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Protecting forcibly displaced women from discrimination and violence

Women and girls who are refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced, returnees, stateless or at risk of becoming stateless are frequent victims of sexual violence and multiple forms of discrimination. Their situation is “alarming”, and “we need concrete actions to improve their protection,” said Dorcas Coker-Appiah, member of a committee of experts on women’s rights as she opened a two-day seminar.

A committee of experts on women’s rights opened the two-day hearing. © UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras“The violations that women experience in these contexts will never be dealt with appropriately until justice issues receive sufficient attention both nationally and internationally,” Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told the seminar participants.

The persistent culture of denial, neglect and impunity around the growing problem of sexual violence and discrimination against refugee and internally displaced women, especially in war-torn conflict areas, was at the heart of this seminar which examined ways the international treaty on women’s human rights – the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women - can be applied to help protect these women.

Refugee women from Bhutan, Liberia, Mongolia and Zimbabwe testified, as well as internally displaced women from Chechnya and Kenya.

“Our recommendations will be more relevant and concrete through listening to the testimonies of these victims of violations,” remarked Pierre Bertrand, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. The seminar will provide elements for a general recommendation by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which meets 20 July to 7 August to review countries’ implementation of the Convention.

Pointing to some advances already made in gaining recognition of the implications for refugee women of persistent sexual violence, Bertrand referred to a new US policy which would open the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic beatings and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States.

“This establishes that violence against women is a criterion for establishing persecution,” a ground for seeking asylum, he explained.

The seminar was held jointly by OHCHR and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees at United Nations headquarters in New York 16 and 17 July.

21 July 2009