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Statement by Ms. Dubravka šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences at the 70th session of the General Assembly

New York, 12 October 2015

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, representatives of the United Nations and the NGO community,

It is with great pleasure that I address the 70th session of the General Assembly for the first time in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. My appointment as Special Rapporteur in June this year by the Human Rights Council is both a great honour and great responsibility.

I look forward to building on the legacy of my three remarkable predecessors holding this mandate, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Ms. Yakin Ertürk and Ms. Rashida Manjoo. Each of them contributed greatly to clarify the origin, different forms, root causes, prevalence and States’ obligations to prevent and combat all forms of violence against women in the public and private sphere. They also contributed to the establishment of this mandate as a visible and credible tool to provide key recommendations to Governments as the ultimate duty bearers of the responsibility to protect women and girls from violence and discrimination but also to civil society actors, other relevant stakeholders and the international community.

I will also continue to build partnerships and synergies with all of you in the fight against violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences based on a comprehensive and universal approach to the elimination of such violence.

Violence against women is the most atrocious manifestation of the systematic and widespread discrimination and inequality that women and girls around the world continue to face.

If we briefly look back at the time of the establishment of this mandate, we see that we have come a long way in recognizing violence against women as a human rights violation that seriously inhibits women's ability to enjoy rights and freedoms, on an equal basis with men, and as a form of discrimination against women, and in clarifying State’s responsibility for such violence and its responsibility to secure women their right to a life free from violence.

Today, we have a significant number of legal instruments and policy documents and mechanisms at the global and regional levels, mandated to combat violence against women, but in spite of the existing framework, violence against women is still universal and widespread, systemic and structural. It supports and reinforces sex/gender inequalities and, thus, constitutes a denial of women's human rights. Notwithstanding important developments at the international and regional levels identifying the seriousness of that violence, there is a huge implementation gap and violence against women is still likely to be marginalized in domestic legislations, national legal systems practices and at the university level on legal education.

At this point in time, the main task is to close this gap and accelerate the full incorporation and implementation of international, regional and national instruments, policy documents and recommendations to combat and prevent violence against women; to protect victims through the provisions of adequate support services including reparations and to prosecute perpetrators. A specific challenge at the national level is to establish a coordinated and comprehensive national system to combat and prevent violence against women that is interconnected with policies on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. This challenge is also reflected at the international level, because of the fragmentation of global and regional policies and mechanisms dealing with violence against women and girls.

This year, 2015, is a stock-taking year and also a vision-making year for women's rights at the global level.

We have reaffirmed our commitments to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPA) adopted 20 years ago. The commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the Security Council resolution 1325 (SCR 1325), which takes place this week, provides us with an important opportunity to move ahead the Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. Recently, we have upgraded our universal Agenda for Sustainable Development with the adoption of 17 transformative sustainable development goals (SDGs) that seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. For the first time, we have a global gendered framework for development that is all inclusive and builds upon all relevant world conferences such as the four World Conferences on Women and the International Conference on Population and Development as well as on human rights instruments. This framework calls for the realization of human rights of all –which encompasses women’s rights as human rights. But additionally, this SDGs Agenda adds a specific stand-alone goal number 5 on the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.

The formulation of this goal - achieving gender equality - means achieving substantive equality and as such it is giving a woman’s perspective to the whole SDGs Agenda. It further provides that substantive gender equality and empowerment of women and girls should be achieved by the elimination of all forms of discriminations and violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres. It refers to the elimination of all harmful practices with specific references to child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Moreover, the implementation of all the 17 goals requires a systematic gender mainstreaming in all targets and indicators.

Implementation of this visionary gender-aware framework is at the same time a huge opportunity and a huge challenge ahead of us. This mandate, which covers violence against women in its largest extent, has the potential to play an important role to accelerate and to monitor progress in achieving this.

Priorities of the mandate

The main question that many of you would like to ask or have already asked me is: what are my priorities? This is a huge and important mandate and I am fully aware that priorities in my work should be carefully established. Based on my preliminary review of the work of the mandate over the last 21 years, as well as the broader body of work on women’s human rights, I have identified three broad areas which would require a focused and timely attention:

  • holistic and effective implementation of international standards on violence against women, including improved follow-up of previous recommendations;
  • finalizing the work in progress;
  • current challenges that require immediate attention.

a) Holistic and effective implementation of international standards on violence against women, including follow-up of previous recommendations

During my tenure as Special Rapporteur, I plan to use the experience and expertise I gained both as a CEDAW expert responsible for the monitoring of the implementation of the CEDAW Convention and deciding on individual complaints and inquiries and as a Co-Chair of the Committee that drafted the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (known as the Istanbul convention). I see as a main challenge the huge implementation gap that is caused by the lack of full incorporation of the international standards set out in the CEDAW convention, the BPA, the DEVAW and UNSCR 1325 and their insufficient and fragmented application at the regional and national level. There is a general lack of a holistic and comprehensive approach to combat and prevent violence against women and there is fragmentation of various policies and pieces of legislation that address violence against women and women’s rights. There is also a disconnection or an insufficient connection or synergy between the implementation of various global agendas and instruments (BPA/CEDAW/DEVAW/UNSCR 1325) and a disconnection between the global and regional instruments and agendas on violence against women and mechanisms that monitor their implementation. I believe that we must try to achive synergies between the BPA/CEDAW Convention and its OP/DEVAW/UN SC 1325 and follow up on resolutions/regional instruments on violence against women, to achieve their full implementation and reach the elimination of VAW.

b) Finalizing work in progress,

I would like to propose as a priority area prevention of violence against women as a part of the mandate that deals with the elimination of root causes of violence against women. The main components of prevention that should be further elaborated are:

  • The States’ obligation to take positive measures to change and modify harmful stereotypes on gender roles conducive to violence and, at the same time, to undertake activities to empower women and reduce their vulnerability to violence;
  • The States’ obligation to repeal all national penal and family law provisions that are conductive to violence against women and girls;
  • Meaningful inclusion of men and boys to actively contribute to preventing all forms of violence against women and girls;
  • Awareness raising campaigns to fight violence against women on a regular basis and at all levels in cooperation with national human rights institutions, civil society and non-governmental organizations;
  • Education at all levels, including university legal education, should include teaching on equality between women and men and violence against women;
  • Training of professionals should include professionals in the judiciary, in legal practice, in law-enforcement agencies and in the fields of health care, social work and education including on the rights of victims.

I also think that there is a need to continue working with respect to the consequences of violence against women that could focus on the elaboration of adequate services needed for victims like a sufficient number of shelters and efficient protection orders as well as gendered access to justice. Data on femicides or gender-related killing of women and girls are not yet universally available and such data are crucial to prevent such violence. Work should continue with respect to the implementation of the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on the SRVAW mandate that focus on preventing and responding to rape and other forms of sexual violence and the criminalization of rape and sexual violence in compliance with international human rights obligations in a non-discriminatory manner. Stronger cooperation between my mandate and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes could be important to accelerate the implementation of the mandate’s goals at the level of national criminal justice systems.

Also, a very important part of the discussion related to the implementation of agreed standards and commitments should be the continuation of the conversation on the adequacy of the international, regional and national legal frameworks to prevent and combat violence against women. I am very grateful to my predecessor, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, for opening up this debate. The thematic report which is before you largely builds upon the thematic report that the mandate has presented to the Human Rights Council last June. It attempts to provide an overview of the legal standards on violence against women in three regional human rights systems: the African, European and Inter-American systems. In addition to the recommendations of my predecessor on this matter, we should also recall that in 2003, the then Special Rapporteur concluded that “at the normative level the needs of women are generally adequately addressed” and that “the challenges lie in ensuring respect for and effective implementation of existing laws and standards”. I intend to continue this discussion. The next step could be to invite inputs from the regional human rights systems and to seek their views on this important question since the regional human rights systems can have a role in reinforcing universal human rights standards, as contained in international human rights instruments. It would be equally important to collect views of treaty bodies, in particular the CEDAW Committee, former Special Rapporteurs on violence against women and possibly other mandates, in particular the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice. It is crucial to continue to collect inputs from Member States and all interested stakeholders including global and regional mechanisms and NGOs in order to enable them to take a fully informed decision on measures needed to accelerate the eradication of violence against women as priority.

c) Current challenges that requires immediate attention

There are some obvious immediate challenges related to violence against women, such as violent extremism and violence against women, but at this stage I would like to listen to you and collect your views and proposals as well as inputs from all other stakeholders, NGOs, National Human Rights Institutions, the academic community, Treaty Bodies, other Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and other global and regional mechanism active in this field.

In addition to the priority areas of the mandate, there is a need to look at the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the SRVAW mandate in relation to other global and regional mechanisms dealing with VAW.

Relationship between the SRVAW, the CEDAW Convention and the CEDAW Committee

Let me start with the SRVAW mandate and international framework under which it operates. The founding 1994 Commission of Human Rights resolution calls the SRVAW to carry out its mandate within the framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all other international human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. A 2008 Human Rights Council resolution added the BPA to this framework. It also calls the SRVAW to work closely with other special rapporteurs, special representatives, working groups and to hold consultations with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and all other treaty bodies.

I would like to inform you that I have been invited by the CEDAW Committee to attend its next session and I hope to establish a fruitful cooperation as envisaged in the founding resolution of the mandate. In this regard, I was informed that the CEDAW Committee plans to revise its GR no. 19 on violence against women and I hope to establish a meaningful collaboration in this endeavor for the benefit of both mechanisms, Member States and before all for women victims of violence as primary beneficiaries of protective norms of international law. This is also very important in ongoing discussion on measures needed to improve the international framework on VAW.

I also intend to strengthen cooperation between the SRVAW and other relevant mandates such as the working group on discrimination against women, the trafficking, sale of children, albinism, minority issues, indigenous and older persons mandates and the Office of the Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict.

Intergovernmental organizations

Currently, the SRVAW reports to the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and submit reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The reporting of the mandate to the CSW was established in 2008 in a resolution from the HRC (A/HRC/RES/7/24). The same resolution also requests the Secretary-General to ensure that the reports of the Special Rapporteur are brought to the attention of the Commission on the Status of Women, the General Assembly and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. These provisions acknowledged the close link between the overall efforts for the advancement of women and those for the elimination of violence against them. The opportunity for direct dialogue and engagement with these entities is an important step towards the formation of a more comprehensive strategy for the UN gender agenda.

Strong links with UN Women are crucial for my mandate and I plan to have regular meetings with the Executive Director and her staff to discuss this cooperation. I already had a meeting with Mr. Yuri. Fedotov, the Executive Director of UNODC to discuss possibilities for cooperation.

Regional intergovernmental organizations

HRC resolution of 2003 also encourages the Special Rapporteur to promote greater efficiency and effectiveness and to enhance access to the information necessary to fulfill the mandate and to continue to cooperate with regional intergovernmental organizations and any of their mechanisms engaged in the promotion of human rights of women. Reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and also the UN Secretary-General reflect developments to enhance cooperation between the international and regional mechanisms in order to close the human rights protection gaps that currently exist and to identify synergies among the different systems, including the promotion and follow-up to the recommendations of each system.

Mr. President,

I am pleased to inform the Assembly that following an invitation from the Government of the Republic of South Africa, I will be undertaking my first country visit there in December 2015. I would like to thank the Governments of South Africa for inviting me to visit their country.

Since I have started my tenure as Special Rapporteur, I have been invited to participate in several events. I took part in the World Assembly for Women 2015 (WAW! 2015), organized in Tokyo by the Government of Japan; in the Special Partnership Meeting, organized by the Equal Futures Partnership Steering Committee and the Government of Japan during the WAW! 2015; in a Panel on Gender and Global Affairs in New York, organized by the Center for Global Affairs of the NYU School of Professional Studies. This month, I will participate in a conference on Monitoring the Implementation of the Istanbul Convention in Sarajevo, organized by the Government of Bosnia Herzegovina, in the Chairmanship of Bosnia and Herzegovina of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. In November, I will participate in the Annual Women against Violence Europe (WAVE) Conference in The Hague, organized by the WAVE Network and European Info Centre against Violence, as well as in the 3 rd World Conference of Women ’s Shelters in The Hague, an initiative of the Global Network of Women ’s Shelters (GNWS) and organized by its Dutch members; I will also participate in a High-Level Conference on Achieving Gender Equality, organized in Tbilisi by the Government of Georgia; and in the Africa Girls ’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Lusaka, organized by the African Union and OHCHR.

UNSCR 1325 and SRVAW

Let me also mention that I have read with a great interest the Global Study on the implementation of resolution 1325 done on its 15th anniversary. As a mandate holder whose mandate is overlapping with this resolution. I would like to recall some of my predecessors activates on the WPS. Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy published a few months after the adoption of Resolution 1325, a thematic report focusing on violence against women perpetrated and/or condoned by the State during times of armed conflict.

In her 2014 annual report to the HRC, Rashida Manjoo points out that sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations is regarded “as being different and exceptional, as opposed to it being a continuation of a pattern of discrimination and violence that is exacerbated in times of conflict…”. She mentioned “the low-level ‘warfare’ that women and girls experience in their homes and communities on a daily basis.” The main point of that report remains valid today “if UN Member States are ambivalent to violence against women during times of peace, they will be reticent to address it in times of conflict”. This means that prevention of violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences must start during times of peace, while the WPS agenda should be strongly connected with the broader gender equality and empowerment of women agenda.

I thank you all for your kind attention and I look forward to a fruitful interactive dialogue.