The latest report by the United Nations Victims’ Rights Advocate (VRA) reviews the progress made in 2019 to address sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel, and calls on the international community to dedicate additional resources to supporting and protecting victims and ensuring accountability. [UN News] Jane Connors, the first-ever UN Victims’ Rights Advocate is responsible for strengthening the institutional responses to sexual violence and abuse by peacekeepers and other personnel, and her latest report identifies many developments while calling on the international community to “address the root causes of sexual exploitation and abuse, including gender inequality and the deep power imbalance between [UN] personnel and those whom we are mandated to protect and aid.” See Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse – Report of the Secretary-General, 17 February 2020, para. 4. Connors mentions particular challenges, including high turnover within the UN, resolving paternity claims, protecting victims’ confidentiality while promoting accountability, providing material assistance to victims, and identifying and addressing sexual exploitation and abuse in the many countries without dedicated UN victims’ rights advocates in the field. See id.
Category Archives: women’s rights
In its first decision regarding obstetric violence, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) has found that Spain violated the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) when domestic courts did not adequately assess a woman’s claims that she had been subjected to excessive and unnecessary exams, medication, and other interventions without her consent during labor, resulting in “lasting physical and mental trauma.” [OHCHR Press Release] The CEDAW Committee concluded that the domestic courts deferred to the hospital instead of respecting the principle of informed consent, relied on gender stereotypes, and did not fairly evaluate her claims, in violation of CEDAW articles 2(b), (c), (d), and (f), 3, 5 and 12. See CEDAW Committee, S.F.M. v. Spain, Communication No. 138/2018, Views of 28 February 2020, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/75/D/138/2018 (Spanish only). The Committee urged Spain to provide appropriate reparations to the applicant, including financial compensation, and take specific steps to ensure respect for women’s human rights in the context of pregnancy and reproductive health care. See id. at paras. 7.2, 8.
In February, universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Four United Nations treaty bodies and one pre-sessional working group will be in session to assess States’ progress regarding children’s rights, women’s rights, the prevention of torture, and economic, social and cultural rights. The Human Rights Council will hold its first of three regular sessions. Eight UN special procedures will conduct country visits in February. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Regionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold public sessions, and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold two Grand Chamber hearings.
The UN treaty body sessions and the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearings may be watched via UN Web TV and the ECtHR’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
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.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) issued its first decision against the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina, finding that rape and other acts of sexual violence constitute torture under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention), and ordering the State to pay “fair and adequate compensation” and provide free medical and psychological care to the victim. See Committee Against Torture, Mrs. A v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Communication No. 854/2017, Views of 22 August 2019, UN Doc. CAT/C/67/D/854/2017. This decision, which concerns the rape of a Bosnian woman in the early 1990s during the Bosnian war, is the first CAT decision to examine a State’s responsibilities with respect to sexual violence committed during a period of internal armed conflict. [Trial International] In deciding Mrs. A’s complaint, the Committee applied the standards set out in earlier general comments and concluding observations, and clarified that States must ensure redress – including compensation – for victims of torture, regardless of an individual perpetrator’s ability to pay or statutes of limitation on such claims. See Mrs. A v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Views of 22 August 2019, paras. 7.5-9.
On August 8, 2019, the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention (MESECVI) presented a new general recommendation providing guidance to States in addressing “the high number of missing women and girls in some countries” of the Americas and the inadequacy of available data on this type of violence against women. [MESECVI Press Release] The document is the second-ever general recommendation issued by MESECVI, the body charged with overseeing implementation of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence Against Women, also known as the Belém do Pará Convention. See Inter-American Commission of Women, General Recommendation of the Committee of Experts of the MESECVI (No. 2): Missing Women and Girls in the Hemisphere, Doc. MESECVI/CEVI/doc.250/18, 5 December 2018. It adds to the Inter-American human rights doctrine on State obligations to prevent, punish, and redress disappearances of women and girls, and analyzes the connections between such disappearances and other types of violence against women, including femicides, trafficking, and sexual exploitation. See id. at 4.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will, for the first time, address States’ obligations to prevent gender-based violence against female journalists in conflict zones, in the case of Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian journalist who was kidnapped, tortured, and raped despite the State’s prior knowledge of threats against her due to her work as a journalist. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL (Spanish only)] On July 16, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented Bedoya Lima’s case to the Court because Colombia has so far failed to implement the IACHR’s recommendations in its merits report, which was issued in January 2019. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL] The IACHR’s decision to refer the case to the Court marks the latest step in Bedoya Lima’s fight against impunity, and presents an opportunity for the Court to develop its jurisprudence on States’ obligations related to sexual violence against female journalists and restrictions on press freedom. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL] The merits report is not yet available online.
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.
In July, a number of universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Three United Nations treaty bodies will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding the rights of women, civil and political rights, and the prevention of torture. The Human Rights Council will continue its consideration of the overall human rights situations in 15 countries. Three UN special procedures will conduct country visits in July. Additionally, the UN Working Group on mercenaries and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will hold sessions in Geneva. Of the regional bodies, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will be in session and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold two Grand Chamber hearings.
The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the ECtHR may be viewed via the ECtHR’s website. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
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