Promoting “traditional values of humankind” at the UN

Posted on | February 23, 2012 by Grégor Puppinck, Ph.D |

In Geneva, the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council is currently discussing its “Preliminary Study on promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind”.

This study is part of the effort of the Human Rights Council to implement its resolutions 12/21 and 16/3 adopted on 2 October 2009 and 24 March 2011. Resolution 16/3 affirmed that “dignity, freedom and responsibility are traditional values, shared by all humanity and embodied in universal rights instruments” (para. 3); recognized that “the better understanding and appreciation of these values contribute to promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms” (para. 4); and requested the Advisory Committee, which is a kind of official UN think tank,  “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, and to present that study to the Council before its twenty-first session” (para. 6).

The Preliminary study on traditional values of mankind (A/HRC/AC/8/4) (available here in English) was drafted by the Russian Professor Vladimir Kartashkin.

This initiative is very important for the understanding and sharing of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. But contrary to what the report suggests, there is no reason to believe that civilisations are necessarily included in a historical dynamic of progress; on the contrary, history has often shown that civilisations can regress, both for external and internal causes. In this respect, the effort of building a universal culture of human rights cannot be pursued in a purely abstract and theoretical manner. In order to respect and serve human nature, it is of utmost importance that philosophical theory is not severed from cultural reality, for in its diversity, it acts both as an anchor and a scope of application. This is the usefulness of the perspective which was re-opened for deliberation by resolution 12/21 of 2 October 2009.

The ECLJ, as an NGO accredited to the United Nations (ECOSOC),  has submitted a written statement to the Advisory Committee on this issue (in French) Last year, an impressive coalition of NGOs, most of them being dedicated to the promotion of “abortion and LGBT rights”, issued a joint written declaration against the traditional values, also addressed to the Advisory Committee.

In its statement, the ECLJ welcomes and shares the concern of the Human Rights Council’s resolutions and Study of “reaffirming the moral dimension of the standards of human rights, while recognising that these rights are based on the traditional values of humanity”. In this sense, and in accordance with the classical theory of international human rights law, the “traditional values of humanity” are the natural moral values, which were globally combined in modern times by the declarations of human rights of the first generation. The principles at the foundation of moral action, which underline these declarations, can actually be brought back to the combination of the principles of “Dignity, Freedom and Responsibility”, as enunciated by the Human Right Council Resolution 16/3.

The ECLJ also shares the concern of re-affirming the social dimension of the standards of human rights. One should bear in mind the fact that man is social by nature. Human rights do not only establish a legal relationship between the State and each individual person, but they also bind the entire social fabric of society. This social fabric, in its biological, cultural and political components, i.e., “the family, community and society” is, as far as the individual is concerned, a reality that cannot be ignored. The report echoes its importance, in particular regarding the importance of the family.

In this respect, it is necessary to guard oneself from two obstacles in an effort to protect the individual from infringements of his fundamental rights by the components of the social fabric. On one hand, this involves guarding oneself against the denaturation of the personalism of human rights in an exclusive individualism which negates the very legitimacy of the social fabric, and ultimately, of the common good. On the other hand, one must guard against the distortion of human rights in an abstract ideology which seeks to impose its universality through the negation of the social fabric. Faced with these two pitfalls, the reminder of the natural and gradual legitimacy of the family, community and society is crucial in this regard. On this point, the ECLJ recommends that the purpose of the role of the family, community, society and State be integrated in view of the principle of subsidiarity.

Finally, the ECLJ recalled, because this reference is missing from the report, that the Statute of the Council of Europe signed in Rome in 1949, provides in its preamble that states are “Reaffirming their devotion to the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of their peoples and the true source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law, principles which form the basis of all genuine democracy.” The preamble to the Lisbon Treaty also refers, more broadly and inclusively, to “the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.” These texts affirm the vital link between these values and the contemporary political ideal. Henceforth, this heritage of values must be mobilised to anchor the fundamental freedoms and thus contribute to their understanding and universal sharing.

Related documents:

  • ECLJ written statement on traditional values of humankind French
  • Preliminary study on traditional values of mankind (A/HRC/AC/8/4) (available here in English


Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.


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