The U.N. Human Rights Council’s 18-member Advisory Committee opened its week-long summer session today. The agenda was adopted and the Committee discussed the “Preliminary study on promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind” (“Study”).
CHINESE & RUSSIANS CALL FOR EMPHASIS ON HUMAN “RESPONSIBILITIES” INSTEAD OF RIGHTS
Paragraph 30 of the Study says: “although it should be emphasized that human rights are inalienable and inherent in the human person, and are not conditional upon ‘responsible behaviour,’ individuals may be regarded as having a responsibility to promote respect for human rights, and not to cause human rights violations against other individuals.”
Germany’s Wolfgang Stefan Heinz said that “there will be much discussion about the responsibilities section of the Report”.
The U.S. emphasized that states, as opposed to individuals, have obligations.
In a joint statement, the ISHR and ICJ welcomed the reference in the Study to the fact that a 2005 proposal to develop a text on “human responsibilities” was voted down by ECOSOC owing to fears that it could “undermine the universality of human rights” (quoted from par. 31 of Study).
The Chinese member on the committee said that, “Philosophically speaking, when you talk about a right and responsibility, you cannot separate one from another. Even human rights law cannot separate that.”
Russia said that individual responsibility has a history in international human rights law, citing the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (which is also cited in paragraph 30 of the Study). They were disappointed that no reference was made to Art. 19 ICCPR, nor to human dignity through development, despite having been discussed at previous sessions of the Advisory Committee.
RUSSIA CALLS FOR “TRADITIONAL VALUES,” BUT STUDY WARNS IT COULD JUSTIFY SUBORDINATION OF WOMEN
Russia, in order to remove the negative connotations associated with tradition, originally proposed the Study on traditional values at the Human Rights Council via Resolution 16/3 which was narrowly adopted in March 2011, with 24 members voting in favor, 14 against, and 7 abstentions. During the previous Advisory Committee session, Russia’s committee member, Vladimir Kartashkin, prepared and presented the first draft of the Study on traditional values. The new version of the text presented today at the Advisory Committee contains changes which Russia dislikes.
Kartashkin was the most vocal member of the Committee. He expressed opposition to paragraph 32 of the Study on traditional values, which provided that “diverse traditional values are at the root of universal human rights, but some have played a role to justify subordination of women and minority groups in the world.”
He insisted that the Committee get an additional 6 months to “deal” with the Study. Egypt’s Mona Zulficar disagreed with Kartashkin, saying that he should reserve his judgement once he has seen a revised draft. Various committee members praised the Study for taking a balanced approach.
The Russian delegation added that the Study should have “explored” Islam, Christianity or Judaism “which have certain relevance to human rights.”
CHINA: FAILURE TO RESPECT “CULTURE” IS “VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS”
China`s representative on the Committee, Chen Shiqiu, said “if you do not show your respect for culture, this is in it of itself a violation of human rights. We cannot use traditional values to deny universality of human rights, nor can we use universality of human rights to deny traditional values. Is human rights a traditional value? . . . If you deny that, then it means that you deny human rights too.”
U.S. & EU: “TRADITIONAL VALUES” COULD JUSTIFY ABUSES, LEAD TO “CULTURAL RELATIVISM”
The U.S. said that there is no agreed upon definition of traditional values. They expressed concern that “traditional values could be used to undermine the rights of vulnerable groups” and be “used to legitimize human rights abuses”.
The EU was “concerned about cultural relativism, which could absolve states of responsibility”. These concerns were echoed by various NGOs.
Note: Par. 42 of the Study: “The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, noted that cultural relativism is often an excuse to allow for inhumane and discriminatory practices against women in the community, and that, ‘in the next century, the problem posed by cultural relativism, and the implications for women’s rights, will be one of the most important issues in the field of international human rights.’ […]”.
STUDY: WESTERN COUNTRIES’ TRADIONAL VALUES PROPAGATE “HARMFUL PRACTICES”
Par. 48 of the Study criticizes the West: “The negative impact of traditional values can be felt not only in non-Western countries. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, warned against ‘orientalizing’ cultures and traditions, and noted that traditional and cultural values in Western countries propagate harmful practices, such as domestic violence.”
Germany’s Heinz noted that there is a “strong countertrend” in Western countries against domestic violence and that if Western countries are criticized in the negative section, then there should be a positive example from Western countries in the Good Practices section (he then added sarcastically “unless you cannot find any examples,” eliciting laughter from the Council).
“RIGHT TO PEACE”
In her opening statement, the President of the Human Rights Council thanked the Committee “for all the work” that went into its Draft Declaration on the Right to Peace. In its session last month, the 47-nation council voted to create such a declaration based on the Advisory Committee’s controversial draft.
On Thursday morning, the Committee will discuss the Right to Peace during a follow-up to the reports submitted to the Human Rights Council.
– Reporting by Howard Cohen