COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS CONTINUES DEBATE ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF WOMEN
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS CONTINUES DEBATE ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF WOMEN
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS CONTINUES DEBATE ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF WOMEN19990414 Non-Governmental Organizations Speak of Violence Against Women, Sexual Crimes in Armed Conflict, and Female Genital Mutilation
(Reissued as received.)
GENEVA, 14 April (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights this afternoon continued its debate on the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective and heard statements from non-governmental organizations (NGOS) on issues such as violence against women, the negative effects of globalization and external debt on women, sexual crimes in armed conflict, female genital mutilation and other discriminatory practices.
There were allegations of sexual abuse and rape by Government and police forces in conflict zones in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Burma, Indonesia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and India. The importance of the rehabilitation of these women was stressed as well as the need to provide them with compensation. In this context, speakers urged Japan to apologize to the "comfort women" who were the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery in wartime.
The sexual abuse of female prisoners, especially in the United States as documented in the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, was raised by NGOs. The plight of women at the hand of Islamic extremists, for example, in Afghanistan, Iran, and India was also noted. Speakers called for the adoption of laws and their implementation to ensure equality between the sexes.
Domestic violence against women was condemned. One NGO said 20 to 50 per cent of women were subjected to some degree of domestic violence during marriage. On the issue of female genital mutilation, it said two million women suffered every year from this practice. Many stressed the importance of education of women which would help promote their position in society and prevent the many violations against them.
NGOs who spoke on various aspects of the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective include: The Worldview International Federation, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the International Educational Development, The Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America (CODEHUCA), International Human Rights Law Group, International Women's Tribune Centre, Society for Threatened Peoples, The International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations (IIFSO), Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation, Andean Commission of Jurists, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Asian Women's Human rights Council, Human Rights Advocates, National Union of Tunisian Women, International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, International Institute for Peace, Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization, Third World Movement Against Exploitation of Women, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation, Association for World Education, African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters, Asian Pacific Forum on Women, law and Development, International Peace Bureau, Federation of Cuban Women, All-China Women's Federation, Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace, Aliran, European Union of Public Relations, Franciscans International, Interfaith International, Freedom House, IFOR, Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, Al Khoei Foundation, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Indian Movement "Tupaj Amaru."
The Commission will continue its debate on the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 15 April.
CHARM TONG, of Worldview International Foundation, said the Government of Burma claimed to have always ensured equal status of the sexes and that therefore women's movements in Burma were unnecessary. However, women in Burma had often suffered in many ways. In Burma and especially along its borders, women had been raped and sexually abused by Government soldiers in their villages, and had been forced to serve as porters for the army. The report of the inquiry mission of the International Labour Office into forced labour in Myanmar (Burma) and the reports of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar had documented this abuse.
Ms. Tong said she hoped that the Member States of the United Nations would consider the gender aspect very seriously. Violence against women, including rape by Government soldiers, appeared to be allowed by Burmese Government policies. For example, on 27 and 28 September 1998, Nang Kya Non 26, was raped repeatedly at gunpoint by Commander Myint of Infantry Brigade 246 near Kun-Hing. The villagers who had tried to peacefully report this case of rape were forced to pay a total fine of 60,000 Kyat. This was not an isolated case. In other cases the women were also robbed and beaten, or killed. The Commission should express its alarm and concern over growing
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violence against women in Burma and should stop the terrible abuse of women's human rights.
MARIE-THERESE BELLAMY, of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, said the organization felt great concern for women who worked; half the world's population was women, and they made up a third of the work force and accounted for two-thirds of the work time, but earned only one tenth of the remuneration. There was exploitation, inequality, and poverty; fluctuations of the world economy were especially bad for women and children; they were the first laid off, the first to have their wages cut, and the first to have their working conditions degraded.
Ms. Bellamy said instruments and legislation had been set up to fight discrimination against women in employment. France had announced a programme to enforce parity among women and men, but the effort had been undercut by unscrupulous employers; elsewhere, in free-trade areas, employers preferred to hire women because they were seen as more docile and more easily manipulated -- in other words, they were considered easier to abuse. More had to be done to protect women workers.
CLAIR WALTEN, of International Educational Development, said international policies and national and state regulations promoted voluntary HIV/AIDS testing but often did not give women accurate scientific information, and that could lead to abuses. In the United States, the Ryan White Care Act required states to show either a 50 per cent reduction in newborns testing HIV positive or prove that 90 per cent of women had been tested. As it worked out, there were frightening implications -- one woman had had her son placed in protective custody unless she agreed to administer AZT, a well-documented, highly toxic pharmaceutical drug claimed to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child; she also was ordered not to breastfeed, although breastfeeding was considered important for a child's healthy development and mother-child bonding.
Mrs. Walten said that on behalf of vulnerable women, the international community should seek clarification on the specificity of HIV testing; mother-to-child transmission; heterosexual transmission; AIDS causation; and the adverse effects of anti-HIV pharmaceutical treatments.
ALICIA MIRANDA, of The Commission for the Defence of Human Rights in Central America (CODEHUCA), said that the Central American society was essentially sexist. Its social structures permitted violence and discrimination in general which resulted in, among others, the growing feminism of poverty. The economic policies of the region had resulted in unequal and disproportionate development for the rich and were to the detriment of women.
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CODEHUCA called for the modification and revocation of legislation which had adversely affected the rights of women. It urged that they be given access to the administration of justice and public politics; that the proposed protocol on the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was approved; and that the various United Nations committees and institutions were integrated according to the recommendations of the group of experts by the United Nations.
BRENDA SMITH, of the International Human Law Group, said the organization wished to voice the concerns of incarcerated women who faced serious human rights abuses on a daily basis in state and federal prisons in the United States. The situation in the prisons in the United States was dire and merited the attention of a Special Rapporteur. No country was immune from human rights scrutiny. Relative affluence and stability did not immunize a nation from examination and criticism of its human rights practices. The Group commended the Special Rapporteur on the report of her well-researched mission (E/CN.4/1999/68/Add. 2) on violence against women in state and federal prisons in the United States.
Mrs. Smith said women were the fastest growing population of all prisons in the United States. The racial make-up of the prison system was disproportionately African American and Hispanic. As a consequence of their incarceration, women could lose custody of their children. Many lost governmental benefits, including housing, income and nutrition support. Women also suffered poor health in the prisons in the United States and in many instances they lost their lives. Women in prisons there also faced widespread sexual abuse, including abusive language, inappropriate touching, rape and coerced sex. There was a culture of impunity in the United States, particularly as related to sexual abuse. There had never been a criminal prosecution of any corrections staff person in the Washington DC prison system. The organization strongly urged the Commission to continue to focus on deprivation of human rights in developed countries, including the United States, and to examine the treatment of women in prisons.
CHARLOTTE BUNCH, of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership and International Women's Tribune Centre, said the integration of women's human rights and a gender perspective involved both addressing women as a constituency and an examination of how gender affected every issue and area for men and women. Equally important was the task of building wider access of women's non-governmental organizations to the United Nations human rights system so that the information about violations of women's human rights became readily available. Unfortunately, women's groups were often not recognized as engaging in human rights activities and were therefore overlooked when experts gathered information from a country. The task of gender integration permeated all aspects of this body's work. The organization was pleased that Special Rapporteurs, both male and female, had begun to incorporate an awareness of gender in their reports this year.
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Ms. Bunch said the Centre commended the work of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions for calling attention in their reports to the urgent and often neglected area of violence against lesbians and gays and violations of human rights based on sexual orientation and identity. Gender awareness proceeded, illuminated and strengthened the understanding of human rights abuses of all people.
BARBARA SCHOLZ, of the Society for Threatened Peoples, said the May riots in Jakarta should be strongly condemned; at least 1,100 urban poor and 66 ethnic Chinese women had been the target of violence and gang-rape; the police and military had failed to protect citizens. While 52 cases of rape and 14 more accompanied by extra violence had been verified, other reports spoke of 152 cases, and it could be suspected that more victims of rape had not dared to report their plight. According to many observers, these women had been victims of systematic terror planned by certain groups of radicals in Indonesia; the absence or inactivity of security troops over the three days of social upheaval was striking. It was even possible the riots were orchestrated by certain groups within the military for their political ends.
Ms. Scholz said the reactions of the Indonesian Government were degrading to the victims. The Commission should urge Indonesia to ensure that the perpetrators of the rapes were punished; and it should acknowledge mass rape intentionally committed against members of an ethnic minority as a crime of genocide.
GHULAM NABI FAI, of the International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations (IIFSO), said violence against women remained a major issue in the development and advancement of women and had been especially acute during conflicts. Women had been the targets of sexual crimes at the hands of the armed forces in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kashmir and now in Kosovo. The constant disturbances in Kashmir had changed the entire life pattern of the inhabitants, particularly those of women and children. The Representative said that the platform of action suggested implementation of a special programme to rehabilitate the women and children of all conflicts in all situations especially the women of Kashmir but the hope was dwindling due to the half-hearted response of the international community to their tragic situation.
RAVINDER KAUL, of the Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation, said 8 March was celebrated as International Women's Day in all countries as well as United Nations bodies and national and international agencies. Though progress had been registered in this field, the plight of women in some areas had become worse at the hands of Islamist extremists who enforced medieval barbaric practices. The Foundation wished to draw attention to efforts being made by Islamist terrorists and mercenaries in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir to draw the state back to the medieval times. They were coercing
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women to wear the veil, discouraging the girl children from going to school, forcing women into wedlock with terrorists against their wishes and giving women the status of second class members of their community as ways of subjugating women. The more heinous crimes included rape, torture and killings. It was clear that women were being subjected by the Islamist mercenaries and terrorists to the worse and most brutal crimes known to humanity.
MARGARITA UPRIMNY, of the Andean Commission of Jurists, said progress in advancing women's rights paled in comparison to the problems women faced and the cultural and economic barriers that stood in their way. Women made up half the population in the Andean region, but their political participation fell far short of that. Electoral quotas, as applied by Peru and Venezuela last year, should be duplicated elsewhere. All countries of the Andean region now had explicit legislation protecting women against violence, but implementation was another thing. The institutional and cultural belief that domestic violence was a family matter was hard to change; needed were such things as special police units and police stations and special shelters for women victims of domestic violence.
Ms. Uprimny said the disadvantaged situation of Andean women lay in cultural patterns that had to be changed. Without significant investments in education and other programmes to enact change, not much would occur to improve matters.
M. KEI HANI, of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, said Iran was continuing gender discrimination against women unabatedly. This discrimination had been legalized. Various legal directives and constitutional articles had put women at a disadvantage, including, among others: the Ministry of Education which stated that female teachers were banned from teaching boys older than 10 years of age; the Medical Religious Standard Conformity Act which provided for the complete separation along gender lines of all medical services in the country; the Constitutional article 111 which stated that the President should be elected from among the religious and political men; and article 1117 of the Civil Law which stated that the husband had the right to prevent his wife from engaging in a profession which went against the interest of the family or the man's or woman's pride. Iran should be condemned in the strongest terms possible in a substantive resolution by this Commission for its continued gender apartheid, violence and discrimination against women.
KOICHI YOSHIDA, of the Asian Women's Human Rights Council, said the Council welcomed the reports by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and by Gay McDougall, expert of the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The Government of Japan did not acknowledge that the "comfort women" issue was a war crime committed by the State, and rejected payment of compensation by the State. A solution that
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was acceptable to the comfort women of Korea, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and other Asian nations which used to be under Japanese rule had to be found. The Council totally supported the recommendations put forward in the appendix. The Government of Japan ought to implement immediately and unconditionally these recommendations.
Mr. Yoshida said the Government of Japan had rejected the appendix on the grounds that it could not accept this document's legal interpretations. The Government of Japan had stated that the victims were Filipina "comfort women." The Special Rapporteur had clearly stated the importance of clarifying Japan's war crimes in the textbooks and the need to teach children about these war crimes against women in order to guarantee that Japan would not repeat these past crimes. The Council asked Governments and non-governmental organizations of all countries to work to make the Government of Japan accept and implement the recommendations in the McDougall appendix.
BIRTE SCHOLZ, of Human Rights Advocates, said women made up the plurality of the 1 billion people in the world who lived in unsafe, unsanitary, or uninhabitable housing, and comprised the majority of the 50,000 people worldwide who died every day because of complications arising from lack of adequate housing. Furthermore, millions of women were victims of violence in their living situations. A clear, causal relationship existed between violence against women and the violations women faced in their attempt to realize the right to adequate housing.
Ms. Scholz said this situation was very clear in the United States, where 3 to 4 million women were victims of domestic abuse each year; four died each day because of domestic violence, and many women were homeless -- largely because they were escaping from domestic violence. Only when change was instituted in the United States and elsewhere would women no longer be faced with the horrible decision to live with abuse or live without shelter.
NAJET TRIMECHE, of the National Union of Tunisian Women, said the international community must step up efforts at the international level to ensure that women's rights were respected. The Commission did a good deal in response to violations of women's rights; but laws should be adopted to ensure equality between the sexes; that was the only way to firmly establish equality in daily practice. An international publication of women's rights should be produced and widely distributed.
Ms. Trimeche said there should be greater awareness of women's rights; otherwise such rights could not be applied. Tunisian women had progressed to a great extent and had achieved their rights; but real equality still had not been achieved. Equality should extend to the domain of labour and decision-making, and women should be able to reach high levels of knowledge. The international community should adopt legislation to help with this, and to
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protect women from the negative repercussions of changes in the global economy.
REENA MARWAH, of the International Institute for Non-aligned Studies said that modernization had resulted in women getting used to market tourism, products of transnational companies and consumer goods through glamorous advertisements using newly liberated electronic media. Women had been consequently forced to sell their bodies or bring on dowries and because of their inability or unwillingness, they had been exploited and the objects of increased violence. Hard efforts were required at all levels, and above all dissemination of information and awareness was needed to rectify this situation.
TATIANA SHAUMIAN, of the International Institute for Peace, said violence against women was a world-wide phenomenon. According to data available from the United Nations, 20 to 50 per cent of women, even in the United States, were subjected to some degree of domestic violence during marriage and approximately 2 million suffered genital mutilation every year in many parts of the world. But even in more advanced countries like the United States, where women were more conscious of their rights, only one out of one hundred ever reported the abuse they suffered. In developing countries, women were disadvantaged in many areas. They had less access than men to education, health care and food. They were grossly under-represented politically and their concerns rarely taken into account in policy and law making.
Ms. Shaumian said women were sold as prostitutes and as bonded labourers. They also suffered a high level of domestic violence due to widespread patriarchal system. Feudalism, police brutality, extra-judicial killings, religious persecution, and legalised state terrorism were some of the factors that had brutalised and marginalized societies in many Afro-Asian countries including Pakistan. In Pakistan, the local leadership generally decided who the women were to vote for. For most women, that was where their political participation begun and ended.
RUBY, of the Afro Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization, said that the scars inflicted on the psyche of woman as a capable individual worthy of respect and on her emotional make up as a mother was evident in Afghanistan which had reduced its women to captivity without chains. The marauding Taliban had made sure that future generations of women were created ignorant, their male children had become gun fodder while the girls had been deprived of even a modicum exposure to modernity and science. Women's organizations were called on to study the impact of terrorism on the mothers in Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Algeria, Indian Jammu and Kashmir.
TATI KRISNAWATY, of the Third World Movement against the Exploitation of Women, said there had been an increase in violence in Indonesia, and women had been the victims of much of it; hundreds of people had been killed in ethnic
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violence even as the Commission met; previously, during the new order military regime, many violent incidents had occurred, and even the supposed peaceful resolution of the situation in East Timor had seen violence and bloody warfare carried out by civilian militias armed by the Indonesian military.
Mrs. Krisnawaty said women were mothers and wives of victims and suffered violence themselves in such regions as the former military operation zones in Aceh, West Papua, and East Timor, and scores of women had been sexually assaulted by soldiers in these regions, although the military denied it. Many more women were subject to violence in their homes because of increased anxieties generated by the prolonged economic and political crisis, and displaced women suffered physical and mental problems along with material losses. The Commission and the international community should urge the Indonesian Government to take full responsibility for all cases of violence against women.
KHAIRANI ARIFIN, of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, said she wanted to talk about gender-specific violence during peacetime in the Indonesian province of Aceh. This province was very rich in natural resources, however the local people did not benefit from it. When the Acehnese had demanded their share, the Government responded by declaring Aceh a military operation zone. This had lasted from 1989 to 1998. During this military operation, large scale sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of violence against women had been used as an instrument of torture and intimidation by certain elements in the military, as was noted by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women in her recent report.
Ms. Arifin said many cases of violence against women and rape had been reported, especially in Pidie, north Aceh and east Aceh Most of the cases had occurred after the victims' husbands or sons had been abducted or murdered by the military, and there was no one to protect them. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women had already reported on violence against women in Indonesia, including Aceh, but the Indonesian Government had taken no action whatsoever in bring the perpetrators to trial or to rehabilitate the victims. The Centre requested the Commission to urge the Indonesian Government to take responsibility for all violence against women committed by the military in Aceh.
YUSAN YEBLO, of the Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation (NOVIB), said Irian Jaya/West Papua had been exploited by multi-national mine industry, forestry, and plantation programmes under the pretext of the development of natural resources. Indigenous women had been victims of violence there. This had been confirmed by the National Human Rights Commission in its report which said that the Indonesian military operating in and around the Freeport project area were responsible for the killings of at least 16 civilians and the disappearance of at least 4 others.
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The Special Rapporteur on violence against women had also confirmed that sexual violence against women had been committed by the security apparatus.
Ms. Yeblo said women in Irian Jaya/West Papua were raped indiscriminately, including girls as young as 12 and mute, mentally retarded and pregnant women. The Commission was urged to exert pressure on the Indonesian Government to have the Special Rapporteur or a Working Group visit Indonesia and East Timor to report on the situation in other provinces, including Irian Jaya/West Papua and Aceh.
DAVID LITTMAN, of the Association for World Education, said the term "traditional or customary practices" was a shameful euphemism for crime against women. Female genital mutilation was performed every year on more than 1 million -- perhaps up to 2 million -- female babies, young girls, and women in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and, to a lesser extent, in Asia. This ancient ritual should long ago have been termed "female torture".
Mr. Littman said there was no binding religious justification for these practices, which were pre-Islamic customs that had become prevalent in places where Islam later spread, and were maintained out of fear. The Commission should endorse the draft decision before it on the subject in the hope that increased efforts would help eradicate a plague that should be considered a crime against women and which could not leave anyone indifferent.
BINETA DIOP, of the African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters, said the situation of women in areas of conflict was alarming. There were unprecedented dimensions of forced internal migrations where the numbers of internally displaced women and refugees reached horrendous proportions. There were 6 million refugees as well as 15 million internally displaced persons found in Africa alone. Women and children were the most vulnerable groups, comprising the vast majority of the victims and often becoming targets and being repeatedly victimized by the attacks. The recent conflicts in Africa, particularly the Sierra Leone crisis, had again illustrated that those in quest for power by bullets did not hesitate to use every means to impose brutalities and atrocities on innocent civilians such as women and children.
Ms. Diop said that since December 1994, Sierra Leonese women had been fighting a battle of their own to peacefully restore reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction in their country. They had contributed to the democratisation process which led to the holding of elections. Unfortunately, women were not included in political decision-making spheres and governance mechanisms. The international community had a moral commitment to react and to show a strong political will to put an end to the everlasting conflicts, and in particular, to alleviate the suffering of women and children and to sustain durable peace in Africa.
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HEISOO SHIN, of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APFWLD), commended the reports of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and said that Forum had consulted with her to strengthen her reports by giving constructive criticism and suggestions. These excellent reports had not only described the horrible facts and incidents of violence committed against women but also explored the causes and consequences and gave recommendations to the United Nations and the international human rights communities, national governments as well as to the non-governmental organizations. Most important was that the recommendations of these reports were implemented. They would be useless in eliminating violence against women if Governments were not willing to implement them. APFWLD called on Japan to make a public apology to the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery in wartime.
SADIA MIR, of the International Peace Bureau, said women continued to be subjected to violence and other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment in many societies. The situation of women in Kosovo today was reminiscent of the crimes committed against Bosnian women by Serbian forces; and women and girl children in Jammu and Kashmir continued to suffer as a result of a deliberate policy of the Indian military and paramilitary forces to humiliate and terrorize the Kashmiri people.
Ms. Mir said India had a serious situation in general regarding women's rights; the stratification of Indian society into castes, and legal and societal discrimination against women, contributed to a high level of violence against women. Low-caste untouchable Dalit women were subjected to sexual abuse by middle and high-caste groups; and recently there had been systematic violence by Hindu fundamentalist groups against Indian women as punishment for their conversion to Christianity. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women should visit India.
RITA PEREIRA, of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), said that the end of the nineteenth century had been dramatic for Cuba. The intervention of the United States in the armed conflict between Spain and Cuba, its last colony in the Americas, had begun the social struggle and the road toward independence. The end of the twentieth century would mark the completion of the road to independence and liberation for the Cuban women. In the defence of Cuba's sovereignty, its independence and national culture, the women of Cuba would defend the indispensable principle of equality and justice for all peoples united and with equal eligibility.
ZHANG YING, of All China Women's Federation, said violence against women occurred extensively in societies today, both in developed and developing ones, regardless of their historical, economic, cultural or religious background. Violence against women impeded women's advancement and development and impaired the enjoyment by women of their human rights. To prevent, combat and eliminate violence, the Federation had introduced the
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following measures: they had been over the years engaged in legal publicity and education, particularly in laws and regulations relating closely to women's rights and interests. The legal department had also provided legal counselling, guidance and advice to women victims of violence and gave assistance to those who come to seek help and those who wrote complaints. With regard to domestic violence, the Federation had focused great efforts on family building across the country, encouraging and advocating equality between men and women. It had provided education and various training including leadership to women and had embarked on poverty alleviation programmes to empower women, rural women in particular, in all aspects.
ISABEL FERREIRA, of the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace, said she was General Coordinator of Kontras, an organization set up to monitor and investigate human-rights violations in East Timor. Since 1975, Indonesia had sanctioned rape, sexual violence, forced marriages, the use of women as sex slaves, and forced prostitution in East Timor; these offences were carried out with impunity by the Indonesian military. Kontras had received numerous reports of violence against women after the fall of the Suharto Government and in the period of so-called democratization and political reforms.
Ms. Ferreira said similar cases had been cited in the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, who had visited East Timor and Indonesia last year. Contrary to the response of the Indonesian delegation to the Commission, the Special Rapporteur's findings represented reality in East Timor. The Commission should urge Indonesia to cease all such violations against the people of East Timor.
DEBORAH STOTHARD, of Aliran, said women suffered more in times of crisis and conflict. Women were usually targeted for sexual violence as a means of demoralizing their communities. In order to overcome the consequences of abuse and disadvantage, it was imperative that women be allowed to participate equally and democratically in all areas of government. Tragically, this had not been the case in Burma. Widespread violence against women by the military had been recorded in United Nations documents as well as reports published by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across the world. There had been no adequate action taken by the regime to cease these deplorable abuses. The Government of Burma needed to do the following to overcome the policies and practices which had caused severe harm to the women of Burma. It needed to release all political prisoners, including women, and to re-open the universities and colleges that had been closed for two and half years. The regime needed to divert its expenditure away from the army and into health and education. The regime also needed to allow the development of women's organizations and NGOs. The existing ones were far from independent.
NAZIMA FAUZIA MUNSHI, of the European Union of Public Relations, said tribal societies had always been marked by men and women sharing the burden of existence in equal measure, working side by side in the fields; many
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matriarchal societies existed which, quite devoid of modern development, allowed women far more freedom and respect than so-called modern and developed nations.
Ms. Munshi said the women of Pakistan feared that one day the Taliban would return to Pakistan and impose an Afghanistan-like regime in Pakistan; the influence of this fundamentalist group was already being felt, and Pakistani women were raising their voices against this threat. Japanese women only now were beginning to assert themselves in the workplace against entrenched prejudices, and women in India, among other countries, were still fighting for fair representation in the political process. Awareness was the key to freedom.
ROSE FERNANDO, of Franciscans International, said that the illiteracy rate among women was higher than that of men in many countries in the world. In the Arab States, the percentage of illiteracy in the population over 15 years of age was 55.8 per cent for women and 31.6 per cent for men; in southern Asia, it was 63.4 per cent for women and 52.7 per cent for men; and in Sub-Saharan Africa, it was 52.7 per cent for women and 33.4 per cent for men. The present form of neo-liberal globalization, external debt and economic pressures had contributed to the increase of poverty and the poor in the world and this had adversely affected women and girls disproportionately to men and boys. Countries cited which illustrated these problems were India, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. An International Day for the Education of the Girl Child was proposed in view of equal opportunity for education.
GENEVA ARIF, of Interfaith International, said violence against women was rarely mentioned in this Commission unless it was to condemn someone else for doing the violation. Women were vulnerable to rape and violence during times of war, by enemy soldiers or during peace time at home. There seemed to be an appalling silence from some representatives, when these same acts against women were committed within their home communities by male members of the communities. In the Middle East, parts of south Asia and parts of Africa, women who were perceived to have brought dishonour to their family could be murdered by any man of the family (honour killings). This man would only receive a sentence lasting from 3 months to 2 years.
Ms. Arif said women in Sudan were facing daily atrocities as a result of the ongoing war in southern Sudan. They were being killed, starved to death and kidnapped for enslavement. The Public Order Act which was introduced by the Government in 1992 severely curtailed the rights of women in all fields of life including civil, political, social and cultural rights. They risked flogging if they were not in complete compliance with Muslim dress codes. Female mutilation was practised within a large area from the Red Sea to the Atlantic coast. The effects were irreversible and caused a lifetime of physical and mental suffering. In the United States, violence was the number one health problem for women.
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ELISABETH BATHA, of Freedom House, said that in Pakistani courts, the evidence of a Christian woman was valued at one-quarter that of a Muslim man and her value in compensatory damages in a murder case was just one-eighth of his. Evidence of a Christian woman was not admissible in cases filed under the Sharia law, although such women were subject to its jurisdiction. The Commission should urge Pakistan to uphold equality before the law for women and minorities; abolish the Hadood Ordinance and reform laws relating to rape and adultery to ensure that perpetrators were brought to justice and victims treated with respect; ensure integrity of the marriage-registration system; and expand the system of women's police stations and safe-houses.
Ms. Batha said that in Egypt, there was a disturbing practice of abducting or deliberately seducing young Christian women for purposes of conversion to Islam. The Egyptian Government should officially condemn coercive practices used against Christian women; protect freedom of religion; start education programmes encouraging respect for religions minorities and women's rights; and investigate fully and impartially all reported crimes against women. Also of concern were severe human-rights violations in China in pursuit of the Government's one-child policy.
JONATHAN SISSON, of International Fellowship of Reconciliation, said that although progress had been made on the "comfort women" issue, Japan still had much to do; first of all, it had a moral and a legal responsibility as a State to acknowledge the violation of international law on the part of the Japanese Imperial Government during World War II. There should be State compensation of the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery and prosecution of those responsible for setting up and operating "comfort stations". It also had been found that the system of military sexual slavery violated ILO Convention no. 29, which Japan had signed without restriction in 1932.
Mr. Sisson said the Commission should welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on wartime sexual slavery and extend her mandate for one year, and should explore the setting up of an international truth and reconciliation commission on the comfort-women issue, as she recommended.
LINDA OSERMEN, of the Inter-African Committee (IAC), said that violence against women was a reflection of a value system which upheld and maintained the patriarchal power structure within which women were subjugated and abused at a monumental scale as collaborated by the reports of Special Rapporteurs on violence against women and on traditional practices. The IAC supported the adoption of the optional protocol by the Commission on the Status of Women and had been dealing with the problem of harmful traditional practices for the past 15 years. IAC called for a holistic approach to the fight against female genital mutilation which had been condemned in France and other Western countries where immigrant families practised it.
- 15 - Press Release HR/CN/913 14 April 1999
ZAHEER KAZMI, of Al-Khoei Foundation, said it was concerned about the perpetuation of human rights abuses directed towards women in many parts of the world. Of particular concern was the plight of women in situations of armed conflict. These abuses against women often functioned as both by-products of the prevailing lawlessness and instruments of war for the contending parties. The continued acts of oppression against women by Taliban authorities in Afghanistan and the dangers now apparent and evident with respect to the Serbian conduct in the conflict in Kosovo testified to the scale and scope of the problem. In Afghanistan, the Taliban continued to carry out all manners of human violations on political, ethnic, religious and gender grounds. Such acts as were directed against women were wrongly legitimised with recourse to Islamic rulings.
Mr. Kazmi said that in Kosovo, it was important to remember lessons learned in the previous conflict in Bosnia about the need to safeguard the rights of women during such times. The incidence of rape was an instrument of war had been well documented during this conflict. The suffering of women did not and would not end with the conclusion of the conflict.
ANNA PARKER, of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, said there had been widespread and systematic rapes of ethnic Chinese women in Indonesia during the May 1998 riots; evidence suggested that there was specific targeting of Chinese women and that police and security forces were involved in these abuses. The Government of Indonesia should implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and the Rapporteur should review the Indonesia's response in her next report.
Ms. Parker said attention should be paid to the effect on women of the Pacific of nuclear colonialism and nuclear testing; it was necessary to know the effects of these tests on their lives, health, lifestyles, and right to self-determination. Immediate and urgent action should be taken as well to ensure a gender perspective in planning and staging of the upcoming World Conference against Racism.
SYLVIA CAMACHO, of Indian Movement "Tupaj Amaru", said globalization and structural-adjustment programmes had caused hardships that fell especially heavily on women; women ended up being used as cheap and docile labour in the most exploited types of jobs, such as assembly-line electrical-component plants. Exploitation of the body for prostitution was now being inflicted on girls as young as 10. Economic forces tended to drive women from school as well, leaving them open to such abuses as prostitution and sexual trafficking.
Ms. Camacho said that above the age of 15, more than 50 per cent of women were illiterate. Figures were even higher among indigenous women. Cuts in educational funding because of structural-adjustment programmes and foreign-debt burdens were making the situation worse. Wage inequalities also had to be rectified. And violence against women should not be tolerated. An open commitment was needed by the international community rejecting the marginalization of women.
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