GENEVA (26 September 2016) – Reducing violence against women and promoting gender equality are two underused tools in bridging fragmented and divided communities and achieving peace, said United Nations human rights expert Dubravka Šimonović, at the end of her first official visit* to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory/State of Palestine.
“I would like to call both sides to start a new peace process in which women would fully participate and even take the lead and in which international human rights law and humanitarian law would be applied jointly,” the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women said.
“My visit takes place after a long absence of any other UN Special Rapporteur visits and I hope that this translates the willingness of both governments to strengthen their efforts to eliminate violence against women and to uphold women’s rights in public and private sphere in line with their international human rights obligations and commitments,” Ms. Šimonović underscored.
During her twelve-day visit to examine the overall situation of violence against women and girls, and gather first-hand information from women survivors of violence, the expert met with representatives of each Government, the relevant authorities and civil society organisations, as well as with UN officials. She also visited shelters for victims of domestic violence and met with women victims of violence.
In Israel, Ms. Šimonović visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beer-Sheva, Haifa and Nazareth. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she travelled to Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
The Special Rapporteur will present reports with final findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2017.
A number of legislative measures have been taken to improve legal prohibitions and preventive measures in the sphere of violence against women, the UN expert noted. “Amendments were made to the law of rape and sexual harassment. I commend the current work towards ratification of the Istanbul convention on prevention of violence against women.”
Ms. Šimonović pointed out that specific groups of women in Israel, including women from the Palestinian minority (including Bedouin women), asylum-seekers, refugees, and women belonging to other minority communities face accrued and multiple form of discrimination and heightened risk of violence.
“Bedouin communities located in unrecognized villages, could not acquire building permits or plans for housing, forcing them to build their houses illegally,” she said. “They are therefore at risk of forced evictions and home demolitions, to which women are particularly affected.”
“I have visited a Bedouin community and witnessed the lack of water, sanitation, and electricity and that sadly boys and girls pertaining to these communities do not have access to preschool education, due, among other reasons to the long distance between their homes and schools and the risks they face on their way,” the expert noted.
The effect of occupation
“The prolonged occupation has had differentiated impact on women and girls, in connection with traditional and embedded patriarchal social norms,” the Special Rapporteur noted.
House demolitions, either in the context of lack of building permits or on punitive grounds and forced evictions have a specific and gendered impact on women.
Losing their homes has created instability and often has resulted in living in relative’s home, often overcrowded. This has increased pressure on families and lead to violence against women. Search operations, particularly at night, pose specific problems for women. “A woman reported to me for example that she was sleeping all dressed in case she would be woken up by night raids and would need to be seen by soldiers.” Ms. Šimonović said
The Special Rapporteur heard first hand accounts from a broad range of women, including women who have served time in detention, and from those impacted by settler violence. “I have visited the Qurduba School in Hebron and met with teachers and their pupils who told me about being the subject of constant attacks, threat and humiliation from neighbouring settlers but also from some members of the Israeli Security Forces who appear to condone such violence,” she stated.
“Settler violence also translates in the loss of livelihood for the family, girls being harassed on the way to school to the extent that their families prefer not to send them to school. Settlers’ violence needs to be met with accountability, which seems to be lacking,” the expert stressed.
OPT/State of Palestine
While recognizing the clear linkage between the prolonged occupation and violence against women, the expert noted that “the occupation does not exonerate the State of Palestine from its due diligence obligation to prevent, investigate, punish and provide remedies for acts of gender-based violence under the areas and persons under its jurisdiction.” She commended the accession to the CEDAW convention without reservations. I am confident that such accession and the reporting to CEDAW monitoring body will play an important role in the harmonization of the current outdated legislative framework and bring it in line with international norms and standards”.
Despite the existence of some laws condemning violence, their implementation is challenged due to the absence of a formal governmental authority in specific areas of the occupied Palestinian territory. “In this regard,” Ms. Šimonović said, “the occupation is a real obstacle to the fulfillment of the State’s due diligence obligation to prevent violence against women in areas where it has not full jurisdiction, because of the fragmentation of the areas under different control.”
Sexual violence is also of concern. First of all, because victims of sexual violence are stigmatized in Palestinian society, but also because a perpetrator of rape can in some cases be absolved if he marries the victim.
“Within the occupied Palestinian territories, many deeply embedded forms of violence against women are petrified in a context of prolonged occupation, among which, domestic violence, early marriages, sexual violence, including rape and incest, as well as killings in the name of ‘honour’”, she said.
“In Gaza , I was very touched to meet with different groups of women affected by the three consecutive conflicts and the current blockade and have seen their great impact on women’s life, being subjected to the loss of homes and family members and being subjected to inherited forms of discrimination and violence, in particular in Gaza, due to the blockade that limits their mobility and privacy, but also their access to adequate services needed for women victims of violence,” the UN Special Rapporteur added.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s end-of-mission statement:
Ms. Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. Ms. Šimonović has been member of the CEDAW Committee from 2002 to 2014. She headed the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia and was the Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the UN in New York. She was also Ambassador to the OSCE and UN in Vienna. She co-chaired the Ad hoc Committee (CAHVIO) of the Council of Europe that elaborated the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).She has a PhD in Family Law and published books and articles on human rights and women’s rights. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Israel: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/ILIndex.aspx
UN Human Rights, Country Page – the Occupied Palestinian Territory: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/PSIndex.aspx
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