UN: Oral Statement at HRC 16th session: IWRAW Asia Pacific, Shirkat Gah - Pakistan & VNC

WLUML networkers

Thank you Mr. President. I am delivering this statement on behalf of Shirkat Gah - Pakistan, Baobab for Women’s Human Rights –Nigeria, IWRAW Asia Pacific, Partners for Law in Development – India, and the Violence is Not our Culture campaign. The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action affirms that “the human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights”. It prioritises the full and equal participation of women in all dimensions of their lives. It calls for the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex as a priority objective of the international community.  It considers that acts of gender-based violence, including those resulting from cultural prejudice, are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person, and must be eliminated. Coupled with the fact that 186 members States of the UN have also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, States are legally obligated to ensure that the social causes of inequality and discrimination against women are eliminated, including those based on social and cultural patterns of conduct that are premised on the inferior or subordinate status of women in family and in public life.

60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by consensus, and 14 years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the relationship between ‘culture’ and human rights remains highly contested within the UN human rights system. While there are positive aspects of diverse cultural and historical backgrounds that could contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights and human dignity, “tradition” is a mixed set of values and practices which are often used to legitimize human rights violations. This was clearly affirmed by the report of the OHCHR seminar on traditional values which states that it is “necessary to recognize that some practices and attitudes at odds with human dignity also derive from traditional values” (para.68).

Lived realities show that many of the most brutal forms of discrimination experienced by women and girls in many parts of the world are deeply rooted in patriarchal definitions of traditions and value systems that continue to regard them as lesser human beings. Many countries maintain laws that require subservience, and ‘modesty’, unduly restrict freedom of movement, and place women in a position of inferiority in relation to the men in her family and community without regard to their obligations under international human rights law. Women’s bodies have become a site of contestation, bartering and control, especially in situations deeply affected by militarism and economic hardships. In certain cultural contexts, women and men who are perceived as having defied their socially-prescribed roles or to have brought shame and dishonour on their family and community are subjected to the most egregious violations against human dignity such as whipping, lashing, caning, stoning and killings. States’ perpetuate a culture of impunity by legitimizing the harmful values and traditions underpinning these abuses with complete disregard for civil laws and international obligations.   

We welcome the creation of UN Women and the UN Secretary General’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women as a strong expression of commitment by the UN to realizing the vision of the UDHR and the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action with regard to women’s rights as human rights.  We call upon the member States of the Human Rights Council to fulfill their mandate by making a firm and unequivocal commitment that no country may invoke harmful traditional values to infringe upon or to limit the scope of human rights guaranteed by international law. We call upon the member States of the UN and the various UN human rights bodies to recognize and support the essential role of women human rights defenders and organizations working at the forefront of challenging those traditional values and practices that are intolerant and antithetical to fundamental human rights principles. We also welcome the joint statement of States, delivered by Colombia this morning, on ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Thank you.

22 March 2011