4 March 2009
Deputy Secretary-General

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the joint dialogue of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, in New York, 4 March:

It is a great pleasure to be with you today.  This panel is confronting an issue to which I attach great importance: harnessing the power of law to stop the deadly scourge of violence against women.

Across the world -- in rich and poor countries alike -- women are being beaten, trafficked, raped and killed.  These human rights abuses afflict suffering on individuals while tearing at the fabric of entire societies.

The world is responding.  We see a growing global momentum to stop violence against women.  The Secretary-General launched a multi-year global campaign and is appealing to all partners to join forces to eliminate violence against women.

That campaign recognizes the power of the law.  One of its five key goals is for all countries to adopt and enforce laws to address and punish violence against women by the year 2015. 

Let me step back for a moment and reflect on my background as a lawyer.  Before I joined the United Nations, and even before I joined my country’s Government, I trained as a lawyer.  The knowledge I gained was meaningful, but it was my experiences while working with legal aid that showed me the power of law to alleviate human suffering.  I was privileged to be able to use the law to help women, men and children in need.  And I saw how this contributes to the greater public good.

The global movement to eliminate violence against women is also using the law as a tool for change.

A legal framework that ensures the promotion and protection of women’s rights is crucial.  Over the past two decades, many States have adopted or improved legislation to prevent and respond to violence against women.  States have adopted constitutional and legislative provisions to guarantee equality between women and men, and to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender.   Discriminatory provisions in civil, family and personal status laws are being repealed.

There are many examples of good practices for tackling violence against women through legislation.  Laws are in place that criminalize all forms of violence against women, ensure the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, help victims, and strengthen prevention.  Victims are also benefiting from civil remedies.

But there are important gaps.  States throughout the world are still failing to live up to their international obligations and commitments. Too many perpetrators are not held accountable.  Impunity persists.

Moreover, the law too often remains the problem rather than the solution.

The Secretary-General’s 2006 study found that many States have yet to adopt legislation that criminalizes all forms of violence against women.  Laws on domestic violence or on trafficking are not universally in place.  In too many places, marital rape is still not a prosecutable offence.  Perpetrators of rape who marry their victims can have their sentence reduced or mitigated; they may also invoke a defence of “honour” to justify acts of violence against women.  And definitions of rape still tend to be based on the use of force rather than the absence of consent.

Good legislation is essential.  But it is only one part of any holistic response.  Countries must enforce their laws and allocate resources to combat the problem.  Personnel and officials working in the field must have the skills, capacity and sensitivity to apply the spirit and letter of the law.  Above all, we can never allow violence against women to be dismissed as a private matter.  Just the opposite, we must harness the power of the State to punish and prevent all forms of violence against women.

Laws are also not enough to achieve lasting change.  We also need education.  We have to raise awareness and mobilize communities.  We have to confront discriminatory stereotypes and attitudes.  We need more research and knowledge.  And we need more political will and leadership.

I have great faith in the power of the law to help eliminate this scourge.  I know you do, too.  Let us translate our convictions into concrete actions.  Let us use the law to eliminate discrimination, promote gender equality and stop violence against women once and for all.

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For information media • not an official record