As is well known, from the 1990s on, regional and international human rights bodies in particular have become key arenas for transnational sexual politics. The 1993 International Human Rights Conference, in Vienna, dissolved tensions in respect universality and cultural variability and legitimized the indivisibility of human rights, outcomes that were vital for the further development of sexual and reproductive rights. Concurrently, decisions and recommendations on various issues by international and regional human rights treaty bodies have interpreted existing international human rights law in ways that clarified their application to sexuality and reproductive autonomy.
Even before that, in Europe, cases have been presented to the Human Rights Court. But it was also in the 1990s that the Inter-American Human Rights System became a space where calls were made for the addressing issues related to women’s human rights, and later on for systematic claims with respect to violations related to sexual orientation and gender identity. During the same period, Special Rapporteurs and Procedures have also started to address sexual and reproductive matters more systematically in diverse domains, such as health, gender violence, torture and extra-judicial executions. Last but not least, substantive debates and positive outcomes concerning sexuality and human rights have also evolved at the UN Human Rights Council, since its creation in 2006, under the impact of civil society engagement and claims [read more on: the UN Human Rights Council Panel on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – March 2012; the booklet Born Free and Equal – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in International Human Rights Law, launched by UN Human Rights Office; and guidelines on maternal mortality]. In this respect the participation in and monitoring of Universal Periodical Review (UPR) of member states became a priority focus of analyses and advocacy [read more at ARC International website and at Sexual Rights Initiative Facebook fan page].
Within the UN overarching institutional architecture, human rights treaty bodies and special procedures – which are composed of independent experts and guided by juridical premise – have been historically less affected by the politicization of human rights. Yet, as part of the wider multilateral system, international and regional human rights institutions are all inevitably subject to political pressures and crossed by geopolitical trends and tensions. This politicization was reflected in the fracture between civil and political and economic and social rights that prevailed during the bi-polar era (1945-1991). In the 2000s, the blunt instrumental use of human rights arguments by the US to serve its own geopolitical interests has also contaminated multilateral debates. But this was also when the UN General Assembly approved the creation of the Human Rights Council, signaling towards the preservation and expansion of the human rights transnational architecture.
Today, the international and regional institutional human rights architecture is in many ways more robust and more widely recognized as a fundamental resource to ensure the protection of gender equality, and sexual and reproductive rights than was the case twenty years ago. However, its functioning and integrity is not at all exempt from the effects national political shifts and, more principally, geopolitical dislocations characterizing the current global landscape, such as: the novel leftward tendency of electoral politics in Latin America, the rightwards electoral trends in Europe that followed the 2010 financial crisis, the decline of American and European economic hegemony and the emergence of the so-called new global players – Brazil, China, Russia, India and South Africa – now collapsed under the acronym BRICS.
Many of us who are engaged with research, analyses and advocacy in transnational sexual and reproductive politics are still grappling with what these trends will imply in the medium and long run. Current shifts have raised some expectation that geopolitical shifts underway may favor new dynamics in the ways in which sexuality and human rights are globally addressed [read Aid conditionality and respect for LGBT people rights, by Luis Abolafia Anguita]. But worrying signs are also detectable, which suggest that we may be entering an era in which state sovereignty will once again be argued against international jurisdiction on human rights and when justifications cultural relativism and tradition, supposedly resolved at Vienna, are also gaining leverage in international arenas. Since 2011, for example, a number of Latin American states such as Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela have openly contested decisions issued by the Inter-American Human Rights System. In 2011, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission called for the halt of the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon provoking the immediate reaction of the Brazilian government that has called back its representative. In July 2012, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights also condemned the Ecuadorian government for the violation of the Kichwa indigenous people’s rights by a large energy project (check http://www.economist.com/node/21559653). When visiting Rio de Janeiro to participate in the Rio +20 UN Conference, in June 2012, Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, in an interview to the press declared that the Inter-American Human Rights System had taken a decision that made prevail the “rights of minorities over the rights of the majority” [Read also Boaventura dos Santos’ analysis of these reactions – only in Portuguese]. We can also mention, perhaps, the recent approval by the Human Rights Council of a resolution of traditional values proposed by Russia [read more on this resolution at ARC International website].
SPW Newsletter No.12 aims at preliminarily exploring these novel and preoccupying trends. Since Brazil and India were submitted to a second round of Universal Periodical Review (UPR) in 2012, we thought it productive to look more closely into these two processes . Our main goal was to verify how two of the so-called emerging powers had responded to the UPR process, if sexual and reproductive rights issues have or have not been addressed in these reviews, and how the Indian and Brazilian states have or have not reacted to recommendations made in relation to these topics. These brief analytical exercises also provide interesting insights on the merits and limits of the UPR processes, as well as on the challenges implied in engaging with and monitoring these reviews. The other topic addressed in the Newsletter No. 12 is the reform of the Inter-American System of Human Rights, as viewed through the lenses of Latin American sexual and reproductive rights activism.
We dearly thank Madhu Mehra and Marcelo Ferreyra for generously sharing with us with their analyses on the Indian UPR review and the challenges currently faced by the Inter-American Human Rights System. We are also grateful to our close partners Camila Asano, from Conectas Human Rights, and Magaly Pazello, from EMERGE-Communication and Emergence Research Centre and Women’s Networking Support Programme of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), for their insights on the Brazilian UPR process. We expect readers to benefit form these exploratory examinations of trends and pitfalls that, as we predict, will be us for much longer in the future.
Co-coordinator of Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW)
 South African was also reviewed in the same 2012 round, but unfortunately we have not been able to timely identify somebody that could write an ‘inside story’ of the review from the point of view of sexual and reproductive rights activism.
:: UN Universal Periodical Review (UPR)
>> To present a brief contextualisation on the second round of the Universal Periodical Review of Brazil and how sexual and reproductive rights were debated in this process, SPW is publishing the introductory note Sexual and reproductive rights at the 2012 Universal Periodic Review of Brazil, based on analysis shared by Magaly Pazello, from EMERGE-Communication and Emergence Research Centre and Women’s Networking Support Programme of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), and one of the representatives of Brazilian civil society present in this session of the UN Human Rights Council. Read the note, in ENGLISH or PORTUGUESE.
>>For the Newsletter No. 12, SPW interviewed Camila Asano, Coordinator of Foreign Policy and Human Rights at Conectas Human Rights, who participated of the second round of the Universal Periodical Review of Brazil, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva, in May 2012. In this interview, Ms. Asano analyzed the role of this mechanism for the human rights protection, explaining how this process works and highlighting recommendations to Brazil, main challenges and perspectives. Read the interview.
>> Read the article Is the UPR achieving (what it demanded/expected) for women on sexuality issues in India?, written by Madhu Mehra, Director of Partners for Law in Development, on the second round of Universal Periodical Review of India and how her country responded to the UPR process and, specifically, how sexual and reproductive rights issues were pointed by the recommendations made to India.
Also on UPR
>> O Brasil na Revisão Periódica Universal/ONU (Coenctas Human Rights)
:: Inter-American Human Rights System
>> Marcelo Ferreyra, Latin America and Caribbean Coordinator at Global Initiative for Sexuality and Human Rights – Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights, wrote for the SPW Newsletter No. 12 the article “The Inter-American Human Rights System is under threat: Implications for the Sexuality and Human Rights Agenda”, analyzing the reform of the Inter-American System of Human Rights (IASHR), as viewed through the lenses of Latin American sexual and reproductive rights activism. Read the article, available in ENGLISH or SPANISH.
Also on the International System of Human Rights
>> Venezuela’s break with regional human rights court ‘an affront to victims’ (Amnesty International)
>> Dossiê OEA » Sistema sob ataque (Conectas Human Rights)
>> Consultation to Actors of the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights (Organization of American States)
>> Consulta a los Actores del Sistema Interamericano de Protección de los Derechos Humanos (Organization of American States)
Read more at SPW website:
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