Universal Human Rights Under Attack: a Key Moment for the Human Rights Council

Press release
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Coordinated attacks against the universality of human rights threaten to turn the UN Human Rights Council into “Human Rights Incompatible Council” if it does not react. The Council has become the target of an offensive launched by a coalition of conservative states led by Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia to undermine its ability to uphold and defend international human rights standards. The 29th session of the Council, which closed today, could be a turning point unless Council members and the international community as a whole urgently react by strongly reaffirming the principle “all human rights for all” and committing to a progressive agenda.

What we witness is a full-fledged offensive by states that are determined to deny the universality of human rights and to weaken the international system, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.It is an existential threat to the Human Rights Council, he added.

Three resolutions – on protection of the family, violence against women, and freedom of expression – crystallized attacks on universal human rights standards, including women’s rights, gender equality, and the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Council adopted a fundamentally flawed resolution on the “protection of the family”, which fails to recognize the diversity of family forms (including same-sex families), the fact that violations can happen within the family environment (in the form of domestic violence, forced marriage or so-called “honor” killings) and the negative role the family can play in fostering values, traditions and practices that run counter to human rights. [1] Debates on violence against women and freedom of expression also showed how far conservative states are ready to go to challenge universal rights. [2]

However, states against which the conservative bloc has directed its offensive, in particular Western states, should do more to address accusations of “double standards”. From the migrants crisis to Palestine, the latter often turned a blind eye to egregious human rights violations and injustice. All states should refrain from playing the game of selectivity; rather, they should seriously address both human rights violations at home and those committed by their strategic allies, said Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General.Failing to address all double standards will only embolden the enemies of universality, she added. In this regard, the support provided by the European Union to the resolution on accountability in Palestine is a step in the right direction.

The Human Rights Council, a subsidiary organ of the United Nations General Assembly, is the main United Nations body in charge of the promotion and protection of human rights. It meets in three regular sessions each year, in Geneva. Its 29th regular session took place over three weeks, from 15 June-3 July 2015, during which the Council adopted 26 texts, including 25 resolutions (both country-specific and thematic) and one presidential statement. Its 30th regular session will take place from 14 September-2 October 2015.

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