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Special Rapporteur on violence against women calls on States to address socio-cultural factors
Friday, 13 July 2012 13:25


The annual reports submitted by the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women, and on independence of judges and lawyers, Ms Rashida Manjoo and Ms Gabriela Knaul, were presented to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 25 June, in a clustered interactive dialogue. Knaul’s report studied the professional independence of judges and lawyers - in particular prosecutors - whilst Manjoo’s report analysed the phenomenon of violence against women.[1]


Special Rapporteur Knaul opened the session by giving a brief presentation of her report. The report’s focus is on prosecutors and the safeguards required to ensure an objective and impartial functioning of prosecution services. It also examined the line between the need for accountability in the discharge of a prosecutor’s functions, which include protecting human rights, and how to ensure his or her independence and freedom from fear, pressure, threats, or favour. She highlighted the obligation of States to provide these necessary safeguards to enable prosecutors to perform their functions in an objective, impartial, and independent manner.


Ms Knaul also noted more generally her concern about reprisals against judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other actors from the judicial system who cooperate, or seek to cooperate, with UN and regional human rights mechanisms, including through their role in implementing decisions taken by those mechanisms. She offered the President of the Council her full support in calling for all acts of reprisals to be investigated, prosecuted, and perpetrators punished, in particular when those acts are aimed at actors from the judicial system.


Rashida Manjoo’s report pays special attention to the rising number of gender-related killings of women worldwide. The Special Rapporteur noted that the terms ‘femicide’ and ‘feminicide’, as opposed to more neutral words such as homicide, capture not only the killing itself, but also the impunity and institutional violence aspects of such crimes. She described femicide as ‘a State crime tolerated by public institutions and officials – due to the inability to prevent, protect, and guarantee the lives of women’. She noted several different kinds of gender-related killings, including honour-related killings dowry-related killings, and sexual orientation and gender identity-related killings. She added that it was important to disaggregate data about killings by factors including sexual orientation, race, and economic status, in order to establish systemic patterns behind the violence.


The Special Rapporteur also referred to a previous report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, on women defenders, noting that this group is perceived as challenging cultural and social norms, including about femininity and sexual orientation, as a result of which they are at risk of suffering violence and other violations. Several ways of modifying gender norms, such as increasing the number of women in education and in public institutions, were then elaborated upon by the Special Rapporteur.


The dialogue, whilst genial and constructive, tended to concentrate on States’ national strategies. There were, however, a few States that raised challenges to the mandate holders. The Egyptian delegation in particular categorically rejected the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, claiming this notion falls outside of international human rights law. The delegate warned that inclusion of this concept could create division, and hinder the creation of the consensus required to end violence against women. While the State added that combating violence against women requires challenging ‘the persisting misinterpretation of cultural, religious and societal norm and traditions which may result in sustained discrimination against women and by inference may lead to violence’ it rejected the direct link made by the Special Rapporteur between discrimination against women and girls, and killings.


Brazil, the Holy See, and the United States (US) brought up the subject of women human rights defenders. The Holy See began by stressing the ‘importance of women’s roles in the family’, and women, ‘as spouses and mothers, as fundamental to the preservation of the institution of family and therefore society’. It added, however, that women needed to be protected from violence in particular in unstable, violent situations, and noted its special concern in these contexts for women human rights defenders. Further it stated that ‘judicial impunity, cultural and social norms that tolerate discrimination and fail to address violent acts…must be addressed and rejected’. The US noted the important role that civil society organisations have to play in changing social perceptions of women. Brazil divulged its own efforts to protect women human rights defenders with its federal protection programme. Since February this year two human rights defenders had been taken into protective care.


Almost every State voiced their deep concern at the increasing trend of violence against women. Jordan, on behalf of the Arab Group, informed the Council about best practices enacted by the Arab Group’s member States. The Organisation of Arab Women and the Arab League have contrived a strategy to fight violence against women, which involves helping Arab States to establish their own national action plans. The initiative - designed to reform legal, administrative, and cultural institutions - would provide preventative protection,[2] data collection, as well as follow-up to cases and evaluation for the women involved. Jordan, also responding to the visit of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women to the country, further described its creation of both a Minister of State for Women and the establishment of a national strategy for women. These initiatives were set up in response to the nation’s culture of honour killings. On average each year 25 females are killed as a result of ‘honour’ attacks in Jordan.


Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, which had each received visits from the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, praised Knaul’s reports, before mentioning some of the recommendations which they had already implemented. Bulgaria’s creation of a special office for organised crime and Romania’s extensive judicial reform both stood out as examples of implemented recommendations.

[1] Manjoo’s report analysed the causal link between violence against women, and the killing of women. She suggests that there is a direct correlation between the two.

[2]           These include shelters and free legal assistance


Last Updated on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:26

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