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New laws needed urgently to tackle online violence against women and girls, says UN rights expert

Online violence against women

20 June 2018

GENEVA (20 June 2018) – States around the world must act urgently to introduce new legislation to stamp out online and information and communications technology (ICT) facilitated violence against women and girls, which is yet another way in which their human rights are being violated, a UN expert has said.

“New forms of internet-facilitated violence against women have been emerging, but most States still fail to recognise the problem in digital spaces as a ‘real’ form of violence,” said Dubravka Šimonović, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“There is now an urgent need for specialised national legislative and policy measures based on existing human rights instruments. Technology companies now have tools to empower women and girls to achieve a fuller realisation of all their human rights and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality and the elimination of all forms of gender-based discrimination and violence,” the expert pointed out.

“I believe there is a significant risk that the use of information and communications technology (ICT) without proper human rights-based protection could even widen sex and gender-based discrimination, and increase violence against women and girls,” she warned.

“Women victims and survivors need transparent and fast responses and effective remedies, which can be achieved only if both States and private authorities work together and exercise due diligence to eliminate online violence against women,” Ms Šimonović said.

“Particular attention should be paid to those categories of women who are notably a target of online violence, such as human rights defenders, those in politics, journalists, LGBT women, women and girls with disabilities, indigenous people and those from vulnerable groups,” she said.

“I call for the recognition of the principle that all human rights, including women’s rights, should be protected online, including the right to live free from violence, the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy and data protection.

“Intermediaries must uphold this principle and conduct due diligence and voluntarily accept and apply all core international human rights/women’s rights standards to their platforms,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“States have a responsibility and an obligation under due diligence to enact new laws and measures to prevent, protect, prosecute, punish and redress new emerging forms of online violence against women and girls.

“Such laws should be based on international women’s human rights laws, as outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination and all forms of Violence against Women, CEDAW, and other key international and regional instruments.

“As a matter of urgency, the international framework on the prohibition of violence against women should be applied to all forms of online violence against women and girls,” said the expert.

“I also call for cooperation between States, intermediaries, non-governmental organisations and national human rights institutions to ensure their actions against online violence complies with the international human rights framework,” emphasized Ms Šimonović .


Ms Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. Ms Šimonović was a member of the CEDAW Committee from 2002 to 2014. She headed the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, and finished her diplomatic career as Ambassador to the OSCE and UN in Vienna. She co-chaired the Ad hoc Committee (CAHVIO) of the Council of Europe that elaborated the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). She has a PhD in Family Law and has published books and articles on human rights and women’s rights.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: