Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
In her latest report to the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences outlined a human rights-based approach to the violence and mistreatment that many women suffer in reproductive health services, focusing specifically on childbirth and obstetric care. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on a human rights-based approach to mistreatment and violence against women in reproductive health services with a focus on childbirth and obstetric violence, UN Doc. A/74/137, 11 July 2019. Noting a “lack of respect for women’s equal status and human rights,” the report highlights a number of human rights violations that women experience during childbirth and outlines the root causes of mistreatment during childbirth and obstetric violence. See id. It further calls on States to: collect reproductive health-related data, apply human rights and World Health Organization standards to maternity care, and to establish complaint and accountability mechanisms, among other recommendations. See id. at paras. 8-11, 81. While the report does not assert new or expanded interpretations of the relevant rights or obligations, it does synthesize many of the issues and adds to the growing body of international human rights guidance on ensuring informed consent in all reproductive health services. See id. at para. 14.
UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women
Credit: Daniel Cima via Wikimedia Commons
In their latest reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women addressed the ongoing issue of forced or coerced sterilizations of Indigenous women in Canada’s public healthcare institutions. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health on his visit to Canada, UN Doc. No. A/HRC/41/34/Add.2, 19 June 2019, paras. 83-84; Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on her visit to Canada, UN Doc No. A/HRC/41/42/Add.1, 3 June 2019, paras. 58-61. This issue has been gaining increased attention within Canada and internationally; these reports reiterate and build upon the recommendations already made to Canada to take steps to remedy and prevent this human rights violation. See IJRC, Forced Sterilization of Indigenous Women in Canada. The special rapporteurs presented their reports at the 41st Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, which concluded on July 12, 2019, following their visits to Canada in 2018. The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) has been actively supporting Canadian advocates in their international human rights advocacy regarding the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, and welcomes these latest responses.
Flags in front of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg
Credit: Elwood j blues via Wikimedia Commons
The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has held Bulgaria responsible for Roma women’s inferior access to reproductive healthcare in public hospitals, specifically during pregnancy and childbirth. [ECSR Press Release] In a unanimous merits decision, the Committee found that Bulgaria’s failure to take proactive steps—including by addressing the much lower levels of health insurance coverage among Roma women, barriers to maternal care such as a lack of translation services, and significantly higher infant and maternal mortality rates—constituted a violation of the rights to health and non-discrimination under the Revised European Social Charte (the “Charter“). See ECSR, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Bulgaria, Complaint No. 151/2017, Merits, 5 December 2018. While the complaint also alleged that Roma women are routinely segregated in maternity wards, the ECSR ultimately determined there was insufficient evidence that this is a systemic practice. See id. at para. 93. In 2008, the ECSR found Bulgaria responsible for related gaps in access to healthcare services and worse health status among the Roma population; according to the more recent decision, the situation has not seen any improvement since then. See ECSR, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Bulgaria, Complaint No. 46/2007, Merits, 3 December 2008; ERRC v. Bulgaria, 5 December 2018, paras. 56, 85.
Secretary Pompeo Delivers Remarks on the Release of the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
In another effort to both curtail international human rights oversight and advance a regressive view of reproductive rights, the United States Department of State indicated in late March 2019 that it would reduce its financial support for the region’s human rights bodies, which have urged States to repeal laws that criminalize abortion without any exceptions. [Washington Post; PAI] U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the U.S. would reduce its regular contribution to the Organization of American States (OAS), a regional intergovernmental organization with 35 Member States, in an effort to target the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM). See U.S. Department of State, Remarks to the Press (Michael R. Pompeo, 26 March 2019); Letter from Lankford et al., U.S. Senators, to Michael Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, United States Senate (Dec. 21, 2018).
The announcement follows other recent efforts by the U.S. to undermine international human rights protections or oversight, including revoking the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s visa to enter the U.S., and efforts to weaken the recommendations on women’s reproductive health and rights during the 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. [Reuters: Prosecutor; The Guardian] Read more
Commission on the Status of Women, New York
In recent years, international advocacy has contributed to increased awareness of forced sterilization as a human rights violation, including as a result of our work at the International Justice Resource Center (IJRC). Around the world, healthcare providers and others continue to sterilize people without their informed consent, most often targeting those who are Indigenous, living with HIV, are persons with disabilities, or who experience discrimination on other grounds. Just this month, IJRC advanced our partners’ advocacy on this issue at the 63rd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and Human Rights Watch published a report on involuntary sterilization of transgender persons in Japan. The past three years have also seen judgments from regional human rights courts on forced sterilization and important statements from other bodies. This post details the results of advocacy before regional and United Nations human rights bodies, summarizing the growing body of recommendations, statements, and judgments that more fully define forced sterilization as a human rights violation and guide governments in addressing this harmful practice.
On September 10, 2018, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC or Child Rights Committee) published its first decision involving sexual violence against a minor, finding that Cameroon had failed to adequately investigate, punish, and redress the rape of a 10-year-old girl. [ACERWC] The Child Rights Committee found that the State’s lack of due diligence also amounted to gender discrimination and a violation of the minor’s right to be free from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. See ACERWC, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and Finders Group Initiative on behalf of TFA (a Minor) v. Cameroon, Communication No. 006/Com/002/2015, Merits Decision, 31st Ordinary Session (2018). The decision, which the minor’s representatives hailed as ground-breaking, diverges from a 2016 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights decision in which it declined to find that Ethiopia’s failure respond with due diligence to the rape of a minor constituted gender-based discrimination. See ACommHPR, Equality Now and Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) v. Ethiopia, Communication 341/2007, Merits Decision, 19th Extra-Ordinary Session (2016), paras. 133-34, 150. Read more
We are pleased to share our latest newsletter. It details the newest additions to the Online Resource Hub, recent engagement with the universal and Inter-American human rights systems, and upcoming events. If receiving this update via email, you can also read the May 2018 newsletter online, or open the PDF directly. For the latest in human rights developments, visit the News Room and IJRC Daily.
A military parade in Bolivia
Credit: Richard12sep.1993 via Wikimedia Commons
On September 14, 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release, applauding the Bolivian government’s establishment of a Truth Commission on August 21, 2017. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia] The Truth Commission will investigate allegations of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity that occurred between November 4, 1964 through October 10, 1982, during the military and authoritarian rule of Bolivia. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia; Amnesty International] See Ley N 879, Ley de la Comision de la Verdad, 23 December 2016 (Bolivia) (in Spanish only). The law establishing the Truth Commission, Law 879 of December 23, 2016, set its objective as “to solve the murders, forced disappearances, tortures, arbitrary detentions, and sexual violence, considered grave human rights violations, which were committed in Bolivia for political and ideological motives.” [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia] The Truth Commission, composed of five members, will remain in place for two years, during which time the members will carry out investigations and report on their findings. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia]
The establishment of the Truth Commission follows a long period of widespread impunity, since 1982, for the grave human rights violations committed during the 18-year period, and its findings, the IACHR has noted, will contribute to ensuring justice for the victims’ families and to preventing further injustice. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia; Amnesty International] Bolivia previously made efforts towards seeking and promoting truth; however, the government made little progress, and those efforts were limited to violations relating to forced disappearances. [IACHR Press Release: Bolivia] Representatives of the victims’ families as well as civil society, though, continued to advocate for the establishment of a Truth Commission to ensure that the violations will be “remember[ed], record[ed], and clarif[ied].” [Amnesty International] Read more
Reine Alapini-Gansou, the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, (right) sits with other ACHPR Commissioners
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) recently published the Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa that recommends repealing harmful and discriminatory laws, ensuring compliance with existing international standards that impact human rights defenders, and developing standards on women human rights defenders, among other recommendations. Adopted earlier this year during the 2nd International Symposium on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa held from March 27 to April 1, 2017, in Cotonou, Benin, civil society, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and States in the region developed the Declaration. See ACommHPR, Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa (adopted on 1 April 2017). The Commission’s Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Madame Reine Alapini-Gansou, organized the colloquium with the goal of strengthening the protection of human rights defenders in the pan-African region through an assessment of the progress made, and the development of new strategies capable of responding to the current needs of human right defenders. See ACommHPR, 60th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Intersession Activity Report (2017), para. 35. The Declaration identifies the abuse of counter-terrorism laws, undue restrictions on the right to freedom of association, violence and threats of violence against defenders and their families, reprisals, and the targeting of certain groups of defenders, among others, as challenges to the protection of human rights defenders, and recommends, in part, raising awareness through the documentation of violations and publication of reports. See Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa (2017). This Declaration is one of seven declarations adopted by the ACHPR since its founding, and while the ACHPR has adopted resolutions on human rights defenders, the existing treaties, declarations, and general comments in the pan-African Human Rights System do not address human rights defenders specifically.