society, including women, children, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, persons belonging to ethnic, religious, national, linguistic and racial minorities, migrants, refugees, and others. The resolution recognizes the fundamental contribution that civil society and human rights defenders make to the promotion of human rights, the creation of peaceful dialogue and the building of pluralistic democracies. Moreover, the resolution also acknowledges the vital role of civil society at the local, national, regional and international levels in facilitating the achievement of the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
The resolution strongly rejects all threats, attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against civil society actors, and underscores States’ obligations to investigate any such alleged acts, ensure accountability and effective remedies, and take steps to prevent any further such threats, attacks, reprisals or acts of intimidation.. The resolution calls upon states to implement measures that create and maintain of a safe and enabling environment for civil society. It also requests states to update their national frameworks for engagement with civil society to reflect and respond to challenges highlighted by the High Commissioner in his report and in the context of the Universal Periodic Review.
The resolution requests the High Commissioner to prepare a report assessing progress made in improving civil society engagement with international and regional organizations and to present it to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fourth session.
A number of amendments were tabled by China, the Russian Federation, and Pakistan:
A/HRC/38/L.36 – WITHDRAWN by amendment co-sponsors
[PP5] Recalling also all other Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions relevant to creating and maintaining civil society space, inter alia, those addressing freedom of opinion and expression; the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; protecting human rights defenders; equal participation in political and public affairs; cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights; promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests; and the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet; the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, and addressing racial discrimination and intolerance.
[PP16] Reaffirming the importance of adopting and implementing non-discriminatory measures to assist in the strengthening of a diverse and pluralistic civil society, including through the strengthening of the rule of law, social and economic development, the promotion of the right to freedom of expression, online and offline, including artistic expression and creativity, access to information, the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including soliciting, receiving and utilizing resources in a legal and transparent manner, and the administration of justice, and to the real and effective participation of the people in decision-making processes,
[OP2 bis] Recognizes the importance of civil society engagement with international and regional organizations in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, where applicable, the ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States;[new para]
[OP15] Encourages States to apply good practices
including, but not limited to, those compiled in the report of the High Commissioner on practical recommendations for the creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society, as well as those good procedures and practices identified in the report of the High Commissioner in respect of civil society engagement with international and regional organisations; [HRC32/31, OP14, updated]
[OP19] Notes of the intention of a group of countries to undertake a stocktaking exercise in the run up to the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council, which would examine the progress to date on improving civil society engagement in international and regional organisations
with particular reference to the recommendations contained in the report of the High Commissioner and invites States and other stakeholders, including the OHCHR and civil society, to participate in this exercise;
L37, L38, and L39 were all voted on and rejected.
A vote was then called by China on the entire orally revised version of the resolution, which was resoundingly defeated with no States voting against the resolution.
SRI Oral Statements
- Item 3: Interactive dialogue IE SOGI-SR peaceful assembly & association
- Item 3: Clustered interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
- Item 3: Clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to health and the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members
- Item 3: Clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
- Item 9: Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on racism
- Item 10: Annual thematic discussion on technical cooperation – Human rights and the Sustainable Development Goal
Joint Oral Statements
- Item 3: Clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children: Joint statement with the Center For Reproductive Rights, RFSU, IPPF, The Federation for Women and Family Planning, ASTRA Network, Plan International, AWID, Urgent Action Fund, Feminist Solutions towards Global Justice (FemJust), ISHR, FIDH and the International Women’s Health Coalition.
- Item 3: Annual discussion on the human rights of women (1st panel: The impact of online violence on women human rights defenders): Joint statement with WiLDAF Zambia, Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition, RFSU, FHOK, Lambda, Just.Choice and Nalane for Reproductive Justice.
- Item 3: Annual discussion on the human rights of women (2nd panel: Advancing women’s rights in the economic sphere through access and participation in ICTs): Joint statement with the Association for Progressive Communications
- Item 3: Annual discussion on the human rights of women (2nd panel: Advancing women’s rights in the economic sphere through access and participation in ICTs) Joint Statement with The Youth Coalition, CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, the SRJC youth, AWID
- Item 4: Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Joint statement with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
- Item 5: UPR outcome adoption – Botswana: Joint statement with the Botswana Group for Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women and the Coalition of African Lesbians.
- Item 8: Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action – General debate: Joint statement with the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA)
Summary of Annual Discussions
Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women
Panel 1: The impact of online violence on women human rights defenders
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted the new forms of oppression and violence against women brought by the Internet, their gendered and often sexualized nature, and the risk that online spaces could widen sex- and gender-based discrimination. He also referred to the increased targeting of women activists, journalists, and WHRDs generally who are perceived to challenge male supremacy and dominant racial or religious groups because of their race, religion or sexual orientation. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, insisted that human rights protected offline should also be protected online, and that efforts to fight online violence must be framed in the broader context of violence against women in all its forms.
Seyi Akiwowo, Founder and Director of Glitch!UK, stressed that digital citizenship must be taught, and that online violence is a major barrier to women’s free speech and political participation. The high prevalence of online harassment against women and girls, including girls under the age of 15, is even higher for women and girls of color. Therefore, data on this issue must be intersectional and include race, class, disability and other factors. Nighat Dad, Executive Director, Digital Rights Foundation, explained that malware attacks against women human rights defenders often rely on fake profiles, spyware, surveillance and fraud. Online abuse against women is gendered and can lead some women to self-censor or leave online spaces. Matt Mitchell, Director of Digital Safety and Privacy at Tactical Technology Collective, stressed that the people and communities targeted by online attacks are best placed to solve them, and must be given the resources to do so. Attacks on women rights defenders often mirror the offline world.
Panel 2: Advancing women’s rights in the economic sphere through access and participation in information and communication technologies
Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, underscored that information and communication technologies can work for or against women’s rights, and that women and girls must have access to online information covering sexual and reproductive health and rights. Eva Kjer Hansen, Danish Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation, addressed the widening digital gender gap and the need to improve women’s access to internet, including in the context of SDG 5 on gender equality. Chenai Chair, Researcher and Communications and Evaluations Manager at Research ICT Africa, highlighted that biased social and cultural norms and patterns of discrimination against women are replicated online, including in the economic sphere.
Anna Mori, from the International Trade Centre, questioned the kind of research needed to provide the basis for policies against discrimination against women in ICTs in the economic sphere. Basheerhamad Shadrach, from the Alliance for Affordable Internet at the World Wide Web Foundation, stressed the parallels between offline and online stereotypes, and the need to improve digital literacy for women, including to access online information on sexual and reproductive rights and legal rights, and to narrow the digital gender gap through more affordable access to online spaces. Rokhaya Solange Ndir, Head of Digital Ecosystem Relations at Sonatel, highlighted the economic and social opportunities and the potential for autonomy presented by digital technologies in Africa, as well as women’s role in this context.
4. Annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights – Human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals: enhancing human rights technical cooperation and capacity-building to contribute to the effective and inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
Georgette Gagnon, Director of OHCHR’s Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division, presented OHCHR’s report on this topic, which focuses on the contribution of human rights mechanisms and the UN system’s technical cooperation and capacity-building to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Good practice examples include South-South cooperation, targeted technical cooperation to reach those “furthest behind” first and address discrimination in law and practice, including through participation in decision-making for those directly affected. Follow-up and mainstreaming of the recommendations of UN human rights bodies at the national level through national action plans and legislative reforms also contribute to SDG implementation. A human rights-based approach to collection, analysis and dissemination of data also implies the alignment of SDG indicators with disaggregated data based on the key characteristics identified by international human rights law.
Sek Wannamethe, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the UN, highlighted the linkages between SDGs and human rights, and their mutually reinforcing nature, as recognized by human rights bodies such as the Human Rights Council and treaty bodies. Valerie Julliand, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Nepal, addressed the need to collect and use data better to address discrimination, and to identify and recognize human rights violations and abuses in a sensitive manner. Mary Wanyonyi, Director of Strategy and Development and SDG Focal Point of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, stressed the importance of data for the implementation of the SDGs, its monitoring, and the identification of those being ‘left behind,’ with examples of good practices in Kenya.
More information on this panel can be found here. Read our statement calling on States to address the root causes of inequality and discrimination, remove structural obstacles, and desist from creating and sustaining false dichotomies between the right to development, human rights, rights related to sexuality and gender and the SDGs here.
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.