CSW: Civil society calls States to account on failure to name or engage with women human rights defenders

29.05.2015

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This year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), marked the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPA).   Both the content of the session’s outcome document and the process that led to its drafting had drawn criticism from women’s rights and sexual rights groups. 

Este artículo también se encuentra en español aquí

This year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), marked the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPA).   Both the content of the session’s outcome document and the process that led to its drafting had drawn criticism from women’s rights and sexual rights groups. 

Each 5-year anniversary of the BDPA is marked by a Political Declaration. This year, the text was adopted on the first day of the session with little opportunity for input by civil society during its negotiation.[1]   This process was criticized widely by women’s rights and sexual rights groups. 

A group of human rights organisations concerned with the rights of LGBTI people called for ‘accountability and transparency in negotiations’ and demanded ‘to be recognized in these negotiations that directly impact our communities and lives.’  They contrasted the level of discussion on sexual orientation, for example, at this year’s session with the open and extensive discussion twenty years previously in Beijing, as well as currently in other UN for a, suggesting that CSW was stepping back from gains hard fought in other arenas.

The Coalition for African Lesbians raised their alarm at the way space for ‘genuine inclusion, engagement, resistance and expression of women’s rights, including women human rights defenders and others from civil society concerned with the human rights of women, has been shrinking in recent years at the Commission on the Status of Women’.

In the Political Declaration, States acknowledge that ‘progress has been slow and uneven, that major gaps remain and that obstacles, including, inter alia, structural barriers, persist in the implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Platform for Action.’  The exclusion of civil society from discussions with States during CSW is all the more inexplicable given that CSW working methods focus upon ‘ways and means to accelerate the implementation of commitments in the context of current challenges’, an issue that civil society is very well placed to assist States in assessing. 

Whilst the Political Declaration welcomes ‘the contributions made by civil society, including non-governmental organisations and women’s and community-based organisations to the implementation of the Platform for Action’ and pledges to continue promoting ‘a safe and enabling environment for civil society’ there are no references to women human rights defenders in the text.

‘Only  15 months ago, all UN member States committed to a range of measures to  protect women human rights defenders in the General Assembly resolution on the Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders’ said Ms Patel, Manager of ISHR’s Women Human Rights Defenders Programme. ‘It is incredibly disappointing that the Political Declaration fails to include even a reference to WHRDs.  Nevertheless, civil society will continue to work diligently to hold for the implementation of their commitments and obligations under international human rights law,’

‘The General Assembly resolution includes references to the importance of public acknowledgement of WHRDs as key to their protection. Inexplicably, States fail to do so when an opportunity is missed on a global platform, said  Ms Patel. ‘Inter-governmental human rights processes must aim to move the respect of human rights forward – or at the very least hold the line.’

Nearly 1000 women’s rights groups added their voices to criticism of the content of the Political Declaration. They outlined what they consider minimum commitments in a Declaration.

Although the Political Declaration contains many gaps, there has been some progress made through its adoption. For the first time, language referring to a “safe and enabling environment” has been included in a CSW declaration or outcome document, echoing agreed language from other key UN documents regarding States’ obligations toward the protection of human rights defenders. 

Finally, this year’s CSW was taking place as the post 2015 agenda is taking shape.  States acknowledge the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to achieving ‘the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals’.[2]  The lack of engagement with women human rights defenders during CSW and ahead of finalizing their outcome document, adds to concerns about civil society engagement during post 2015 negotiations

The Political Declaration of CSW’s 59th Session ends with a commitment to ‘strive for the full realization of gender equality and the empowerment of women by 2030.’  ‘States should recognize that their best partners in such an endeavor are women defenders, and that part of enabling their work is to acknowledge this engagement and safeguard it’ stressed Ms Patel. 

Photo: UN Women/ Ryan Brown

 

[1] CSW Agreed Conclusions are otherwise adopted at the end of the session, allowing for some informal engagement with civil society in its definition.

[2] CSW Political Declaration, OP7

Category:

Topic
  • Human rights defenders
  • LGBT rights
  • Women's rights and WHRD
Mechanism
  • Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)