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Violence against women and girls: significant challenges in El Salvador

GENEVA (22 March 2010) – The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, warned Saturday that the recommendations made by her predecessor six years ago* to the Salvadorian authorities “are still applicable and relevant.” Ms. Manjoo shared her views and recommendations in a public statement prepared at the end of a three day follow-up visit to El Salvador**.

While acknowledging that the country “has come a long way in institution building and human rights protection since the end of the twelve year civil war in 1992,” the independent expert expressed her concern “at the significant challenges that continue to exist in the area of violence against women and girls” in El Salvador.

Assessing the current situation of violence against women and the State response to such violence, Ms. Manjoo quoted her predecessor’s 2004 report: “Impunity for crimes, the socio-economic disparities and the machista culture foster a generalized state of violence, subjecting women to a continuum of multiple violent acts, including murder, rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation.”

“My discussions with both State and non-State actors, as well as the testimonies I have heard, reflect the continuing accuracy of this reality in El Salvador today,” said the independent expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor violence against women, its causes and consequences.

“Of particular concern to me,” Ms. Manjoo said, “is the growing prevalence and forms of such violence, especially the alarming rise in the numbers of murders of women and girls and the brutality inflicted on their bodies, which is often accompanied by kidnapping and sexual assault.

The UN Special Rapporteur noted other forms of violence were identified and continue to be prevalent and pervasive: “Domestic violence, sexual abuse against women and children in the home and the community, violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly in the maquila sector and the domestic sphere, police-related violence and sexual commercial exploitation.”

Ms. Manjoo drew attention to the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the women’s prison that she visited in El Salvador, and also noted “the situation of women and girls in the domestic and maquila sectors, including those working in their homes for the maquilas without a contract, which were described by some interlocutors and direct testimonies as a modern form of ‘human slavery.’”

The UN independent expert also focused on the issue of abortion, noting that “the interpretative conflict between the constitutional provisions and the Penal Code has led to the criminalization of abortion, which is having a direct impact on the current high rates of maternal mortality and adolescent pregnancies, and thus denies women and girls the right to control their bodies and their lives.”

According to her predecessor’s report: “The criminalization of abortion is discriminatory primarily for poor women, as women of higher social standing are said to have access to other options for dealing with unwanted pregnancies.”

In her preliminary recommendations to the Salvadorian authorities, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women reiterated the need to take action under five broad categories:

· Create a gender-sensitive information and knowledge base, including through the creation of a statistical commission.
· Ensure the protection of women and girls through legislative, investigative and judicial reforms, including though the establishment of a specialized investigation and prosecution unit on femicides.
· Strengthen institutional infrastructure, including through the allocation of appropriate resources in order to enable sustainability and effectiveness.
· Initiate further training and awareness programmes.
· Monitor and enforce international and regional human rights standards.

In June this year, Ms. Manjoo will present a comprehensive report with her findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council.

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the United Nations Human Rights Council for an initial period of three years. 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 2004 report by the Special Rapporteur Yakin Ertürk:
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G05/101/90/PDF/G0510190.pdf?OpenElement

(**) End-of-visit statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Rashida Manjoo: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=9935&LangID=E