Human Rights Council: Do not let 'traditional values' undermine universal rights

11.09.2014

States must not make selective appeals to, or manipulate, tradition, culture or religion to undermine universal human right standards, panelists have told an event on the sidelines of the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

(Geneva) – ‘States must not make selective appeals to, or manipulate, tradition, culture or religion to undermine universal human right standards,' panelists have told an event on the sidelines of the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

‘The event was a vibrant discussion on whether tradition, culture and religion are being used to undermine the universality of human rights, particularly through initiatives at the international level such as by promoting “traditional values” or the “protection of the family”,’ said Pooja Patel of the International Service for Human Rights.

The event was co-organised by ISHR, ARC International, Article 19 and the Association for Progressive Communications.

Opening the panel, Andrew Smith from Article 19 noted that the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee had stated in March 2013 that States should ‘take sustained and systemic action to modify or eliminate stereotypes and negative, harmful and discriminatory practices justified by traditional values’.

This obligation is reflected in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as well as regional instruments.

‘Unfortunately, many States have not taken this to serious consideration. On Monday, the Council will hold a panel discussion on “protection of the family”. This has been criticised as a vehicle for promoting a narrow, exclusionary and patriarchal concept of “the family” to deny equal protection to individuals who belong to various and diverse forms of family,' Mr Smith said.

Nadine Mouawad from the Association for Progressive Communications stressed that human rights defenders should steer clear of falling into the trap set up by States regarding the dichotomy of traditional values versus universality of human rights. ‘Traditional values are not alien concepts in many of our countries. For instance, in Lebanon, customary laws exist to govern private spaces. Human rights defenders must understand how to address injustice and access justice within these spaces by focusing on established international standards and obligations relating to the human rights of women, LGBTI people, children, and others,’ said Ms Mouawad. ‘The traditional values discourse is simply a loophole to avoid accountability of States in international spaces’, she highlighted.

'There are States who, in the name of traditional values, have attempted to shut down debate to advance human rights discourse at the Human Rights Council, particularly through the use of procedural tactics such as points of orders to silence NGO statements as well as the denial of ECOSOC status for LGBTI organisations,' said Sunita Kujur of CREA and the Sexual Rights Initiative.

‘Religion is often used to justify human rights violations, particularly on issues of women’s rights and sexuality. In order to address this, we work through religious institutions to promote awareness of human rights standards and principles, while also addressing accountability of religious institutions for the violations perpetrated in their connection,’ said Fulata Moyo of the World Council of Churches.

From the audience, Lame Charmaine Olebile from the Pan-Africa ILGA contributed that the implication of the traditional values rhetoric on the ground is that it serves to challenge civil society spaces. ‘We see that NGO offices are raided, emails are subject to surveillance and private spaces of human rights defenders are increasingly policed’ said Ms Olebile.

Contact: Pooja Patel, International Service for Human Rights, on p.patel@ishr.ch

Category:

Topic
  • LGBT rights
  • Women's rights and WHRD
Mechanism
  • UN Human Rights Council