UN Human Rights Council is currently having its 29th session (from 15 June – 3 July 2015). One of the resolutions being discussed is the regressive ‘Protection of the Family’ resolution.
This poses a huge threat to the rights of women and sexual minorities. Let your government know that you oppose the resolution.
- This resolution is brought by 14 countries (Bangladesh, Belarus, Cote d’Ivoire, People’s Republic of China, El Salvador, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Uganda, Qatar and Russian Federation), with Egypt chairing the negotiations.
- It is the second resolution on this subject; the first was adopted in June 2014 by a vote and called for the holding of a panel on the subject in September 2014.
- This initiative as a whole is very problematic. It seeks to elevate “the family” as an institution in need of protection without critical assessment of the needs of individual rights-holders within the family nor of the fact that according protection to the family as an institution can perpetuate human rights abuses within (such as marital rape, child abuse, FGM, early and forced marriage, “honour” killings and other forms of domestic violence). It is antithetical to other work of the Council, including the three other resolutions currently being discussed at the Human Rights Council (on 1. Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate all Forms of Violence Against Women: Eliminating Domestic Violence; 2. Strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage; and 3. Elimination of discrimination against women)
- Further, the main sponsors of the resolution continuously refuse to include recognition that in different contexts various forms of the family exist.
- It seeks to make the link with the post-2015 development agenda:
OP 25. Urges States to pay due consideration to the role and status of the family in the context of the ongoing negotiations of the post-2015 development agenda, and invites States to consider mainstreaming the promotion of family-oriented policies as a cross cutting issue in the proposed goals and targets of the post-2015 agenda
- The EU, Switzerland, Uruguay, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, USA and other States are actively questioning problematic aspects of the resolution and proposing changes.
- There is a need to raise awareness of States about the dangers of this resolution.
TAKE ACTION: Let your government know that this draft resolution is problematic, that it does not advance any human rights, rather it suppresses recognition of human rights violations. Please feel free to adapt and use the notes here to express your concerns.
General concerns with draft text on “Protection of the Family”
Lack of sources/references: the 7-page text presented by the core group contains no citations or references indicating the source of any of the language. Some references (e.g. to “unhealthy lifestyles” in OP7) appear to be subjective assertions rather than substantiated language. Without references, it is impossible to ascertain whether the many assertions of law and fact represent agreed or negotiated text or evidence-based research findings, whether they are taken out of context from existing documents, or whether they represent merely the unsubstantiated views of the core group members.
Elevating “the family” as an institution in need of protection without critical assessment of the needs of individual rights-holders within the family nor of the fact that according protection to the family as an institution can perpetuate human rights abuses. As the Egyptian Ambassador himself noted during the panel discussion on “protection of the family and its members” last September, the “family unit, in itself, is not a rights-holder.” Individuals are rights-holders, and may face serious abuses within the family which the State has a responsibility to address, such as marital rape, child abuse and other forms of domestic violence. Some States have laws or policies immunising perpetrators of marital rape from prosecution in the name of “protecting the family”. Others reduce penalties for murders committed in the name of “family honour”. In addition, many States maintain laws institutionalising gender inequality in family contexts, e.g. in relation to inheritance or property rights. These issues have been extensively canvassed in reports of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, the Working Group on the issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice, and the September panel itself, but are not meaningfully addressed in the draft resolution.
Lack of balance in the text: as last September’s panel recognised, families can be sites for the transmission of positive or negative values. Within the family, one can learn values consistent with human rights, to celebrate diversity, value gender equality, to treat others with dignity and respect; conversely, within the family, one can also learn values inconsistent with human rights, such as stereotyping or prejudice towards those of a different race, religion, caste or class. Rather than a balanced text, the draft resolution focuses disproportionately on families as institutions to be protected. OP5 for example affirms family as crucial for the preservation of “morals” and “traditions”, with no consideration of whether such morals or traditions are consistent with international human rights standards. This imbalance is also reflected in the main operational OPs (27 and 28). OP27 invites the High Commissioner, Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures and others to “pay due attention in their work to States’ obligations to provide protection and support to the family” but is silent on encouraging these same bodies and mechanisms to also give due consideration to States’ obligations to address marital rape, domestic violence, child abuse, etc within the family or to address gender inequality or other systemic factors that can perpetuate such abuses. Similarly, OP28 requests the HC to report on “the positive impact” of States’ actions to protect the family, but makes no attempt to invite the HC to also report on the rights of family-members or negative factors within the family.
Failure to include agreed language recognising that various forms of the family exist: Diversity of family forms is not a matter of political debate, just a matter of social fact. Recognition of this fact is essential to ensure that State family-oriented policies address the needs of all family-members in all families. Agreed UN language states: “bearing in mind that in different cultural, political and social systems various forms of the family exist”. For example, PP 2 of GA resolution 59/147 (“Celebration of the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family and beyond”, 25 January 2005), provides:
”Recalling also that relevant United Nations instruments on human rights as well as relevant global plans and programmes of action call for the widest possible protection and assistance to be accorded to the family, bearing in mind that in different cultural, political and social systems various forms of the family exist;”
There is also identical language in:
- GA resolution 65/277, para. 43
- GA resolution S-26/2, para. 31
- GA resolution S-27/2 (“A world fit for children”), para. 15
- ICPD Programme of Action Principle 9
- ICPD Programme of Action paras. 5.1 and 5.2(a)
For unspecified reasons, the lead sponsors refused to include this agreed language in the resolution last year, and employed a no-action motion to prevent such language even being considered by the Council. This deliberate manoeuvre suggests a narrow agenda to restrict recognition of the social reality that various forms of family exist.
Best use of HRC and OHCHR resources? At a time when there is significant institutional discussion about the overburdening of the HRC agenda, the need for biennialisation of resolutions, streamlining of texts, chronic underfunding of OHCHR, and many global human rights crises demanding the Council’s attention, it may be questioned whether it is the best use of the resources of the HRC to consider a draft resolution that is a lengthy, imbalanced text, comes only one year after the previous resolution while not signifying any urgent human rights concerns, seeks to elevate the institution of the family without adequate regard to individual rights-holders within a family context, does not reflect lived realities in relation to diverse families thereby excluding many rights-holders, and asks the OHCHR to produce work that does not follow up on many of the issues canvassed during the September panel.
See also, AWID’s Briefing Paper ‘Protection of the Family’: A Human Rights Response