The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women takes place this year at a time when we are also marking the tenth anniversary of the Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted by the General Assembly in 1993. This triple anniversary provides both an opportunity to assess progress achieved in the advancement of women’s rights and the actions still required to meet the challenges ahead. The Vienna World Conference was a watershed for women’s human rights. It acknowledged that “women’s rights are human rights”. Shortly after the Vienna Conference, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing adopted a Platform for Action which remains a crucial landmark in the recognition of women’s human rights. Some progress has been made in the development of human rights standards at the international, regional and national levels. A recent example is the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which received its 40th ratification at the end of September and will come into force on 26 December 2003. However, despite international commitments made by Governments to end violence against women, it remains an endemic crisis in all regions of the world. Governments must provide the leadership to make the end of violence against women a reality.
The challenge ahead is to implement these standards on the ground and to save women’s lives! This must be done through national human rights protection systems. Each country must strive to absorb and implement the international norms for the protection and promotion of women’s rights and freedoms. Each country's constitution and laws should be reflective of international human rights norms and its courts should be able to draw upon those laws. Each country must take every possible step, in consultation with human rights defenders, academics and other experts to prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women and provide support and remedies to victim-survivors of such violence. This duty to act with due diligence extends to violations by both State and non-State actors. Each country should provide human rights education, have specialized national human rights institutions, and should be monitoring the situation of women with a view to detecting key areas where resources are needed to prevent violations of their rights.
On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I call on all Member States which have not done so to ratify or accede to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and its protocol, and I urge governments and civil society alike to act on the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; other Special Procedures of the Commission on Human Rights; and the UN treaty bodies. Protecting the rights and interests of women has never been more urgent, and is the responsibility of all of us. We must work together to confront and erase this scourge inflicted upon half of humanity! Women’s lives depend upon it.
I make a special appeal for international mobilization against the trafficking in women. It is my strong hope that 2004 will see a rallying of conscience against this evil phenomenon.