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Text of Joint NGO statement on traditional values UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee 7th Session – August 2011

Sunday 31 July 2011, by siawi

HRC Resolution 16/3, “Promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind” stresses that “traditions shall not be invoked to justify harmful practices violating universal human rights norms and standards”, thereby acknowledging that traditions are sometimes invoked to justify human rights violations. The resolution tasks the Advisory Committee to “prepare a study on how a better understanding and appreciation of traditional values of dignity, freedom and responsibility can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights”. In order to gain such an understanding, the study must discuss both the negative and positive ways in which “traditional values” affect the promotion and protection of human rights.

Concerns with a traditional values approach to human rights
“Tradition” is frequently invoked to justify maintaining the status quo, ignoring the fact that cultures and social norms have always evolved and will continue to change with time; by contrast, a human rights- based approach often requires changes to the status quo in order to ensure compliance with international standards. Simply because a practice or belief has existed over a period of time or is practiced by a majority does not provide it with worth or validity. The obligation must always be to promote and protect human rights, which may require that traditional values and practices evolve in order to meet international standards.
Many practices that fall under “tradition” are of long-standing origin, but others that claim to be “traditional” are in fact relatively recent. Tradition itself changes over time and all cultures contain diverse and contradictory traditions. Most importantly, many “traditional values” may be inconsistent with international human rights, and “traditional values” are frequently invoked to justify human rights violations. In previous decades and centuries, mixed-race marriages, desegregation, women having the right to work, to vote, to hold public office, or to own property would have been thought by many to be inconsistent with “traditional values”.

As many marginalised groups have experienced, “traditional values” are frequently invoked to restrict access to human rights for those segments of society who, from the conservative viewpoint or perspective of those in authority, challenge the mainstream or fall outside the dominant norm. For example, a Government Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity defended a Bill that would have included the death penalty for certain forms of consensual same-sex conduct on the basis that it was needed to maintain “traditional Christian values as prescribed in the Bible.” (Ugandan MPs debate Bill proposing death penalty for gay sex, Times Online, December 18, 2009). UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently noted that “deeply-rooted cultural sensitivities can be aroused when we talk about sexual orientation” but underlined that “cultural considerations should not stand in the way of basic human rights”.2

Women are frequently the subject of traditions, often linked to national, cultural or ethnic practices, which violate human rights and freedoms. For example, reports of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women have repeatedly addressed harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation; honour killings; spousal abuse; dowry-related violence; and customary laws that deny women’s equality. Last year a resolution on discrimination against women by the Human Rights Council recognized that “laws, policies, customs and traditions that restrict women’s equal access to participate fully in development processes and public and political life are discriminatory.” (A/HRC/12/L.3/Rev.1)

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See attached full text below

NGO statement on Traditional Values Joint NGO Adv Com
pdf document