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20th Session of the Human Rights Council Discusses Women’s Human Rights

arton3983In 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Counciladopted resolution 6/30on the need for gender equality and the full implementation of the human rights of women. Since then, the Council holds a full day of discussion on women’s rights every year. This year, the first portion of the meeting was dedicated to remedies and reparations for women who have been subjected to violence, while the second portion focused on women human rights defenders.

Remedies and reparations for women who have been subjected to violence

According to the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, States have an obligation to provide just and effective remedies for people who have experienced such violations, including women affected by violence. As part of the1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the General Assembly called on States to develop “penal, civil, labour and administrative sanctions in domestic legislation to punish and redress the wrongs caused to women who are subjected to violence” and to “ensure that women who are subjected to violence are informed about and provided with access to the mechanisms of justice and to just and effective remedies for the harm that they have suffered.”

In 1994, the formerUN Commission on Human Rightsappointed aSpecial Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. This function is currently filled byRashida Manjoo. In herreportto the Human Rights Council, Ms. Manjoo highlighted that reparations should have a transformative potential in order to subvert rather than reinforce pre-existing patterns of cross-cultural structural subordination, gender hierarchies, systemic marginalization and inequalities at the root of violence against women. The remedies and reparations cannot simply be about returning women to the situation in which they were found before the individual instance of violence.

Ms. Manjoo served as the moderator for the Human Rights Council panel on violence against women. The panel took the format of interactive discussion between panelists, Member States and observers, including civil society and other stakeholders and provided an opportunity to assess to what extent existing efforts and experiences address the issues identified by the Special Rapporteur and what are important challenges and obstacles. The panelists included Farida Shaheed,Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Carla Ferstman, Director ofREDRESS; Chris Dolan, Director ofRefugee Law Project; and Patricia Guerrero fromLa Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas. TheUN High Commissioner for Human Rightsgave the opening statement for the session, advising the Council to send a strong message that gender-based violence in all its forms is unacceptable. During the interactive discussion, theUN High Commissioner for Refugeesreminded the Council that out of 42 million forcibly displaced people, 49% are women and girls and sexual and gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive issues they suffer from.Movement Mondial des Mères International(MMMI) denounced the difficult situation faced by many mothers with displaced families in the Middle East, while Iran proposed innovative remedies for women and children suffering from violence in the context of armed conflict and suggested defining new culturally and religiously sensitive principles to combat violence against women. An important concern was raised by theWomen’s International League for Peace and Freedom(WILPF) that the almost exclusive focus on sexual violence against women serves to reinforce gender stereotypes of women as victims and objects of male protection.

During the closing remarks, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights reminded that one size may not fit all and different kind of reparations and interventions may be needed in different cultural contexts. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women concluded by stressing that, most importantly, the right to remedy and restitution must include guarantees of non-repetition.

Women human rights defenders

The second panel of the annual discussion on women’s rights took place in the morning of 26 June and dealt with issues facing women human rights defenders. Women human rights defenders (HRDs) as defined by women human rights defenders organizations and theSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, include "both women active in human rights defence who are targeted for who they are, as well as all those active in the defence of women’s rights who are targeted for what they do." The nature of violations committed against women HRDs is often a manifestation of discrimination and gender inequality. Women HRDs face threats, stigma, arbitrary arrest and detention, violence, including sexual violence and rape, and even death as a result of their work to promote and protect fundamental human rights.

The panelists for this session were Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs; Sunila Abeysekera,International Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders; José de Jésus Orozco, Rapporteur on human rights defenders,Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; and Nazar Abdelgadir from theGeneva Institute for Human Rights. Human Rights Council PresidentLaura Lasserre Dupuymoderated the interactive discussion. In her opening remarks, Ms. Dupuy said that today’s panel would focus on the effectiveness of mechanisms established by States to protect women human rights defenders. The Council hoped that there would be recommendations on the protection of HRDs, including engagement with international and regional human rights protection mechanisms.

The discussion centered on best practice examples and the creation of national legislation and international mechanisms to protect women HRDs. The delegation of Austria underscored the particular risks women journalists and media professionals working on human rights issues appeared to be exposed to as a result of their work. Mr. Orozco said that in the Americas public hearings were an instrument that had been useful for addressing the issue of human rights defenders, but was not used by the United Nations system. Multiple discussants and panelists also emphasized the importance of the fight against impunity for those violating the rights of women HRDs. In closing, Ms. Abeysekeranotedthe inadequacy of existing norms and standards for holding non-State actors accountable for violations against human rights defenders and hoped that the international community would work to change this.

Side event on "Women Human Rights Defenders" (WHRD)

On 19 June, on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council, the EU delegation to the UN and the Mission of Brazil also joint hands and organizedan eventon “Women Human Rights Defenders,” to discuss the challenges that women human rights defenders face various contexts (national, regional and international), and to identify solutions and best practices to overcome such challenges.

The event, moderated by Andrea Rocca, Head of Protection atFront Line Defenders, featured Maina Kiai,Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mariangela Zappia, EU Ambassador; Maria Nazareth Farani Azevêdo, Ambassador of Brazil; Naly Pilorge, Director of theCambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rightsand Inmaculada Barcia, International Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders.

At the event, Ms. Zappiahighlightedthat “The issue of WHRDs has multiple dimensions. To begin with, we must recognize women and their right to defend human rights, thereby acknowledging that WHRDs are not necessarily women working exclusively on women’s issues. In this line, we must acknowledge that the term ‘WHRD’ is all-encompassing, thereby recognising the broad array of actors included in this group. We must further consider the ‘gender-specific’ nature of the violence that WHRDs can face.” She underlined the EU’s commitment to help defend the rights of WHRD, including through the EU’sGuidelines on Human Rights Defendersand concluded by proposing some steps to address some of the shortcoming in the protection of WHRDs, including identifying how the Human Rights Council could be used as a framework to address the challenges of WHRD as well as concrete actions in this regard; identifying how UN Women can help better promote and protect the human rights of WHRDs; improving monitoring and documentation; examining the role that men can play in their protection; and promoting and giving visibility to the work of WHRDs.


This article is also available in Spanish and in French.

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