After the horrific gang rape of a 23 year old female university student – who later died from injuries sustained under the attack – in New Delhi on 16 December 2012, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his condolences to her family in a statement which included the following message to the Indian government:
“Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated. Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected.” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said in the statement.
He noted that the UN chief welcomes the efforts of the Indian Government to take urgent action on the matter and calls for further steps and reforms to deter such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.
“He also encourages the Government of India to strengthen critical services for rape victims,” the spokesperson continued, adding that the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and other parts of the UN system stand ready to support such reform efforts with technical expertise and other support as required.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Navi Pillay, went even further in calling upon the Government of India to invite the Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women (VAW) to assist with strengthening India’s legal regime against rape. Ms Pillay noted that the OCHCR-supported Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) had recommended in February 2007 that the country should “widen the definition of rape in its Penal Code to reflect the realities of sexual abuse experienced by women and to remove the exception for marital rape from the definition of rape.”
The Committee also recommended that the Government “consult widely with women’s groups in its process of reform of laws and procedures relating to rape and sexual abuse.”
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur for VAW includes four key responsibilities:
(a) Seek and receive information on violence against women, its causes and consequences from Governments, treaty bodies, specialized agencies, other special rapporteurs responsible for various human rights questions and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, including women’s organizations, and to respond effectively to such information;
(b) Recommend measures, ways and means at the local, national, regional and international levels to eliminate all forms of violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences;
(c) Work closely with all special procedures and other human rights mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and with the treaty bodies, taking into account the request of the Council that they regularly and systematically integrate the human rights of women and a gender perspective into their work, and cooperate closely with the Commission on the Status of Women in the discharge of its functions;
(d) Continue to adopt a comprehensive and universal approach to the elimination of violence against women, its causes and consequences, including causes of violence against women relating to the civil, cultural, economic, political and social spheres.
In fulfilling her mandate, the Special Rapporteur may:
- Transmit urgent appeals and communications to States regarding alleged cases of violence against women;
- Undertake fact-finding country visits, and;
- Submit annual thematic reports.
At present, there are seven countries – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe – that have refused Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo’s requests to conduct a country visit. Diplomatic and civil society pressure should be brought to bear on these countries to persuade them to permit Special Rapporteur Manjoo to conduct a country visit. Moreover, these countries ought to recognise that they have international legal obligations to protect women from sexual and gender-based violence.
In The WomenStats Project Database, there is a Multivariate Scale #1 – Physical Security of Women – which provides a composite score from 0 (the best score, combined through assessment of laws/laws enforced/no taboos or norms regarding violence against women – crimes are rare and no honour killings) to 4 (the worst score, involving no or weak laws against domestic violence, rape, and marital rape, and these laws are not generally enforced; honour killings may occur and are either ignored or generally accepted).
The most recent scores (2009) for the seven countries that have refused visitation from Special Rapporteur Manjoo are:
These are countries with extreme levels of violence against women; and in the case of Bangladesh, India, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe, there are few opportunities for women to report and thus end the cycle of violence and impunity against them. The frightening reality is that the gang rape in New Delhi on 16 December may be the norm rather than the exception in some, if not all, of these countries.
If allowed to visit, the Special Rapporteur would be able to – as Ms Pillay suggested in the case of India – collect and assess information on violence against women, something often absent in such countries where only a small proportion of the crimes are ever reported. From this information gathering exercise, the Special Rapporteur may recommend measures to support and strengthen the government’s capacity to criminalise and eliminate all forms of violence against women – and its causes. These country visits provide an opportunity for a government such as India and the seven other outstanding countries to demonstrate their public commitment to eliminate violence against their female citizens. As with the 2012 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, I conclude this blog by suggesting one perhaps naïve, but small step forward. Civil society actors, bloggers and member states of the UN Women Executive Board (one of which, Venezuela, has an outstanding invitation by the Special Rapporteur) must to take every opportunity in 2013 to remind these seven countries that they have a responsibility to end violence against women. My suggestion is not the only one or the most eloquent, but it is imperative pressure be brought to bear on these seven governments to ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities to end violence against violence, one step towards this would be to invite Special Rapporteur Manjoo to their country.
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