Rights at Risk: Key opposition actors


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We are witnessing an unprecedented level of engagement of anti-rights actors in international human rights spaces.

To bolster their impact and amplify their voices, anti-rights actors increasingly engage in tactical alliance building across sectors, regional and national borders, and faiths.

This “unholy alliance” of traditionalist actors from Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, Russian Orthodox and Muslim faith backgrounds have found common cause in a number of shared talking points and advocacy efforts attempting to push back against feminist and sexual rights gains at the international level.

Holy See

  • Key activities: As the government of the Roman Catholic Church, the “Holy See” uses its unique status as Permanent Observer state at the UN to lobby for conservative, patriarchal, and heteronormative notions of womanhood, gender identities and “the family”, and to propagate policies that are anti-abortion and -contraception
  • Based in: Vatican City, Rome, Italy.
  • Religious affiliations: Catholic
  • Connections to other anti-rights actors: US Christian Right groups; interfaith orthodox alliances; Catholic CSOs

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

  • Key activities: Self-described as the “collective voice of the Muslim world”, the OIC acts as a bloc of states in UN spaces. The OIC attempts to create loopholes in human rights protection through references to religion, culture, or national sovereignty; propagates the concept of the “traditional family”; and contributes to a parallel but restrictive human rights regime (e.g. the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam).
  • Based in: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • Religious affiliations: Muslim
  • Connections to other anti-rights actors: Ultra conservative State missions to the UN, such as Russia

World Congress of Families

  • Key activities: International and regional conferences; research and knowledge-production and dissemination; lobbying at the United Nations “to defend life, faith and family”
  • Based in: Rockford, Illinois, U.S.
  • Religious affiliation: Predominantly Catholic and Christian Evangelical
  • Connections to other anti-rights actors: Sutherland Institute, a conservative think-tank; the Church of Latter-Day Saints; the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department of Family and Life; the anti-abortion Catholic Priests for Life; the Foundation for African Culture and Heritage; the Polish Federation of Pro-Life Movements; the European Federation of Catholic Family Associations; the UN NGO Committee on the Family; and the Political Network for Values; the Georgian Demographic Society; parliamentarians from Poland and Moldova, etc; FamilyPolicy; the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies; and HatzeOir; C-Fam; among others

Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam)

  • Key activities: Lobbying at the United Nations, particularly the Commission of the Status of Women to “defend life and family”; media and information-dissemination (Friday Fax newsletter); movement building; trainings for conservative activists
  • Based in: New York and Washington D.C., U.S.
  • Religious affiliations: Catholic
  • Connections to other anti-rights actors: International Youth Coalition; World Youth Alliance; Human Life International; the Holy See; coordinates the Civil Society for the Family; the Family Research Council (U.S.) and other Christian/Catholic anti-rights CSOs; United States CSW delegation

Family Watch International

  • Key activities: Lobbying in international human rights spaces for “the family” and anti-LGBTQ and anti-CSE policies; training of civil society and state delegates (for example, ‘The Resource Guide to UN Consensus Language on Family Issues’); information dissemination; knowledge production and analysis; online campaigns
  • Based in: Gilbert, Arizona, U.S.
  • Religious affiliations: Mormon
  • Connections to other anti-rights actors: leader of the UN Family Rights Caucus; C-Fam; Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH); the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH); World Congress of Families; CitizenGo; Magdalen Institute; Asociación La Familia Importa; Group of Friends of the Family (25 state bloc)

World Youth Alliance

  • Key activities: Advocacy in international policy spaces including the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of American States for “the family”, against sexual and reproductive rights; training youth members in the use of diplomacy and negotiation, international relations, grassroots activities and message development; internship program to encourage youth participation in its work; regular Emerging Leaders Conference; knowledge production and dissemination
  • Based in: New York City (U.S.) with regional chapter offices in Nairobi (Kenya), Quezon City (The Philippines), Brussels (Belgium), Mexico City (Mexico), and Beirut (Lebanon)
  • Religious affiliations: primarily Catholic but aims for interfaith membership
  • Connections to other anti-rights actors: C-Fam; Human Life International; the Holy See; Campaign Life coalition

Russian Orthodox Church

  • Key Activities: The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), capitalizing on its close links to the Russian state, has operated as a “norm entrepreneur” in human rights debates.  Russia and the ROC have co-opted rights language to push for a focus on “morality” and “traditional values”  as supposed key sources of human rights.  Russia led a series of “traditional values” resolutions at the Human Rights Council and has been at the forefront of putting forward hostile amendments to progressive resolutions in areas including maternal mortality, protection of civil society space, and the right to peaceful protest.
  • Connections to other anti-rights actors: Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Eastern European and Caucasus Orthodox churches, e.g. Georgian Orthodox Church; U.S. Christian Right including U.S. Evangelicals; World Congress of Families; Group of Friends of the Family (state bloc)

This is one chapter of Rights at Risk: The Observatory on the Universality of Rights Trends Report 2017

Other chapters: