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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Panel discussion on "Gender integration and human rights investigations: strengthening a victim-centred approach"

Gender in human rights investigations

24 September 2018

Statement by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore

24 September 2018

Friends and colleagues,

It is a pleasure to join these distinguished panellists and we owe a debt of gratitude to the sponsors for the topic that convenes us here.

Integration of a gender perspective in all human rights work is simply essential but in the realm of human rights investigation specifically, gender sensitivity helps broadens the reach of rights protection, opens new windows of understanding of the human impacts of rights violations and enables methodological advances in relevance, accuracy and comprehensiveness.

It’s as critical as the act of documentation itself.

Without explicit, disciplined and quality-assured efforts for integration of attention to gender, we cannot, do not, depict accurately, inclusively, those whose human rights have been violated; nor do we reveal the full nature, extent and consequences of discrimination, exclusion, persecution and violence.

Absent efforts for gender integration, sexual violence was missing in accounts of civilian impacts of conflict; rape was not recognised for the weapon of war that is proven to be and, in the non-conflict domains too – the human rights abuses of domestic violence, marital rape, child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, deliberate deprivation of essential sexual and reproductive health were not recognised for what they are – breaches of human rights.

Moving further into a more inclusive understanding of the price exacted by deprivation of human rights and by failures to protect them, is an ongoing responsibility. For there are a forms of violence including those that worsen in times of crisis, where our understanding, recognition and appreciation is impeded when gender is not integrated: assaults against LGBTI people for example; killings of survivors of sexual violence (so-called, perversely “honour” killings); child and forced marriages; attacks on female human rights defenders, activists and journalists – attacks that are directed at women simply for challenging social norms or for speaking out against gender inequality and injustice.

Preventing, recognising, documenting and denouncing human rights abuses is an incomplete and even biased project when gender sensitivity is missing and when the impacts of intersectionality are ignored. Investigations that overlook the ways in which gender, other identities and the associated social norms serve to aggravate, falsely “normalise”, hide, even excuse human rights impacts, cannot be accepted.

Gender identity and status matters. For example, women subjected to discrimination in matters related to nationality are at greater risk of becoming stateless when crises arise. Women facing discrimination in their access to natural resources, or to resources that enable them to generate an income, face a disproportionate impact if displaced or caught up in conflict – and, of course, these are contexts where women and girls already bear the brunt of the human rights impact.

Without more inclusive perspectives driving the gathering of human rights data and informing human rights inquiry, fact finding will not lead to fully fact-based recommendations. Inclusive fact finding allows for fuller inclusion of gender considerations and gender sensitive solutions within the recommendations of investigative bodies, including those that are mandated by this Council.


We should heed the increasingly insistent calls for a more holistic, inclusive and comprehensive approach to human rights investigations – approaches that capture not only directly what acts of cruelty are directed against those in crisis or conflict, but captures too their context beforehand, and what will be their context afterwards.

Context sensitive analysis is essential if we are to calibrate more accurately our understanding of the impact of human rights abuses on human lives and in order to arrive at recommendations that when implemented, can truly maximise the chances that victim/survivors can access in a continuing, sustainable way the care and services to which they are entitled.

Important questions must be considered if we are to avoid rendering the fuller experience of women and girls, in particular, invisible.

How do our mandates frame those that are in their focus: frame their rights and needs? Are their larger socio-political contexts considered? Are there distortions within the prevailing methodological assumptions that deny or impede inclusive focus on those subjected to human rights abuse? Who are we interviewing and how? Are we considering the ways pre-existing social status, including discriminatory status, may further complicate the impacts of violations? Have we taken into account the potential impacts of further discrimination, including persistent discriminatory social roles, on recovery, reparation and remedy when forging recommendations?

We must extract our methodologies, mandates and measures from the narrower and silo-ed thinking of the past and reset them for inclusion. For example, when human rights investigations examine the serious violations that lead to massive displacement, root cause analysis may not be sufficient – the consequences of the violations for families, communities and the larger population must be assessed too.

Our investigations must broaden in their scope to deepen in their inclusion. What this wider approach can reveal that would otherwise remain unseen is starkly evident in respect to violations of sexual and reproductive health and rights. When women die in pregnancy or childbirth, or following an unsafe abortion, because essential services are lacking, or referral pathways are inadequate, their deaths, being preventable, when seen though an inclusive frame, are revealed to be possible violations of the right to life. In such contexts, investigative bodies that adopt an integrated approach can reveal the specificities of violations to which women are especially subjected and on that basis also recommend measures to ensure women’s rights to justice, remedy and reparation are considered too and their rights to sexual and reproductive services are – in the future – fully respected, protected and fulfilled.

The High Commissioner’s most recent report on preventable maternal mortality, presented to the Council at this session, includes a call for sexual and reproductive health and rights to be part of the mandates of investigative bodies – that would be a major step forward. With estimated 60 per cent of preventable maternal deaths occurring in settings of conflict, displacement and natural disasters, the Council’s continued focus on humanitarian settings in its related guidance and attention, is also very welcome.


It is the job of human rights investigations to listen to and amplify victims’ and witnesses’ accounts, to understand their circumstances, and to affirm their humanity even in the midst of great inhumanity. In these functions and responsibilities, there can be no haven given to stereotypes.

To this end, we have made significant progress. In partnership with UN Women and Justice Rapid Response, since 2012, each human rights investigation has included at least one gender advisor, or a sexual and gender-based violence investigator. All seven of the investigative bodies that the Office is currently supporting – for Myanmar, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Mali – have gender advisers.

Our Office will continue to work with our partners to consolidate and expand gender integration in human rights investigations so that a victim-centred approach is further strengthened.

Tomorrow, we will launch a publication setting out the related practical steps for investigative bodies. Later this week, we’ll hear from current and former gender advisers about their experiences and their analysis of remaining challenges, at a meeting co convened with Justice Rapid Response and UN Women.


What is clear however, is that more must be done if, in our joint human rights efforts, we too are to leave no one behind, to leave no one out.

Thank you.