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Don’t downplay gender-based violence – New report by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture

GENEVA (9 March 2016) –  “Gender stereotypes still cause us to downplay the suffering of women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and sometimes even acquiesce in it. This is simply not acceptable”, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, said today.

“We have a tendency to regard violations against these groups as ill-treatment even where they would more appropriately be defined as torture,” Mr. Méndez said in a new report* to the Human Rights Council looking at gender based violence through the prism of the Convention against Torture.

The human rights expert pointed to the clear link between the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the violence and stigma these groups face. At least 76 countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships between adults.

“States are complicit in the violence women and LGBT groups face if they implement discriminatory laws that trap these people in a spiral of abuse,” Mr. Méndez stressed.
In prisons, he noted, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender detainees report higher rates of violence than the general population.

Focusing on detention conditions, the report quotes studies that say women make up between 2% and 9% of the prison population in most of the world’s prisons.  Of those women, up to 80% are mothers and yet most jails are typically designed for men. The expert recommends that, where possible, non-custodial sanctions be given to help protect women, and in particular mother and child – especially since the majority of crimes committed by women tend to be non-violent in nature.

“Denial of safe abortion services in some instances such as cases where the life of the mother is endangered, foetal impairment, or where the pregnancy is the result of rape and incest can also amount to torture or ill treatment of women”, he furthermore said. “States have an obligation to reform their laws in this respect.

“Societal indifference, discriminatory laws and attitudes and a culture of impunity also exacerbates problems like domestic violence which is far more prevalent than most people realise”, said the Rapporteur. It is estimated that 35% of women worldwide have experienced domestic violence of various kinds.

“States must finally implement their heightened obligation to prevent and combat gender-based violence and discrimination perpetrated by both State and private actors against women, girls and persons who transgress sexual and gender norms,” the UN Special Rapporteur urged.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full report (A/HRC/31/57): http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/31/57

Mr. Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010. He has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

Check the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Sonia Cronin (+41 22 917 91 60 / scronin@ohchr.org) or Petrine Leweson (+41 22 917 9114 / pleweson@ohchr.org), Andrea Furger (afurger@ohchr.org)  or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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