The Human Rights Council held on 15 September a panel discussion on the protection of the family and its members in the format of expert presentations followed by interactive discussion to address the implementation of States’ obligations under relevant provisions of international human rights law and discuss challenges and best practices in this regard, as mandated by in its resolution A/HRC/26/11, adopted on 26 June 2014.
Jane Connors, Director, Research and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in an introductory statement said the family and the rights of its members were addressed in provisions in a range of international human rights treaties. Despite these international legal obligations, women continued to experience, in varying degrees, discrimination within the family. Violence and exploitation within the family were also serious human rights concerns, as was the situation of single-parent families, which were often headed by women.
Moderating the discussion was Yvette Stevens, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in Geneva. The Panelists were Aslan Khuseinovich Abashidze, Member of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; Hiranti Wijemanne, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; Zitha Mokomane, Chief Research Specialist, Human and Social Development Research Programme, Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa; Karen Bogenschneider, Rothermel Bascom Professor of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin; and Rosa Inés Floriano Carrera, Coordinator, Department of Life, Justice and Peace, Caritas, Colombia.
Ms. Stevens said that the discussion today would guide the Council on the road forward in addressing the issue of protecting the family. However, this panel discussion was not about defining a family; the definition of the family in each State was different and it was up to States themselves to decide what groups were considered a family.
Mr. Abashidze said the protection of families by States and societies was an important principle in international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also defined obligations of States to provide assistance and protection to the family. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its general comment on Article 19, recognized that the definition of the family was different from State to State.
Ms. Wijemanne said the family was an integral part of human life. The Convention on the Right of the Child contained various provisions related to families, and obliged States to ensure and respect the right of every child and not to discriminate against children on any ground, including on the ground of the family environment they were growing in
Ms. Bogenschneider heartily endorsed the recommendation to undertake concerted actions to strengthen family-centred policies and programmes. They had convened over 190 Family Impact Seminars for State policy-makers in 25 states and the District of Columbia. In a contentious environment, they had been able to move beyond family rhetoric to enhancing the reality of families’ lives by building better public policies.
Ms. Floriano Carrera said that the unity and cohesion of the family unit was one of the first things affected when a family had to face the adversity that went hand in hand with conflict. If a response did not reflect the complexity of the drama and did not consider the family, it could do more harm than good. Humanitarian aid to the family had to be organized in order to guarantee the core links and cohesion of the family.
Ms. Mokomane said that the family had been completely left out from the Millennium Development Goals and was not being considered in the sustainable development goals or the post-2015 development agenda. The protection of the family should be included as a stand-alone goal, and this could be one action point for the Human Rights Council following this panel.
In the discussion that followed, speakers noted that family diversity was important and different forms of families required the tailored protection of the State. Even though the family unit itself was not a right holder, States still had the obligation and responsibility to protect the family and its members. Family units witnessed growing challenges such as the economic situation, lack of social protection, migration or armed conflict; research demonstrated that well protected families contributed positively to the rights of their members, particularly women and children. The gravity of violence within families, such as sexual violence or violence against children, was underlined. What were the best ways to support families in this ever evolving context? How could specific measures and policies ensure that indigenous families were protected?
Speaking in the discussion were Chile, Egypt on behalf of the main sponsors, Russia on behalf of a like-minded group, Australia on behalf of a group of States, United Kingdom on behalf of a group of States, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, United States on behalf of a group of States, Finland in a joint Nordic statement, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Slovenia on behalf of a group of States, Costa Rica on behalf of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Ethiopia on behalf of the African Group, United Arab Emirates on behalf of the Arab Group, Iran on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Estonia, Czech Republic, Syria, Norway, Egypt, Russia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Germany, Sudan, Ireland, and Qatar. Some Non-Governmental Organizations also took the floor.
Source: United Nations Information Service in Geneva.