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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue on violence against women, starts dialogue on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

7 July 2020

Concludes Interactive Dialogue on Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and Their Family Members

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. It also concluded an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, and then started an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Dubravka Simonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, urged the elaboration of a United Nations system-wide coordinated approach or strategy to combat and prevent violence against women, and the elaboration of a global implementation plan to eliminate violence against women. These proposals were even more relevant today, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Turning to her report on gender-based violence against women journalists, Ms. Simonovic noted that, in addition to killings, sexual violence, including sexual assault and rape, and in particular the threat of rape, continued to be used as a tool to discourage women journalists from working in the media. 

In the ensuing discussion, speakers firmly condemned all violence against women, and women journalists in particular, stating that the report painted a bleak picture of what women journalists faced on a daily basis. Women journalists were disproportionately targeted during elections, conflicts and other crises. Women journalists faced specific challenges, such as multiple intersecting discriminations and targeted harassment that had recently been spreading further on the Internet, with the COVID-19 crisis, leading to increased instances of intimidation and attacks against women journalists.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Finland on behalf of a group of countries, State of Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group, European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, Ecuador on behalf of a group of countries, UN Women, Liechtenstein, Canada, Paraguay, Qatar, Belgium, Russian Federation, Sovereign Order of Malta (video statement), Cuba, State of Palestine, Libya, Tunisia, France, Pakistan, Montenegro, Armenia, India, Philippines (video message), Australia, Iran, Malta, Mexico, Luxembourg, Brazil, Croatia, Czech Republic, Iraq, Netherlands, Lebanon, Greece, Ireland, Austria, Egypt, Maldives, Nepal, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Republic of Korea, Marshall Islands, Switzerland, Georgia, Albania, Ghana, Japan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cyprus, Cambodia, Chad, Jamaica, Morocco and Venezuela.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor : Right Livelihood Award Foundation, VIVAT International (joint statement), Edmund Rice International Limited, European Centre for Law and Justice / Centre Europeen pour le droit, les justice et les droits de l’homme, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (video message), Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - COC Nederland (video message), World Organization against Torture, Terra de Direitos (video message), and International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.

The Council then concluded the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. The interactive dialogue on leprosy started at a previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

In her concluding remarks, Alice Cruz, the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, emphasised that stereotypes and stigmatisation killed, as the suicide rate among persons with leprosy was high. This was even more regrettable given the frequent use of leprosy as a metaphor in public speeches by world leaders, particularly those from Europe.

The Council then began the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said he had decided to focus on practices known as “conversion therapy,” a term used to describe interventions that claimed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. All evidence indicated that practices of “conversion therapy” were the opposite of therapeutic to their victims. On the basis of the corpus iuris of international human rights law, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz had concluded that they were inherently discriminatory, that they were cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and that depending on the severity of physical or mental pain and suffering inflicted to the victims, they may amount to torture. He spoke about his mission to Ukraine.

Ukraine took the floor as a concerned country.

Speaking in right of reply were Brazil, Malaysia, Chile, China, Republic of Korea and Japan. 

The Council will next meet on Wednesday, 8 July, at 9 a.m. to hold a panel discussion on new digital technologies, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on internally displaced persons. It will continue the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity on Wednesday afternoon.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on Combating violence against women journalists (A/HRC/44/52).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on the Visit to Bulgaria (A/HRC/44/52/Add.1).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on the Visit to Ecuador (A/HRC/44/52/Add.2).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members on the Policy framework for rights-based action plan (A/HRC/44/46).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, urged the elaboration of a United Nations system-wide coordinated approach or strategy to combat and prevent violence against women, and the elaboration of a global implementation plan to eliminate violence against women. These proposals were even more relevant today, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. She called upon all States to ensure that any measures taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic were gendered and aligned with their human rights obligations on combatting and preventing gender-based violence against women and girls. Access to 24/7 help lines, and protection orders, (including e-protection orders), to shelters or other safe places and services, should all be made available and be integrated into, and adapted to, the COVID-19 pandemic response. 

Turning to gender-based violence against women journalists, Ms. Simonovic noted that, since 1992, 96 women journalists had been killed. In addition to killings, sexual violence, including sexual assault and rape, and in particular the threat of rape, continued to be used as a tool to discourage them from working in the media. They were expected to fit into stereotyped roles and sexualized images of women and to operate within unequal power relationships between men and women in the media world. When journalists were indigenous women, women belonging to minorities, and/or lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex women, they may face increased intersectional discrimination and gender-based violence. 

On her visit to Bulgaria, she noted that the State had developed a progressive framework on women’s rights and the elimination of discrimination and violence against women. However, there had been pushbacks on women’s rights in the country and an ongoing “anti-gender” campaign that had led to the failure to ratify the Istanbul Convention. She called on the Government to counter the misinterpretation of the term “gender”, and to interpret, explain and promote the terms “gender” and “gender-based violence against women”. 

On her visit to Ecuador, she noted that the State had made considerable progress towards bringing domestic legislation into line with international human rights standards. However, under current criminal legislation, women and girls who underwent abortions, even in the case of rape and incest, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to two years. She encouraged the Government, amongst other recommendations, to repeal articles 149 and 150 of the Comprehensive Criminal Code.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Bulgaria, speaking as a concerned country, said it highly appreciated the work carried out by the various United Nations Special Procedures and had extended a standing open invitation to all Human Rights Council mandate holders. Core Bulgarian legislation warranted full parity between women and men and treated them equally in all spheres of life. Further work was needed to improve response to the issue of preventing and combatting domestic violence, as Bulgaria noted that a comprehensive package of measures for improving the mechanisms of preventing and combatting violence against women and children and domestic violence was being developed. In March this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Bulgaria also finalised its first National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security for the period of 2020-2025, developed with the participation of independent experts, academics and non-governmental organizations. Bulgaria appreciated the work of the Special Rapporteur, but noted that in the future relevant official statistical information should be reflected in the report to the same extent as data that was received from civil society organizations. 

Ecuador, speaking as a concerned country, expressed gratefulness for the recognition of Ecuador’s cooperation as well as the progress it had achieved. It was also worth noting that, through an executive order, Ecuador had confirmed its commitment to meet Sustainable Development Goal number 5, notably concerning violence against women. Ecuador endeavoured to mainstream a gender focus across its policies so as to protect and effectively safeguard women’s rights. As the report and this statement attested, there was a will on the part of the Government and other State institutions to fully meet their constitutional and international obligations related to violence against women. Ecuador, nevertheless, acknowledged that persistent challenges remained, and it therefore took note of the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and reiterated its commitment to improve and implement its existing framework to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers firmly condemned all violence against women, and women journalists in particular, stating that the report painted a bleak picture of what women journalists faced on a daily basis. Women journalists were disproportionately targeted during elections, conflicts and other crises. The international community must redouble its efforts to protect them via the adoption of relevant international and national legislation such as the Istanbul Convention, fostering public-private cooperation and raising awareness of the harmful stereotypes that fuelled discrimination. Women journalists faced specific challenges, such as multiple intersecting discrimination and targeted harassment that had recently been spreading further on the Internet, with the COVID-19 crisis leading to increased instances of intimidation and attacks against women journalists. Speakers noted increased online harassment in particular, seeking information from the Special Rapporteur on the ways in which States could work with Internet intermediaries to fight online abuse. The provision of training programmes for police, prosecutors and judges was noted as an especially powerful tool that could foster a safer environment for women journalists. Other speakers noted that attempts to push the topic of women into various human rights dimensions, such as attacks against journalists, were not productive, given that women journalists faced the same type of harassment that was aimed at women in general. Multiple speakers brought up the importance of fighting harassment at the workplace, seeking information on the policies that States could institute to facilitate a more equal and safe working environment for women journalists.

Interim Remarks

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said the COVID-19 pandemic had had an impact on her work, forcing her to conduct meetings online, for instance. The report she would present to the General Assembly this fall would deal with the pandemic and domestic violence. Underlining the importance of the role of women journalists to foster the enjoyment of the freedom of expression, she called for a better use of human rights instruments to protect them. Ms. Simonovic drew attention to online violence that targeted women working in media, and added that early warning systems could be of use, and that States had an important role to play.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers noted that while journalists were targets of violence, women journalists faced further discriminations due to their gender, as well as another layer of discrimination specifically at their workplace. Speakers reiterated the report’s call for the creation of a femicide watch or a gender-related killing of women watch, given the increased instances of killings of women journalists. It was also important to note that attacks and threats of attacks against women journalists were designed to silence women from participating in the public sphere, thus reinforcing the male-dominated nature of public discourse and limiting diversity in the media. The negative impact of increasing levels of domestic violence due to COVID-19 on women journalists further highlighted the breadth of intersectional discriminations they faced. The report’s recommendations to set up mechanisms for rapid interventions such as online emergency platforms that were available 24 hours per day were particularly welcomed. Speakers also asked the Special Rapporteur about the ways in which States could better protect the human rights of freelance and independent women journalists. Some speakers regretted that the report did not address root causes of attacks against women journalists such as patriarchy, militarism, conflict and a lack of access to justice. Specific references to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women journalists in the report were especially welcomed by speakers due to the particular danger they faced in their work, existing at an intersection of discriminations due to their gender and sexuality. 

Concluding Remarks

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said violence against women journalists was happening in the context of a larger pandemic of gender-based violence against women, which had been compounded by COVID-19, and made evident pre-existing gaps. This situation called for a United Nations system-wide approach.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy

The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, started at a previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Concluding Remarks

ALICE CRUZ, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, in concluding remarks, thanked Brazil and Japan for their positive reception of her recommendations. Persons affected by leprosy must be recognised as experts in the disease, promoting their participation in the processes that affected their lives. Formal equality in law could result in increasing inequalities when there was a failure of recognition of the many specific inequalities. Ms. Cruz stated that the World Health Organization had informed her that sanctions caused a disruption of supply of required medicines for leprosy patients, a situation further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stereotypes and stigmatisation killed, as the suicide rate among persons with leprosy was high. This was even more regrettable given the frequent use of leprosy as a metaphor in public speeches by world leaders, particularly those from Europe. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The Council had before it the Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity on Practices of so-called “conversion therapy” (A/HRC/44/53).

The Council had before it the Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity on the Visit to Ukraine (A/HRC/44/53/Add.1).

The Council had before it the Comments by the State on the Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity on his visit to Ukraine (A/HRC/44/53/Add.2).

Presentation of Reports by the Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

VICTOR MADRIGAL-BORLOZ, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said he had decided to focus on practices known as “conversion therapy,” a term used to describe interventions that claimed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The validity of practices that claimed to attain “conversion” had been constantly debunked by the scientific community. Persuasive evidence attested that they were, in many cases, a lucrative business for providers around the world. The combined effects of feeling powerless and extreme humiliation generated profound feelings of shame, guilt, self-disgust, and worthlessness, which could result in a damaged self-concept and enduring personality changes. 

Children and youth were particularly vulnerable, as early exposure to such interventions was significantly associated with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. All evidence indicated that practices of “conversion therapy” were the opposite of therapeutic to their victims. On the basis of the corpus iuris of international human rights law, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz had concluded that they were inherently discriminatory, that they were cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and that depending on the severity of physical or mental pain and suffering inflicted to the victim, they may amount to torture. 

Turning to his visit to Ukraine, the Independent Expert said he had been encouraged by the legal and historical developments of the promotion and protection of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans persons. He, however, noted his concern about the role played by Orthodox churches and religious leaders as well as extreme right-wing groups in demonizing and portraying lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans persons as sinful, immoral and unpatriotic. This was a debate that must be informed by evidence and human rights approaches, and he sincerely hoped that his recommendations would be useful in that connection.

Statement by Concerned Country

Ukraine, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Independent Expert for his commitment. Ukraine paid particular attention to the issue of protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2017, the position of the Government Commissioner for Gender Equality was introduced in Ukraine and in 2015, the National Strategy for Human Rights was approved, and the National Action Plan thereof identified measures to enhance the protection from violence and discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community. A number of recent reforms had positively impacted the access to health care services by trans persons. The Ministry of Education had taken measures to counter discrimination and increase tolerance in schools, including through the revision of textbooks, the appointment of advisers on gender equality and non-discrimination in each oblast, the introduction of training sessions on these issues in schools, and taking steps to combat bullying. As it was pointed out in the report, in recent years there had been a steady improvement in the public perception of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Ukrainian society. Ukraine noted that reports of increased violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, as well as of the homophobic propaganda being spread in Crimea and Donbas, provided evidence of the atmosphere of fear and terror reigning in the occupied territories due to the actions of the occupying power.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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