UN HRC: "Protection of the Family" a thin veil for censorship

ARTICLE 19 is profoundly disappointed that the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has adopted by vote a resolution on "protection of the family." The resolution violates international human rights standards, including on the right to freedom of expression and may be exploited to justify abuse and discrimination of marginalised groups.

We are deeply concerned at moves by the core-group to shut down debate on amendments to the resolution. We call on HRC States to desist from political tactics that undermine the mandate of the HRC and the credibility of the UN human rights system as a whole.

The resolution on "protection of the family" was led by a core-group of Bangladesh, China, Côte d'Ivoire, El Salvador, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Uganda. The resolution ostensibly calls for a panel discussion on "protection of the family" to mark the 20th Anniversary of 'the International Year of the Family' at the September Session of the HRC later this year.

The divisive resolution ultimately went to a vote, and was adopted with 26 votes in favour, 14 against, and 6 abstentions, with one State not voting.

The resolution contains numerous flaws and as adopted does not meet international human rights standards. Concerns were repeatedly raised during negotiations that were not accommodated in the final text, including:

The failure to reflect adequately that under international human rights States owe human rights obligations to all individuals in the family without discrimination;

The failure to express concern that it is within families that human rights abuses of individuals, in particular women and children, are often concealed, and States often fail to protect;

The failure to recognise the reality that in all societies, various forms of the family exist, and to include agreed UN language accommodating diversity;

ARTICLE 19 regards the initiative as an attack on the universality of human rights and the principle of non-discrimination, going against the international standards set out in a 2014 Joint Declaration by international and regional freedom of expression experts.

Shutting down debate in the UN

Chile, Uruguay, Ireland and France attempted to introduce agreed UN language to the resolution to focus the panel discussion on the human rights of individual family members, bearing in mind that "in different cultural, political and social systems various forms of the family exist."[1]

However, Russia led the core group in bringing a procedural "no action" motion to block the Council from considering the amendment. This motion, which passed by 22 votes to 20, with 4 abstentions, prevented the Council from engaging in an open and robust discussion or from bringing a vote on the amendment.[2] While views on the proposed amendment between States may diverge, all are obliged to promote freedom of expression and an open discussion.

"The cynical move to censor debate on a constructive and substantive amendment attests to the malicious intent behind this resolution," said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. "It reveals the 'protection of the family' is a thin veil to justify censorship, to reinforce the status quo and marginalise voices that some States would rather ignore," Hughes added.

International reaction

ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh* and ARTICLE 19 Tunisia** coordinated regional reactions to these regressive developments at the UN.

"This exclusionary resolution does not reflect the views of civil society in Bangladesh, 21 of whom joined our letter to the government." said Tahmina Rahman, Director of ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh. "Many forms of families exist in Bangladesh, and we must recognise the need to tackle structural patriarchy and challenge discrimination, these are obstacles for open and inclusive debates in our society - in particular for women", Rahman added.

Saloua Ghazouan Oueslati, Project Manager at ARTICLE 19 Tunisia, said "the so-called 'protection of the family' resolution fails to live up to the promises of gender equality in our new Constitution. Tunisia's support for this initiative at the UN undermines the progressive reputation of our country that we have fought so hard for, and we've joined with civil society here to ask our government to explain itself."

What next?

ARTICLE 19 calls on all HRC States to work constructively ahead of the September Session of the HRC to ensure that any panel discussion on this issue is rooted in international human rights law. It must emphasise the human rights obligations of States towards individuals, premised on the reality that various forms of the family exist and all deserve equal support and assistance.

* The signatories to the ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh letter are: Acid Survivors Foundation, Selina Ahmed, Executive Director; Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Sultana Kamal, Executive Director; Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Sanjeev Drong, General Secretary; Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Ayesha Khanom, President; Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS), Shale Ahmed, Executive Director; Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Sara Hossain, Honourary Executive Director; Boys of Bangladesh (BoB), Shakhawat Hossain; FAIR, Dewan Akhtaruzzaman, Director; Kapaeeng Foundation, Pallab Chakma, Executive Director; Manusher Jonno Foundation, Shaheen Anam, Executive Director; Mass Line Media Centre, Kamrul Hasan Monju, Executive Director; Naripokkho, Ferdous Azim, Secretary; Nijera Kori, Khushi Kabir, Coordinator; Research lnitiatives, Bangladesh (RlB), Meghna Guhathakurta, Executive Director; Steps Towards Development, Ranjan Karmakar, Executive Director; Transparency lnternational Bangladesh (TlB), lftekharuzzaman, Executive Director; Amena Mohsin, Academic; Hameeda Hossain, Human Rights Activist; Shireen Huq, Human Rights Activist; Tahmina Shafique, Youth Activist.

** The organisations joining the ARTICLE 19 Tunisia letter are: the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, the Association for Equality and Gender Parity, the Vigilant Association for Democracy and a Civic State, the Association of Tunisian Women for Research Development, the Women in Business Association, The Rights Association for an Indivisible Nation and the League of Tunisian Women Elected Officials.

[1] See: HRC Resolution 7/29; UN GA resolution 27/2; UN GA resolution 59/147; UN GA resolution 65/277; see also: International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) POA, at para. 5.1.

[2] Votes in favour of the procedural motion for no action were: Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Russia, Saudia Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. States voting against the motion were: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Montenegro, Peru, South Korea, Romania, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom and the United States of America.

- See more at: http://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/37605/en/un-hrc:-%E2%80…

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.