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Statement by Dr. Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences at the 5th General Assembly of the Kigali International Conference Declaration (KICD) on the role of security organs to end violence against women and girls


UN normative work and best practices in preventing and ending violence against women

I would like to thank the Government and the people of Algeria for the invitation to participate at the 5th General Assembly of the Kigali International Conference Declaration (KICD) on the role of security organs to end violence against women and girls.

I am honored to address such a distinguished audience in my capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. I would like to congratulate all the actors who actively took part in the adoption and implementation of the Kigali Declaration developed as the regional response to the UN Secretary General's Ban Ki Moon 2008 Global Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

It is very important that the Kigali Declaration focuses on the involvement of the security organs or the police in the process of the combating violence against women and girls (VAWG) since such organs are the first-respondents in cases of violence and have a key role to play in the prevention, prosecution of perpetrators and protection of victims/survivors of violence.

Security organs are absolutely crucial in responding to reports of VAWG, in ensuring the victims/survivors safety, in securing the proper collection of evidence that will later make it possible to charge offenders, in taking measures to prevent future acts of violence, including the issuance of restraining orders and referral of victims to additional services such as crisis centers or shelters.

Presentation of the SRVAW mandate 

The violence against women, its causes and consequences mandate is one of the oldest mandates of the Special Procedures, established in 1994 by the Human Rights Council. It was established to recommend measures, ways and means at the local, national, regional and international levels to eliminate all forms of violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences.

As part of my working methods, I seek and receive information on violence against women, from Governments, treaty bodies, specialized agencies, other special rapporteurs and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, including women's organizations, and I respond effectively to such information; such response can take the form of sending communications (urgent appeals or allegation letters) to States in relation to alleged cases of violence against women.

The main vehicle my mandate uses for making policy recommendations is through both thematic reports submitted to both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly and country visits reports.

So far, the mandate has conducted 53 official country visits. My first visit conducted as Special Rapporteur was in South Africa from 4 to 11 December 2015 and from 15 to 19 February 2016, I visited Georgia.

Out of the 43 signatories of the KICD, this mandate visited many countries including the host country Algeria. In 2007, the first visit was conducted by Yakin Ertürk and the second in 2010 as a follow-up visit by Rashida Manjoo.

I have recently sent an official letter requesting to receive an invitation to visit Chad and Mauritania. I was glad to hear that last week the Mauritanian delegation informed the Human Rights Council that its Government was expecting the visit of my mandate, which indicates a positive reply from the Government to my request for a visit earlier this year.

I work closely with all special procedures and other human rights mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and with the treaty bodies, especially with the CEDAW Committee. Currently, five experts from Africa are CEDAW members, including an expert from Algeria, Ms. Louisa Chalal.  I was a CEDAW expert from 2003 to 2014 and had closely worked with the formerCEDAW expert from Algeria Ms. Meriem Belmihub Zaradani who contributed a lot to the work and progress of the Committee. 

When I presented priorities of my work to the UN General Assembly I have pointed out a need for a stronger cooperation with regional women's human rights mechanisms. With respect to the African Human rights system in 2012, the Addis Ababa Roadmap was agreed upon by representatives of the UN Special Procedures and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), following a consultation, which took place in Addis Ababa.

The aim of this Roadmap is to enhance collaboration between UN Special Procedures and the African system through joint statements and press releases; collaboration on thematic work, joint country visits, regular exchange of information and work plans. I am very glad that Ms. Sohoyata Maiga the Vice-president of the African Commission for Human and People's rights and Ms. Lucy Asuagbor, the African Rapporteur on the Rights of Women are with us today and that we will further discuss this cooperation.

UN normative and regional frameworks on VAWG and good practices

Before the presentation of the UN normative and regional frameworks on VAWG, let us look at its prevalence rate:

  • 1 in 3 women throughout the World experience physical and or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by non-partner 
  • 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence
  • 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. The comparable figure for men is around 6%.

VAWG is present in all countries; it is systematic and widespread but is most common where:

  • Patriarchal gender norms are rigidly enforced and concept of superiority and masculinity is linked to male dominance,
  • Social and cultural norms tolerate and normalize punishment of women and girls, violence is accepted as normal,
  • There are no laws on domestic violence or violence against women (VAW), there are no protection and restraining orders, no shelters, marital rape is not prohibited, perpetrators of VAW and so called honour crimes have lenient punishment for such crimes.

The UN normative human rights framework started with the UN Charter that prohibits sex based discrimination but this gender neutral framework was upgraded with a clear recognition of women's rights as human rights in 1979, when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (The CEDAW).

The CEDAW is the core international treaty on the rights of women, addressing non-discrimination and empowerment of women and girls in all areas of life including the family or the private sphere. It entered into force in 1981 and gendered the UN human rights framework. The most important is that it is a living women human rights instrument that is progressing through the work of the CEDAW Committee - an expert body that monitors its implementation through State parties’ reports, Concluding observations, General recommendations and decisions under the Optional protocol.

In 1989 the CEDAW Committee adopted the General Recommendation No. 12 on “violence against women” and called States parties to include information on violence against women in their periodic reports to the Committee.

In 1992 the CEDAW Committee adopted the General Recommendation No. 19 on violence against women which explicitly states that “gender-based violence which impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of human rights and fundamental freedom […] is discrimination” under the CEDAW Convention. It also elaborates the due diligence obligation of States under the Article 2 e) of the Convention or the obligation to eliminate discrimination by private persons.

In 1993 the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW). Although the DEVAW is non-binding, it sets forth one of the most comprehensive set of standards and directives to States in international law for the protection of women from violence. It defines violence against women as: "Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life". The DEVAW urges states to:

  • Exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women, whether perpetrated by the State or private persons;
  • Adopt legal and other measures to end violence against women “who are especially vulnerable to violence,” and address harmful social and cultural practices;
  • Provide support structures to victims;
  • Train law enforcement and public officials to sensitize them to women’s issues;
  • Modify social and cultural patterns that discriminate against women; and
  • Provide specialized assistance to the extent allowed by available resources and within the framework of international cooperation.

In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women’s Rights was held in Beijing. It culminated in a Declaration and a Platform for Action that were unanimously adopted by the 189 countries represented at the conference.

The Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in 1999. The Optional Protocol to the Convention entered into force on 22 December 2000. It has been accepted by 104 States. The Optional Protocol creates two distinct procedures, a communications or petitions procedure, and an inquiry procedure. The Optional Protocol provides for more effective implementation of the Convection at the national level, and thereby enhances the enjoyment by women of the rights it contains.

In the 2000, the UNSCR 1325 was adopted and it included women's rights into peace and security work of the UN Security Council and peace operations.

The new just adopted UN SDG Agenda for the next 15 years established the Goal no 5. "Achieving gender equality and empowerment of women", with a subgoal – the elimination of VAW.

We can conclude that we have engendered the UN human rights framework and that the main problem is the lack of universal and full acceptance and implementation: lack of the universal ratification of the CEDAW and its OP, lack of full acceptance of all obligations by reservations entered upon ratification and the lack of direct implementation or full domestication at the national level.

Regional Legal Framework and Mechanisms on Violence Against Women

A) Americas: Convention of Belém do Pará (1994)

The Convention of Belém do Pará (1994) is the first binding instrument at an international or regional level to specifically recognize a woman’s right to be free from violence. The Convention entered into force on March 5, 1995. Thirty-two of the thirty-four member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) have ratified the Convention. (Only the United States and Canada have not). The Convention of Belém do Pará includes monitoring mechanisms.

B) Council of Europe: Convention of Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention)

The Convention opened for signature on May 11, 2011 and entered into force on 1 August 2014. It has been ratified by 20 Council of Europe Member States.

It requires States to take a broad range of measures to prevent VAWG, to protect victims and hold offenders accountable. Its scope covers all forms of violence against women and domestic violence and is applicable at all times - during peace.

It establishes to mechanisms to address its implementation: Group of Experts on the Subject of Violence Against Women (GREVIO).

C) Africa: Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)

The Maputo Protocol entered into force in 2005, it specifically and expansively requires States parties to enact and implement legislation prohibiting violence against women and directs States to “adopt such […] measures as may be necessary to ensure the prevention, punishment and eradication of all forms of violence against women”.

The African system has three mechanisms that address implementation of the Maputo Protocol – the African Commission, the African Court and the Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights in Africa.

After mentioning the global and regional framework let me stress that we must try to achieve synergies between the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPA), the CEDAW Convention and its OP, the DEVAW, the UNSCR 1325 and regional instruments on violence against women, to achieve their full implementation and reach the elimination of VAWG.

Here, I would like to call all States present at this conference to consider the ratification of the OP to the CEDAW Convention and withdrawal the remaining reservations to the CEDAW Convention as well as the ratification of the Maputo protocol in order to further strengthen their normative level and implementation of global and regional provisions for protection of women and girls against VAW.

Let me now briefly mention some of the good practices on VAWG that are relevant for law enforcement officers:

  • improved participation of women in police forces - much more need to be done;
  • law enforcement in collaboration with service providers to victims;
  • use of evidence-based lethality assessments to curb domestic violence-related femicides;
  • improved forensic medical examinations for sexual assault victims;
  • investigation and prosecution policies and practices that focus on the victim and prevention of re-victimization;
  • specialized law enforcement and prosecution units with increased participation of women;
  • enhanced offender monitoring;
  • improved training for law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges;
  • efforts to eliminate gender stereotypes in approach to victims / survivors of VAWG.

Another good practice is the collection of data on VAWG and the use of such data to prevent and combat VAWG. Let me recall that the Kigali Declaration calls States to: (10) Improve the quality of gender-disaggregated data collection by security organs for its use in policy formulation, decision-making and programming.

Now is time to use such data as a tool for prevention of VAWG.  

Last year, on 25 November 2015, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, I called on all the States to establish a ‘Femicide Watch’, and to focus on the prevention of gender-related killing of women, and to publish data on femicides on each 25 November.

Now at the eve of the International Women's a Day, I would like to repeat that call and invite all States that participate to this conference to establish a Femicide Watch.

Data on the number of femicides or gender-related killing of women should be yearly collected and published, disaggregated by age and sex of the perpetrators, and should include  the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim or victims, if any and information concerning the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators.

Furthermore, each case of gender-related killing of women should be carefully analyzed to identify any failure of protection in view of improving and developing further preventive measures. In the collection, analysis and publication of such data, States should cooperate with NGOs and independent human rights institutions working in this field, academia victim’s representatives, as well as relevant international organizations and other stakeholders.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I hope that the review of results achieved and challenges encountered in implementing the Kigali Declaration could be used as a good practice and impetus for the elaboration of the global code of conduct for law enforcement or security officers dealing with VAWG. I plan to focus on this among the priorities of my mandate.

I thank you for your attention.