HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS CALLS FOR ACTION AGAINST IMPUNITY FOR VIOLENCE AFECTING WOMEN AND GIRLS
Message of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour on the occasion of International Women’s Day, 8 March 2007:
I am honoured to convey this International Women’s Day message to the billions of women around the world who struggle daily in the home, the workplace and the community for a life of dignity and freedom. As with other commemorations of its kind, there has always been a tension about whether International Women’s Day is a time for celebration or a day for protest. It should be all of these things: a time to reflect on the progress achieved in claiming women’s rights through much sacrifice and the occasion to reject continuing inequality and the denial of rights. This year, we are putting the spotlight on a denial of women’s rights of pandemic proportion: violence against women and girls and the impunity that makes it possible.
Violence against women is rightly termed the most common but least punished crime in the world. A recent World Health Organization study found that 23 to 49 per cent of women suffered violence at the hands of their intimate partners in most of the 71 countries surveyed. UNICEF has reported that 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 5,000 women die every year in “honour” killings perpetrated by family members. And it is estimated that less than 5 per cent of rape prosecutions lead to convictions globally, partly because the majority of cases place emphasis on the conduct of the woman and not on that of the perpetrator.
These figures paint only part of the picture, as comprehensive information on violence and abuse against women is hard to collect. To this day women are stigmatized when they speak out, or they face retribution. Often, violence against women is widely accepted as an ordinary and even inevitable occurrence, and thus deemed unworthy of action and remedy. And while rape, genital mutilation, spousal and domestic abuse, and certain traditional punishments, such as stoning and burning, grab the occasional headline and provoke outrage, female infanticide, and systematic neglect of girls all too frequently go unnoticed or are left unaddressed.
The paradox is that most States have largely accepted the international normative framework aimed at preventing, tackling and punishing discrimination and violence against women. Crucially, they recognize that women’s equality and entitlements are human rights, thus empowering women to become active right-holders and claimants, rather than passive beneficiaries of discretionary policies. Many countries, however, have not matched this progress in international law with implementation, policy and practice, particularly where it matters the most, that is, in the daily lives of women around the world.
There is nothing inevitable regarding violence against women. In contrast, ample evidence confirms that promoting and defending women’s human rights advances society as a whole. What we need now is decisive leadership and a sustained commitment to put an end to this intolerable violence and bring those who perpetrate it to justice.
UNITED NATIONS INDEPENDENT EXPERTS DEMAND END TO IMPUNITY
FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
On the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March), the Special
Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence against
Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur on
Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Sigma Huda, and the
Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, issued the
“The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, “Ending Impunity for
Violence against Women and Girls” is on target when we consider that
impunity for the perpetrators of violence against women remains the norm,
not the exception in many parts of the world.
In many cases, impunity prevails because States are reluctant to prosecute
their own agents who commit crimes against women. Women who are detained in
prisons, police stations or deportation centres for undocumented migrants
are of particular concern as they are at risk of extreme forms of abuse and
exploitation. In some countries, women who stand up and publicly defend
gender equality and women’s rights are also beaten and arbitrarily arrested
by state agents.
Worldwide, violence against women perpetrated by private persons not only
escapes punishment but continues to be condoned and justified as a private
matter. According to international human rights law, States are under an
obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish
acts of violence against women, whether the acts themselves were
perpetrated by State agents or private persons. This means, for one, that
states have to criminalize all forms of violence against women, including
trafficking in women, marital rape and other forms of domestic violence,
harmful practices, forced evictions from homes and lands as well as abuse
and harassment in the workplace. Moreover, they must also scrupulously
enforce these laws.
In situations of armed conflict, women are frequently raped or used as
sexual slaves in complete impunity. However, it is encouraging that the
international community no longer accepts violence against women to be an
inevitable consequence of war. The tide is slowly turning. The
International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda both
successfully prosecuted and convicted organizers of mass rape. Most
recently, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
requested the Court to summon a militia commander on the basis of charges
of war crimes and crimes against humanity, alleging, among other things,
that the commander had personally inspected a group of naked women before
they were raped by men under his command.
Ending impunity is not only a matter of criminal laws and punishment.
Women’s empowerment must also be supported through effective access to
justice and critical resources. Women cannot resist violence if they lack
the political, economic, social and cultural rights to enable them to
protect themselves against abuse, sue the perpetrators for compensation or
seek other civil remedies. Women that cannot exercise their right to
adequate housing, land, property and inheritance, for instance, will often
not dare to denounce a violent husband or influential family member,
knowing that such an action will most probably make them homeless. There is
also a need to examine and act upon some of the structural causes of
violence against women such as poverty, marginalisation and discrimination.
Ending impunity for crimes committed against women requires determination,
political will and joining forces with all stakeholders engaged in
combating violence against women at national and international levels. In a
globalised world where violence against women crosses borders, national
authorities must make joint efforts with civil society and their
counterparts in other countries in order to enhance the effectiveness of
efforts to end impunity and protect the rights of women. This is a common
interest and shared obligation as ending violence against women would mean
a step forward in greater emancipation for everyone.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we call on States to take all
necessary measures to end impunity for violence against women and girls and
live up to their obligations under international law, in particular under
the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against
Women, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination
against Women and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
EQUALITY, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE MEANS ENDING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Read the statement on the UNIFEM website here.
MESSAGE FROM MR KOÏCHIRO MATSUURA, DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF UNESCO ON THE OCCASION OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
Read the statement here.
ADDRESS BY MR. JUAN SOMAVIA, DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL LABOUR OFFICE ON THE OCCASION OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
Read the statement here.
STATEMENT BY DR MARGARET CHAN, WHO DIRECTOR-GENERAL, ON THE OCCASION OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
Read the statement on the WHO website here.
For Statements from the panelists, please see the Commemoration page.