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States must provide shelters as “survival tool” for women victims of violence - UN expert

GENEVA (12 June 2017) – States must provide shelters for women victims of violence under their human rights obligations, a United Nations independent expert has said today.

The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, told the Human Rights Council: “Shelters and protection orders are survival tools which protect women whose lives are at risk.

“These measures are not optional extras. They are human rights obligations which are essential to ensuring women’s safety and human rights.  But many States seem to lack understanding of their requirement to combat gender-based violence, which includes offering shelters and protection measures.”

Ms. Šimonović, presenting her latest report (A/HRC/35/30) to the Council, said some States had no shelters, while others had only day centres which were not equipped for overnight stays.  Experts recommend one refuge place for every 10,000 inhabitants.

“States must help victims rebuild their lives and overcome the multiple consequences of violence,” the Special Rapporteur said. “This requires access to affordable, appropriate services and protection measures.”

Refuges provide a safe haven, support and a framework to boost victims’ self-esteem and help them to reclaim full control of their lives, the Special Rapporteur said, noting that State-owned and operated shelters usually fell short in their delivery of services.

Ms. Šimonović said the shelters, which offer emergency and temporary accommodation, should reflect cultural and gender issues, and should not be impacted by austerity policies or cuts in public housing budgets.

Protection orders, meanwhile, either require perpetrators to leave a shared home or to keep away from victims. They are normally issued by a court, a prosecutor or the police.

“States should ensure that criminal and civil remedies are used in cases where the perpetrator in a domestic violence situation poses a dangerous threat to the victim,” she said.

“In many cases, weak and uncoordinated State responses create a protection gap and end in tragedy: the killing of women or children,” Ms. Šimonović noted. “These killings are preventable, if such violence is treated as a serious crime and States fulfil their human rights obligations to combat and prevent these crimes.”

She stressed that shelters were necessary alongside protection orders, as not all victims of violence chose to involve the police or judicial systems.

“Violence against women is a human rights violation,” the Special Rapporteur stressed. “Women have the right to live free from violence. When that right is denied, the full exercise of their other rights is limited.”

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 co-chaired the Ad hoc Committee 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.

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.

For further information and media requests, please contact: Nathalie Stadelmann (+41 22 917 9104 / nstadelmann@ohchr.org) or Sara Cavallo (+41 22 917 9942 / scavallo@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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