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Advisory Committee to consider latest draft of study on human rights and traditional values
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 16:23


The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (the Committee) will hold its 9th session from 6 to 10 August 2012 in Geneva. The Committee, composed of 18 expert members, will consider draft reports on the subjects of the traditional values of humankind, human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking, human rights and international solidarity, and the right to food in relation to the urban poor and rural women.


The issue of the traditional values of humankind has been on the Committee’s agenda since it was mandated by the Human Rights Council (the Council) to produce a study on this subject by resolution 16/3 adopted in March 2011. The divisive resolution, adopted with 23 votes in favour and 22 against, was led by the Russian Federation.  


A preliminary draft study was prepared and presented at the 8th session by Mr Vladimir Kartashkin, the rapporteur of the drafting group, in February 2011. This report was very heavily criticised by States, civil society, as well as members of the Committee, and several major areas were identified for address in a redrafted version. The criticisms partly derived from differing interpretations of the Committee’s mandate amongst members.   In particular, several Committee members echoed the concerns of Mr Wolfgang Heinz that the preliminary study did not fulfil the mandate given to the Committee of looking at how traditional values could be used in the implementation of human rights.


The main criticisms that many Committee members felt needed to be addressed in a new draft touched upon the concepts of universality, dignity, responsibility, and family. The language and the approach taken in the preliminary study undermined the universality of human rights most egregiously by subordinating international law agreements to traditional values of humankind.[1] By doing so, the report not only disregarded the normative and legal status of international law, but also disregarded the fact that some traditional values may have a negative impact. Indeed, the rapporteur failed to acknowledge that traditional values can be sources of human rights violations. The preliminary study was for example not clear on the ways in which the concept of dignity has been used in particular to undermine the rights of women. Similarly, the paragraphs on the importance of families for the promotion of human rights and their assumed positive role on the individual disregard the fact that families may be sites of abuse.[2] Furthermore, the report fails to recognise that families may take several forms. Another cause for concern was the way in which the preliminary draft presented the concept of ‘responsibility’  as an obligation according to which a person’s human rights could be denied if he or she commits a crime.


The new draft of the study goes a long way towards addressing the above mentioned issues. First, the concepts of dignity, freedom, and responsibility are presented in the framework of international human rights law, while stating that these concepts are also to be found in many traditions. Contrary to the former draft, the new one includes a section on the relationship between traditional values and human rights which explores how some universal values, such as dignity, on which human rights are based, have roots in diverse traditional and cultural contexts. It also contains a subsection on the negative impact of traditional values on women and minority groups thus addressing one of the main criticisms made to the first study. Finally, the new draft addresses the question of how these values can contribute to the promotion and the protection of human rights through examining the role of human rights education and families, and exposing good practices for promoting and enhancing respect for human rights through appeal to locally familiar values.


In light of these changes and of the divergent views on the issue, the Committee’s debate on traditional values promises to be interesting and potentially animated. It is to be welcomed that the drafting group has taken the concerns of NGOs seriously, and has engaged with those concerns in this new draft.  For this ninth session NGOs can participate through both written and oral statements. The relevant information on the procedure to follow can be found here. The Advisory Committee is scheduled to finalise the study at this session and to present it for consideration to the Human Rights Council’s 21st session, in September.

[1] Paragraph 75 of the preliminary study. Document A/HRC/AC/8/4.

[2] Abuses in the family include female genital mutilation, honour killings, and forced marriages.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 July 2012 16:55

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