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Tough negotiations at Human Rights Council see sexual rights upheld

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11 July 2022 Tags: Advocacy, CSE, Geneva, Human Rights Council, LGBTQI+, SOGI

The Human Rights Council took place for the 50th time. Despite tough negotiations – and loud conservative voices – sexual rights were upheld. Both the resolutions on discrimination against women and girls and female genital mutilation have been adopted and the mandates on LGBTQI+ rights and women’s rights have been renewed. Rutgers focused its advocacy on sexual orientation and gender identity and gender-based violence, hotly debated topics in Geneva this time around. At times where previously agreed upon rights are contested or even overturned, this was a key moment to let our voices be heard.

Two important mandates were up for renewal. These allow independent experts under the UN flag to research human rights violations. The violence against women mandate now also includes girls. This is an excellent development because girls and women face different types of violence and it is important to highlight how these differ and require different solutions.

Rutgers is also very happy that the mandate on sexual orientation and gender identity has been renewed for another three years.

Its start in 2016 was an incredible milestone in the history of the HRC. It helps to better protect persons who suffer from violence and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Our statement on inclusive healthcare emphasised the importance of diversity in healthcare as the norm not the exception. Some countries consider this mandate to be controversial, all the more reason to celebrate its renewal.

Power of words

Rutgers comes to these UN spaces to primarily advocate on the language used in resolutions. Together with like-minded organisations we advocated for the negotiated texts to not shy away from sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender justice, topics which never fail to lead to heated debates.

The word gender – for example – always causes friction in resolutions, something that continues to surprise us in a time where gender is well embedded in international human rights law.

Therefore we confront and support States to use the best possible language. 

For instance, a reference to evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education has already been agreed on in previous years. However, some countries continue to contest it (and thus try to move backwards) even though evidence shows that it is essential in addressing the root causes of discrimination against all women and girls. Our statement together with BRAC Bangladesh therefore addressed the importance of CSE and specifically digital CSE to reach all young people. 

So what did we do? 

We suggested textual improvements to ensure language is more (gender) transformative. However, in the end you never know to what extent your efforts are taken along when Member States press the voting button. By being there and speaking up we remind Member States of the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights and hope to contribute to positive outcomes in that area. We do this because as civil society we have expert knowledge and experience that not all Member States have. 

What’s next?

When countries are hesitant about some elements they will try their best not to promise too much to avoid being called out on not delivering on later down the line. Each word is carefully weighed and debated. When texts are voted upon and make it into resolutions, they showcase what Member States should put on their to-do lists. Therefore, Rutgers will continue our work to maintain language on sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender justice in these resolutions and to progress and move forward on this topics, rather than sliding backwards. 

Restricted access to Human Rights Council

Engaging with the Human Rights Council is essential for civil society. Through these intergovernmental spaces, governments can protect people against discrimination and violence. This in turn helps us, as civil society organisations, to hold them accountable to what they agreed to in Geneva. However, for future sessions the Human Rights Council negotiations may not be accessible online anymore. For people unable to travel or struggle to get visas to Switzerland upcoming HRC sessions should remain at least partially online so advocates from different countries can participate. This will increase accountability and ensure human rights are not discussed without civil society from a variety of countries present.


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