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35th session of the Human Rights Council, Statement by Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences

Agenda Item 3
Geneva, 12 June 2017

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, distinguished delegates, representatives of the NGO community,

It is a great honour for me as the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences to address the 35th session of the Human Rights Council and to inform you on the mandate activities, conducted county visits, to introduce my thematic report on a human rights-based approach to shelters and protection orders and to engage in an interactive dialogue with you all on these topics.

Mr. President,

In line with the mandate’s vision setting report and the initiative on the establishment of femicide watch or gender related killings of women watch, I have presented to the General Assembly last September  a report on modalities for the establishment of such watch. I have proposed a flexible model for the establishment of national  mechanisms or review panels and recommend to States to collect  femicide data under two broad categories:  1) intimate partner femicide/ family related femicide - based on relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, and 2) other femicides ( with subcategories relevant for the national context).

Last month I participated in the 26th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (CCPCJ) in line with the last year resolution of this Council that provided my  mandate with such possibility. I am glad that more than 20 years after the establishment of this mandate, formal collaboration has been established with the CCPCJ, that has carried out an important body of work in the field of violence against women as reflected in the updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. I hope to develop a fruitful cooperation between my mandate and the CCPCJ on the femicide watch initiative and other areas related to violence against women and criminal justice and crime prevention.

I hope that we are moving in the direction of collection of comparable world data on femicide. Such data could then be turned into femicide rates in order to enable States to objectively assess where they stand on the regional and global scale and to adopt actions needed to prevent many preventable deaths of women. I would like to propose collection of femicide data or femicide rate as an objective indicator under the target 2 of the SDG Goal 5 on elimination of violence against women  and I hope that you will support this proposal.

Mr. President,

In March this year, I addressed the Commission on the Status of Women and presented an oral report on the mandate’s work and stressed that the implementation of the 2030 global framework offers a new opportunity to accelerate progress in achieving gender equality and empowerment of women and girls and on eliminating violence against women. I have called on governments and civil society to start a discussion on the scope and focus of the 20/20 review of all commitments related to gender equality.  This review could be upgraded to the 5th World Conference on Women which would  focus on focus on violence against women as a priority.

At that session of the Commission, I moderated a closed consultation on operationalizing enhanced collaboration between the international and regional mechanisms on women’s rights and violence against women. Important example of such cooperation was a joint call of all global and regional independent mechanisms on VAW at the occasion of the last International Day on the Elimination of Violence against women.

At the above mentioned consultations held during the last CSW, we all agreed to work on the institutionalization of this cooperation and to further explore possibilities for similar meetings, sessions and consultations during the Human Rights Council and other inter-governmental bodies where both the international and regional women’s rights mechanisms could participate.

During the CSW I also met with the UN Secretary General, together with the other global and regional women’s rights mechanisms, where we jointly addressed the need for stronger cooperation between independent international and regional mechanisms on women’s rights and violence against women and proposed the institutionalization of such cooperation. The UN SG lent support to this initiative and entrusted his Senior Adviser on Policy to be the focal point in his cabinet to work on this with UN Women and OHCHR.

With respect to the implementation of recommendations emanating from the work of the SRVAW,  I believe that my mandate and the UN Trust Fund to end violence against women, which is administered by UN Women, should establish ways of cooperation as originally foreseen in the resolution establishing that fund .  I have therefore sent a letter to the Executive  Director of the  UN Women to further explore ways and means of such cooperation.

Let me also mention another example of cooperation between global independent mechanisms. During 2015 and 2016, my mandate and the CEDAW Committee have established a formal collaboration on updating the CEDAW General Recommendation 19 on violence against women and I have participated in 3 meetings of the CEDAW working group entrusted with that update.  This cooperation is crucial for my mandate since this general recommendation is expected to include additional guidance on measures needed to eradicate gender based violence.

Thematic Report

In the thematic report I am presenting today, I make the point that States have human rights obligations to establish a comprehensive and coordinated national framework to combat and prevent gender-based violence and this include integrated services and protection measures with provision of shelters and protection orders as obligatory and essential tools in this framework.

These obligations are enshrined in international and in a more detailed  manner in regional  human rights instruments on women's human rights and have been further elaborated by independent mechanisms that monitor their implementation including by the CEDAW Committee in its jurisprudence, concluding observations and general recommendations and by this mandate.  From its inception, this mandate has gained unique first-hand experience and information gathering on shelters and protection orders through country visits.

The mandate’s experience shows that today many States tend to perceive the establishment of shelters or support for NGOs running shelters as voluntary commitments and not as part of their human rights obligations based on international human rights treaties. This is related to the lack of full incorporation and implementation of the CEDAW Convention and lack of adoption of comprehensive and holistic approaches to integrated services to combat and prevent VAW.

The recognition of women's right to live free from violence determines States’ human rights obligation to ensure that both State and non-State agents refrain from engaging in any act of violence against women and to protect women victims or potential victims of VAW by adopting laws and practical measures to prevent and combat VAW, providing a comprehensive set of services such as shelters and measures, including protection orders. States should ensure that services facilitate women’s empowerment and recovery from violence and enable them to overcome the multiple consequences of violence to rebuild their lives. This requires gendered provision of accessible, affordable, appropriate, acceptable and quality access to services and protection measures.

Safe women’s shelters and efficient and immediate protection orders are two survival tools to protect women and to ensure their safety and human rights at a time their life is at risk. Their establishment and availability should be seen as human rights obligation that uphold a woman's right to life free from violence.

In some States there are no shelters, in others, there are only daily shelters without overnight stay. Also, there are different types of shelters, some States having CSOs run shelters and other States run shelters or a combination of both. In many States, their form is determined by the availability and amount of funding available (either from the State or external donors), as well as on whether funding is sustainable.

There are no UN global or regional data on the numbers and types of shelters in UN Member States or agreed global standards on the numbers of places needed.  There are data provided by the Global Network of Women's Shelters established by CSOs that have organized three World Conferences of Shelters and published data reports, the last one containing information on shelters in 46 countries.

In my thematic report, I am recommending the establishment of a UN global database on numbers and types of shelters. I am also recommending to States to provide for a sufficient number of safe shelters (both State and non-state funded), adequately funded, and allocated within all the State’s territory, including in rural areas. I am recommending at  least one shelter capable of admitting women and children around the clock in every region of each State, including rural areas while one shelter place for every 10 000  inhabitants could serve as benchmark.

Shelters and protection orders are necessary and complementary protection measures that can be used separately or cumulatively and there is a significant intersection between them, even though they are provided by different parts of the state System. Protection orders aim to ensure safety through "go" order which requires a perpetrator to leave a shared home and/ or impose a range of restrains on perpetrator.

In many cases, weak and uncoordinated State interventions in persistent, long-term patterns of violence create a protection gap and end in tragedy: the killing of a woman and/or the killing of her children. Such femicides or gender-related 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.  

This includes the provision of the full range of protection services to victims or potential victims like shelters, longer-term housing and protection orders. These measures need to be readily available and easily accessible to women and girls.
The report fleshes out key elements of what a human-rights based approach to integrated services and protection measures for victims of violence against women should look like. A more detailed presentation of the report will be provided at a side-event organized by my mandate on Friday.

Mr. President,

I would now like to present an overview of the findings from three country visits conducted during the reporting period while my report following the visit to  Australiaconducted  in February this year will be submitted to the 2018 HRC session.

I would like to sincerely thank the Governments of Israel, of the State of Palestine and of Argentina for inviting me to conduct these visits and for their comments provided ahead of the presentation of these country visit reports today. I look forward to a constructive and continued dialogue on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the reports.

I would like to immediately offer a possibility of joint side events on the implementation of the recommendations of these country visits reports in the margins of the CSW or the HRC and my mandate stands ready to provide further guidance if needed.

Israel and OPT/State of Palestine

Mr. President,

I visited Israel and the OPT/State of Palestine from 12 to 22 September 2016. I am presenting two separate reports but with cross-referencing particularly relating to the general context section.

Visits to Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory / State of Palestine took place in a general context of protracted conflict and prolonged occupation punctuated by frequent incidents of violence and the absence of any prospect of peace.  I have carefully presented the complicated de jure and de facto situation in Israel and the OPT /State of Palestine that requires joint application of international human rights law and of international humanitarian law to all persons under States’ jurisdiction or territory under their respective effective control. This general context provides the backdrop for assessing the different forms of violence against women, its causes and consequences in public and private life and the complex due diligence responsibility of different authorities that have exclusive or shared jurisdiction over security and other issues to prevent violence against women, to provide services for victims and to punish perpetrators. 

I am convinced that combating and preventing VAW will ultimately contribute to each society’s growth; bridge divided communities and contribute to peace by removing obstacles to full participation of  women in this process.

Israel

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my thanks to the Government of Israel for welcoming me in the country and for engaging in a positive cooperation throughout the visit. My visit took place after a long absence of any other UN Special Rapporteur visits and I am confident that this translates the willingness of the Government to strengthen its efforts to eliminate violence against women and to uphold women’s rights in public and private sphere, in line with the international human rights obligations and commitments.

I recommended a number of measures to the Government of Israel to address the gaps in the implementation of human rights and humanitarian law to all women under its jurisdiction and to fulfill the State’s obligation, including due diligence obligation, to prevent violence against women, to protect and provide remedies to women who have been subjected to violence and to prosecute and punish the perpetrators.

Let me flag out only few illustrative recommendations while the full list is provide in the report .  With respect to the laws and policies:

a) Urgently remove reservations to article 16 and 7 (b) to the CEDAW , ratify the CEDAW OP, fully incorporate CEDAW in its legal system and give full effect to its provisions, and to implement its and other treaty bodies’ recommendations;
b) Amend its Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, to explicitly incorporate the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination in public and private sphere to all persons within the State’s territory or subject to its jurisdiction or effective control, regardless of their national or ethnic origin;
c) Continue its work on ensuring compatibility of national laws and policies dealing with preventing and combating VAW with provisions of the Istanbul Convention with the aim of its ratification;
d) Introduce an option system of civil marriage and divorce allowing freedom of choice between civil and religious marriages;
e) Adopt a National Action Plan on the implementation of UNSCR 1325 with participation of all the women comprising Israeli society.

With respect to the national human rights mechanism, further promote the work of the Ombudsperson in relation to vaw complaints and consider the establishment of a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.
I have recommended establishment of  a “femicide watch”  (intimate partner /family related and all other cases of femicides) and collection of sex disaggregated data on all forms of vaw for all women under its jurisdiction.

I have also recommended a number of measures to mitigate the gendered impact of the occupation, and called for ending the occupation and the blockade of the Gaza Strip. More specifically I have recommended actions to combat and prevent human rights abuses and violations against women and girls committed by State and non-State actors in the OPT and at checkpoints; and prompt investigation of such cases including investigations of allegations of settlers violence and of excessive use of forces by Israeli Defense Forcesand ensuring that perpetrators of violence are brought to justice.

Occupied Palestinian Territory/ State of Palestine

Mr President,

I would like to thank the Government of the State of Palestine for welcoming me in the country and for engaging in a positive cooperation throughout the visit. My visit is the second visit of the mandate to the OPT and I am confident that this translates the willingness of the Government to strengthen its efforts to eliminate violence against women and to uphold women’s rights in public and private sphere, in line with the recently accepted international human rights obligations and commitments.

The State of Palestine acceded in April 2014 to some of the key human rights instruments, including the CEDAW Convention, the ICCPR, the ICERD; the CAT; the CRC and its first Optional Protocol and the CRPD. I welcomed the fact that these instruments were acceded to without any reservations. In particular, through acceding to the CEDAW Convention without reservation, the State of Palestine has reiterated its legal obligations to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, including violence, and to ensure equality between men and women and women’s human rights protection. I am also glad that, on 8 March, Palestine submitted its overdue first report under the CEDAW Convention and thatnational consultations had taken place with CSOs prior to its submission.

While recognizing the imperatives related to security and stability in the region and the clear linkage between the prolonged occupation and gender based violence, I pointed out, like my predecessor, that women in the country also suffer, both in the private and public sphere, from a system of violence emanating from the tradition and culture, with embedded patriarchal social norms that expose women to multiple form of discrimination and violence. This includes the urgent need to amend any discriminatory outdated legislation which does not reflect accepted international women’s rights standards.

I have recommended to the Government to address the gaps in the implementation of human rights  law to all women under its jurisdiction and to fulfill the State’s obligations, including due diligence obligation, to prevent violence against women, to protect and provide remedies to women who have been subjected to violence and to prosecute and punish the perpetrators.

Let me flag out only few illustrative recommendations while the full list is provide in the report.  With respect to the laws and policy I have recommended to the State of Palestine:  

a) Ratification of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW;
b) Urgently repeal of discriminatory provisions which are at the roots of violence against women,
c)  Adoption of the draft legislation on domestic violence,
d) Consider in its new Constitution making the CEDAW convention directly applicable; urgently ensure that the composition of the Constitutional Committee is gender balanced and include representatives of the civil society;
e) Urgently undertake all necessary legal and administrative and legislation action to amend the Penal code so as to repeal or amend discriminatory provisions and criminalize marital rape or adopt a unified Penal Code;
f) Adopt a unified Personal Status Law which guarantees equality and non-discrimination in family relationship, including in relation to marriage;
g) Improve access to services and shelters and to that effect, provide for sufficient and adequate shelters for women who are victims or at risk of violence;
h) Ensure implementation of the National action Plan on 1325 ;
i) Support and strengthen its cooperation with the Independent Human Rights Commission and civil society organizations.

I have recommended the establishment of  a “femicide watch”  (intimate partner /family related and all other cases of femicides) and collection of sex disaggregated data on all forms of vaw.

At the end of my visits  to Israel and OPT / State of Palestine I stated that reducing violence against women and promoting gender equality are two underused tools in bridging fragmented and divided communities and achieving peace. I hope that the presented reports are setting a fundamental brick in building the future peace and in protecting   women’s rights to live a life free from violence.

Argentina

I would now like to present a brief overview of the findings from my visit to Argentina from 14 to 21 November 2016. Allow me to use this opportunity to thank the Government of Argentina for hosting me and for its excellent cooperation throughout the visit.

I welcome the efforts of the National Council of Women to promote and monitor the implementation of the international obligations on violence against women and to coordinate its work with the efforts of the Provincial and Municipal Women’s Offices, with a view to implement the National Action Plan for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Assistance to Victims . I call on the government to provide the National Council of Women with adequate budgetary resources for the effective implementation of the National Action Plan for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Assistance to Victims.

Argentina has ratified CEDAW, its Optional Protocol and the Belém do Pará convention and adopted a number of important laws on women’s rights and gender based violence. Despite these positive developments, however, women victims of violence in the country are faced with a systemic and overarching problem – namely, the lack of implementation of international and national standards with significant variation between the provinces, resulting in differing level of protection of women and girls against gender based violence.

I am especially concerned that under the federal Criminal Procedure Code, prosecution of sexual offences is not conducted ex officio which signifies that no action to prosecute and punish rape, even in a case on a minor victim, can be taken without private instance action by the victim. I welcome the recent amendments reforming article 119 of the Criminal Code, which criminalize additional forms of sexual abuse. I recommend bringing the criminal provisions on rape in line with international human rights standards as elaborated in CEDAW committee jurisprudence in several cases.

Article 86 of the Criminal Code establishes exceptions for criminalization of abortion in cases where the abortion is allowed in order to avoid a danger to the life or health of the mother, if this danger could not be avoided by other means and if the pregnancy resulted from a rape.  The Supreme Court of Justice issued a decision on 13 March 2012, reaffirming women's right to interrupt pregnancy in all circumstances allowed by law, that is when her life or health are at risk or when the pregnancy is a result of rape. In June 2015 the Federal Ministry of Health published a "Protocol for the comprehensive care of persons with the right to the legal interruption of pregnancy” but to date only 8 of the 24 provincial jurisdictions have issued care protocols on non- punishable abortions compliant with the national Protocol.

The absence of such protocols coupled with the frequent refusal of doctors to perform an abortion based on conscientious objection results in high number of unsafe abortions and contributes to the high maternal mortality rate in Argentina. I call on the responsible provincial authorities to adopt the necessary protocols as a matter of urgency. In addition, the government should accelerate the adoption of the draft law for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.

I recognize the efforts made in the area of collection of data on femicide and I welcome the establishment of a femicide observatory by the Ombudsman’s Office in line with my recommendations contained in this mandate’s report (A/71/398).
I made a number of other action-orientated recommendations to the Government, including on Law and policy reforms needed to improve investigation, prosecution, support services and protective measures in cases of violence against women.

Conclusion

Mr. President,

In conclusion, I would like to inform you that in my next thematic report to the HRC, I will address the new challenges brought by online violence against women.  And I have issued a call for submission to which you are all welcome to respond and which is available on the webpage of the mandate.

I thank you for your attention and look forward to a fruitful dialogue with the distinguished members of this Council and the NGOs.

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- A/71/398

- See A/RES/50/166