Advocacy statements

On efforts to reorient human rights towards protection of ‘the family’

  • Date / 2016
  • Location / Europe
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 31th Session (29th February – 24th March 2016)

General Debate on Item 3 

We thank the OHCHR for its report on the protection of the family, pursuant to HRC resolution 29/22; it has proven to be an instructive reminder of a number of rights related to the family forgotten by the resolution itself.

We were grateful for the mention of the right to decide the number and spacing of children; which should be understood to support a woman’s ability to obtain necessary reproductive services, including safe, legal abortion care.

We were also grateful for the clarification that there is no standard definition of the family.[1] So, in opposition to the homogenous and traditional notion of the family invoked by the resolution – to the exclusion of a pluralist understanding – families can include same-sex parented families, divorced parented families, or single parented families, etc.

In line with this, we should like to draw attention to an EU Citizens’ Initiative, “Mum, Dad and Kids”[2] which calls for an official EU definition of marriage and family which “reflects the universal reality of humanity – marriage between man and woman, and the bonds of father, mother, child.” This language echoes that of Resolution 29/22 which defines the family as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society”. Both use an erroneous naturalistic argument which supposes that this apparent ‘truth’ about ‘the family’ found in nature assumes some sort of moral duty as expressed through rights, towards that ‘family’.

The OHCHR’s report goes some way to address the resolution’s attempts to undermine the human rights mechanisms protecting LGBTI people and the right to sexual and reproductive autonomy of women. But we should see both resolution 22/29 and the recent Citizens’ Initiative as part of a movement to re-orient the human rights framework toward a traditionalist, conservative, and often religious understanding of sexuality, and continue to emphasise the universalism of rights for all in this Council, the very forum established to protect them.


[1] With the two minimum conditions for the recognition and protection of families at the national level; first, the respect for the principle of equality and non-discrimination, including the equal treatment of women; and second the effective guarantee of the best interest of the child” (A/HRC/31/37, §26)

[2] https://mumdadkids.wordpress.com/our-initiative/

Suggested academic reference

'On efforts to reorient human rights towards protection of 'the family'', Humanists International

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