UN Human Rights Council urged to reject resolution on "traditional values"
The draft resolution being tabled before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on "promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind" claims that, "better understanding and appreciation of traditional values by the entire humanity and embodied in universal human rights instruments" contributes to both promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide. The draft calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to collect information from UN member states and other stakeholders on the "best practice" for applying traditional values while promoting and protecting human rights and upholding human dignity.
Increasing dialogue on the role of traditional values in society and raising understanding of the many different values held by people is positive where done within a framework of respect for human rights. However, the draft resolution fails to recognise that traditional values are not always invoked positively and have often been abused to legitimise discrimination against marginalised and minority groups, to silence dissent, and violate people's human rights. ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned that "traditional values" will be used to silence advocates for the rights of women, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) and others challenging power hierarchies and inequalities.
ARTICLE 19 also believes that the draft resolution can undermine other initiatives at the UNHRC. On 24 March 2011, the UNHRC adopted Resolution 16/3 tasking the Advisory Committee to prepare a study on promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of the traditional values of humankind. Twenty-four member states voted in favour of the resolution and 21 voted against, with 7 abstaining, indicating the controversy surrounding this issue. The draft resolution on "traditional values" proposed by Russia is too hasty as it precedes the publication of the final report by the Advisory Committee. We therefore urge member states to await the Advisory Committee's report before considering the issue of traditional values.
In June 2012, the Advisory Committee issued a preliminary study on this issue, observing that the divided views revealed by their study demonstrated "the need to reflect on both the negative and the positive impact that traditional values may have on the effective implementation of human rights". While the draft resolution stresses that "traditions shall not be invoked to justify practices contrary to human dignity and violating international human rights law", it does not go far enough to express the concern of the UNHRC at the use of traditional values to justify actions that violate international human rights law. This disregards the advice of the Advisory Committee.
The draft resolution also appears to go against existing human rights standards in this area. In particular, the Advisory Committee notes in paragraph 124 (a) that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action calls on governments to refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to eliminating violence against women. In the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the World Conference on Human Rights stressed the importance of eliminating any harmful effects caused by "certain traditional or customary practices, cultural prejudices and religious extremism", and emphasised that, "while the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms." In this regard, the Advisory Committee also references the preamble to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which affirms that traditional gender roles must change in order to achieve full equality between men and women.
ARTICLE 19 believes that giving legal force to the concept of "traditional values" poses significant dangers to the right to freedom of expression and information. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights already constitutes an authoritative statement on the shared values of all humanity, and no compelling case has been presented for its amendment. Moreover, a UN HRC resolution entrenching the concept of "traditional values" would undermine the clarity of international human rights law and open the door to states to exploit this ambiguity in order to justify human rights violations.
ARTICLE 19 calls on all member states to the UNHRC to reject the draft resolution in its entirety.