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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS ANNUAL FULL-DAY DISCUSSION ON WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS
Discussion Focuses on Violence against Women and Identifying Effective Ways to Address this Issue, and Setting Priorities for the Future
5 June 2013

The Human Rights Council today held its annual full-day discussion on women’s human rights with two panel discussions, one which looked at various aspects of violence against women and identifying effective ways to address the issue, and the second which took up setting priorities for the future and strengthening of the work of the Human Rights Council and other inter-governmental bodies and processes in the area of violence against women.

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening statement, said before the 1990s violence against women was largely considered a private matter, not a human rights issue of concern to the international community.  The real turning point came in 1993 with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which framed violence against women as an issue of international concern.  In the years that followed, States’ obligations to address violence against women had been codified and spelt out in international and regional treaties.  Nevertheless, violence against women remained unacceptably widespread.  The lack of genuine commitment and adequate resources for systematic and comprehensive intervention to address violence and inequality were key problems.  

Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and moderator of the discussion, said at the beginning of the panel on violence against women and identifying effective ways to address it that there were significant challenges in trying to address the problem of violence against women as a human rights issue and that the discussion would help them reflect upon those challenges.

The panellists in the first panel discussion were Patricia Schulz, Member of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; Florence Butegwa, Representative to Ethiopia and Representative to the African Union and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa from United Nations Women; Simone Cusack, Senior Policy and Research Officer of the Australian Human Rights Commission, author and expert on gender stereotyping; Fatma Khafagy, Ombudsperson for Gender Equality, Egypt; and Juan Carlos Areán, Member of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders and Senior Program Director at the Family Violence Prevention Fund. 

Patricia Schulz, Member of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, said that the Committee insisted on including women in decision-making processes in all fields as a way of combating violence against women and girls.  Regarding rape, the Committee had developed a specific reasoning and its views were contributing to the discussion on appropriate legislation and practical measures.  Ms. Schulz said that the influence of the Committee was growing and that the Convention gave them the best holistic approach to eliminating discrimination against women.  A legal framework and a monitoring mechanism were in place; the only element missing was resources.

Florence Butegwa, Representative to Ethiopia and Representative to the African Union and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa from United Nations Women, said that there were positive trends in Africa, particularly in terms of legislation, and the Convention had significantly contributed to bringing about progressive changes in legislation.  Other positive developments were the adoption of national plans of action for the elimination of violence against women, more frequent public debates on the matter, increased awareness of related issues, and better reporting from women.  Nonetheless, many challenges still remained.

Simone Cusack, Senior Policy and Research Officer of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Author and Expert on Gender Stereotyping, said that gender stereotyping contributed to violence against women and influenced how justice was carried out in cases where women had been subjected to sexual violence.  It was important to have binding legal standards which made stereotyping unlawful and could provide a set of standards against which States measured their progress.  Addressing gender stereotyping and improving their understanding of States’ obligations in that area were key elements in combating violence against women.

Fatma Khafagy, Ombudsperson for Gender Equality, Egypt, said that female genital mutilation had been practised for centuries in many countries.  Communicating with religious leaders, having a law which criminalized the act, and involving men in the fight against female genital mutilation had contributed to stopping that practice.  National legislation gave impunity to the perpetrators of honour crimes in many countries, but non-governmental organizations had helped to bring about a reform of the penal code in many cases.  Demystifying the justification of using religion and tradition and using international instruments had contributed to the progress made in that area.

Juan Carlos Areán, Member of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders and Senior Program Director of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, said that policies and laws were important but their implementation remained a major challenge.  Sometimes men reproduced the patterns of domination and hierarchy which were being fought, so as a man part of his work was to challenge other men.  Civil society campaigns had been set up in many countries to engage men.  Convincing men to fight against patriarchy and gender stereotypes was key to combating violence against women.

In the ensuing discussion, delegations highlighted some of the measures they were taking to combat violence against women.  Speakers said that violence against women was a flagrant violation of human rights and arose in various forms, both in the developing and in the developed world.  Several speakers stressed that all relevant actors must be engaged in the combat against violence against women and girls.  It was important to have an effective legal and institutional framework, but implementation and monitoring were also crucial in that respect.  Empowering women and fighting gender stereotypes were central to preventing violence against women, including sexual and domestic violence, and to promoting democracy and development.
 
Speaking in the discussion in the first panel were Chile on behalf of the Group of Caribbean and Latin American Countries, Lithuania, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Estonia, Norway on behalf of Nordic Countries, Iran, Sierra Leone, United States, Greece, European Union, Qatar, Senegal, Algeria for the Arab Group, Maldives, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Iceland, Croatia, Malaysia, Poland, Switzerland, Australia, Austria, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Indonesia. 

The following national human rights institute and non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Canadian Human Rights Commission, Südwind, Canners International Committee, Minority Rights Group, France Libertés - The Danielle Mitterrand Foundation, and International Humanist and Ethical Union.    

A second panel was held on setting priorities for the future and the strengthening of the work of the Human Rights Council and other inter-governmental bodies and processes, in the area of violence against women.

Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening statement, said that a lot of progress had been made in the 20 years since the adoption of the Vienna Convention but there was much work ahead.  The debate would now focus on the linkages within the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations system and other inter-governmental processes.  The Human Rights Council had been instrumental in outlining legal doctrines and procedures, had given visibility to the issue of violence against women, and had been key in underlining that private violence was a public problem.  Yet there were problems that included implementation and the general lack of attention paid to women’s rights issues in country-specific mandates.  This could be remedied by explicitly placing gender discrimination and violence against women into the agenda of the various mechanisms and in the Special Procedures.

The panellists in the second panel discussion were Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; Patience Stephens, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division, United Nations Women; Sandeep Chawla, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; and Marilou McPhedran, Institute for International Women’s Rights at the University of Winnipeg Global College, Canada.

Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said that sexual violence in conflict continued to be one of the worst forms of discrimination against women.  Fundamental shifts in attitudes and fighting stigmatization of victims must be done from inside of the communities and must involve all its members, particularly those with voice such as journalists or teachers.  Only when women’s rights were fully understood as human rights, the fight against sexual violence in conflict would achieve success.

Patience Stephens, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division, United Nations Women, said that the debate today was a “call to duty” because women’s rights were fundamental to human rights.  States were recognizing the complexity of the new approaches to tackling violence against women.  Looking forward, violence against women was not a single issue but an amalgam of social ills and its complexity must be and was recognized by the human rights bodies charged with ending it.

Sandeep Chawla, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said that the Compendium of United Nations Standards and Norms dealt with a number of areas including violence against women.  This year, the Crime Commission adopted a resolution which would go to the General Assembly on taking action against gender related violence against women and girls.  Apart from a lack of comprehensive legislation in countries, there were weaknesses within the criminal justice system at the level of police prosecution and prisons.  There were also challenges in the area of data and relevant data collection.

Marilou McPhedran, Institute for International Women’s Rights at the University of Winnipeg Global College, Canada, said that the modern rule of law should include women’s human rights.  They needed to see greater coherence in global governance as a whole in the United Nations system, such as through balancing complementary processes in the Human Rights Council and in the Security Council.  Due attention had to be paid to root causes of conflict including unequal distribution of income. 

In the discussion in the second panel, speakers said that violence against women was a scourge with many faces which was present in many countries and regions.  Addressing sexual violence in conflict and combating impunity for crimes of femicide required the most urgent action.  As women and children were those most adversely affected by conflicts, it was essential to identify threats against them and to involve women in peace negotiations.  The role of men and boys was also crucial and their engagement should be placed at the centre of developing anti-violence strategies.  Efforts by the Human Rights Council in combating violence against women had to be complemented by those of other United Nations system and States’ mechanisms. Capacity building for authorities dealing with violence against women and tackling the socio-economic and root causes of the problem was essential in fighting this phenomenon.

Speaking in the discussion in the second panel were Ethiopia, Algeria, Gabon on behalf of the African Group, Libya, Peru, Spain, International Committee of the Red Cross, Venezuela, Belgium, Egypt, Portugal, Thailand, Germany, Morocco, Norway, Finland, China, United Arab Emirates, Chile, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Mauritania, Maldives, Paraguay, Kuwait, Turkey, Montenegro, India, International Labour Organization, Russian Federation, Estonia and Switzerland.

The following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, Action Canada for Population and Development, Femmes Africa Solidarité, World Young Women’s Christian Association, Worldwide Organization for Women, and Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development.

In closing remarks, Ms. Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and moderator of the discussion, said that more work should be invested in the implementation of the due diligence principle.  With the cutbacks in social services due to economic crisis and austerity measures, valuable experience and expertise was being lost in both State and non-State sectors which would be hard to regain.  The Commission on the Status of Women had begun to lose its relevance because of practices of States in its deliberations and the dismissal by civil society organizations of the value of the Commission; this body, which had been created in 1947, needed to be strengthened and the international community should not be afraid to bring new issues into its discussions.  Economic dependency was the crucial factor that kept women in abusive relationship and this was the best argument for women’s empowerment in social, economic and political spheres.

The Human Rights Council, at the end of the morning meeting, will hold a midday meeting today to continue its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, to be followed by the general debate on human rights situations that require the attention of the Human Rights Council.  At the end of the afternoon meeting, the Council will next meet at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 6 June to adopt the Universal Periodic Review outcomes of France, Tonga and Romania.

Panel One: Taking Stock of Efforts to Eliminate Violence Against Women, from the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action to the Fifty-Seventh Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Opening Statement

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that there could be no equal societies, development and peace if women and girls remained discriminated against and marginalised.  The focus of this year’s discussion was violence against women, the most pervasive expression of gender based discrimination and an impediment of women’s enjoyment of human rights on an equal basis with men.  Before the 1990s violence against women was largely considered a private matter, not a human rights issue of concern to the international community.  Thanks to the struggle of the women’s movement and the groundbreaking work of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the world had witnessed a conceptual shift in the 1990s.  The real turning point came in 1993 with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which framed violence against women as an issue of international concern.  The Conference provided momentum for the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women in 1994.  In a matter of a few years the international community unequivocally affirmed that violence was not a private matter and that women were not exposed to violence because of an innate vulnerability or intrinsic weakness. 

In the years that followed, States’ obligations to address violence against women had been codified and spelt out in international and regional treaties and in innovative jurisprudence by national and international courts and mechanisms.  While commemorating developments, the international community must acknowledge that violence against women remained unacceptably widespread.  Key problems were the lack of genuine commitment and inadequate resources for systematic and comprehensive intervention to address violence and inequality.  The world should also guard against arguments that tried to justify or condone violence and discrimination in the name of tradition and religion.  The experts present today were at the forefront of the struggle for women’s human rights and would share their reflections on challenges and gaps.  This was particularly important as the international community embarked on processes that would set the future women’s rights agenda.
Statements by Panellists

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and moderator of the discussion, said that the discussion would help everyone reflect upon the challenges facing women in terms of the realization of their rights.  There were significant challenges in trying to address the problem of violence against women as a human rights issue.  She said that fund constraints were not a valid excuse for the gaps which existed in the tackling of the problem. 

Ms. Manjoo asked what were the challenges and gaps as observed in the work of the Committee in addressing violence against women as a human rights issue?

PATRICIA SCHULZ, Member of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, said that the Committee had identified issues which had not been part of the Convention during its drafting because at the time they were considered taboo issues.  The Committee had since issued recommendations to States parties and had also institutionalized the participation of non-governmental organizations in its work.  The Committee insisted on including women in decision-making processes in all fields as a way of combating violence against women and girls.  Women in conflict and post-conflict situations and women refugees were particularly vulnerable.  Regarding rape, the Committee had developed a specific reasoning and its views were contributing to the discussion on appropriate legislation and practical measures.  Ms. Schulz said that the influence of the Committee was growing, even though States parties did not always implement the Committee’s recommendations.  She stressed, however, that implementation was absolutely crucial.  The problem was that many States parties were late and irregular in reporting back to the Committee, and as a result of the high number of new ratifications there was a backlog.  Nevertheless, the Convention gave them the best holistic approach to the elimination of discrimination against women.  A legal framework theoretically capable of delivering, despite being somewhat complex, and a monitoring mechanism were in place.  The only element currently missing was resources, concluded Ms. Schulz.     

FLORENCE BUTEGWA, Representative to Ethiopia (OIC), and Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, from UN Women, said she would refer to the situation in Africa, with which she was familiar.  There were some positive trends in Africa, particularly in terms of legislation.  Thirty-six countries had legislation on violence against women either in general or specific forms of violence, particularly violence within the family, sexual violence or offences, or harmful traditional practices.  The interaction between the CEDAW Committee and States parties had contributed a lot in terms of making progressive changes in legislation.  Another area of positive changes was in terms of countries adopting national plans of action for the elimination of violence against women, some of them transferring this to national development plans.  What was interesting and very encouraging was that in some countries such as Liberia and South Africa, they were seeing national action plans as multisectoral, which reflected a better understanding of the complexity of violence against women as a social problem.  Another development was the adaptation of the international standards within the region.  The African Union had a protocol that was very specific in terms of prohibition and spelling out the obligation of the State in terms of elimination and response to violence against women.  The International Conference of the Great Lakes focused on sexual violence in the context of conflict, making it a crime.   They were also seeing better public debate and the level of awareness had improved, and there was also better reporting from women.  That did not mean that there were not many challenges and there was a lot to be concerned about.  They were not seeing a lot of State resources going towards combating violence against women.  States and their development partners were not investing and dealing with violence against women in a dynamic social context.

Discussion

Chile, speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, said that discrimination and violence against women was an economic burden which had been tackled by various normative, structural and multi-sectoral initiatives over the years.  Lithuania said violence against women was a flagrant violation of human rights that arose in different forms and all relevant actors must be engaged in a comprehensive manner.  Canada said it worked actively to end all forms of violence against women and added that boys and men had an important role to play.  South Africa said that there was a direct link between the fight against poverty and human rights, and women’s empowerment was central to this.  Brazil said combating violence against women was a problem common to both developed and developing States and it had recently introduced progressive measures, particularly with regard to women of African decent.  Estonia said that since its independence in 1991 it had introduced comprehensive gender equality measures that shattered myths and stereotypes.  Norway, speaking on behalf the Nordic Countries, said that the promotion and protection of reproductive rights was central to mitigating violence against women and girls.  Iran said it was shocking that 7 out of 10 women in the world were still affected by violence in some way and that the world’s measures to tackle this had failed.  Sierra Leone said that while policies and laws tackling violence against women were commendable, the key problem at this stage was implementation.  United States said that it took a comprehensive approach at home and abroad in ending violence against women and girls.  Greece said that it had a strong legal and institutional framework with respect to tackling domestic violence and promoting women’s access to justice.  The European Union said violence against women, including sexual violence, was a global epidemic that was particularly acute in conflict and post-conflict situations.  Canadian Human Rights Commission said indigenous women in Canada were disproportionately affected by violence, including murder.  Südwind said that gender equality in Iran was nothing but fiction and violence against women was carried out with impunity.   Canners International Committee was amazed at the strength of women despite the litany of violence, discrimination and prejudice that men continued to mete against them.

Statements by Panellists

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and moderator of the discussion, asked what would be the best way of tackling gender stereotyping.

SIMONE CUSACK, Senior Policy and Research Officer of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Author and Expert on Gender Stereotyping, said that there was no doubt that gender stereotyping contributed to violence against women, particularly women who did not conform to gender “laws”.  Stereotyping also influenced how justice was carried out in cases where women had been subjected to sexual violence, particularly stereotypes that women were inherently untruthful and inclined to fabricate allegations of violence.  As an example of best practices, Ms. Cusack mentioned a legal case from Canada.  In that case, a court’s decision to acquit a man of sexual assault in the workplace had been overturned by the High Court, which found that the lower court’s ruling had been influenced by stereotypes such as that men had a strong libido and could not control their hormonal urges.  Ms. Cusack also stressed the importance of having binding legal standards which made stereotyping unlawful and also provided a set of standards against which States could measure their progress.  Addressing gender stereotyping and improving our understanding of States’ obligations in that area were key elements in combating violence against women, concluded Ms. Cusack.

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and moderator of the discussion, asked for examples of good practices in how culture, religion and tradition could be used to promote the human rights approach to addressing violence against women.

FATMA KHAFAGY, Ombudsperson for Gender Equality, Egypt, said that female genital mutilation had been practised for centuries in many countries.  Certain religions such as Islam had been used to justify it, although it was also practised among populations which did not have those specific religions, for example Christians in Egypt.  Communicating with religious leaders both at national and regional level had contributed to stopping that practice.  It was also important to have a law which criminalized the act, especially in countries where female genital mutilation was practised by medical doctors.  The involvement of young men in the fight against female genital mutilation had also contributed to stopping that practice.  Many effective measures had been taken to reduce the rate of female genital mutilation among the young population, and results had been encouraging.  Honour crimes constituted another area in which tradition was used to justify crimes against women.  In several countries national legislation gave impunity to the perpetrators of such crimes.  Non-governmental organizations had helped to make a real difference on the ground in that respect.  As a result, the penal code was being modified in certain countries in Africa and statistics were becoming available.  Ms. Khafagy said that demystifying the justification of using religion through awareness-raising and making use of international instruments had contributed to the progress which had been made.

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and moderator of the discussion, agreed that the empowerment of women, and accountability as a norm for addressing all violations of human rights and societal transformation were key.  Could Mr. Juan Carlos Arean elaborate on the role of men and boys in addressing violence against women?

JUAN CARLOS AREAN, Member of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders, Senior Program Director at the Family Violence Prevention Fund, said that as a member of civil society who had worked in non-governmental organizations for many years, it was interesting to reflect and take as a reference the Vienna Declaration.  He firmly believed that policies and laws were of course important, but it was only part of the equation.  One of the big challenges was their implementation and part of that was changing social norms and winning the hearts and minds of men.  If this panel had been held 20 years ago, there probably would not have been any men taking part.  They had to be careful however about it not being the flavour of the year and had to recognize that there were reasons why they were talking about engaging men.  It was not about doing so as a goal, but about engaging them to further the human rights of women.  Sometimes men reproduced the patterns of domination and hierarchy.  As a man, part of his work was to challenge other men.  How they could contribute was the key challenge.  A lot had happened in the last 20 years.  Philosophically, 20 years ago they saw men only as the problem but more and more they were seeing men and boys as part of the solution.  Reference was made to the Secretary-General’s Network of Male Leaders of which he was part, and a global alliance of non-governmental organizations working on the issue called Men Engaged.  Civil society campaigns had also been set up in many countries to engage men.  They had to be very holistic in their approach of working with men and there was no single strategy or solution.  A key concept in his opinion was to win the hearts and minds of men, convincing them that fighting against patriarchy and gender stereotypes was something that would also benefit them.

Discussion

Qatar said that women’s rights had been central to the human rights agenda for two decades but that violence against women was nevertheless increasing world wide.  Algeria, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that tackling underlying causes of violence against women was key in the march toward liberalization.  Austria said that it was organizing a side event called Vienna+20 that would look at two decades of human rights action in combating violence against women.  Senegal said criminal sanctions had been codified in Senegalese law against female genital mutilation, rape and other acts of violence against women.  Maldives said it had passed a bill addressing domestic violence in 2012 and a draft sexual harassment bill was being prepared.  Slovenia said putting an end to the impunity of men in their commission of gender-based violence was a central theme of its actions in combating violence against women.  Poland said much progress had been made in combating violence against women and domestic violence at home and abroad and it was willing to share its experience in regard to anti-violence campaigns.

Switzerland said gender stereotypes and structural inequality were the roots of violence against women and that domestic violence and rape within marriage had to be criminalized world wide; what could be done to weaken cultures of impunity such as that which tended to exist, even in Switzerland?  Australia said that it had a plan to safeguard Australian women against violence, some of which it felt could be applied internationally in the spirit of sharing good practice.  Russian Federation said it was working hard to implement measures and draft progressive laws that would tackle violence against women; it was concerned about violence against children adopted from Russia.  The United Kingdom said that a coordinated international approach across the three pillars of the United Nations was paramount and it would hold a debate on violence against women in conflict situations in its role as chair of the Security Council this month.  Croatia said the International Criminal Court had to contribute to the fight against the use of rape as a weapon of war.  Iceland said that lesbians were at particular risk of violence and hoped that United Nations mechanisms would continue to recognize and prioritize this.  Malaysia said community awareness was key and supported practical strategies, which involved men that advanced the rights of women and girls.  Minority Rights Group highlighted the plight of slave and ex-slave women in Mauritania, whom it said were denied rights whole scale and were especially victimized.  France Libertes: the Danielle Mitterand Foundation said that Saharan women were at particular risk of violence from the State of Morocco.  International Humanist and Ethical Union said that sexual and violent abuse of women and girls was rife and cited a case in the Maldives which it said exemplified this.

Saudi Arabia said that it attached high importance to women’s rights based on the teaching of Islamic Sharia, which criminalized all injustices against women, and that efforts to protect women and safeguard their dignity should continue.  Argentina said that gender equality was vital to democracy and to development.  In order to eradicate violence, Argentina had adopted a series of measures, including introducing new legislation and amending its criminal code.  Indonesia said that strategies to prevent domestic violence were being formulated and continued to be implemented in Indonesia.  Measures taken included establishing a special service for victims of crimes, particularly women and children. 

Concluding Remarks by Panellists

FATMA KHAFAGY, Ombudsperson of Gender Equality, Egypt, in concluding remarks, said that sometimes family laws contributed to causing violence against women within the family environment.  Unless that issue was addressed, it would be very difficult to address the problem of violence against women in other environments, such as the workplace and the public domain.  In the African region there had been increased reporting of incidents of violence against women, which was a positive sign.     

FLORENCE BUTEGWA, Representative to Ethiopia (OIC), and Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, from UN Women, commenting on what more in general needed to be done, said that one of the things that United Nations Women was doing with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa was a regional study on the socio-economic cost of violence and women.  As long at the public and Government did not understand the cost to the economy, family and social fabric, there was not much intent on investing in work on violence against women and this work required a lot of support.  In relation to the economic crisis and whether that was affecting the work on violence against women, they had to accept that for many countries the economic situation was very difficult and decisions were having to be made but they also had to look at those decisions in the context of the totality of where the priorities were.  They needed to focus on implementation and documenting the things that worked so that other countries could learn from those countries that were making positive changes. 

SIMONE CUSACK, Senior Policy and Research Officer of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Author and Expert on Gender Stereotyping, in concluding remarks, said that a really important part of implementation was moving beyond policies and programmes focused on individual change, and focusing on a more systemic cultural change in addressing violence against women.  Efforts to address violence against women would only succeed if they were underpinned by gender equality.  Safeguards had to be put in place by States to protect persons that were not seen to be in the norm and progress in this area had been very uneven.  On prioritizing efforts in times of economic crisis, it was reminded that women’s right to life, health and security could not be superseded by perpetrators.  On good practices in addressing stereotyping, there were good practices and also an emerging body of scholarship.  However, there were also many bad examples and missed opportunities.  There were positive examples of the work done by some organizations, working hard to debunk notions that equated masculinity and violence. 

JUAN CARLOS AREAN, Member of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders, Senior Program Director at the Family Violence Prevention Fund, addressed the lack of funding and said there was a tension in the new attention to men and boys in that it might take funds away from women’s programmes.  This was of course to be avoided.  Money was tight but should always be found.  A broad analysis of masculinity and patriarchy should take a less intellectual and more emotional approach to engagement.  Additionally, attending to the spirit of men could be a way to engage some among them; all major religions have values that opposed discrimination against women (as well as the contrary on occasion) and faith leaders could be useful in engaging men on women’s rights issues.

PATRICIA SCHULZ, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, said that reproductive and sexual autonomy of women was paramount.  Turning to funding, Ms. Schulz said that the distribution of money was a political question and spoke on the funding of international development and the United Nations system as a whole.  There was still a fight for funding.  There continued to be stark underreporting by States and the treaty bodies needed strengthened mechanisms to improve this.  Reform would determine whether the treaty bodies system could function or not; it was not at present efficient and this had to change. 

Panel Two: Setting Priorities for the Future: Strengthening the Work of the Human Rights Council and Other Inter-Governmental Bodies and Processes in the Area of Violence Against Women

Opening Statement

FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was pleased with the theme of the day’s debate – violence against women – because a lot of progress had been made in the 20 years since the adoption of the Vienna Convention.  There was much work ahead.  The debate would now focus on the linkages within the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations system and other inter-governmental processes.  A consultation was held in order to understand how to promote a human-rights based approach to combating violence against women.  The Human Rights Council had been instrumental in outlining legal doctrines and procedures, had given visibility to the issue of violence against women, and had been key in underlining that private violence was a public problem.  Several commissions of inquiry had over the years been held into aspects of the problem.  These advances made by the Council could be seen in the focus that was placed on the gender dimension of the general human rights agenda.  Yet there were problems.  These included implementation and the general lack of attention paid to women’s rights issues in country-specific mandates.  This could be remedied by explicitly placing gender discrimination and violence against women into the agenda of the various mechanisms and in the Special Procedures.  The issue of “double jeopardy” where discrimination and violence against women intersected with other human rights challenges had to be better understood. 

There were synergies between the Human Rights Council and other inter-governmental processes; duplication of work was avoided and closer cooperation between them was promoted.  Through closer synergies, different streams of work could be built on and reinforced, resulting in strengthened support and guidance to States and other stakeholders on steps to eliminate violence against women, as well as into coherent and comprehensive national and international scrutiny of the implementation of commitments.  The Office of the High Commissioner stood ready to develop a strategy to facilitate implementation. 

Statements by Panellists

ZAINAB BANGURA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said that sexual violence in conflict continued to be one of the worst forms of discrimination against women.  Consequences of rape and other forms of sexual violence were long-lasting and devastating and it was important to note that sexual violence was not just an opportunistic act of individuals, but was being systematically employed as a weapon of war.  Survivors were the ones dealing with shame and stigmatization, while shame should be of perpetrators and not their victims.  Prosecution of this crime led to prevention and, hand in hand with ending impunity for this crime, barriers to accessing justice for victims must be brought down.  Fundamental shifts in attitudes and fighting stigmatization of victims must be done from inside of the communities and must involve all its members, particularly those with voice such as journalists or teachers.  The resolutions of the United Nations Security Council concerning sexual violence in conflict provided a framework to combat this crime and address impunity.  Getting to the root causes of the problems was essential and this required respect for the rights of women and girls, their participation in political and public life and their involvement in crafting solutions to gender-based violence.  Only when women’s rights were fully understood as human rights would the fight against sexual violence in conflict achieve success.

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and moderator of the discussion, said that violence against women remained endemic and effective fulfilment of the State’s obligation in terms of its responsibility to protect its citizens included recognizing the problem, modifying laws and policies to prevent harm and protect the rights of citizens, addressing the root causes of violence, punishing and rehabilitating the perpetrator, reporting to international bodies in terms of steps taken, and monitoring its own measures.  The State also had an obligation to investigate all forms of violence against women.  When preparing her report, Ms. Manjoo said that she had been confronted with a lack of response from States.  It was necessary to create a framework in which to discuss the responsibility of States to act with due diligence, separating individual and systemic due diligence.

PATIENCE STEPHENS, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of United Nations Women, said the debate today was a “call to duty” because women’s rights were fundamental to human rights.  United Nations Women undertook three mandate areas that meant it could work very closely with the Human Rights Council.  States were recognizing the complexity of the new approaches to tackling violence against women.  Looking back to the Vienna Convention of 20 years ago, there were difficult negotiations toward agreement on areas including, for example, culture and traditions, intimate partner violence, sexual and reproductive rights, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.  Agreement could not be reached on the status of these minority groups.  The role of the family was also contentious and all references to the family were removed because it could not be agreed what constituted a family.  Looking forward, violence against women was not a single issue but an amalgam of social ills and its complexity must be and was recognized by the human rights bodies charged with ending it.

Discussion

Peru said that violence against women was a scourge with many faces which was present in many countries and regions and Ethiopia said that it affected not only the individual but the society as a whole.  Venezuela believed that exchanging good practice and synergies could help in eradicating violence against women at national, regional and global levels.  Algeria said that empowerment of women and their participation in all walks of life was crucial for eradicating this widespread phenomenon and Libya said that there was still a lot to be done in ensuring participation of women in social, economic, public and political life, on equal footing with men. 

Femmes Africa Solidarité expressed concern about the extent of sexual violence and violence against women in the Central African Republic and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where they had become genuine weapons of war.  Addressing sexual violence in conflict and combating impunity for crimes of femicide required the most urgent action, stressed Spain.  Because women and children were those most adversely affected by conflicts, it was essential to identify threats against them and to involve women in peace negotiations, said Gabon on behalf of the African GroupInternational Committee of the Red Cross said that many victims of sexual violence in conflict could not access health services and justice systems and due consideration must be given to their personal preferences for privacy and security.

Belgium stressed that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was a crucial instrument which charted the way forward in eradicating violence against women and called on all States to ratify this treaty and its Optional Protocol.  International Coordination Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights said that national human rights institutions had a special role to play, especially in promoting empowerment of women and girls and supporting their participation in political and public life.  Egypt said that capacity building for authorities dealing with violence against women, and tackling the socio-economic and root causes of the problem, such as poverty and illiteracy, were essential in fighting this phenomenon and Action Canada for Population and Development stressed due diligence standards which could contribute to the implementation of the responsibility of States to ensure accountability for violence against women. 

Statements by Panellists

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and moderator of the discussion, said that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had adopted resolutions on violence against women.  Could Mr. Chawla share some good practices and challenges regarding effective accountability for acts of violence against women, and provide any recommendations on strengthening synergies between the Office on Drugs and Crime and the Human Rights Council?

SANDEEP CHAWLA, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said that as far as the Commission for Crime Prevention and Criminal justice was concerned, the Compendium of United Nations Standards and Norms was the driving force in the United Nations system for looking at emerging forms of crimes. These standards and norms dealt with a number of areas including violence against women and worked well as although they had soft law status they allowed countries to make national assessments, helped the development of regional and sub-regional strategies, and acted as a body for good practice internationally.  On violence against women, there was a need to concentrate more on what was being done about it.  In 2012 the Crime Commission adopted practical measures and strategies to tackle violence against women.  More effort was needed in implementing these strategies.  This year, the Crime Commission adopted a resolution which would go to the General Assembly on taking action against gender related violence against women and girls.  Apart from a lack of comprehensive legislation in countries, there were weaknesses within the criminal justice system at the level of police prosecution and prisons.  There were also challenges in the area of data and relevant data collection.  It had to be recognised that dealing with violence against women meant addressing issues that had historically been built into societies. 

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and moderator of the discussion, asked Ms. McPhedran for her observations on how the United Nations system in general and the Council in particular had approached the issue of violence against women.  What were the lessons learned and what continued to provide challenges?

MARILOU MCPHEDRAN, Institute for International Women’s Rights at the University of Winnipeg Global College, Canada, said that the modern rule of law should include women’s human rights.  They needed to see greater coherence in global governance as a whole in the United Nations system, such as through balancing complementary processes in the Human Rights Council and in the Security Council, and resolutions for example.  There was growing concern that as needed as such resolutions were, they may be used to undermine women’s contribution as leaders in peace and security.  Resolutions from the Security Council and the Human Rights Council had to integrate civil society leadership and protections for women human rights defenders.  Due attention had to be paid to root causes of conflict such as unequal distribution of income.  Women’s economic empowerment was key in eliminating violence against women.  Research had concluded that autonomous feminist movements were key to change.  Ms. McPhedran also underlined that gender alliance was critical.  If they were to stop violence against women, then they had to do it together, as full and complete members of the human race. 

Discussion

Portugal said stopping violence against women must be reflected in the post-2015 development agenda; mitigating processes from due diligence through to punishment had to be strengthened.  Thailand said efforts by the Human Rights Council in combating violence against women had to be complemented by those of other United Nations system and States’ mechanisms.  Norway said the post-2015 development agenda was highly relevant in this discussion as women’s human rights must be front and centre of it.  Finland said the role of men and boys was crucial and their engagement should be placed at the centre of developing anti-violence strategies.  China said violence against women was a chronic problem in human society and the world community had to adopt measures that recognized the link between poverty and violence against women.

United Arab Emirates took stock of 20 years of progress since the Vienna Conference and said a true solution had yet to be found although work to eliminate the problem had to go on.  Chile said the report on creating linkages and synergies showed that the Human Rights Council was making progress and it believed that the best way forward was a holistic approach.  Paraguay recounted the milestones of the last 20 years but said that the reality of the plight of women around the world showed that there was much to be done.

Morocco said it had promoted gender equality at the national level for many years and several measures had been taken.  Mauritania said it had the moral courage to recognize its slave past, contrary to the politicized claims of some actors, and was implementing ambitious plans aimed at rooting out this legacy.  Maldives updated the Council on the measures it had taken to reform its legal framework and justice system which it said were in urgent need of strengthening.  Kuwait said it condemned all forms of violence and drew its support for international norms from its constitutional focus on the primacy of the family.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said women living with HIV were more vulnerable to violence and sexual violence against women was rife in conflict and post-conflict situations.  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation said regional strategies were effective with respect to implementation and it was working hard toward the elimination of violence against women.  World Young Women’s Christian Organization said it worked hard to support victims of violence against women, including those raped, and it condemned early forced marriage which it said was a prevailing context for sexual violence.  Worldwide Organization for Women said the sexual exploitation of women who had become refugees as a result of the conflict in Syria was increasing.  Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development said the gender perspective should be included in all work of the Human Rights Council to reduce violence against women and strengthen equality.  Germany asked the panellists their view of regional protocols and what they had to say about gender and caste-based discrimination.

Turkey said that addressing both causes and consequences of violence against women must involve an integrated approach involving all segments of the society and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence would have a positive impact internationally.  India stressed the need to combat discriminatory practices and violence against women that were rooted in traditions and customs, while Montenegro suggested that the principles of gender equality be promoted within the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions, where gender policies were still not mandatory.  Russian Federation believed that every State was free to choose a strategy to combat violence against women and said that the structure of United Nation Women should provide assistance only at the request of States.

International Labour Organization drew the attention of the Council to the daily harassment and violence suffered by women involved in the informal economy and said that the International Labour Organization was considering a new set of international labour standards to address gender-based violence at work.  Estonia said that rape and sexual violence could constitute crimes against humanity and it was vital for all States to eradicate sexual violence in conflict and end impunity for this crime.  Switzerland mentioned the importance of treaty bodies and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in particular in providing valuable guidance to States in their actions to eradicate violence against women.

Concluding Remarks

ZAINAB BANGURA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, in concluding remarks, said that violence, especially sexual violence, was a major issue because it affected not only individuals but also families and whole societies.  Ms. Bangura shared her experience in meeting victims of sexual violence and said that during a recent visit to Africa she was appalled to see that very young children had been subjected to rape.  She also said that in Syria fathers killed their daughters who had been raped and called that an “honour killing”.  Victims of sexual violence were younger and younger, so it was necessary to take concerted action to educate and empower women in order to protect them from being subjected to violence in the future.  This was a battle they could not afford to lose, said Ms. Bangura.

SANDEEP CHAWLA, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in concluding remarks, said that a handbook had just been published on police responses to incidents of violence against women, while another handbook for prosecutors dealing with cases of violence against women was being developed.  There was a need for better coordination in the criminal justice system to better prevent and respond to violence against women.  Good practices from certain countries in the world included specialized courts and specially trained staff, and that information should be passed on.  More flexibility was needed within the United Nations system so that agencies could collaborate more easily and efficiently.  There should be closer cooperation in the joint preparation of reports and more use of the experience and expertise of the Special Rapporteurs of the Secretary-General in several areas, particularly in the Crime Commission.  

PATIENCE STEPHENS Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of United Nations Women, said in concluding remarks that violence against women was complex and strongly inter-sectoral and had to be strongly addressed in all inter-sectoral governmental bodies.  United Nations Women had pushed for the placement of gender equality as one of the standalone goals in the post-2015 development agenda.  Without State action, they were synergizing and strategizing in vain.  While the United Nations system was working in these areas, the fact remained that the ball was in the court of Member States and other stakeholders.  Synergy was meant to stimulate implementation.  They must sustain and implement all agreed conclusions.  They needed to put teeth to the agreed conclusions.  Currently, they had some very important advances that been made; these needed to be translated into change on the ground.
 
MARILOU MCPHEDRAN, Institute for International Women’s Rights at the University of Winnipeg Global College, Canada, said in concluding remarks that there was a need for increased cooperation in the United Nations system.  To progress, the international community had to be able to rely on the integrity of a Universal Periodic Review process that could not be used to undermine international human rights law and States’ legal obligations.  They must always be mindful of the bigger picture for women and girls.  Due attention had to be paid to root causes of a conflict.  If they were serious about the rights of marginalised peoples, women being in the majority, then they had to face the hierarchical treatment of human rights in the human rights system.  Women needed to be able to bring their concerns to the institutional tables to bring about change.  There was merit in regional instruments in addressing violence against women and they needed to see more of these. 

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and moderator of the discussion, said in her closing remarks that more work should be invested in the implementation of the due diligence principle.  With the cutbacks in social services due to economic crisis and austerity measures, valuable experience and expertise was being lost in both State and non-State sectors which would be hard to regain.  The Commission on the Status of Women had begun to lose its relevance because of practices of States in its deliberations and the dismissal by civil society organizations of the value of the Commission; this body, which had been created in 1947, needed to be strengthened and the international community should not be afraid to bring new issues into its discussions.  Economic dependency was the crucial factor that kept women in abusive relationship and this was the best argument for women’s empowerment in social, economic and political spheres.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC13/73E