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UNHRC23 wrap-up: why WILPF’s integrated approach is needed more than ever

June 25, 2013

During the 23rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), some of the thorniest negotiations have revolved around the Resolution on Sexual Violence, the conflict in Syria and the Right to Peace. A separate analysis of these negotiations brings a worrying sense of backlashes on many fronts affecting women’s rights and international security.

But a comprehensive analysis of the negotiations during this session brings an even more worrying conclusion: the growing intention of Russia and of many other States to separate any issue being discussed at the Security Council from the issues being dealt with at the Human Rights Council. That is to say: separating peace and security from human rights, as if they were separate matters.

What happened with UNSCR 1325?

The Council session started with our hopes up for a Resolution to end Sexual Violence called “Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women: preventing and responding to rape and other forms of sexual violence” (A/HRC/23/L.28). But reality within the UNHRC did not live up to our expectations.

On top of the worrying signals of the negotiations revealing a backlash in women’s rights that we have analysed in our previous blog, these negotiations also revealed that many States, and most particularly Russia, are willing to go to any length to separate the work of the UNHRC from that of the Security Council, proposing amendments to the text that erased any mentioning of UNSCR 1325, which are of essential importance to this topic.

And what is being done for Syria?

Another thorny matter was the resolution about human rights violations during the conflict in Syria. In light of the gravity of the situation, most of the elements being negotiated should had been given, but unfortunately this was of course not the case within the Council.

Fardous Albahra and Sabah Alhallak

Fardous Albahra and Sabah Alhallak, Syrian women’s rights activists invited by WILPF to attend the side event on Syria and Bosnia at the UN in Geneva.

A topic that was particularly important for WILPF was the inclusion of the rejection of all interferences fueling the conflict, especially the provision of arms to any of the parts in conflict. WILPF brought to Geneva human rights defenders from Syria and from the region who made these requests. Peru made a request in this sense that was only partially kept. We encourage human rights defenders to use the interpretation declaration by Chile.

No arms to countries affected by human rights violations

Chile will interpret paragraph 6bis of the resolution as including the obligation to abstain from selling arms to countries were human rights violations are taking place. This is also an obligation enshrined in the recently opened for signature Arms Trade Treaty, reiterating once again the interconnection between Peace and Security and Human Rights.

Again, the position from Russia on this resolution was that the Human Rights Council did not need to discuss issues that are under discussion in the Security Council, as is the case for the conflict in Syria.

A holistic approach to conflicts and Right to Peace

Maybe we should remind Member States that conflicts have multiple causes and consequences, that they are multifaceted and need to be addressed with a holistic approach. All armed conflicts involve human rights violations and, in this sense, the HRC has a mandate and an obligation to address them. They also need a humanitarian and diplomatic response. Rejecting one or several of these facets hinders an appropriate response to human rights violations being perpetrated.

Finally, the Resolution on the Right to Peace is yet another debate in which there were attempts to separate discussions related to armed conflict and human rights. A resolution finally passed extending the mandate of a Working Group in charge of drafting a declaration on the right to peace. However, the frontal clash opposing two blocks in the HRC on this matter does not announce an easy task for the working group.

Boycotting the objectives of the United Nations

Compartmenting the work of UN bodies and making them work abstaining from even acknowledging or completing one another seems like a very unproductive way of working and cannot not reflect but an intention to boycott the objectives of the United Nations. These objectives include international peace and security and their link to human rights, as clearly recognised in article 1 of the UN Charter, as well as clearly reinstated throughout the history of the UN.

The artificial separation between the Peace and Security Agenda and Human Rights is highly worrying, but even more appalling is the instrumentalisation of women’s human rights discussions, such as the discussion over the resolution on sexual violence, to force this separation.

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