European & International News

Human rights council resolution on traditional values: a backlash for women’s rights?

[Brussels, 23 August 2012] During its 9th session, the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee took up a preliminary study on promoting human rights through a better understanding of traditional values of human kind. This study is highly controversial because of the debate between the proclamation of traditional values and the fear of backlash for women’s rights.

In 2009, the Human Rights Council adopted the resolution 12/21 on the proposal of the Russian delegation. This resolution, called "Promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind", created a strong debate by making the link between traditional values and human rights without taking into consideration their harmful effects. It was decided to draft a new preliminary study [1].

In 2011, the Human Rights Council adopted the resolution 16/3, also proposed by Russia. This resolution requested the HRC Advisory Committee to prepare a study about a better understanding of traditional values of dignity, freedom and responsibility and how they can contribute to the promotion of human rights.

This new preliminary study was presented in August 2012 during the ninth session of the HRC advisory council [2].

At the opposite of the first draft, this study mentions the negative impact of traditional values on women and minority groups (paragraph 39). The paragragh 42 is dedicated to violence against women and the fact that cultural relativism is often used as an excuse to justify it. It concretely refers to practices such as female genital mutilation, honour killings and spouse abuses.

During this session, the EU and the USA warned the other delegations of the risks to give too much place to cultural relativism that could undermine the notion of universal human rights.

Anyway, the risk of backlash is still present: for example, the Russian delegation opposed the paragraph 32 which mentions that "diverse traditional values are at the root of universal human rights, but some have played a role to justify subordination and minority groups in the world" [3].

The final study will be adopted by the Human Rights Council during its next session in September.

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