Seven Countries that must address their record of Violence Against Women

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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 #1Physical 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:

Bangladesh India Nepal Turkmenistan Uzbekistan Venezuela Zimbabwe

4

4 3 4 4 3

4

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.

Sara Davies

Human Protection Hub

Preventing, Protecting and Empowering: Women, Peace and Security and R2P

Source: http://passblue.com/2012/02/07/for-syria-only-more-questions/hillarysc/

Views and recommendations expressed in this piece are to be solely attributed to Sara Davies.

On Thursday 25 October, Griffith Asia Institute’s Human Protection Hub held a workshop on Women, Peace and Security (WPS): opportunities for alignment with Responsibility to Protect (R2P).  With the assistance of colleagues from the Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect (University of Queensland) and the Centre of Governance and Public Policy (Griffith University), this event was among the first of its kind in policy and academic circles.

We were honoured to host distinguished guests including Michael Bliss, Assistant Secretary of International Organizations branch at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with colleagues from the Human Rights and International Law branches; Rosemary Cassidy, Senior Specialist in the Gender Equality Policy Section of AusAID and colleagues from the Humanitarian Policy Section; Assistant Commissioner Mandy Newton, National Manager of the Australian Federal Police’s International Deployment Group; Mairi Steele, Branch Manager of the Women’s Branch in the Australian Government Office for Women, which is housed in the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and her colleagues; and Julie McKay, Executive Director of UN Women Australia.   Discussants and presenters also came from Oxfam Australia, the Australian Civil-Military Centre, Office of National Assessments, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Australia, Australian National University, University of NSW, University of Queensland and Monash University.

The dialogue focused on three central themes:

1)   What states should do to realise the goals set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

2)   The advantages and disadvantages associated with the alignment of R2P with WPS in the fields of international policing and peacekeeping, conflict resolution, peacebuilding and transitional justice.

3)   The extent to which the structural prevention ambitions of WPS can be assisted by association with early warning and assessment mechanisms relating to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

In relation to the first issue, participants found that the promotion of WPS National Action Plans (NAP) offers great potential for raising awareness of the expectations associated with Resolution 1325 among governments.  Measures towards equitable representation in positions of authority, gender equality in legislation and political participation, are measures that contribute to international peace and security.  However, thus far only 37 states have adopted NAPs. Moreover, most of these do not include clear implementation targets or mechanisms to ensure progress can be monitored. In the case of post-conflict states, it was noted that while some may argue 1325 National Action Plans (NAP) are an unnecessary burden on fragile states, the counter-argument was that these Plans open up opportunities for civil society groups and marginalised women in various government positions to ‘push back’ and demand positive action in accordance with the NAP.  When there is no NAP, there are fewer opportunities for women to demand gender responsive policies and action.

Recommendation: specific workshops on WPS NAP best practice should be encouraged at the highest political level, particularly amongst regional organizations with the involvement of civil society organizations.

Women remain under-represented in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping missions and policing. The persistent relative absence of women in key positions makes it difficult to know whether female peacekeepers, police, judges and senior officials make a positive difference.

Recommendation: States and international organizations should introduce positive gender discrimination to increase the number of women engaged in conflict prevention, resolution and rebuilding and in senior positions in peacekeeping, policing and special political missions.

This requires new thinking on the training, sourcing and deploying gender responsive policing units from Security Council members and Troop Contributing Countries.  The deployment of such specialists will contribute the evidence base for further positive gender empowerment. Such measures could also assist with the collection of evidence relating to sexual violence and the prosecution of perpetrators, especially in those countries where the lack of female officers and other structural impediments make it difficult for victims to access justice.

Since the passage of the first Women, Peace and Security resolution (1325) by the Security Council in 2000, successive Security Council discussions on WPS have narrowed the focus to sexual violence in armed conflict (Resolutions 1820, 1889, 1890, 1960).  The recent debate concerning the Secretary-General’s latest report on WPS, and the view of some member states that WPS be further limited, is part of this concerning trend.  This concern has raised questions about the political success since 1325 in establishing awareness of the link between armed conflict and women’s daily lived experience, often characterised by domestic violence, inequality before the law, lack of access to education and constrained economic opportunities.  Participants noted that violence against women is more likely in politically fragile situations. The failure thus far to draw links between WPS and R2P raises the likelihood that states and international organizations will continue to fail to prevent sexual and gender based violence, in part because gender-specific considerations have not been built into early warning and assessment mechanisms relating to the ‘R2P crimes’ (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity). Indeed, it was noted that the academic literature on early warning tended to overlook the role of gender, gender inequality and gendered violence.

Recommendation: there is a need to better understand how the political economy of violence against women is related to R2P crimes, to understand the structural preconditions that make SGBV crimes more likely, and measures that might help reduce those underlying risks.

However, a number of concerns were raised about downside risks associated with the alignment of R2P and WPS:

First, there were concerns as to whether WPS was better understood as a Protection of Civilians (PoC) related agenda. Some participants suggested that PoC was more widely accepted than R2P and that it could be used to facilitate protection and humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict.  By contrast, R2P, they worried, was a controversial concept. Aligning it with WPS might further stymie political progress without adding practical operational value.

Second, some participants worried that the R2P principle effectively reduced women to the status of passive victims in need of protection.  R2P is premised the notion of the state as the primary ‘protector’ of the individual.  However, some states that do a good job of preventing the four R2P crimes do a very poor job of protecting women.  By reinforcing state sovereignty, some suggested, R2P might actually give fresh legitimacy to systems of domination that endanger and marginalise women.  Moreover, this narrative tends to downplay the extent to which women might also be perpetrators of crimes and the measures that women adopt to protect themselves.

Alternatively, a more optimistic view that was expressed sees initiatives such as Resolution 1325, R2P, PoC, the Children in Armed Conflict agenda as well as other initiatives such as MDGs beyond 2015, the evolution of the Human Rights Council, the work of the CEDAW Committee, the International Criminal Court and Peacebuilding Commission as steps towards addressing some of these problems and reconstituting the relationship between states and their female populations.

Clearly, more work is needed to clarify the connections between R2P and WPS as well as to identify and mitigate potential downside risks. As such, this workshop marks only the beginning of a dialogue on this issue. Plans are afoot to publish some of the papers from the workshop with in early 2013 as a springboard for further research and dialogue on these issues.

Sara Davies, Human Protection Hub

Further details on the workshop – program and pictures – will be made available at Human Protection Hub Events page in the coming week.