Did you miss it? Here’s what happened at HRC 54!
The 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council took place from 11 September to 13 October. Below, you will find information on some of the key sexual rights-related:
Joint Civil Society Statement on Abortion
Since 2017, SRI has led the mobilisation of civil society groups on International Safe Abortion Day at the UN Human Rights Council in support of a joint statement on abortion. This year’s statement focused on the impact of de-prioritising and defunding public health systems and universal healthcare on SRHR and the need to uphold the right to safe and legal abortion. This initiative builds on our previous joint statements on abortion to the Council these past five years and was signed this year by 363 organisations and 335 individuals. You can read the statement here, and watch its delivery here during the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
SRI Side-event: Preventing Maternal Mortality: Autonomy, Abortion and Access: The Role of the Human Rights System
The Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) along with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), the Center for Reproductive Rights, RESURJ, The Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL), and The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) organised a side-event at HRC 54 examining the connections between macroeconomics and sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as responses by different human rights actors. Missed it? Watch the recording here on YouTube .
Preventable Maternal Mortality and Morbidity and Human Rights – A/HRC/54/L.17/Rev.1
Led by Colombia, Estonia and New Zealand and co-sponsored by 59 other countries as of 12 October 2023. The resolution was adopted by consensus. The resolution calls on the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare an update to the technical guidance on the application of a human rights-based approach to the elimination of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity. The resolution acknowledges the world is behind in achieving the SDG 3 on the reduction of maternal mortality and morbidity. Crucially, the resolution recognises that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic includes overloaded health systems, reallocation of financial and human resources and de-prioritisation of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. The resolution also recognises the impact of poverty, global economic crises, underdevelopment, austerity measures, unemployment, malnutrition, climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, environmental degradation, conflict, natural hazards and health emergencies. The resolution asks States to respect, protect and fulfil the right to sexual and reproductive health and enforce policies, good practices and legal frameworks that respect dignity, integrity and bodily autonomy and guarantee universal access to sexual and reproductive health services. The resolution further urges States to strengthen health systems and health workforce and address the underlying determinants of health, such as gender and racial discrimination and socioeconomic factors, including poverty and malnutrition. It also recognises the significance of comprehensive sexuality education and the right to bodily autonomy, including in preventing gender-based violence, stigma, and abuse and as a precondition to the right to have full control over and decide freely and responsibly on all matters relating to sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion and violence.
A total of 5 amendments were tabled and defeated. The amendments are provided below:
- Inserting a new paragraph, “stressing the need to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health concern, as agreed in paragraph 8.25 of the Programme of Action of the ICPD, and reaffirming in this regard that Governments should take appropriate steps to help women to avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning” tabled by Bahrain, Iraq and Nigeria , and rejected with 14 in favour, 20 against and 12 abstentions.
- Replacing “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” with “including but not limited to sexual and reproductive health” tabled by Russia and rejected with 12 in favour, 21 against and 11 abstentions.
- Replacing “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” with “the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including but not limited to sexual and reproductive health,” tabled by Russia and rejected with 12 in favour, 21 against and 12 abstentions
- Deleting or qualifying bodily autonomy with women’s autonomy, tabled by Russia and rejected with 12 in favour, 21 against and 12 abstentions.
- Deletion of comprehensive sexuality education, tabled by Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia and rejected with 14 in favour, 21 against and 10 abstentions.
Watch the discussion and adoption.
Centrality of care and support from a human rights perspective- A/HRC/54/L.6/Rev.1
Led by Argentina, Iceland, Mexico and Spain and co-sponsored by 30 other countries as of 10 October 2023. The resolution was adopted by consensus. A new initiative, the resolution calls for a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to organize a two-day expert workshop and to prepare a comprehensive thematic study on the human rights dimension of care and support based on the discussions at the workshop. The resolution highlights the need for equal and fair distribution of care work and the need to adopt measures, with an intersectional approach, to recognize, value and redistribute on an equal and fair basis paid and unpaid care work, and to reduce unpaid care work, currently still disproportionately performed by women and girls. The resolution also recognises that COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing forms of inequality and systemic discrimination faced by women and girls, including patriarchy, racism, stigma, xenophobia and socioeconomic inequalities. The resolution further calls on States to recognize and redistribute care work and to increase investment in care and support policies and infrastructure to ensure universal access to affordable and quality services for all
Watch the discussion and adoption.
Promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities – A/HRC/54/L.23 as orally revised
Led by China, Bolivia, Egypt, Pakistan, South Africa. The resolution was adopted by consensus
The resolution builds upon the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on his vision of the Office for reinforcing its work in promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It stresses that a reformed international financial architecture could help to advance the rights and vital interests of people by supporting the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. It also recognizes that the Office of the High Commissioner, including its field offices, needs more financial and human resources provided by the regular budget to bridge the substantial resource gap so as to carry out its mandated activities to promote and protect the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights and to address inequalities.
The resolution requests the Secretary-General to scale up the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner through additional regular budget-funded posts to enhance the work of the Office at headquarters, with due regard to gender balance and equitable geographical representation in the field of the economic, social and cultural rights; and to convene a panel discussion, with gender balance and equitable geographical representation, on the reinforcement of the work to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities.
Contribution of the implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow-up processes in the promotion and protection of human rights - A/HRC/54/L.24/Rev.1
Led by Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, and co-sponsored by 17 other countries as of 10 October 2023. The resolution was adopted by consensus. The resolution calls for a panel discussion on the implementation of States’ obligations under relevant provisions of international human rights law on the role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of the human rights of its members, to discuss challenges and best practices in this regard, and requests the High Commissioner to prepare a summary report on the discussion. The resolution also mandates an expert workshop on the role of the family and family-oriented approaches, policies and programmes in the promotion and protection of human rights and in sustainable development to highlight best practices from different regions.
The introduction and adoption of this resolution is a regression for human rights and an attempt to centre an institution (the family) that is often the site of violence and discrimination. Some manifestations of this are well known: domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, FGM/C. We must also highlight the role of the family in implementing coercive population policies and the increasing role of states all around the globe in facilitating this coercion through legislative frameworks. Also crucially, family-oriented policies are often introduced to absolve states of their obligation to provide universal social protection and delegate them to institutions that are often discriminatory in their implementation without accountability.
Other relevant resolutions
- Resolutions renewing the Special Procedures mandates on toxic waste and human rights (A/HRC/54/L.13), people of African descent (A/HRC/54/L.14/Rev.1), truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence (A/HRC/54/L.10), unilateral coercive measures (A/HRC/54/L.26), the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order (A/HRC/54/L.3), and enforced or involuntary disappearances (A/HRC/54/L.25)
- From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (Côte d’Ivoire on behalf of the Group of African States) - A/HRC/54/L.31
- A world of sports free from racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire (on behalf of the Group of African States)) - A/HRC/54/L.8/Rev.1
- Human rights of older persons (Argentina, Brazil, Gambia, Philippines, Slovenia) - A/HRC/54/L.20
- Right to privacy in the digital age (Brazil, Austria, Germany, Mexico) - A/HRC/54/L.12/Rev.1
- Human rights and Indigenous Peoples (Mexico, Guatemala) - A/HRC/54/L.19
- The right to development (Azerbaijan on behalf of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries) - A/HRC/54/L.27
- Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (Hungary, Fiji, Ghana, Ireland, Uruguay) - A/HRC/54/L.30/Rev.1
- Realization of the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl (United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates) - A/HRC/54/L.37/Rev.1
- Question of the death penalty (Switzerland, Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Republic of Moldova) - A/HRC/54/L.34 as orally revised
- Working Group on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (Bolivia, Cuba, Gambia, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, South Africa) - A/HRC/54/L.11
- The use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination (Cuba) - A/HRC/54/L.2
- Ensuring quality education for peace and tolerance for every child (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) - A/HRC/54/L.14/Rev.1
- World Programme for Human Rights Education (Philippines, Brazil, Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, Senegal, Slovenia, Thailand) -A/HRC/54/L.7
- Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights (Thailand, Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Türkiye) - A/HRC/54/L.9
Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms.
Theme: Revisiting gender parity and its contributions to the integration of gender into the work of international human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms
The panel discussion focused on gender parity as a key element of gender equality and how it contributes to the integration of a gender perspective in the work of international human rights bodies, taking stock of developments since the last annual discussion focusing on the issue, which was held in September 2019, and including the most recent assessments and the available figures on the current levels of gender parity in international human rights bodies, in particular the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. It also highlighted the remaining challenges to achieve parity in international human rights bodies and how to ensure more balanced participation of men and women in decision-making processes.
Interactive dialogue on the OHCHR report on economic, social and cultural rights, and COVID-19 recovery
The discussion addressed the OHCHR report, which reflects the vision of the Office for reinforcing its work in promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities in the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The report builds on a previous report, submitted to the Human Rights Council at its fifty-first session, and reflects the discussions held at the workshop mandated by the Council
in its resolution 49/19 that was held from 6 to 8 February 2023. The High Commissioner calls for the Human Rights Council to consider the need to reinforce the work of OHCHR in promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights and urges governments, international financial institutions, businesses, investors and consumer associations to consistently integrate economic, social and cultural rights into their policies and practices.
- Statement for the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, commenting on her new report on sanctions and the right to health. Watch the discussion and our statement on UN Web TV and see our live coverage of the dialogue on Twitter (X). You can also read SRI’s submission to inform the Special Rapporteur’s report at this link.
- Statement by SRI partner FEDERA during the general debate on Item 3, commenting on abortion in Poland. Watch the statement on UN Web TV.
- Statement by SRI partner Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights on the visit to Canada of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples. Watch the 1st part and 2nd part of the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on UN Web TV, and on YouTube with closed captions.
- Statement for the General Debate under Item 3 on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, commenting on the panel discussion on the negative impact of the legacies of colonialism on the enjoyment of human rights and calling on states and the international community to enact systemic change and rethink the foundations of the global economic system. Watch the statement on UN Web TV.
Joint oral statements
- Joint statement with IWRAW Asia Pacific during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, commenting on his vision-setting report. Watch the statement being delivered on UN web TV and see our live coverage of the dialogue on Twitter (X). You can also read SRI’s submission to inform the Special Rapporteur’s report at this link.
- UPR outcome of Botswana: joint statement with Black Queer DocX, Banana Club, Botswana Trans Initiative, Love Loss Life, Mmammati Human Rights Hub, Iranti, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. Watch the adoption.
Preventing Maternal Mortality: Autonomy, Abortion and Access: The Role of the Human Rights System
The Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), the Center for Reproductive Rights, RESURJ, The Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL), and The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) organised a side-event at HRC 54 examining the connections between macroeconomics and sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as responses by different human rights actors.
The high number of maternal deaths in some areas of the world is preventable and reflects inequalities in access to quality health services and highlights the gap between rich and poor. Despite a global commitment to reducing maternal mortality and morbidity, the rates of maternal deaths have stagnated or increased in various countries around the globe. To understand and tackle the structural causes of growing inequities in health outcomes, we must factor into the equation social determinants such as classism, racism, sexism and casteism and their impact on sexual and reproductive health and rights. These social determinants are closely interlinked with the material conditions experienced by women and girls around the globe and, therefore, must form part of an analysis where the realisation of sexual rights is closely dependent on the political economy.
- Shelani Palihawadana, Director of Programmes, Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL)
- Dr Anne Kihara, International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO)
- María Luisa Peralta, Akãhatã
- Anthea Taderera, Sexual Rights Initiative