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Russia's fight for "traditional values" doesn't end with Pussy Riot
09 Aug 2012
BY SARA YASIN

Next week will bring the verdict in the trial of feminist punk band Pussy Riot, who now face up to three years in prison for “hooliganism” motivated by religious hatred for performing a “punk prayer” against Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Church.

While activists believe that the charges brought against Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich are politically motivated, authorities prosecuting the case have pushed forward with charges against the activists under the banner of protecting culture and religion. Just this week, during the closing arguments, federal prosecutor Alexei Nikiforov claimed the actions of the women were not political, but actually based on deep-seated hatred for the Russian Orthodox church, and said that the women “violated the traditions” of Russia.

The language of “tradition” and “culture” being used against the women of Pussy Riot is particularly interesting in light of another conversation involving Russia on the international stage. The country has been leading on a problematic UN resolution that aims to protect traditional values — potentially making it easier for the country to silence dissidents.

The resolution, which first passed in 2009 at the 12th session of Human Rights Council, aims to “protect human rights through traditional values”. The resolution has been slammed by rights organisations as the potential road to allowing countries to get away with harmful cultural and traditional practises that violate basic human rights. This week, the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee continued discussions on a draft report mandated by a second resolution on traditional values, which passed at the 16th session of the Human Rights Council.

The resolution —which was supported human rights all-stars Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and China — calls for “understanding traditional values” and to protect human rights through the protection of traditions and culture. The resolution passed without a clear definition of “traditional values”, a red flag for many human rights organisations, particularly those working to fight harmful practises based on gender and sexual orientation across the globe. The Geneva-based organisation ARC International, which fights for LGBT rights at the UN level, slammed the resolution for not distinguishing values that could be used to condone harmful practises — such as female genital mutilation or gender-based violence — under the banner of “culture”:

“The resolution as tabled assumes that “traditional values” inevitably make a positive contribution to human rights.  There is absolutely no recognition in the resolution that “traditional values” are frequently invoked to justify human rights violations. In previous decades and centuries, mixed-race marriages, desegregation, women having the right to work, to vote, or to own property would have been thought by many to be inconsistent with “traditional values”.  The Special Rapporteur on violence against women has in her reports repeatedly addressed harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation; honour killings; spousal abuse; dowry-related violence; and customary laws that deny women’s equality.”

While the discussion of the resolution is still ongoing, Russia’s push for enshrining traditional values on the international stage only further reflects the state’s dangerous marriage to the church.

Sara Yasin is an Editorial Assistant at Index on Censorship. She tweets from @Missyasin

 

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