Re-imagining the Protection of the family Resolution at the Human Rights Council

The documentation of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria also gestures towards another line of intersectional analysis. By pointing strongly to the impacts on the family of the phenomenon of disappearances, the question implicitly raised, is how can this documentation contribute to re-imagining the discourse on the protection of the family?

The protection of the family resolution has traditionally been cosponsored by strong opponents of SOGI rights including Russia, Egypt and other members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It has hence been perceived as a counter response to the emergence of the discourse on SOGI at the UN level.  Within this analysis the rhetoric of ‘protection of the family’ has everything to do with promoting a heterosexist and hence exclusionary definition of the family and hence the resolution must be unequivocally opposed.

Another important feminist and child rights critique of resolutions to protect the family is that it aims to protect an institution and not individuals. This protection of the institution of the family ignores power differentials and hierarchies within the family, thereby invisibilizing violence and hierarchy.

Both these critiques have had little purchase in the Human Rights Council and are currently marginal as the resolution has over the Council sessions, received greater and greater support. [1]

The question which the documentation of the Syrian Commission of Inquiry raises is whether there is not a genuine case to be made for the protection of the family, particularly from policies such as enforced disappearances which destroy the network of relationships within the family and cause irrevocable damage to the family unit?

Taking on board the concerns expressed by LGBTI groups as well as women’s groups, the family should be understood in an inclusive fashion, going beyond ties of blood and marriage alone. Diverse forms of family deserve protection, particularly when some state policies seem to deliberately target the very stability and structure of the family.

There needs to be an acknowledgment on all sides of the debate that the family is an impossibly contradictory institution providing at the same time security and a sense of self and potentially deeply exclusionary at the same time. The way forward must be to protect diverse forms of family, particularly when the stability and structure of diverse family forms is under serious attack.

One hopes that future resolutions on the protection of the family at the Human Rights Council take on board the complex crime of disappearances which at heart is a fundamental attack on the stability and structure of the family itself.


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[1] The resolution on the protection of the family in the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council received 26 yes, 14 no and 6 abstentions.  In the 29th Session of the Human Rights Council it received 29 yes, 14 no and 4 abstentions.  In the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council, there were 33 yes, 12 no and 3 abstentions.