Impunity for domestic violence, ‘honour killings’ cannot continue – UN official

4 March 2010 – So-called ‘honour killings’ are an extreme symptom of discrimination against women, which – including other forms of domestic violence – is a plague that affects every country, the United Nations human rights chief says, calling on governments to tackle impunity for this crime.

“The reality for most victims, including victims of honour killings, is that State institutions fail them and that most perpetrators of domestic violence can rely on a culture of impunity for the acts they commit – acts which would often be considered as crimes, and be punished as such, if they were committed against strangers,” states High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

In a statement issued today ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day, which is observed annually on 8 March, Ms. Pillay notes that traditionally, there has been some debate around the issue of State responsibility for acts committed in the private sphere.

“Some have argued, and continue to argue, that family violence is placed outside the conceptual framework of international human rights,” she says.

“However, under international laws and standards, there is a clear State responsibility to uphold women’s rights and ensure freedom from discrimination, which includes the responsibility to prevent, protect and provide redress – regardless of sex, and regardless of a person’s status in the family.”

It has been estimated that as many as one in three women across the world has been beaten, raped or otherwise abused during the course of her lifetime. And the most common source of such violence, Ms. Pillay states, comes from within the family, and amongst the most extreme forms of abuse is what is known as ‘honour killing.’

“Most of the 5,000 honour killings reported to take place every year around the world do not make the news, nor do the other myriad forms of violence inflicted on women and girls by husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles and other male – and sometimes even female – family members.

“In the name of preserving family ‘honour,’ women and girls are shot, stoned, burned, buried alive, strangled, smothered and knifed to death with horrifying regularity.”

The UN human rights chief points out that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that in a number of countries’ domestic legal systems, including through discriminatory laws, still fully or partially exempt individuals guilty of honour killings from punishment. Perpetrators may even be treated with admiration and given special status within their communities.

“Honour killings are, however, not something that can be simply brushed aside as some bizarre and retrograde atrocity that happens somewhere else,” she adds. “They are an extreme symptom of discrimination against women, which – including other forms of domestic violence – is a plague that affects every country.”

Addressing the UN observance of International Women’s Day in New York yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out that injustice and discrimination against women persist around the world, manifesting in violence in some cases.

Over two thirds of women experience violence in their lifetime, most commonly at the hands of an intimate partner. “We sometimes hear it said that such practices are a matter of culture,” the Secretary-General said, strongly emphasizing that “they are not.”

In a related development, the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) today announced that it has recorded 183,132 actions to end violence against women through its Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence against Women initiative, surpassing the initial goal for Say NO of stimulating more than 100,000 actions by International Women’s Day.

Launched in November 2009 as a web platform to facilitate, showcase and count efforts to address gender-based violence by individuals, governments and civil society, Say NO is a direct contribution to the Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign.

Also today, UNIFEM launched a Global Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. The one-stop centre will support practitioners around the world in effective design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes.

The web-based site brings together lessons learned to date and recommended practices gleaned from initiatives on ending violence against women and girls, whether originating from the women’s movement, civil society organizations, governments, the UN system or other actors.


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