Protecting women’s rights in war

During its discussion on the protection of women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict situations on 18 July, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) heard from a wide range of inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations from around the globe.

A Guatemalan rape victim testifying against her attackers © EPA/Ulises RodríguezThe discussion will contribute to a “general recommendation” to countries on how to fulfil their obligations in conflict and post-conflict contexts under the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Non-governmental organisations stressed that modern conflict settings require a new focus due to the range of violations and State accountability. They suggested that the general recommendation prioritize prevention, making references to the complexity and diversity of conflict and post-conflict situations.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, highlighted the increasing attention paid to violence against women in recent years, including at the highest levels in the UN system. He observed that the gender dimension has become entrenched in the general discussion of violence, both within and outside the conflict context.

Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, noted implementing existing human rights standards was critical.

“States should ensure that the root causes and consequences of violence against women are tackled at all levels of society, starting within the family and up to the transnational arena,” she said.

The discussion revealed the lack of knowledge about the nature of sexual violence in times of conflict, where rape is used as a weapon of war causing trauma to individuals, families and communities, even after the conflict.

According to Margot Wallström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, this is due to the compounded impact of the shame and stigma sexual violence survivors and their families have to endure.

“There is widespread recognition that women experience a higher risk of violence in conflict and post-conflict situations,” stated Pramila Patten, chair of CEDAW’s working group on women in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Victims of sexual violence are shunned by their families and communities. They may face disease or unwanted pregnancies. Discrimination often affects their children as well. They may share the stigma of their mothers and, for example, be unable to enrol in school.

Patten said that CEDAW’s general recommendation to States should consider the situation of especially vulnerable groups of women, including refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers and stateless persons. It should also cover both internal and international conflicts, as well situations of extreme violence and political disturbances that fall short of armed conflict.

Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, expressed confidence that the general recommendation will facilitate the framing of international responses to conflict and post-conflict situations, as well as support the enforcement of temporary special measures.

She pledged that UN Women would work with the Committee to prioritize the protection of women in conflict and post-conflict situations.

CEDAW is a body of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, one of the most widely accepted international treaties, with 187 States as parties.

5 August 2011