The Human Rights Council (the Council) adopted on 27 September 2012 a controversial resolution presented by the Russian Federation on traditional values and human rights. This followed an interactive dialogue held with the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (the Committee) on 18 September that focused on the work that has been done in preparation for the 21st session of the Council and the ongoing work of the Committee.
Mr Ziegler emphasised the Committee’s role as that of a think tank and that it can only act under the mandate of the Council. He added, however, that in the absence of additional substantive requests from the Council, the Committee had taken the initiative of developing five proposed areas in which it thought it could fruitfully contribute, and requested the Council to keep these in mind as it considered further work for the Committee.
On the issue of traditional values Mr Ziegler noted the distinction between universal human rights rights and traditional values. He stressed that human rights cannot be relativised, while highlighting that within the universal human rights framework, traditional values can be used to interpret and reinforce human rights. Mr Ziegler mentioned that the submission of the report on traditional values has been delayed until the 22nd Council Session in March.
During the interactive dialogue with Mr Ziegler, several States expressed concern about the concept of traditional value, and the unchecked assumption that they further human rights. The EU noted that the latest draft of the Advisory Committee on traditional values reflects more critically on the concept, but restated its persisting concern that the concept of traditional values could be misused. Switzerland supported this position. The Russian Federation, on the other hand, stressed that it is ‘impatiently’ waiting for the final report on traditional values which it hopes will make a significant contribution to the discussion on the issue of human rights and traditional values.
Despite this affirmation of the importance of the work of the Committee, Russia reiterated its intention to present another resolution on traditional values before the Council despite the Advisory Committee not having completed its own study. During the adoption of the resolution on 27 September 2012, the Russian Federation noted that it was ‘unfortunate’ that the Committee had not been able to prepare its study in time, and pointed out that it had included ‘an instruction’ in the resolution for the Committee to complete that work.
Norway, however, calling for a vote on the resolution, strongly criticised the Russian Federation for not waiting until the study was available to the Council. This position was echoed by other speakers, including Austria (on behalf of the EU), Chile, Uruguay (who stated that since the report had not yet been presented, the Council was in violation of resolution 16/3, which had called for the Advisory Committee to prepare the study), Peru, and Guatemala. While the EU States voted against the resolution, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, and Guatemala stated that they would await the final study from the Advisory Committee, and in the meantime would abstain. Their statements were however strong on the need to protect universal human rights from any attempt to undermine them, and Chile for example commented that if the resolution came before the Council again, and concerns on universality were not fully addressed, then it would re-evaluate its position. Other Latin American States (Mexico and Costa Rica) joined the EU States, Mauritius, and Botswana in voting against, while Nigeria and Benin also abstained.
The US, despite its criticism earlier in the week of some of the work of the Committee, made a strong statement citing many passages from the Committee’s report that sound warning notes about the potentially negative impact of traditional values. It criticised the Russian resolution for presenting the conclusions of the Committee’s draft study in a distorted manner.
The resolution was adopted by 25 votes in favour, 15 against, and 7 abstentions.
More generally, the interactive dialogue with Mr Ziegler also showed some disagreement as to the usefulness of the role played by the Advisory Committee. The United States (US) questioned the effectiveness of the Advisory Committee noting that it was expensive and duplicative. The US was particularly blunt in noting that the Committee is not functioning properly or effectively, a point it had made during the review of the work and functioning of the Council. The European Union (EU) supported the stance of the US on the role of the Committee, though with more restrained language.
Cuba and Venezuela noted their ongoing support for the work of the Committee and commended the work it had done on the right to peace, human rights education, rights of farmers, and traditional values. They encouraged the Council to make greater use of the Committee to promote and protect human rights, and ensure it has the resources to do its work effectively.
The Russian Federation also emphasised the importance of the work of the Advisory Committee as a think tank with specialised knowledge. Russia in particular called for greater use of the Committee by the Council, which sounded hollow given the disregard paid to the study in preparation by the Advisory Committee on traditional values.