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Violence against women: UN expert urges full policy review after regional body finds the US responsible of rights violations

GENEVA (23 August 2011) – The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, urged the United States Government to reexamine its current policies on dealing with violence against women. Her call follows a landmark decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights finding the US government responsible for human rights violations against Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales), a survivor of domestic violence, and her three deceased children.

“Violence against women is the most pervasive human rights violation which continues to challenge every country in the world, and the US is no exception,” Ms. Manjoo stressed. “The US Government should reassess existing mechanisms for protecting victims and punishing offenders, and establish meaningful standards for enforcement of protection orders and impose consequences for a failure to enforce them.”

“To achieve this,” the human rights expert said, “the State should initiate local and national dialogues with relevant stakeholders to consider the effectiveness, in theory and application, of expedited proceedings, mandatory arrest policies, mandatory prosecution policies, and batterer’s programs.”

“Earlier this year, I conducted a fact-finding mission* to the country,” Ms. Manjoo recalled. “In my discussions with government officials, victims, survivors, and advocates, including Jessica Lenahan, I found a lack of substantive protective legislation for domestic violence victims in the United States, as well as inadequate implementation of certain laws, policies and programs.”

While landmark US legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act exists to address the high incidence of violence against women, the Special Rapporteur noted “there is little in terms of legally binding federal provisions which provide substantive protection or prevention for acts of domestic violence against women.”

“As highlighted in my 2011 report to the Human Right Council, States’ should adopt a holistic approach to addressing discrimination and violence against women,” said the human rights expert recalling four key recommendations:

1. “At the outset, States’ responses to violence should be based on the premise that the human rights of women are universal, interdependent, and indivisible.”
2. “They should not treat all women homogenously, but bear in mind that discrimination affects women in different ways depending on how they are positioned within the social, economic and cultural hierarchies.”
3. “States’ should also recognize that the various forms and manifestations of violence against women are simultaneously causes and consequences of other instances of violence.”
4. “Efforts to end all forms of violence against women must consider how structural and institutional discrimination perpetuate and exacerbate women’s experiences of abuse.”

“As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found in the Jessica Lenahan case,” the UN Special Rapporteur said, “State inaction towards cases of violence against women, fosters an environment of impunity and promotes the repetition of violence.”

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three year. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is also a Professor at the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.

(*) Check the full 2011 report – Mission to the USA: http://daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/Get?Open&DS=A/HRC/17/26/Add.5&Lang=E

For additional information on the mandate and activities of the Special Rapporteur, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ decision: http://www.cidh.oas.org/Comunicados/English/2011/92-11eng.htm

OHCHR Country Page – United States: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

For press inquiries please contact Gabriela Guzmán (Tel.: +41 22 9179412 / email: gguzman@ohchr.org) or write to vaw@ohchr.org

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