Human rights for women, as for all individuals, are protected in international law. Yet women suffer the full range of human rights violations known to the modern world. Women and girl children also face human rights violations solely or primarily because of their sex.
The international community can play a decisive role in protecting human rights through vigilant and concerted action. Important steps towards protecting women's human rights worldwide include documenting human rights violations, publicizing these as widely as possible and campaigning to press government authorities for an end to the abuses. Governments which fail to protect fundamental human rights should be confronted with the full force of international condemnation.
Armed political groups should also take steps to prevent abuses of the human rights of women and girl children.
The campaign to protect women's human rights will have to be waged on the same fronts and the same issues as that to protect everyone's human rights. Some human rights violations, however, require specific action to protect women in particular. The recommendations below reflect the breadth of the campaign.
1. Governments should recognize that women's human rights are universal and indivisible
The Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth United Nations (UN) World Conference on Women reflects the commitment made by governments in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights that "[t]he human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights".
2. Ratify and implement international instruments for the protection of human rights
Governments should ratify international legal instruments which provide for the protection of the human rights of women and girl-children, such as:
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its two Optional Protocols;
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women;
the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.
Governments should also ratify regional standards which protect the human rights of women and girl-children.
Governments who have already ratified these instruments should examine any limiting reservations, with a view to withdrawing them. This is particularly important in the case of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, where the commitment of many governments is seriously undermined by the extent of their reservations.
Governments should take due account of non-treaty instruments such as the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Governments should ensure that reports to treaty monitoring bodies include detailed information on the situation of women and girl-children.
3. Eradicate discrimination, which denies women human rights
Governments should recognize that discrimination against women, including lesbians and girl-children, is a key contributory factor to human rights abuse such as torture, including rape and other forms of custodial violence. Governments should initiate a plan of action against such discrimination.
Governments should ensure that women are treated equally in law; a woman's evidence should have the same weight as a man's in all judicial proceedings and women should not receive harsher penalties than a man would for the same offence.
Where it is alleged that discrimination in the administration of justice contributes to human rights violations against women an independent commission should be appointed to investigate and make recommendations to rectify the situation.
4. Safeguard women's human rights during armed conflict
Stop torture, including rape, "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions.
Take special steps to prevent rape during armed conflict, often the context for violent sexual abuse of women and girl-children. Bring government agents responsible for rape to justice.
The UN should ensure that personnel deployed in UN peace-keeping and other field operations observe the highest standards of humanitarian and human rights law and receive information on local cultural traditions. They should respect the rights and dignity of women at all times, both on and off duty. Human rights components of UN field operations should include experts in the area of violence against women, including rape and sexual abuse, to ensure that prisons and places of detention where women are held are clearly identified and properly investigated and that victims of rape and other custodial violence have suitable and confidential facilities to meet investigators who are specially trained and experienced in this area.
5. Stop rape, sexual abuse and other torture and ill-treatment by government agents and paramilitary auxiliaries
Take effective steps to prevent rape, sexual abuse and other torture and ill-treatment in custody.
Conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into all reports of torture or ill-treatment. Any law enforcement agent responsible for such acts, or for encouraging or condoning them, should be brought to justice.
Any form of detention or imprisonment and all measures affecting the human rights of detainees or prisoners should be subject to the effective control of a judicial authority.
All detainees should have access to family members and legal counsel promptly after arrest and regularly throughout their detention and/or imprisonment.
The authorities should record the duration of any interrogation, the intervals between interrogations, and the identity of the officials conducting each interrogation and other persons present.
Female guards should be present during the interrogation of female detainees and prisoners, and should be solely responsible for carrying out any body searches of female detainees and prisoners to reduce the risk of rape and other sexual abuses. There should be no contact between male guards and female detainees and prisoners without the presence of a female guard.
Female detainees and prisoners should be held separately from male detainees and prisoners.
All detainees and prisoners should be given the opportunity to have a medical examination promptly after admission to the place of custody and regularly thereafter. They should also have the right to be examined by a doctor of their choice.
A medical examination, by a female doctor wherever possible, should be provided immediately for any woman in custody who alleges she has been raped. This is a crucial measure in obtaining evidence for legal prosecution.
Victims of rape and sexual abuse and other torture or ill-treatment in custody should be entitled to fair and adequate compensation and appropriate medical care.
6. Prevent "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions by government agents and compensate the victims
Conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into all reports of "disappearances", extrajudicial executions and deaths in custody and bring to justice those responsible.
Ensure that the commission of a "disappearance" or extrajudicial execution, or causing the death of a prisoner in custody is a criminal offence, punishable by sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the practice.
Inform families immediately of any arrest and keep them informed of the whereabouts of the detainee or prisoner at all times.
Make available judicial remedies (such as habeas corpus and amparo) to enable lawyers and relatives to locate prisoners and obtain the release of anyone who has been arbitrarily detained.
Prevent detention or imprisonment other than in official, known detention centres, a list of which should be widely publicized.
Order forensic investigations into killings and deaths in custody to be carried out promptly and thoroughly by independent qualified personnel.
Provide fair and adequate redress to relatives of victims of "disappearance", extrajudicial execution and death in custody, including financial compensation.
The civil status of women whose relatives have "disappeared" should not be penalised. Identity cards, travel documents, other official papers, and state benefits should be made available to women whose relatives have "disappeared".
7. Stop persecution because of family connections
Any woman detained, imprisoned or held hostage solely because of her family connections should be immediately and unconditionally released.
The practice of killing, abducting, or torturing women in order to bring pressure on their relatives should not be tolerated. Anyone responsible for such acts should be brought to justice.
8. Safeguard the health rights of women in custody
Provide all women under any form of detention or imprisonment with adequate medical treatment, denial of which can constitute ill-treatment.
Provide all necessary pre-natal and post-natal care and treatment for women in custody and their infants.
The imprisonment of a mother and child together must never be used to inflict torture or ill-treatment on either by causing physical or mental suffering. If a child is ever separated from its mother in prison she should be immediately notified and continuously kept informed of its whereabouts and given reasonable access to the child.
Women in custody should be consulted over arrangements made for the care of their infants.
9. Release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally
Release all detainees and prisoners held because of their sex, peaceful political beliefs or activities, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, language or religion.
No woman should be detained or imprisoned for peacefully attempting to exercise basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by men.
Governments should review all legislation and practices, which result in the detention of women because of their homosexual identity or because of homosexual acts in private between consenting adults.
10. Ensure prompt and fair trials for all political prisoners
Stop unfair trials which violate the fundamental rights of political prisoners in all parts of the world.
Ensure that all political prisoners charged with a criminal offence receive a prompt and fair trial by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.
Ensure that all political prisoners are treated in accordance with internationally recognized safeguards for fair legal proceedings.
11. Prevent human rights violations against women refugees and asylum-seekers and displaced women
No one should be forcibly returned to a country where she or he can reasonably be expected to be imprisoned as a prisoner of conscience, tortured, including by being raped, "disappeared" or executed.
Governments should remove all barriers, whether in law or administrative practice, to women seeking political asylum on the basis of persecution based on sexual identity.
Every woman refugee or asylum-seeker should be given the opportunity of an individual hearing, and should not be regarded as merely being part of her family.
Governments should take measures to protect women's physical safety and integrity by preventing torture, including rape, and ill-treatment of refugee women and asylum-seekers in the country of asylum. Other forms of sexual abuse/exploitation, such as extorting sexual favours for commodities, must be prevented.
Governments should thoroughly and impartially investigate human rights violations committed against refugees and asylum-seekers in the country of asylum, and bring to justice those responsible.
In procedures for the determination of refugee status governments should provide interviewers trained to be sensitive to issues of gender and culture, as well as to recognize the specific protection needs of women refugees and asylum-seekers. Those who may have suffered sexual violence should be treated with particular care, by ensuring that their cases are handled by female staff.
Women refugees and asylum-seekers should have equal access to procedures for voluntary repatriation, to ensure that those wishing to return are able do to so and to protect those who do not wish to return from refoulement.
12. Abolish the death penalty
Governments should abolish the death penalty and stop judicial executions.
All death sentences should be commuted.
Legislation which allows a woman to be put to death for an offence for which a man would receive a lesser sentence should be abolished.
In countries which retain the death penalty, the law should provide that executions will not be carried out against pregnant women and new mothers, in conformity with international standards.
13. Support the work of relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations
Governments should publicly state their commitment to ensuring that the intergovernmental bodies which monitor violations of human rights suffered by women, including the UN Commission on Human Rights and its Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), have adequate resources to carry out their task effectively.
The equal status and human rights of women should be integrated into the mainstream of UN system-wide activity. These issues should be regularly and systematically addressed by the relevant UN bodies and mechanisms.
Governments should guarantee that women activists and non-governmental organizations working peacefully for the promotion and protection of women's human rights enjoy all rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR.
14. Promote women's rights as human rights through official programs of education and training
Governments should ensure all law enforcement personnel and other government agents receive adequate training on national and international standards which protect the human rights of all women and how to enforce them properly.
Law enforcement personnel and other governments agents should be instructed that rape of women in their custody is an act of torture and will not be tolerated.
A special emphasis should be given to education designed to make women aware of their rights and to make society at large conscious of its duty to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girl-children. Education in the human rights of women and girl-children should be integrated in all education and training policies at both national and international levels.
Special steps should be taken to uphold the UN Declaration to Eliminate Violence against Women. These steps should include a clear prohibition of gender-based violence, whether occurring in public or private life.
Governments should give high priority in development assistance projects for the implementation of human rights particularly as they affect women and girl-children. The Commission on Human Rights and its secretariat, the Centre for Human Rights, should also be encouraged to ensure that the human rights of women are always given full attention in projects carried out under the Advisory Services and Technical Assistance program. The Centre for Human Rights should be able to respond fully and promptly to requests for assistance in establishing educational programs to combat gender discrimination.
Governments and intergovernmental organizations should make available human rights education materials which promote women's rights as human rights. These materials should designed to be understood by the illiterate.
15. Armed political groups should safeguard women's human rights
Armed political groups should also take steps to prevent abuses by their members such as hostage-taking, torture, and ill-treatment, including rape, and arbitrary and deliberate killings, and to hold those responsible for such abuses to account.
Tags: The Rights of Man