Geneva, Switzerland. June, 24th. Over the last two weeks, the Human Rights Council has been holding its 32nd session, and in the past few days, several of the UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders have presented their thematic reports during interactive dialogues where all States, National Human Rights Institutions and NGOs can comment, ask questions, make suggestions and even sometimes complaints.
Four of those thematic reports are of our immediate concern. The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights congratulates the experts and their staff for their very comprehensive reports, which touch upon current challenges to protect and preserve human rights across the world.
The first report that concern us, was the shared by Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression presented who expressed his concerns on freedom of expression and the private sector in the digital age.
In his report, Mr. Kaye noted that recently, it is the private sector who is the driving force behind the greatest expansion of access to information in history. Yet, the digital age has brought with it new questions and problems that international human rights mechanisms have not yet fully addressed. This report launched a multi-year endeavor to identify appropriate human rights norms for the private sector in the digital space and is the first step in an effort to identify the ways in which freedom of expression might be protected and promoted in the digital space.
During the interactive dialogue, speakers –States and Non-State actors- emphasized the importance of new information technologies and the Internet as a tool to promote peace, knowledge and economic growth. They said that the right to privacy should not be undermined in the digital space and that freedom of expression online and offline must be practiced responsibly. They also noted that expansion of new technologies presented unprecedented new opportunities for freedom of expression, but also specific challenges needed to be overcome, such as repressive legislation, censorship and threats against journalists.
Full report can be found here.
The next day, Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, presented his report on fundamentalist intolerance and its degrading effects towards assembly and association rights worldwide.
In this report he explores the phenomenon of fundamentalism and its impact on the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. During the interactive dialogue, Mr. Kiai said that assembly and association rights are indispensable to democracy and development, as the glue that brought people together to explore society’s problems and solve them. He said fundamentalism could include any movement, not just religious ones, that advocated strict and literal adherence to a set of basic beliefs or principles.
His report discussed four distinct types of fundamentalism: free market fundamentalism, political fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism and nationalist or cultural fundamentalism. The report, at its core, is about the struggle between tolerance and intolerance. Peaceful assembly and association rights are so fundamental, in part because of their crucial role in promoting pluralism. He detailed the challenges each of the four types of fundamentalism he had identified presented to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, noting that regarding political fundamentalism, his report cited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Oman, and Saudi Arabia as notable examples.
He stressed that it is fundamental for people to have a system which would allow them to disagree with mainstream opinions.
Full report can be found here.
A few days later, the Human Rights Council began its clustered interactive dialogue with Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women its causes and consequences, and Frances Radday, Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice.
When presenting her report, Ms. Šimonović said an intermediate priority for the mandate would be to focus on the use of data on violence against women as a tool for its prevention and that in that regard she had already called upon States to establish a “femicide watch” or a “gender-related killing of women watch”, in order to inform the effective measures and strategies needed to prevent femicides. Other thematic priorities would, inter alia, include the protection of and services for women survivors of violence; the possibility of formulating a global code of conduct for security and police forces in carrying out their key role of prevention of violence against women; violence against women in the context of forced displacement and refugee flows; and the examination of connections between fundamentalism and gender-based violence against women and its root causes.
This thematic report examined the general context and main trends and challenges posed by violence against women, noting that the legal and policy landscape around the mandate had changed owing to developments in international and regional frameworks and mechanisms on violence against women. At the same time, violence against women was still at pandemic levels, widespread and persistent.
Later, in her presentation, Ms. Frances Raday, Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice, presented the Group’s thematic report on discrimination against women in the area of health and safety. Women’s right to equality in health and safety, including reproductive and sexual health, are enshrined in international and regional human rights instruments. The different biology of women and men necessitated differential treatment in the area of health, an identical approach to treatment, medication, research, budgeting, and accessibility to health services for women and men in fact constituted discrimination. The Working Group called on all Member States to reaffirm and respect the commitments they had made in the Sustainable Development Goals and other agreements.
In the interactive discussion, concerning violence against women, speakers underlined the issue of violence against women in the context of conflict, namely sexual harassment, early marriage, violence during conflict, fight against stereotypes and female genital mutilation.
As for discrimination against women in law and practice, speakers raised concerns over the disproportionate level of discrimination against women in the area of health and safety, particularly in their right to sexual and reproductive health. Health policies tailored to specific needs of women should not be politicized, and it was vital for women to participate in all decision-making. Speakers insisted on the importance of ensuring the security and health of all women through targeted measures, appropriate budgets and monitoring activities.
Women’s rights had to be viewed in a holistic way. There had to be an emphasis on the provision of affordable and modern contraception, and family planning. Due diligence was an obligation under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and under that obligation States not only had to provide health services but also had to regulate private sector health providers to prevent discrimination. Good practices in general would be examined by the Working Group in its next annual report.
Both reports can be found here.
For more information on the Human Rights Council, please contact our Legal Adviser in Geneva, Laia Evia, at Evia@raceandequality.org and follow @raceandequality on Twitter.