The 23rd session of the UN Human Rights Council came to an end on June 14th 2013. Action Canada for Population and Development (now Action Canada for Sexual Health and rights) participated in the session of the Council, and closely monitored the resolution on sexual violence against women.
The resolution ‘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) (see attached below) tabled by Canada was adopted today at the UN Human Rights Council. It was co-sponsored by 66 member states (a drop in number from previous years).
The initial text circulated by Canada was very weak on sexual and reproductive rights and health issues. It recognised the importance of women’s right to exercise control over their sexuality but had nothing on reproductive rights. Input from States such as the US, Australia, New Zealand, and a number of EU and Latin American and Caribbean (GRULAC) States led to inclusion of language recognising the importance of promoting sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and protecting and fulfilling reproductive rights.
Due to Canada’s constant reluctance, the final text does not operationalize these sexual and reproductive rights in the form of critical actions like providing sexuality education to adolescents, which plays a strong role in promoting gender equality, empowering girls and reducing gender-based violence, and reviewing laws that criminalize or restrict access to abortion. It asks governments to provide accessible health care services but did not list critical sexual and reproductive health services that survivors of sexual violence must have access to, such as emergency contraception, safe abortion, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, and screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
It does have a strong provision on marital rape and changing discriminatory laws in relation to sexual violence. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), led by Egypt, had been pushing Canada to change this language. Canada was willing to weaken the language to avoid a vote but some co-sponsors took a strong position, saying they should stick to the strong text and let a vote be called.
Russia, on behalf of a group of States, tabled six amendments to the text tabled by Canada on June 10 2013, all seeking to weaken the text. These were:
Action on the resolution:
Canada introduced the text and explained the revisions. An announcement by Russia that they would withdraw their six written amendments ‘to preserve consensus‘ was preceded by a very hostile statement in which they criticised Canada’s handling of the negotiations, their lack of transparency and refusal to negotiate openly.
Additional statements were delivered:
Brazil made a very strong statement on behalf of 19 States including Argentina, Czech Republic, Ireland, Venezuela, Finland, Portugal, France, Slovenia, Sweden, Denmark, Mexico, Uruguay, Colombia, Cuba, Croatia, Norway, Luxembourg and others which highlighted that responses to sexual violence must include actions to prevent and protect survivors, including access to services, access to justice and training, and lamented that there was no reference to the root causes of sexual violence or the need for sexuality education, the need to empower adolescents, especially girls and eliminate gender stereotypes. (see attached below)
The US also made a statement welcoming the resolution but lamenting inter alia the lack of reference to access of services required by survivors of sexual violence, such as those included in the recent Agreed Conclusions of the March 2013 Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). (see attached below)
Switzerland also stressed that the language in the resolution did not live up to expectations, in particular in addressing the root causes of gender inequality (as highlighted in outcome document from CSW 20213), that impunity had not been adequately addressed in resolution, and that the text had lost key elements that are essential for survivors of sexual violence. (see attached below)
It was widely anticipated that an oral amendment would be made to the paragraph on marital rape on behalf of the OIC, however, this did not materialize. It is believed this did not happen because if a vote were called, the amendment would have been defeated.
As such, with written amendments withdrawn, and no oral amendment delivered, the final text was adopted without a vote.