Under a huge baobab tree in Sudan’s Nuba mountains, I met Sebila, a 27-year-old mother of three. In March last year, her village had been attacked by Sudanese ground troops and bombed by government war planes. The assault forced Sebila and many other villagers to flee deeper into rebel-held territory.

She was just back in the village for the day with her children, two toddlers in tow and carrying a baby, to dig up sorghum she had buried. Sebila said food here is scarcer than it has been for years, because of poor rains and conflict fighting. “It’s exhausting, trying to feed them all [my family],” Sebila said of her children.

Aid obstruction in the rebel-held territories of Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been in force for nearly six years, and has had a devastating impact on the communities here. For Sebila – and all the women living across these territories – it has meant no access to contraception. “Every year, I give birth,” she told me. “It would be better if I could space it [out].” But Sebila cannot space her babies out, or have any control of her body. Like all women living in rebel-held territory here, she has zero access to contraception.

 In the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, access to family planning and maternal healthcare is severely limited by blocks on humanitarian supplies.

© Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

It has also meant a severe lack of maternal healthcare. There is no local midwife, and Sebila lives five hours’ drive from a hospital, in a region where cars are a rare luxury. Women told me of waiting hours for transport while in obstructed labour, or being held propped up, bleeding and falling in and out of consciousness, between two men on the back of a motorcycle to reach a hospital. Multiple and closely-spaced births can carry serious health risks for both mother and infant, and can be life-threatening without proper treatment.

Yet there is no coordinated international aid effort under way in the Nuba mountains. Funds are in place, but both the government and the rebel group are preventing supplies getting in. The conflict has left already-stretched health services in the region in a pitiful state. Most facilities are little more than a table with some basic medicines, and there are only five doctors and one blood bank for perhaps close to a million people.

Despite many rounds of peace talks since fighting began in 2011, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North have failed to agree on how to allow aid – needs-based and impartially delivered – into the affected areas. Instead they are still arguing about whether aid can come through a third country, or, as the government insists, only from inside Sudan. Some aid groups have found ways to provide occasional help, unauthorised by the government but supported by the rebels, but this is no substitute for the large-scale effort needed. 

This has very serious consequences for reproductive health. None of the women I met in the Nuba mountains had any access to family planning. One clinic provides a three-month injectable contraception, but local rebel regulations require women to get their husband’s permission first. Despite evidence that gonorrhoea and syphilis are on the rise and hepatitis B common, condoms are scarce. Most of the women I met had never seen a condom, let alone any other form of contraception.

It is also feared that the number of women and girls dying in childbirth in the rebel-held areas of Southern Kordofan – already much higher than other states in Sudan – is rising yet further. And two major aid efforts, including a UN polio vaccination campaign for children, have failed.

Sudan has a long history of aid obstruction going back to the start of the conflict: denying travel permits; rejecting visas; blocking work permits; and expelling aid workers. Meanwhile, citing mistrust of the government, the rebels have still not agreed to an offer by the US to provide aid via Khartoum, and have instead called for yet more negotiations. 

Although aid saves lives, and warring parties in conflict have an obligation to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians, preventing it from reaching people is rarely punished. The UN security council briefly threatened punitive action against Sudan in 2012, but never acted. The health crisis unfolding in the Nuba mountains should prompt a change of tack. The UN security council, the African Union and the EU should investigate and consider travel bans and asset freezes on rebel and government leaders found to have deliberately blocked such deliveries. 

International aid is often a lifeline to civilians trapped in conflict. And it would help women like Sebila to access contraception, avoid risky childbirth, and feed their children.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sarah Jamal Ahmed, a 24-year-old sociologist who was one of the activists during the 2011 uprising in Sanaa, stands by posters of dead protesters posted in the streets.

© 2012 Panos/Abbie Trayler-Smith

The revolution made us proud to be there on the front line and men were forced to accept us. But now there are some who think it is time for women to go home.

—Salwa Bughaighis, lawyer and human rights activist, Benghazi, Libya, July 2012[i]

In 2011, women were at the forefront as the Arab Spring erupted in Libya, organizing and demanding their rights to have a voice in their country’s future. The ensuing civil war resulted in the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi being toppled.  In the transitional period following that armed conflict women organized as voters and candidates in preparation for elections, documented human rights abuses, and worked to ensure any new constitution would enshrine women’s rights.

The revolution made us proud to be there on the front line and men were forced to accept us. But now there are some who think it is time for women to go home.

Salwa Bughaighis

Lawyer and human rights activist, Benghazi, Libya, July 2012

Iman and Salwa Bughaighis—sisters and human rights activists—were among the key organizers of the first demonstrations against Gaddafi in Benghazi in February 2011. “The revolution was an earthquake to the cultural status of women in Libya,” Iman told Human Rights Watch.

But the space for women’s political participation soon began to shrink. As the wrangling intensified over power and the future of Libya, women found themselves facing significant obstacles to their full participation in the country’s transitional processes, and even targeted for violence. On June 25, 2014, following threats, unidentified gunmen murdered Salwa Bughaighis in her home in Benghazi. One month later, on July 17, unidentified assailants shot dead Fariha al-Barkawi, a former lawmaker, in the eastern city of Derna.[ii] Both crimes are among hundreds of apparently politically motivated killings in post-Gaddafi Libya that remain uninvestigated and unprosecuted.

On the eve of Libya’s first democratic national election, Haja Nowara held a vigil in the square outside the courthouse in Benghazi, where she had spent many evenings supporting the revolution since early 2011. “I have waited my whole life for tomorrow, which will be a new day for Libya,” said Nowara, who would be voting for the first time in her life. “We sacrificed a lot to get here.”

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

In its treatment of women and girls in wartime and in the post-war transition, Libya is sadly unexceptional.  Throughout history, women and girls have often been targeted in wartime for violence, especially sexual violence.  And they have also been denied the ability to participate in conflict prevention and post-conflict resolution efforts. Governments and non-state armed groups did not pay attention to the use of rape as a weapon of war, nor to the exclusion of women from crucial decision-making on conflict resolution and prevention, until women themselves mobilized for recognition and action.

This document sets out the commitments that the international community has since made to women and girls affected by armed conflict and outlines the major disappointments and gaps in implementation in three distinct but interconnected areas: participation; protection and assistance; and accountability. It also makes recommendations to governments, to all parties to armed conflicts, and to the UN on how to turn the promises made to women and girls in these three areas into reality.

Security Council Resolution 1325

After sustained advocacy efforts from women’s civil society organizations, the United Nations Security Council, in 2000, adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.[iii] It was the Security Council’s first dedicated resolution that recognized the specific risks to and experiences of women in armed conflict and women’s central role in maintaining international peace and security. Resolution 1325 elucidated states’ obligations to women and girls in situations of armed conflict, including ensuring that women are involved in all aspects of conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict rebuilding. As broadly understood, the women, peace and security agenda acknowledges the linkages between participation, protection and assistance, and accountability, and the centrality of these issues to broader human rights concerns.

Angelina, 20, from Koch county, was spared in May when members of government aligned militia abducted three women and a teenage girl who she was hiding with. “When I fled [my village], I felt very tired and I sometimes would fall and have to use my arms to pull myself forward on the ground,” said the 20-year-old who has a physical disability. “I arrived [at the UNMI SS camp] three weeks after the attack. My whole body was swollen.” 

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

This groundbreaking resolution and the subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security elaborate the responsibilities of all parties to ensure the meaningful “participation of women in all levels of decision-making” in institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of armed conflict, calling on all actors in peace talks to increase women’s participation in negotiations, and to ensure women’s rights are addressed in peace agreements.[iv] The resolutions remind all parties to armed conflicts of their obligations under international law, particularly civilian protection in armed conflicts, and call for states to end impunity for crimes of gender-based violence in armed conflicts. They urge the UN and governments to take steps to increase the number of women throughout the justice sector, and in armed forces. In these resolutions, the Security Council also states its intention to ensure it incorporates women, peace and security in its own work, including through consulting with civil society.

The resolution has given women around the world increased attention and legitimacy in their work in areas of armed conflict. Since the resolution’s adoption in 2000, many governments have begun to recognize that women’s roles in peace processes are not negotiable add-ons, but fundamental to sustainable and implementable peace accords. Security Council resolutions and commitments by UN member states have recognized conflict-related sexual violence as a tactic often ruthlessly deployed in war, and have expanded international prevention and response efforts. Governments and international bodies have introduced new policy frameworks, including additional Security Council resolutions, on women, peace and security at the national, regional, and multilateral levels. The UN is starting to collect data on a range of protection and participation aspects—from sexual violence in armed conflicts to women in peace talks—allowing policymakers and program implementers to begin to track where there has been success and where problems persist.

Much Work Remains

The remaining challenges are many. There is a lack of concerted, high-level leadership willing to spend political capital at key policy moments, such as in Security Council negotiations and in peace talks. There is insufficient and irregular funding, particularly for grassroots organizations working on women’s local-level peacebuilding and service provision.[v] Despite the improvement in data collection, there remains a lack of timely and disaggregated information for policymakers on women and girls in crisis situations, accompanied by a lack of analysis and recommendations for policymakers on appropriate action to take.[vi] Despite the heightened risk of violence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and women with disabilities in situations of armed conflict, specific measures for them are rarely incorporated into policy and programming, often leaving these populations out of decision-making processes and unable to access services.

Sexual violence during Nepal’s 10 year conflict between Maoists and government forces has remained largely undisclosed. 

©2014 Arantxa Cedillo for Human Rights Watch

The UN Security Council, despite six subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security, often fails to bring these issues into its work on crisis situations. Despite the Security Council members’ meeting with women civil society representatives on its 2013 visit to the Great Lakes region, the subsequent report on the mission contained no substantive analysis or recommendations on women’s rights and concerns.[vii] Briefings from senior UN officials often lack specific information on women’s rights violations, on the inclusion of women in peacemaking efforts, and on the levels of women’s participation in security reform. Use of sanctions and other tools at the Security Council’s disposal are similarly haphazardly applied with respect to women, peace and security.[viii]  The Security Council rarely takes advantage of information on perpetrators to hold them to account and prevent future violations. For example, despite evidence of widespread crimes of sexual violence committed by Sudanese forces in Tabit in Darfur in 2014, the Security Council has not adopted a strong response.[ix] 

With women’s rights high on their rhetorical agenda, practical support among donor countries lags. It is rare, for example, that donors make women’s rights and women’s participation in decision-making a priority in political engagement with conflict-affected countries. Too often, including in countries such as Afghanistan and Somalia, officials assert it is not the right time to push for women’s rights, that security is somehow a prerequisite for women’s rights rather than inextricably linked with them, or that they do not have the leverage to act.[x]

For women and girls living in situations of armed conflict, participation, protection and assistance, and accountability for gender-based crimes remain a distant promise. As detailed in the following sections, it will take strong action backed by persistent political will for the potential of the women, peace and security agenda to be realized.

Nigerian girls in a refugee camp near Lake Chad in Chad. 

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Participation

When Afghan women were asked their definition of security, we used the word “amnyat wa masuniat,” by which we mean a comprehensive feeling of safety when engaged in daily public and social life. The success of peace agreements must be gauged by real, measurable security improvements for women and for all members of the community, not just that a peace agreement has been signed. Excellencies, peace is a process, not an event. We look to you as Member States, including members of the Security Council, to ensure that women are consistently appointed as mediators and negotiators, and that our rights are fundamental to peace processes and outcomes.

—Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat, Afghan civil society representative and women’s rights advocate, delivered in the UN Security Council on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, New York, October 28, 2011[xi]

Despite years of rhetoric on the importance of women’s participation in Afghanistan peace processes, no women have been included in over 20 known rounds of informal talks between the international community and the Taliban. In talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, women were present on two occasions.[xii] In most situations of armed conflict and post-conflict, women have few channels and face formidable obstacles to participating in conflict prevention, conflict-resolution, and political processes such as elections and constitutional reform.

The success of peace agreements must be gauged by real, measurable security improvements for women and for all members of the community, not just that a peace agreement has been signed. Excellencies, peace is a process, not an event. We look to you as Member States, including members of the Security Council, to ensure that women are consistently appointed as mediators and negotiators, and that our rights are fundamental to peace processes and outcomes.

Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat

Afghan civil society representative and women’s rights advocate, delivered in the UN Security Council on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, New York, October 28, 2011

Women have little representation in formal peace talks. Available UN and academic data show that women are rarely present in these negotiations, and specific rights and concerns of women and girls are rarely reflected in peace agreements. One study of peace processes from 1992-2011 shows that only 4 percent of signatories to peace agreements have been women, and only 18 out of 300 peace agreements signed between 1998 and 2008 addressed any aspect of women’s rights and concerns.[xiii] Women struggle to have their voices heard, but examples of greater women’s involvement are gradually increasing. In Colombia, for example, women are present as permanent members of the negotiation delegation, and a sub-committee on gender in the negotiations was established in 2014, and women’s rights are discussed in the substantive talks. This happened after concerted pressure from civil society organizations, supported by UN Women.[xiv] Despite these gains, however, women’s civil society organizations have not been afforded a formal role in the Colombia negotiations.

Those facilitating formal peace talks often fail to recognize women’s work in community-level peace efforts.  When the opportunity to engage in formal peace talks arose in the 2014 Geneva II talks, Syrian women mobilized. With support from international nongovernmental organizations, UN member states, and the UN, women met behind closed doors with the Security Council, held consultative meetings to draft consolidated demands, and worked with women peacemakers from Ireland, Guatemala, and Bosnia-Herzegovina on strategies for engaging in the peace process.[xv] But when they met with the UN special envoy to Syria, Lakdhar Brahimi, he did not stay to hear their concerns and recommendations. “Mr. Brahimi, we are already building peace in Syria,” the women said, although Brahimi, effectively the chief mediator of Syria’s peace process, had already left the meeting. “We can help you if you let us.”[xvi]  Brahimi’s successor, Staffan de Mistura, has consulted with Syrian women’s groups, despite the stalling of the formal peace process.

Two activists working with the Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation (WADI), a German-Iraqi human rights group supporting Yezidi women and girls who escaped ISIS. WADI has three mobile units that visit women and girls in camps and settlements. It is seeking funds to build a center for training courses and social activities.

©2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Women should have seats at all decision-making tables, and women’s rights and concerns should be included in the outcomes of conflict negotiations. For example, women's rights should be reflected in humanitarian access agreements, human rights agreements, ceasefires, ceasefire monitoring, and in disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) efforts agreed to by parties to a conflict. They should also be integrated throughout security sector reforms, including the vetting of armed and security forces, justice, reparations, and in relief and recovery programs.[xvii] Women’s participation is also the key to ensuring their protection and minimizing risks in displacement settings. This includes in the design of refugee and internally displaced person (IDP) camps so that women and girls are not placed at further risk in those settings.[xviii] Targeted efforts need to be made to ensure that the diversity of women’s perspectives is reflected in all aspects of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. For example, women with disabilities face unique challenges and can share their problem-solving approaches in conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts.

Women human rights defenders often face risks, particularly in times of armed conflict. Even when women can legally conduct their work, they may face physical assault, sexual violence, and threats far greater than their male counterparts. Human Rights Watch has documented physical attacks, death threats, threatening phone calls, sexual harassment and assault, rape, and threats against children of activists in armed conflicts, all of which can create a chilling environment in an effort to silence these women.[xix] In the 2015 Sudan elections, for example, National Intelligence and Security Service officers arrested Dr. Sandra Kadouda, a prominent political and human rights activist, on April 12 as she drove to an anti-elections event at the National Umma Party headquarters in Omdurman. The authorities held her for three days at an unknown location, and then freed her on April 15, visibly bruised and with injuries to her shoulder, credible sources reported.[xx]

Women should also have the opportunity to participate in security forces without facing discrimination or harassment.  Women often are subject to hostile work environments that dissuade them from staying in or even joining police and military services. In Afghanistan, for example, despite efforts to increase their numbers, women have remained about 1 percent of the Afghan police over the last several years.[xxi] In addition to a lack of the most basic toilet and changing room facilities, women in the Afghan police face abuse and sometimes assault, including sexual assault, by male colleagues. Despite multiple reports of such incidents, these crimes often go unpunished, and government officials, including the minister of interior, have denied that abuses against women officers are a problem.[xxii]

Recommendations to Governments, Parties to Armed Conflict, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

  1. Implement national-level policies, including National Action Plans, on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to ensure the full and meaningful participation of women in all peace and security discussions, including in all peace processes and transitional justice mechanisms. All parties involved in peace negotiations, including mediators and facilitators, should act to ensure women’s rights and concerns are a priority in negotiations and are integrated throughout any agreement. All discussions should benefit from the full engagement of civil society organizations, including women’s rights groups, women from marginalized populations, such as ethnic and religious minorities, and women with disabilities.
     
  2. Safeguard women’s security and support women’s participation in post-conflict elections, referendums and constitutional drafting, and reform processes. This includes promotion and protection of women candidates, voters, election workers, and women’s human rights defenders.
     
  3. Protect women’s human rights defenders. Governments should monitor threats and attacks against women's human rights defenders and provide protection as requested in a manner that allows them to continue their work.
     
  4. Strengthen recruitment and retention strategies for women in the security sector, including by addressing cultural and practical barriers that women face, by providing specific training and facilities, and ensuring women have equal opportunities for responsibility and advancement.
  5. Ensure women’s leadership and protection in displacement settings. Encourage and facilitate women’s representation in the leadership of camps and centers for the internally displaced and refugees. UN agencies should consult with women and girls, including those with disabilities, to ensure camp designs are accessible, safe, disability-inclusive, and provide equal access to food distributions, sanitation facilities, health—as well as reproductive health—services, education, and vocational training for women and girls.

A female election worker helps an elderly voter at a polling station in Benghazi. The electoral law rightly allowed people with “special needs” to bring assistants. However, barriers remain to ensure the right to political participation for women and men with disabilities.

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Protection and Assistance

The government should give us proper shelter with a fence and an entrance. Police should secure the camp and manage who comes and goes. The worst thing is that the rapes push us into poverty because afterward we cannot do the same work or carry heavy loads. We need money for our kids to live. The government should do something or kids will die of hunger.

—Farxiyo, who was raped in an IDP camp, Mogadishu, Somalia, August 2013[xxiii]

No one has offered me one-on-one counselling of any kind. I’d be interested in receiving professional counseling to help me process my experiences if it was available.… I have trouble sleeping at night, and only sleep a few hours at a time. When I sleep, I often see my parents and siblings in front of my eyes, especially the image of my brothers being forced to kneel on the road, and my mother’s face.

—Narin (pseudonym), 20-year-old woman from Sinjar who escaped captivity and sexual abuse by ISIS fighters, Dohuk, Iraq, January 2015[xxiv]

In armed conflicts around the globe, combatants frequently target women and girls for abuse. National armies and non-state armed groups use sexual violence as a tactic in war in violation of international law.  Conflict-related sexual violence can include rape, abduction, forced prostitution, forced marriage, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy. 

Women and girls face multiple abuses in war, in addition to conflict-related sexual violence, including: forced displacement; the targeting and punishment of women because of their own activism or activism by male relatives; the drive towards early, forced, and child marriages because of instability and a lack of security for girls and younger women; an increase in domestic violence and sexual violence committed by civilians; lack of access to food, shelter, and health care; the interruption of education; and sexual exploitation and trafficking, to name but a few.

The government should give us proper shelter with a fence and an entrance. Police should secure the camp and manage who comes and goes. The worst thing is that the rapes push us into poverty because afterward we cannot do the same work or carry heavy loads. We need money for our kids to live. The government should do something or kids will die of hunger.

Farxiyo, who was raped in an IDP camp, Mogadishu, Somalia, August 2013

For example, Human Rights Watch has documented the abuse faced by Syrian women activists and other civilians.[xxv] Some of these women have long histories of activism while others began participating politically only after the beginning of uprisings against the Syrian government. Some were targeted or arbitrarily detained for their work, such as Jelnar, who used her pharmaceutical credentials to smuggle medications between neighborhoods. Several of them experienced torture, sexual assault, physical abuse, or harassment as a direct result of their activism, like Layal, who was detained by government forces for assisting the internally displaced. Others became household heads following their husbands’ detention or death, such as Zeinab, who lost her husband and son in separate incidents at the hands of government forces.

In Sudan’s ongoing armed conflicts, Sudanese government forces and allied militias have committed rape and other sexual violence against women and girls on numerous instances. For example, Sudanese military forces engaged in the mass rape of more than 200 women and girls in the town of Tabit, Darfur, in late 2014, restricted access to the town for UN and international investigators, peacekeepers, and humanitarian agencies, and threatened residents with reprisals if they spoke about their ordeals. Government authorities fostered a climate of fear in Tabit that deterred many women and girls from seeking medical care at clinics and hospitals.[xxvi]  

Adequate protection measures are vital to ensuring the safety of women and girls, but when attacks do happen, service provision is vital for survivors. In Nigeria, numerous victims and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the lack of security force presence in areas particularly vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram, notably in towns and villages in Borno State. Victims, witnesses, community leaders, and analysts told Human Rights Watch that government security services could have done more to prevent attacks by ensuring the adequate presence and arming of military personnel, and by responding more quickly and effectively to reports of attacks once in progress. Survivors of Boko Haram attacks received virtually no necessary psychosocial and medical services, and none of the rape survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch had any information about how and where to access post-rape care.[xxvii]

Manal Ameer, 33, pictured here with her two daughters, was among the first to vote in Benghazi. She said she had learned about the election process through television advertising and had researched candidates via the Internet.

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

In northern Iraq, the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has carried out systematic rape and other sexual violence against Yezidi women and girls since August 2014. Human Rights Watch documented a system of mass abduction, organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by ISIS forces.[xxviii] Many of the women and girls remain missing, but survivors who escaped to the Kurdish Region of Iraq need psychosocial support and basic humanitarian assistance. These survivors require specialized and expert psychosocial services in their present locations to aid their recovery and their reintegration into their communities. Few have received these.

Women and girls in displaced populations are at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence, and of becoming victims of sex and labor trafficking.[xxix] Humanitarian crises often mean that women and girls are placed at greater risk of violence, with specific measures such as camp design and humanitarian relief necessary. Human Rights Watch research has found that women and girls with disabilities were frequently abandoned or left behind in crises, condemning them to face isolation, neglect, and abuse in post-conflict settings.[xxx] Despite commitments from governments and the UN, prevention efforts, access to services, and holding perpetrators accountable all remain extremely weak, and in some cases, non-existent.

Women displaced by armed conflict often find it difficult to access necessary long-term protection and humanitarian assistance. In Colombia, in an example that highlights the complexity of long-term access to assistance, Lucia fled her community in Antioquia with her husband and six children when an armed group threatened her son for refusing to join their ranks in 2010. Lucia’s husband had physically abused her and this became worse after the family fled to Medellín. Despite trying to access humanitarian assistance for herself and her children directly, the government agency never responded to her case. [xxxi]

No one has offered me one-on-one counselling of any kind. I’d be interested in receiving professional counseling to help me process my experiences if it was available.… I have trouble sleeping at night, and only sleep a few hours at a time. When I sleep, I often see my parents and siblings in front of my eyes, especially the image of my brothers being forced to kneel on the road, and my mother’s face.

Narin (pseudonym)

20-year-old woman from Sinjar who escaped captivity and sexual abuse by ISIS fighters, Dohuk, Iraq, January 2015

Women with disabilities in displacement settings also face discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, and poverty, and thus need particular measures to address protection concerns.[xxxii] Lack of mobility and communication barriers, for example, mean women with disabilities are at particular risk of sexual violence. This discrimination, as well as more general social stigma, prevents them from realizing their rights to accessible information, and accessing health care and other government services. In a displacement camp in Northern Uganda, Charity, a woman with a physical disability, recounted her experience: “People told me I should just die so others can eat the food: ‘You are useless. You are a waste of food.’”[xxxiii]

In line with their obligations under international humanitarian law—the laws of war—parties to armed conflicts should take all feasible measures to protect civilians under their control from attack, including protecting women and girls from sexual and other gender-based violence.[xxxiv]  International human rights law also applies during armed conflict, and provides protections to women and girls against sexual violence and other abuses, including domestic violence.[xxxv] States have obligations to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and other serious human rights abuses and prosecute those responsible.

International humanitarian and human rights law prohibit acts of sexual violence. International humanitarian law sets out protections for civilians and other non-combatants during both international and non-international armed conflicts.[xxxvi] It implicitly and explicitly prohibits both state armed forces and non-state armed groups from committing rape and other forms of sexual violence.[xxxvii]

International human rights law also contains protections from rape and other forms of sexual abuse through its prohibitions on torture and other ill-treatment, slavery, forced prostitution, and discrimination based on sex.[xxxviii]  The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains additional protections for children.[xxxix]

Recommendations to Governments, Parties to Armed Conflicts, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

  1. Comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law prohibitions of rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, cruel treatment, and other abuses. All parties to armed conflicts should issue clear, public orders to all forces under their control to end and appropriately punish all abuses, including crimes of sexual and gender-based violence.
     
  2. Governments providing military and other security assistance should ensure that such support does not encourage or facilitate abuses against women, and that it provides a basis for promoting greater respect for women’s rights.  Compliance with international human rights standards should be a factor in evaluating the continuation of such support. Governments should vet recipients of this assistance to exclude units or individuals when there is credible information they have been involved in serious violations of human rights.
     
  3. Ensure that survivors of sexual violence and other gender-based violence have access to essential medical and psychological care, as well as available economic and social support. Humanitarian aid should include access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services that respect the confidentiality and rights of survivors, including for pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, and injuries resulting from sexual violence, with specific measures taken to ensure these services are accessible for women with disabilities.
     
  4. Make women’s and girls’ protection and access to assistance a priority in displacement settings, including through consultation, promoting women’s leadership, camp and shelter design, registration and distribution systems, security measures, and recruitment and training of female security staff.
     
  5. Ensure all parties to armed conflicts grant UN agencies and independent humanitarian organizations unfettered access to civilians and communities in need of assistance. The media and human rights groups should also be provided access to conflict areas.
     
  6. Governments and the UN should highlight women’s participation, protection, and assistance concerns at the highest levels, including by conducting high-level visits to areas where serious abuses have been reported and raising the issues with senior government officials, donor governments, and regional and international bodies. Security Council members should press all parties to armed conflicts to meet all international law obligations.
     
  7. The UN Security Council and concerned governments should impose arms embargoes on state armed forces and non-state armed groups implicated in widespread or systematic serious human rights abuses, including those targeting women and girls. The Security Council should require states to suspend all military sales and assistance, including technical training and services, to these abusive actors until meaningful steps are taken to end such violations and appropriately punish those responsible. Travel bans and asset freezes should also be imposed on individuals responsible for serious abuses, with appropriate due process protections.

“For three months, I had a feeling that one of us was going to die,” said Maha, 28 (left), of the young activists group in which she participated. In November, 2012, she and fellow members of the group had just finished a peaceful protest outside a mosque in Aleppo, when government shelling struck the site, killing her husband of only a few weeks. Her sister Nuha, 23 (right), also an activist, was kidnapped by pro-government militia while on her way to work in Damascus in August 2012 and held for 23 days. 

©2014 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Accountability

We want these people punished. We just don’t have the reach or the power. If I did, we would have dealt with it a long time ago. We need support.

—Husband of Nandita (pseudonym), who was raped in 2001 because her husband was a Maoist combatant, Nepal, April 2014[xl]

Perpetrators of abuses in armed conflicts rarely face justice and, by all accounts, are even less likely to when responsible for sexual violence against women and girls. In November 2012, in Minova, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congolese army soldiers raped at least 76 women and girls when nearby Goma fell to the M23 rebel group.[xli] The crimes created an outcry at the national and international level. Strong international pressure was brought on the Congolese authorities to pursue justice. The UN threatened to suspend support by the peacekeeping mission MONUSCO to the Congolese army unless those responsible were brought to justice. The UN Security Council and donor governments raised the need for accountability for the crimes in Minova in multiple statements and in meetings with Congolese authorities. High-profile visits to the area by the Congolese minister of justice, the wife of President Joseph Kabila, UK Foreign Minister William Hague, and UN refugee agency special envoy Angelina Jolie, raised attention to the issue.

Three years after the attacks, accountability, services, and security are still insufficient. Despite considerable efforts by Congolese authorities and international partners to ensure judicial proceedings in the case, including by providing for the participation of numerous victims and effective protection of victims and witnesses, the verdict did little to achieve justice. Out of 39 soldiers and officers brought to trial, only 2 rank-and-file soldiers were convicted of rape.  All mid-ranking officers present in Minova at the time of the crimes and brought to trial were completely acquitted. No high-level officers were even charged.[xlii] 

The Minova case illustrates the difficulties of ensuring accountability for conflict-related sexual violence. Congolese authorities and international partners have made considerable efforts to increase accountability for sexual violence in Congo over the past several years, resulting in a few trials involving charges of rape as a war crime or a crime against humanity, and dozens of proceedings and convictions for rape as an ordinary crime. Investigating and proving sexual violence in judicial proceedings remains a complex matter and further efforts are needed.

We want these people punished. We just don’t have the reach or the power. If I did, we would have dealt with it a long time ago. We need support.

Husband of Nandita (pseudonym), who was raped in 2001 because her husband was a Maoist combatant, Nepal, April 2014

Women and girls who suffer rights abuses in armed conflicts, including sexual violence, face tremendous barriers in obtaining redress. Regular police and court functions may be in disarray. They may not wish to seek avenues for justice out of fear of retaliation or marginalization in their communities and homes. They may lack the financial or logistical means to access courts and legal assistance. National judicial systems often lack expertise in handling vulnerable victims of sexual violence during investigations and prosecutions. Physical protection and psychological assistance may be lacking. There may be strong resistance to or lack of resources for reforming the security apparatus in the immediate and long-term aftermath of an armed conflict. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs often neglect to address female combatants and women euphemistically called “bush wives,” or women who are associated with armed groups, often forcibly. Women with disabilities have particular difficulty accessing redress or justice mechanisms, including physical barriers in entering police stations and courtrooms, communication barriers, or questioning of the credibility of their testimony if they have a psychosocial or intellectual disability.

Even when international peacekeeping forces are in place to bring stability to conflict-riven regions, they are sometimes perpetrators themselves. Although the UN has a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual exploitation and abuse, accountability for these crimes remains a concern.[xliii] For example, in the past decade, there have been allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic, Haiti, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The persistent lack of transparency on these cases makes it very difficult to help victims seek justice. With the UN historically providing few specifics on allegations of abuse, and few countries that contribute troops and police to UN operations providing information on investigations and prosecutions, the scope of the problem is unclear. In one of the few cases in which public information is available on accountability for UN peacekeepers, a Pakistani peacekeeper charged with sexually assaulting a Haitian boy was convicted, and faced a one-year sentence upon conviction.[xliv]

A woman prisoner looks out a window in Parwan prison north of Kabul, Afghanistan, in February 2011.The woman was convicted of moral crimes after a man from her neighborhood raped her. She later gave birth in prison.

© 2011 Farzana Wahidy

When crimes of sexual violence are committed as part of armed conflict, they can be prosecuted as war crimes. States have an obligation to investigate alleged war crimes committed by members of the armed forces and other nationals, and prosecute those responsible.[xlv] Non-state armed groups also have an obligation to prevent war crimes and should investigate and appropriately punish perpetrators.[xlvi] Those acts of sexual violence committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) specifies that acts of rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity can constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.[xlvii]

Aside from their direct criminal responsibility for crimes committed, for instance, by issuing orders that subordinates carry out, commanders and other superiors may be criminally liable for failing to prevent or punish crimes committed by their subordinates.[xlviii]

International human rights law also enshrines the right to an effective remedy, which obligates the state to prevent, investigate, and punish serious human rights violations.[xlix] State should also provide reparations to victims of human rights violations, such as compensation for damages.[l] The UN has reaffirmed these principles specifically in relation to eliminating violence against women.[li]

Recommendations to Governments, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

  1. Ensure comprehensive, credible, and impartial investigations into sexual and gender-based violence and appropriately and fairly prosecute those responsible. This should include independent investigations into all allegations against members of armed forces, including peacekeepers, that respect the confidentiality and rights of survivors.
     
  2. Ensure accessible judicial processes that adhere to international fair trial standards for grave international crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence. This should include providing specialized training to investigators, prosecutors, and judges on the proper handling of such cases.  Adequate protection measures and psychological support should be available, before, during, and after trials, including, but not limited to, relocation measures for victims and their households. Judicial mechanisms should also be accessible for women with disabilities, including by facilitating access to police stations and courts, ensuring access to documentation, and relevant training for law enforcement and the judiciary.
     
  3. Strengthen independent institutions capable of responding to sexual and gender-based violence and supporting survivors. Governments should create accessible and safe channels to report rape, assault, and other abuses and issue clear, public orders to all security forces to end any harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests of those who speak out or seek to enforce their rights. Reporting mechanisms should be fully inclusive and provide specific accommodations for women and girls with disabilities. Governments should ensure proper and timely investigations and prosecutions that respect the rights of the survivor.
     
  4. Enact security sector reform to provide vetting of police and other security personnel, ensure recruitment, hiring, and training of female security personnel, and provide training for prosecutors, as well as judges and defense lawyers, on respecting women’s rights in the justice system, including handling crimes of sexual violence. Identify and exclude individuals from the security forces who are under investigation, have charges pending against them, or have been subjected to disciplinary measures or criminal convictions for sexual violence or other serious abuses.
     
  5. Press for accountability and justice, including through the UN Security Council, General Assembly, and Human Rights Council. When national level efforts fail or are inadequate, pursue alternative paths to justice, such as independent commissions of inquiry, the use of universal jurisdiction, and when applicable, referrals to the ICC. In accordance with the ICC prosecutor’s newly adopted Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes, the ICC should continue to ensure that these crimes are the focus of special attention in ICC proceedings.[lii]
     
  6. Ensure reparations programs meet international standards and include specific consideration for women and girls. Consult with local women’s rights groups and women from communities affected by armed conflict in determining and distributing reparation packages.
     
  7. Protect women’s rights in national laws and ensure they meet international standards. This includes ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) with no reservations, or removing any existing reservations to CEDAW. National laws should guarantee equality before the law, protection from violence, and freedom from discrimination, including on the basis of sex, gender, pregnancy, disability, and marital status. Consistent with international standards, sexual violence and other gender-based violence crimes should be included in the criminal code. Ensure accountability when these laws are violated.
     
  8. Institute measures to ensure accountability, including by raising public concern and urging relevant actors, including troop-contributing countries, to carry out immediate investigations when there are substantial grounds to believe that peacekeepers have committed serious human rights abuses or war crimes, including sexual exploitation and abuse.
 

[i] Human Rights Watch, A Revolution for All: Women’s Rights in the New Libya, May 2013,  https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/05/27/revolution-all/womens-rights-new-libya, p. 11.

[ii] “Libya: Extremists Terrorizing Derna Residents,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 27, 2014,  https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/27/libya-extremists-terrorizing-derna-residents.

[iii] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325 (2000), S/RES/1325 (2000) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1325(2000) (accessed July 21, 2015).

[iv] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1820 (2008), S/RES/1820 (2008) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1820(2008) (accessed  July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1888 (2009), S/RES/1888 (2009) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1888(2009) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1889 (2009), S/RES/1889 (2009) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1889(2009) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1960 (2010), S/RES/1960 (2010) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1960(2010) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106 (2013), S/RES/2106 (2013) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2106(2013) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2122 (2013), S/RES/2122 (2013) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2122(2013) (accessed July 21, 2015).

[v] According to the 2014 Secretary-General’s report on women, peace and security, data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that “only 0.35 per cent of aid allocated to conflict, peace and security activities [was] marked as having a gender focus.” United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on women and peace and security,  S/2014/693, September 2014, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2014_693.pdf (accessed July 17, 2015).

[vi] Based on data from: NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, “Mapping Women, Peace and Security in the UN Security Council: 2012-2013,” December 2013, http://womenpeacesecurity.org/media/pdf-2012-13_MAP_Report.pdf  (accessed July 8, 2015); and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, PeaceWomen, “Report Watch,” undated, http://www.peacewomen.org/security-council/report-watch (accessed July 8, 2015).

[vii] United Nations Security Council, Sixty-eighth year, 7045th meeting, October 21, 2013, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/PV.7045 (accessed July 8, 2015).

 [viii] Based on data from: NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, “Mapping Women, Peace and Security in the UN Security Council: 2012-2013”; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, PeaceWomen, “Report Watch”; and Security Council Report, “Cross Cutting Report: Women, Peace and Security,” April 2014,   http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/cross_cutting_report_2_women_peace_security_2014.pdf  (accessed July 8, 2015).

[ix] Human Rights Watch, Mass Rape in North Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabit, February 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur/sudanese-army-attacks-against-civilians-tabit.

[x] Heather Barr, “A seat at the table in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, May 1, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-seat-at-the-table-in-afghanistan/2015/05/01/fd930e26-ef41-11e4-8abc-d6aa3bad79dd_story.html (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xi] Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, October 28, 2011, http://womenpeacesecurity.org/media/pdf-Statement_OpenDebate_Oct2011.pdf (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xii] Oxfam “Behind Closed Doors: The risk of denying women a voice in determining Afghanistan’s future,” November 24, 2014, https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/bp200-behind-doors-afghan-women-rights-241114-en.pdf (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xiii] See UN Women, “Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: Connections between Presence and Influence,”  October 2012, http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2012/10/wpssourcebook-03a-womenpeacenegotiations-en.pdf (accessed July 20, 2015); and United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Women and Peace and Security, S/2011/598, September 29, 2011, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2011/598 (accessed July 27, 2015); S/2012/732, October 2, 2012, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2012/732 (accessed July 27, 2015); S/2013/525, September 4, 2013, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2013/525 (accessed July 27, 2015); and S/2014/693, September 23, 2014, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/693 (accessed July 27, 2015). See also, Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke, Women and Peace Agreements 1325 Dataset, Distributed by University of Ulster, Transitional Justice Institute, 2010 http://www.transitionaljustice.ulster.ac.uk/tji_database.html (accessed July 20, 2015).

[xiv] “Women take the reins to build peace in Colombia”, UN Women press release, May 28, 2015, http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2015/5/women-build-peace-in-colombia (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xv] Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, “Innovative WILPF Conference Gathers Syrian And Bosnian Women’s Rights Activists,” February 21, 2014,  http://www.wilpfinternational.org/innovative-wilpf-conference-gathers-syrian-and-bosnian-womens-rights-activists-2/ (accessed July 16, 205); Cynthia Enloe, “Day I of the Syrian Women’s Peace Talks in Geneva: Prelude to the Official Syrian Peace Talks,” Women’s Action for New Directions,  January 20, 2014, http://www.wandactioncenter.org/2014/01/30/guest-author-cynthia-enloes-report-from-the-syrian-peace-talks/ (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xvi] “He Left Before Syria’s Women Could Speak,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, December 19, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/12/19/dispatches-he-left-syria-s-women-could-speak (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xvii] UNSCR 1888, Operative Paragraph 17; UNSCR 1820, Operative Paragraph 10; United Nations Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Centre (UNDDR), Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standard, “5:10, Women, Gender and DDR,” August 2006, http://unddr.org/uploads/documents/IDDRS%205.10%20Women,%20Gender%20and%20DDR.pdf (accessed 21 July 2015).

[xviii] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325, Operative Paragraph 12.

[xix] “UN Human Rights Council: Call to Recognize the Status of Women's Human Rights Defenders,” Human Rights Watch Oral Statement during the Annual Day of Discussion on Women's Human Rights, June 26, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/26/un-human-rights-council-call-recognize-status-womens-human-rights-defenders.

[xx] “Sudan: Surge in Detention, Beatings, Around Elections,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 28, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/28/sudan-surge-detention-beatings-around-elections.

[xxi] “Afghanistan: Urgent Need for Safe Facilities for Female Police,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 25, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/04/25/afghanistan-urgent-need-safe-facilities-female-police.

[xxii] “Afghanistan: Surge in Women Jailed for ‘Moral Crimes,’” Human Rights Watch news release, May 21, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/05/21/afghanistan-surge-women-jailed-moral-crimes.

[xxiii] Human Rights Watch, “Here, Rape is Normal”: A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia, February 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/02/13/here-rape-normal/five-point-plan-curtail-sexual-violence-somalia.

[xxiv] “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/14/iraq-isis-escapees-describe-systematic-rape.

[xxv] Human Rights Watch, “We are Still Here”: Women on the Front Lines of Syria's Conflict, July 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/07/02/we-are-still-here/women-front-lines-syrias-conflict.

[xxvi] “Sudan: Soldiers, Militias Killing, Raping Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 14, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/12/14/sudan-soldiers-militias-killing-raping-civilians; “Sudan: Mass Rape by Army in Darfur,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 11, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/11/sudan-mass-rape-army-darfur.

[xxvii] Human Rights Watch, “Those Terrible Weeks in their Camp”: Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria, October 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/10/27/those-terrible-weeks-their-camp/boko-haram-violence-against-women-and-girls.

[xxviii] “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/14/iraq-isis-escapees-describe-systematic-rape.

29 United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on women and peace and security,  S/2014/693, p. 19.

[xxx] Human Rights Watch, “As if We Weren’t Human”: Discrimination and Violence against Women with Disabilities in Northern Uganda, August 2010, https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/08/26/if-we-werent-human/discrimination-and-violence-against-women-disabilities-northern.

[xxxi] Human Rights Watch, Rights Out of Reach: Obstacles to Health, Justice, and Protection for Displaced Victims of Gender-Based Violence in Colombia, November 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/11/14/rights-out-reach/obstacles-health-justice-and-protection-displaced-victims-gender, p. 5.

[xxxii] World Bank and World Health Organization, “World Report on Disability,” 2011, http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789240685215_eng.pdf (accessed July 21, 2015), p. 8.

[xxxiii] Human Rights Watch, “As if We Weren’t Human.”

[xxxiv] See International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Customary International Humanitarian Law (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), rule 22, citing Protocol I, art. 58(c) and rule 93 (prohibiting rape and other forms of sexual violence).

[xxxv] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (art. 7) and protects women’s right to be free from discrimination based on sex (arts. 2(1) and 26). ICCPR, adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, arts. 2 and 16; Rome Statute, arts. 7 and 8. The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that governments violate their treaty obligations not only when state actors are responsible for the action, but also when the state fails to take necessary steps to prevent violations caused by private actors. The committee’s General Recommendation No. 31 to the ICCPR notes that governments must “take appropriate measures or … exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, investigate or redress the harm caused by such acts by private persons or entities.” The Committee against Torture requires governments to prevent and protect victims from gender-based violence and rape by exercising due diligence in investigating, prosecuting, and punishing perpetrators—even private actors—of rape and sexual assault.

[xxxvi] See four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Protocols Additional of 1977. Other sources of international humanitarian law are the 1907 Hague Convention and Regulations, decisions of international tribunals, and customary law.

[xxxvii] Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.

[xxxviii] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted December 18, 1979, G.A. res. 34/180, 34 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 193, U.N. Doc. A/34/46, entered into force September 3, 1981.

[xxxix] Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force Sept. 2, 1990, arts. 2, 34, 37, 43.

[xl] Human Rights Watch, Silenced and Forgotten: Survivors of Nepal’s Conflict-Era Sexual Violence, September 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/09/23/silenced-and-forgotten/survivors-nepals-conflict-era-sexual-violence.

[xli] The United Nations has documented at least 135 victims in this case. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office on Human Rights Violations Perpetrated by Soldiers of the Congolese Armed Forces and Combatants of the M23 in Goma and Sake, North Kivu Province, and In and Around Minova, South Kivu Province, From 15 November to 2 December 2012,” May 2013, p. 4,  http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/CD/UNJHROMay2013_en.pdf (accessed July 8, 2015).

[xlii] “DR Congo: War Crimes by M23, Congolese Army,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 5, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/02/05/dr-congo-war-crimes-m23-congolese-army; “Revealed: how the world turned its back on rape victims of Congo,” The Guardian, undated, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/13/rape-victims-congo-world-turned-away (accessed July 8, 2015).

[xliii] United Nations General Assembly, “Fifty-ninth session, Agenda item 77, Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects,” March 24, 2005 http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/59/710 (accessed July 8, 2015); United Nations Secretariat, Secretary-General’s Bulletin, “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,” October 9, 2003, https://cdu.unlb.org/Portals/0/PdfFiles/PolicyDocC.pdf (accessed July 8, 2015); Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), “Evaluation Report: Evaluation of the Enforcement and Remedial Assistance Efforts for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by the United Nations and Related Personnel in Peacekeeping Operations,” May 2015, https://oios.un.org/page?slug=evaluation-report (accessed July 23, 2015).

[xliv] Somini Sengupta, “Allegations Against French Peacekeepers Highlight Obstacles in Addressing Abuse,” New York Times, May 25, 2015, (accessed July 8, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/world/europe/allegations-against-french-peacekeepers-highlight-obstacles-in-addressing-abuse.html.

[xlv] The obligation of states to prosecute grave breaches of international humanitarian law is outlined in each of the Geneva Conventions.

[xlvi] ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, pp. 591-93, 607-10.

[xlvii] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), U.N. Doc. A/CONF.183/9, July 17, 1998, entered into force July 1, 2002. The Rome Statute is the treaty creating the ICC. Command responsibility is an established principle of customary international humanitarian law and has been incorporated into the Rome Statute.

[xlviii] Rome Statute, art. 28.

[xlix] See UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, Nature of the General Legal Obligation on States Parties to the Covenant, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 (2004) , para. 15. See also, Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity (“Impunity Principles”), U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1, February 8, 2005, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in Resolution E/CN.4/2005/81, April 15, 2005, principle I; Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, adopted December 16, 2005, G.A. res. 60/147, U.N. Doc. A/RES/60/147 (2005), principle 11.

[l] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, para. 16.

[li] UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, December 20, 1993, G.A. res. 48/104, 48 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 217, U.N. Doc. A/48/49 (1993).

[lii] International Criminal Court, Office of the Prosecutor, Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes, June 2014, http://www.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/otp/OTP-Policy-Paper-on-Sexual-and-Gender-Based-Crimes--June-2014.pdf (accessed July 8, 2015).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Liesl Gerntholtz is the executive director of the women's rights division. She is an expert on women's rights in Africa and has worked and written extensively on violence against women and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. Her work at Human Rights Watch has included documenting access to safe and legal abortion in Ireland and sexual and gender-based violence in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Liesl worked for some of the key constitutional institutions promoting human rights and democracy in a post-apartheid South Africa, including the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission on Gender Equality.  A lawyer by training, she was involved in high-profile, strategic human rights litigation to promote women and children's rights, including a case that changed the definition of rape in South Africa.

NPR Interview - Women's Rights In The Age Of The Arab Spring

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Indonesia said it will stop administering “virginity tests” to female aspiring civil servants as part of its admission process. The country’s Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo announced this change—which will affect women working in government offices—on the heels of Human Rights Watch research that documented this degrading practice in the admission process for another branch of the Indonesian government, the National Police force.

Human Rights Watch found that the testing included the invasive “two-finger test” to determine whether female applicants’ hymens are intact. Minister Kumolo said that it was “illogical” to recruit a student based on her virginity and noted that a woman’s hymen could be torn due to sports, exercise, or other accidents. 

Rumors about these tests have circulated for decades, but Human Rights Watch brought the issue into the national spotlight by gathering concrete testimony from eight  current and former police women and applicants as well as police doctors, a police recruitment evaluator, a National Police Commission member, and several prominent women’s rights activists. The women we interviewed described the examination as frightening, humiliating, and extremely painful.  

Virginity tests are a form of gender-based violence, cannot be administered to men, and are inherently degrading and discriminatory. Moreover, these tests have been widely discredited by the scientific community and the World Health Organization. For years, Human Rights Watch has been pushing for an end to this practice and documenting cases of abusive testing in Indonesia and several other countries including Egypt, India, and Afghanistan

Ending virginity tests for Institute of Public Administration applicants is an important step forward, but much remains to be done.  Recently, the municipal government of Indonesia’s city of Jember in east Java proposed forcing female high school students to pass a virginity test before they could receive their diploma. This time, however, officials quickly back-pedaled from the proposal.

Indonesia’s National Police and the Indonesian Armed Forces have yet to follow the Institute of Public Administration’s lead. Despite Human Rights Watch’s findings, police officials continue to deny administering virginity tests, claiming that the female recruits are simply undergoing a required “medical examination.” Human Rights Watch’s research has also revealed that the military—the air force, the army, and the navy—has for decades also extended the “virginity test” requirement to female recruits as well as the fiancées of military officers prior to marriage.

Indonesia's police and military need to abolish virginity testing and make sure their recruiting stations across the country stop using it as well.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and his delegation sit across from European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier and his delegation at the start of their first day of talks at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, June 19, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

When I opened today’s newspaper, I recognized the photograph: another crucial negotiation, determining key questions of security and regional stability. Eleven negotiators sat at the table: five men on one side, five men and one woman on the other. Wider angles of the same photo show more women further down the table, but almost all on the EU side, and the UK government sent a nine-member team that includes one woman. This is exactly the kind of ratio we have criticized again and again elsewhere.

In Afghanistan, for example, I’ve tracked the Taliban peace talks for years, and often lambasted how unfair – and ineffective – it is for two groups of men to sit across the table from each other trying to decide the country’s future.

But this wasn’t talks with the Taliban – it was the first day of Brexit negotiations in Brussels.

Women’s full participation in negotiations related to peace and security isn’t a wacky hippie idea. It’s set out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. In a 2015 review of its implementation, governments noted the continuing absence of female negotiators at various peace talks, and pledged to change. The principle has been accepted and promoted overseas, in places like Afghanistan, by the EU and its member states, including the UK. The UK is even the official lead on this issue at the Security Council, which makes its Brexit team photo even more jarring.

Women need to be at the table for Brexit negotiations, which will play a crucial role in determining the UK’s future security and economic well-being. Brexit also poses specific risks to women. Leaving the EU could mean the UK ditches rights protections derived from EU law, including those related to employment and anti-discrimination.

Women are likely to be disproportionately affected if workers’ rights are undermined, due to gender-based discrimination in the work place, and care-giving responsibilities that often make women more dependent on flexible hours and leave policies. EU law has been critical in banning discrimination against part-time workers – an estimated 75 per cent of whom are women in the UK.

There will be women involved at other stages of Brexit, including of course Prime Minister Theresa May. But the new UK government does not have a single woman minister in the Foreign Office, and just one in the Brexit department.

UK and EU leaders should take immediate steps to ensure that women are full participants in negotiating Brexit. Nothing about us without us – not in Kabul, and not in Brussels.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Roraima is the deadliest state for women and girls in Brazil. Killings of women rose 139 percent from 2010 to 2015, reaching 11.4 homicides per 100,000 women that year, the latest for which there is data available. The national average is 4.4 killings per 100,000 womenalready one of the highest in the world.

Roraima does not collect data to determine how many of the killings of women there are related to domestic violence. However, studies in Brazil and worldwide estimate a large percentage of women are killed by partners or former partners.

Women and girls in Roraima often suffer violent attacks and abuse for years before they summon the courage to report it to the police. When they do, the government’s response is grossly inadequate.

The authorities in the Brazilian state of Roraima are failing to investigate or prosecute domestic violence cases, leaving women at further risk of abuse.

Despite a comprehensive legal framework aimed at improving responses to domestic violence and the genuine commitment of several conscientious police and justice officials Human Rights Watch spoke with in Roraima, we found failures at all points in the trajectory of how domestic violence cases are handled from the moment of abuse forward.

Only a quarter of women who suffer violence in Brazil report it, according to a February 2017 survey that does not provide state-by-state data. In our research, we found that when women in Roraima do call police they face considerable barriers to having their cases heard. In some instances, police do not even respond to calls: military policethe state police force that patrols the streets—told Human Rights Watch that, for lack of personnel, they do not respond to all emergency calls from women who say they are experiencing domestic violence.

Other women are turned away at police stations. Both domestic violence victims and authorities told us that some officers of the civil policethe state police force that receives criminal complaints and investigates crimes—in Boa Vista, the state’s capital, refuse to attend to women who want to file a complaint about an act of domestic violence or seek a protection order. Instead, they direct them to the single “women’s police station” in the statetasked with registering and investigating crimes against womeneven at times when that station is closed.

Even when police receive their complaints, women have to tell their story of abuse, including sexual abuse, in open reception areas, as there are no private rooms to take statements in any police station in the state, including the women’s police station, the chief of civil police told Human Rights Watch.

Not a single civil police officer in Roraima receives training in how to handle domestic violence cases, the chief of police also said. And it shows. Some police officers, when receiving women seeking protection orders, take statements so carelessly that judges lack the basic information they need to decide whether to issue the order.

Civil police are unable to keep up with the volume of complaints they do receive. In Boa Vista, the police have done no investigative work on a backlog of 8,400 domestic violence complaints, according to the head of the women’s police station. Police have formally opened investigations into an additional 5,000 cases in Boa Vista, many of which have been dragging on for years without results, staff at the domestic violence court told Human Rights Watch.

As a result of these failings, more than half of all domestic violence investigations are eventually closed, civil police estimated, because the statute of limitations expires before anyone is charged: most alleged domestic violence crimes languish without the police conducting meaningful investigations or prosecutors ever charging perpetrators. The state is not meeting its obligations to women and girls who are victims of domestic violence, creating an atmosphere of impunity, and missing an opportunity to break the escalation of violence that is common in abusive relationships—and that can lead to women’s deaths.

* * *

The serious problems in Roraima reflect nationwide failures to provide victims of domestic violence with access to justice and protection. Brazil has made significant advances over the years by establishing a legal framework to curb domestic violence, but it is failing to put that into practice.

These failures undermine the human rights of women—rights that are set down in treaties Brazil has ratified. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other human rights treaties require Brazil to show due diligence in preventing violation of rights by private actors and to investigate and punish acts of violence. A state’s consistent failure to do so when women are impacted in far greater proportions by the type of violence amounts to unequal and discriminatory treatment, and constitutes a violation of its obligation to guarantee women equal protection of the law. Brazil has also committed to act effectively to eliminate violence against women, as set out in the Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, known as the Convention of Belém do Pará.

Authorities in Roraima—and Brazil as a whole—need to reduce barriers for women in accessing police and ensure that domestic violence cases are properly documented at the time women report them, and then investigated and prosecuted. Authorities need to allocate more resources to training and investigation—and discipline police officers who fail to carry out their duties.

Methodology

This report is based on Human Rights Watch documentation of 31 cases of domestic violence in Roraima, and on interviews with police and justice officials in the state. We conducted interviews in Roraima in February 2017, supplemented by telephone interviews in March and May 2017, with dozens of people, including women experiencing abuse and their relatives; police officers; justice officials from the prosecutor’s office, the public defender’s office, and the court; and members of the Humanitarian Support Center for Women (CHAME, in Portuguese), a center providing legal, psychological, and social support to survivors of domestic violence that is funded by the state legislature. We also reviewed official documentation in most of the 31 cases, including police reports and judicial files. Finally, we consulted published sources and spoke with domestic violence judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and defense lawyers in the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, and Ceará, and several national experts.

We have withheld the names of the women and girls who experienced domestic violence for security reasons, except in the case of Taise Campos, who consented to using her real name. Where we have used pseudonyms, we have indicated so in the relevant citations. We have also removed the exact dates of interviews in some cases to further guard the identity of victims and family members.

All interviewees were informed of the purpose of the interviews and that their interviews would be used in Human Rights Watch publications. No incentives were offered or provided to people interviewed. The interviews were conducted in Portuguese.

Domestic Violence in Brazil

Almost a third of Brazilian girls and women older than 16 said in a February 2017 survey by polling firm Datafolha that they had, during the past year, suffered violence ranging from threats to beatings to attempted killings.[1] In 61 percent of the cases, the attackers were partners, former partners, or other acquaintances of the victim.[2] Only a quarter of women who suffer violence report it, the survey found.[3]

In 2013, a parliamentary inquiry established by Congress published partial nationwide datathe states did not provide all the information requestedthat shows, consistent with what Human Rights Watch found in Roraima, significant failures in the state response to domestic violence.[4] Its 1,045-page report said, for instance, that in the state of Ceará no more than 11 percent of domestic violence complaints resulted in investigations;[5] and in the state of Minas Gerais prosecutors filed charges in only 11 percent of the investigations police sent them.[6]

There were 4,521 killings of women in Brazil in 2015.[7] A study based on 2013 Ministry of Health data estimates half of all cases that year were “femicides,”[8] defined in a 2015 law that increases penalties for such crimes as the killing of a woman “on account of her gender.”[9]

Brazil has a comprehensive legal framework, established by the 2006 “Maria da Penha” law,[10] to prevent violence and to ensure justice when it occurs. But implementation is lagging.

The law called for the expansion of women’s police stations and domestic violence units within non-specialized police stations.[11] Such stations and units, however, remain concentrated in major urban centers and serve an average population of 210,000 women each.[12] 

A 2015 World Bank study of 2,000 municipalities credited the presence of women’s police stations with a 17 percent drop in the homicide rate of women living in metropolitan areas where such centers were active.[13] And yet, these stations could be even more effective if they were open during hours more conducive to addressing the needs of women: according to the parliamentary inquiry, most are closed during evenings and on weekends, precisely when domestic violence is most likely to occur.[14]

Thanks to the Maria da Penha law, judges can order suspected abusers to stay away from a woman’s home and not to contact her or her family, among other protective measures. But police fail to monitor the vast majority of protection orders.[15] 

Domestic Violence in Roraima

Roraima is a state nearly the size of Ecuador, in the far north of Brazil, with a population of only half a million people. The state collects no official data on the prevalence of domestic violence, defined by the Maria da Penha law as any “action or omission”—within a household, family, or intimate relationship—that is based on gender and that causes “death, injury, physical, sexual or psychological suffering, and moral or economic abuse.”[16]

The 31 cases of domestic violence we documented illustrate how it affects women of all socioeconomic classes, ages, and races. In all those cases, women said they had suffered psychological violence. Their abusers had intimidated, insulted, and threatened them repeatedly. In 19 cases, the psychological violence had escalated to physical violence, including five instances of sexual violence. In four cases, women alleged economic abuse, defined by the Maria da Penha law as the retention or destruction of a woman’s property.[17]

Separation was often a critical moment, when the abuse escalated and when women reported seeking state intervention, as a man saw his control over a woman slipping away. Fourteen of the women whose cases we documented said their children witnessed the abuse and at times also suffered it.

Those observations are consistent with findings by large-scale studies in Brazil. For instance, a 2016 survey among 10,000 women in the northeastern states found more than a quarter had suffered domestic violence in their lifetimes, most commonly psychological abuse,  and more than half of mothers who endured physical violence said their children witnessed or suffered it. [18]  

Failure to Provide Adequate Access to Justice

In most of the 31 cases Human Rights Watch documented, the women had endured many episodes of abuse before reporting to authorities. The reason for not reporting abuse varied: family pressure to maintain a relationship, distress about stigmatization when reporting to police, fear of losing a partner’s financial support for children, or a justifiable belief that reporting to the police would prompt an abuser to carry out threats. When women in Roraima do gather the courage to contact authorities—whether calling the military police or going to a civil police station—the response is often deficient.

Major Miguel Arcanjo Lopes, coordinator of community policing and human rights at Roraima’s Military Police, told Human Rights Watch that in a number of cases, military police fail to send an officer to respond to a woman’s emergency call for help.[19] The force lacks the personnel to respond to all such calls so they choose those that seem most severe, he said. The military police do not provide data on how many calls are received and ignored.

When officers respond to calls for help and they determine the woman has suffered violence, Lopes said, they take the victim and the alleged aggressor to the civil police to register a complaint. If officers conclude that the problem is merely a “disagreement,” they try to reconcile the man and woman, Lopes said. But officers who make that potentially life or death decision receive little or no training.

Captain Cyntya Loureto, coordinator of the Ronda Maria da Penha, a specialized military police unit that responds to 20 percent of the domestic violence calls in Boa Vista, told us that officers who are members of the unit receive only one day of training on responding to domestic violence, ever. Officers from other units receive no such training.[20]

A girl, who we will refer to as “Cláudia” for her safety, told Human Rights Watch that when she made an emergency call to the military police, they ignored her allegations of domestic violence and tried to “reconcile” her with an abuser.[21]

Cláudia became pregnant in February 2016, when she was 13 and her boyfriend was 18, which constituted statutory rape under Brazilian law. They moved in together, and after she gave birth, he hit her on three separate occasions, injuring her in the mouth, eye, and thigh. He also threatened to kill her if she left him. She did not report the abuse because she did not want to raise a child alone. “I cried, just cried, and asked him not to do that to me, but he continued,” Cláudia said.

On January 18, 2017, after her boyfriend locked her in their home, Cláudia escaped and, for the first time, called the police. They didn’t come, but she called again and they eventually arrived. She told the officers about the abuse and injuries, and they tried to reconcile her with her boyfriend. Three days later, she fled with the baby to her mother’s house. Her boyfriend smashed the fence and broke into the house. She said he hit her in the ribs, and threatened, again, to kill her. That same day, for the first time, she went in person to the police, with her stepfather. The statement the civil police recorded (pasted below) consists of a single paragraph about the last incident; it makes no allusion to Cláudia’s allegations of prior abuse.

 
(Report number redacted by Human Rights Watch.)[22]

 

The only women’s police station in Roraima is in Boa Vista—hundreds of miles from some communities in the state—and it serves all 255,000 women in the state.[23] It is open between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on weekdays only. It is closed at night and on Saturday and Sunday, precisely when the Roraima military police told us that violence against women is most likely.[24] When the women’s police station is closed, an officer remains on duty to register complaints, but in fact registers “few,” Elivânia Aguiar, the head of the station, told us.[25] The officer keeps the door of the station locked, and only opens it if someone knocks, Aguiar explained. Military police and civil police from other stations do not send victims to the women’s police station while it is closed. The officer on duty has no authority to request protection orders. 

Not a single police station in Roraima provides private rooms for women to make statements, the chief of civil police, Edinéia Chagas, told Human Rights Watch. Even in the women’s police station, women have to tell of abuse, including sexual abuse, in open reception areas.[26]

Many survivors of domestic violence face such a cruel combination of social stigma and profound trauma that failing to provide a private space can deter reporting. As Taise Campos, a teacher who suffered violence, told us, “going to the women’s police station is not good, but going to any other is most horrible, because you are generally speaking in front of many people. … You are so exposed that you feel naked.”[27] Lack of confidentiality could also put women at risk if the abuser learns from others in the station that the survivor has made a statement, and even the specifics of that statement.

According to Brazilian law, women should be able to report domestic violence in any police station, but in Roraima, that is not guaranteed. For example, a domestic violence survivor we’ll call “Priscila” tried to file a complaint on a weekend and a police officer told her to wait until the women’s police station opened on Monday.[28]

Priscila, 42, often suffered beatings and verbal violence from her partner of eight years. Priscila’s 13-year-old daughter, “Lais,” witnessed it. “In the morning, I see the marks of the beatings,” Lais said, “and she always tells me what happened.” Late on Saturday night, December 3, 2016, Priscila’s partner pushed her out of his house, Lais said, and in the middle of the street he hit her in the head, face, and arm. He only stopped when Priscila’s son blocked him. Lais called the military police, who came but did nothing, she said. “They only left their card.” At 3 a.m. on Sunday, Priscila and Lais walked for an hour to reach a non-specialized police station. An officer there told them they had to wait until Monday to report the beating at the women’s police station. On Tuesday, Priscila went to a public event where she had heard that the domestic violence prosecutor would appear. The prosecutor had an official car drive Priscila to the women’s police station, where she reported the beating.

Domestic violence is so complex and dangerous—both to victims and to the officers who intervene—that training is essential for all law enforcement officers. Yet like most military police officers, the civil police officers who record and investigate women’s complaints in Roraima receive no training at all in how to respond to domestic violence, the state civil police chief told Human Rights Watch. Shockingly, even those who work at the women’s police station receive no training.

The lack of training has serious consequences, according to such experts as Lucimara Campaner, the domestic violence prosecutor for the state of Roraima, and Sara Farias, an attorney at CHAME.[29] Some police officers only register domestic violence complaints in cases of physical abuse, they said, and fail to identify other types of violence, such as psychological violence. Worse yet, one victim and various officials mentioned cases in which officers blamed the victim even as they were recording their statements, implying to women who called for help that they had provoked the abuser.

Such lapses, errors, and negligence on the part of civil police go unaddressed. The chief of civil police in Roraima said that she did not know of any civil police officer who had been disciplined for improper treatment of a victim of domestic violence.[30]

Failure to Investigate Domestic Violence

When a woman goes to any civil police station, the police make a report of her complaint. In Boa Vista, the women’s police station registered 2,026 such complaints in 2016.[31] The woman’s police station is in charge of investigating all complaints of domestic violence filed anywhere in the city. In 2016, it opened investigations into only 957 cases.[32]  

The women’s police station also compiles the domestic violence complaints registered by the city’s other police stations. Yet the chief of the women’s police station could not tell Human Rights Watch how many complaints had been filed throughout the city.[33] She cited the inadequacy of the police computer system.

A backlog of about 8,400 domestic violence complaints languishes in the women’s police station in Boa Vista, the station’s chief said, because she lacks the personnel to take the “initial investigative steps”—such as interviewing the victim—that would allow police to formally open an investigation. Instead of obtaining all the facts when a victim arrives to file a complaint, the civil police register a brief report (the “boletim de ocorrência”). They assure the victim that they will call her later to return to the police station for a full statement. But the women’s police station is unable to contact all such women for lack of staff, the chief said. No more than 10 police officers and clerks staff each shift, focusing only on what they determine to be most urgent. As a result, some victims never get to give full statements and their complaints go nowhere.

Even when police formally open an investigation, they do not necessarily investigate. By law, police need to send a completed investigation to a prosecutor within 30 days, if a suspect is free, or within 10 days, if detained, but they can request an extension of that deadline.[34] In reality, in thousands of cases under investigation, police ask for extensions for years on end, and many cases are simply closed once the statute of limitations on the crime runs out.

The chief of the women’s police station estimates that the statute of limitations has passed in more than half of the investigations they finish and send on to the domestic violence prosecutor.[35] Similarly, the domestic violence prosecutor said she files more petitions before the judge to close cases, every month, than to charge abusers, most often because the statute of limitations has run out.[36] The prosecutor blames the failure to collect evidence and conclude investigations in a timely manner on a lack of civil police personnel and resources.

The prosecutor said that she also asks the judge to close cases when women who report threats to the police later decide they no longer want the alleged abuser to be prosecuted. Explicit consent is necessary to prosecute threats under Brazilian law. The prosecutor said that some women withdraw their consent because the couple has reconciled; others do so in response to pressure by the alleged aggressor’s family or because they depend financially on the alleged aggressor. Although the prosecutor did not have exact data, she said that she asks to have more cases closed because the statute of limitations has run out than because the women withdrew their consent to move forward with the case.

The Boa Vista District domestic violence court handles all domestic violence investigations except femicides and attempted femicides, which go to the homicide court. Of the 5,000 active domestic violence investigations reported to us by the Boa Vista court, more than half—2,885—are of incidents from 2013 or earlier.[37] That means, for example, that the three-year statute of limitations on the crime of threat—very common in domestic violence cases—has expired. Almost 10 percent of the investigations—482—are of incidents that occurred from 2007 through 2010.[38] All of those have either expired or are about to do so, because the statute of limitations for most cases of bodily injury, the gravest crime dealt with by the domestic violence court, is eight years.[39]

The failure to investigate domestic violence cases is even more appalling because, unlike with many other crimes, the alleged perpetrator is known. Victims often provide an abuser’s contact information, and they often provide physical exams, records of threatening messages, and the contact information of possible witnesses. But civil police often fail to follow up.[40]

The life of schoolteacher Taise Campos, 38, changed radically 11 years ago when her husband started drinking and becoming aggressive.[41] He verbally abused her, broke religious images and other objects that were dear to her, and beat her in front of their two children, Campos told Human Rights Watch. He would lock Campos and the children in a room for hours, she said. And yet, she never filed a police report. “I did not seek out the authorities because I hoped that with prayer and perseverance, I could reverse the decline,” she said. But the abuse never stopped. The couple divorced in 2010, but Campos’s ex-husband continued to threaten her. “He was always sending me very aggressive text messages to threaten me: You are not protected. You can be shot at anytime. It may take 10, 15, 20 years, but one day I’ll kill you.” Finally, she went to the authorities, she said, filing more than 15 police reports, as years of abuse dragged on. She said she provided evidence to support her complaints. She left her cell phone at the civil police station for analysis—for a year and a half. Yet the statute of limitations on each crime she alleged has expired. Campos has challenged the court’s decision to close the case.

In most of the almost 900 domestic violence incidents in which the prosecutor has filed charges and are now pending trial in Boa Vista, the prosecutor told us that police caught the suspect in the act of abuse. [42] In those cases, law enforcement personnel take the suspect and the victim to the police station, where they make full statements and they undergo medical exams. Unlike the majority of domestic violence cases—in which police do not take a full statement from the victim right away—cases in which police catch perpetrators in the act of abuse move forward because police collect key evidence at the moment of arrest. 

By failing to investigate and prosecute most domestic violence cases, the state permits an atmosphere of impunity for these crimes, allowing for an escalation of violence, common in abusive relationships, that can lead to a woman’s death. “In 100 percent of cases, there is information about prior violence,” Paulo André Trindade, one of the two homicide prosecutors in Boa Vista, said of femicide.[43] “The level of aggression evolves from psychological violence to physical violence and homicide.”

The Boa Vista homicide prosecutor’s office had no data on the percentage of killings or attempted killings of women that have resulted in convictions. When cases get to trial, Trindade said, they often result in convictions. Yet sloppy police work can be a problem all along the way. Military police sometimes do not preserve the crime scene, he said, and forensic experts do not do adequate analysis, or any at all. Shoddy investigative work impeded justice, for example, in the case of 16-year-old Cleiciane Sabino da Silva.[44]

Da Silva was beaten to death with a hammer on November 5, 2012 in a rural area of Urubuzinho. Her 31-year-old husband and his three friends had been drinking, police said, and after two of the friends left to buy more alcohol and Da Silva’s husband passed out from drinking, the third friend, Wydeglan Falcão, 22, raped her and beat her to death. Falcão fled and was captured two years later.[45] He was acquitted in November 2016 because of what the prosecutor called blatant failures of forensic analysis.[46] Forensic experts had failed to take pictures of the crime scene, failed to collect fingerprints, and failed to collect semen properlymaking DNA analysis impossible. 

Barriers to Requesting Protection Orders

A crucial contribution of the Maria da Penha law was the creation of protection orders, which the United Nations Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women considers “among the most effective legal remedies” available to women.[47]

Among other measures, the law allows judges to order suspected abusers to stay away from a woman’s home and not to approach or contact her or her relatives.[48] Men who violate a protection order can be punished with fines, and judges can find that the violation is grounds for pretrial detention.[49]

Any chief police officer (“delegado”) in Brazil can request that a judge grant a protection order on behalf of a woman or girl who has been abused. But just as in the filing of domestic violence complaints as a whole, officers in some police stations in Boa Vista erroneously tell victims that they need to go to the women’s police station to seek a protection order. Once again, the closure of the women’s police station on weekends and at night means that women in danger may have to wait more than two days to request a protection order. Fifty percent more women appear at the station to file complaints or request protection orders on Mondays than on other days, the chief of the station told Human Rights Watch—proof of the dangerous weekend wait-time.[50] Such restriction of reporting runs counter to the purpose of protection orders, which are intended as emergency measures, when speed is essential to preventing continuing violence.

Cláudia, the 14-year-old mother mentioned earlier, went to a non-specialized police station closer to her home than the women’s station after suffering several beatings by her boyfriend.[51] An officer made a police report only of the most recent incident and told her she would have to go to the women’s police station to request a protection order. It was Saturday, the women’s station was closed, and Cláudia spent several days in terror that her boyfriend would return to hit her. She finally made a two-hour trip by foot and bus to the women’s police station and requested a protection order, which a judge granted. When Human Rights Watch interviewed Cláudia days later, she was living at her mother’s house, where her boyfriend had previously broken in to abuse her. Since the order was issued, she said, her boyfriend had not come looking for her.

Unlike Cláudia, some women and girls may give up after being turned away from the first station where they seek a protection order. Lack of transportation money, shame at having to repeat their story in public, and fear of improper police treatment are all deterrents.

Failure in Processing Protection Orders

Human Rights Watch found that police officers, especially at non-specialized stations, sometimes fail to record information when taking a woman’s statement that is key to characterizing the nature of the abuse. That makes it difficult for judges to deliver an informed decision as to whether a woman requires a protective order. “In 60 percent of police reports, there is information missing,” a law clerk at the domestic violence court said.[52]

When key information is missing, a domestic violence judge asks the public defender’s office to re-interview the woman seeking the protection order. In such cases, women have to appear at the public defender’s office; the office does not have the resources to interview women at home.

Repeating the interview delays the issuance of protection orders, often for weeks, at a moment when women are most at risk of renewed violence. Worse, in some cases, the domestic violence public defender is unable to arrange a repeat interview.[53] Women often change their phone numbers to protect themselves from abusers. When staff cannot make contact to re-do a flawed interview, a protection order is never issued and a woman is left in danger.

The difference between victims’ statements taken by police–even at the women’s police station–and by the domestic violence public defender is striking. The public defender, who provides legal representation to women, usually describes the context of the violence, details past abuses and threats, and typically renders more than two-and-a-half pages of text. She also describes actions that may not constitute crimes but that are consistent with the definitions of violence outlined in the Maria da Penha law and characterize an abusive relationship, such as a man’s attempts to control what a woman does or where she is or his refusal to accept the end of a relationship. The statements contained in police reports that we examined consisted of two paragraphs, at most. At times, they failed to include information critical to understanding patterns of abuse.

In the case of 22-year-old “Maria,” police described her abuse as a couple’s fight, neglected to note prior abuse, and failed to mention whether Maria had requested a protection order at the time she filed the complaint.[54]

Maria went to the women’s police station on December 20, 2016, to report abuse by her 24-year-old husband. They had been together since she was 15, and had one child. They had a “dispute” in the early hours of December 20, as the police report below phrased it, during which Maria’s husband swore at her, threatened her, and hit her in the face and on the arms and legs. Maria hit back, “to defend herself,” the report noted, but it added that they did not fight often, though Maria’s husband was “very jealous.” In the morning, Maria asked her husband to leave, and when he refused, she took the child and moved in with her mother.

 (Names of the victim and her husband redacted by Human Rights Watch)[55]

In contrast, a petition for a protection order that the public defender filed 23 days later on Maria’s behalf detailed that she had suffered “constant verbal violence” for three years and lived “always in fear” of her husband. After the beating on December 20, the petition noted, she went to the women’s police station to “request a protection order” and to have a physical exam that would show the bruising. Maria’s husband still threatens her constantly, the petition notes, demanding that she come back to him.

Insufficient Monitoring of Protection Orders

The domestic violence court in Boa Vista, the only one in Roraima, said that in February 2017 there were 600 women under protection orders in its district.[56] It did not have statewide data.

Until September 2015, police did not monitor compliance with protection orders in Roraima. Since then, the domestic violence court and the municipal government of Boa Vista only—not the rest of the state—have followed the example of a handful of other Brazilian cities, setting up a Maria da Penha patrol to monitor the most serious cases, as determined by the staff of the judge who issues the protective orders.

The patrol is staffed by 11 municipal guards who visit as many as 12 women daily. During the first month that an order is active, they see a woman three times a week, unless she declines the visits. Afterwards, they stop visiting. If the woman reports that an aggressor has violated the protection order, the municipal guards write a report about the violation that is added to the case file. The prosecutor, judge, and public defender said such reports were extremely helpful—and used in legal proceedings.

Police do not, however, monitor protection orders that are not selected by the staff of the domestic violence judge in Boa Vista or issued by other judges outside of the capital.

Recommendations

In 1991, Human Rights Watch published a report on domestic violence in Brazil.[57] Since then, the country has made important progress, particularly with the approval of the Maria da Penha law in 2006. In recent years, the federal government has invested in the construction of joint facilities known as “Brazilian Women’s Houses,” housing women’s police stations, domestic violence prosecutors, public defenders, and judges, as well as support services for victims. One such facility was slated to open in Boa Vista in 2014 and is only now nearing completion.[58]

Still, Roraima—and all of Brazil—need to do much more to address the chronic problem of domestic violence. To understand its scope, the police and justice system in Roraima and every other state should start collecting and publishing comprehensive data on the number of police complaints, investigations, cases in which charges are filed, and trials and their outcomes, as well as the number of killings of women and how many are suspected femicides, as defined by Brazilian law.

It is crucial that authorities reduce barriers women and girls face in filing complaints. To do so, Roraima should expand its women’s police station–in personnel and in regular operating hours. State authorities should ensure all police stations have rooms to provide privacy and confidentiality to victims. Civil police officers should take victims’ full statements when they first arrive at any station and should then carry out prompt and thorough investigations of all complaints.

Meeting such basic standards will require specialized training for military and civil police officers who handle domestic violence cases, the development of detailed written protocols about how to respond to emergency calls, and how to record and process women’s complaints and requests for protection orders.

The Internal Affairs departments should discipline officers who fail to abide by internal rules and protocols, and by the Maria da Penha law and other legislation, when dealing with domestic violence cases. Public defenders and, above all, prosecutors, should inform Internal Affairs departments of police misconduct.

In addition, the public defender’s office should designate at least one more public defender to represent women in domestic violence cases, especially those who live outside of Boa Vista and who currently would have to travel to the capital for those services.

Finally, justice officials in Roraima should work with state and municipal authorities to ensure that municipal guards or the military police monitor each and every protection order.

Acknowledgments

This report was written by César Muñoz Acebes, based on research conducted by César Muñoz Acebes and Tamara Taraciuk Broner, senior researchers in the Americas Division. It was reviewed and edited by Daniel Wilkinson, managing director of the Americas division; Margaret Knox, senior editor/researcher; Dan Baum, senior editor/researcher; Amanda Klasing, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division; Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director; Bede Sheppard, deputy director of the Children’s Rights Division; Christopher Albin-Lackey, senior legal advisor; and Joseph Saunders, deputy program director. Andrea Carvalho, consultant in the Americas Division, provided research support. Hugo Arruda, Brazil acting senior manager, and Kate Segal, senior Americas associate, provided logistical and editing support. The report was prepared for publication by Olivia Hunter, publications associate, Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager, and Jose Martinez, senior coordinator.

Human Rights Watch would like to thank prosecutor Lucimara Campaner, public defender Jeane Xaud, judge Sissi Marlene Schwantes, and their staff; the Humanitarian Support Center for Women (CHAME, in Portuguese); the civil and military police of the state of Roraima; and the Boa Vista municipal guards of the Maria da Penha Patrol for providing insights and information for this report.

Most importantly, we are deeply grateful to the women who so generously shared their stories with us. We are especially thankful to Taise Campos, a survivor of domestic violence whose courage inspires us.

[1] Datafolha/Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, “Visível e invisível: a vitimização de mulheres no Brasil,” March 2017, http://www.forumseguranca.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/relatorio-pesquisa-vs4.pdf (accessed June 5, 2017),  p.12.

[2] Ibid., p. 15.

[3] Ibid., p. 17.

[4] Federal Senate, “Comissão parlamentar mista de inquérito: Relatório Final: Violência contra a Mulher,” June 2013, https://www12.senado.leg.br/institucional/omv/entenda-a-violencia/pdfs/relatorio-final-da-comissao-parlamentar-mista-de-inquerito-sobre-a-violencia-contra-as-mulheres (accessed June 5, 2017).

[5] Ibid., p. 263.

[6] Ibid., p. 462.

[7] Ipea/Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, “Atlas da Violência 2017,” June 2017, http://www.forumseguranca.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/FBSP_atlas_da_violencia_2017_relatorio_de_pesquisa.pdf (accessed June 6, 2017), p. 36. A 2015 academic study stated that Brazil was the country with the fifth highest rate of killings of women among a group of 83 countries with “comparable” datapublished by the World Health Organizationafter El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, and Russia. Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, “Mapa da Violência 2015: Homicídio de Mulheres no Brasil,” FLACSO, 2015, http://www.mapadaviolencia.org.br/pdf2015/MapaViolencia_2015_mulheres.pdf (accessed June 05, 2017), p. 70.

[8] Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, “Mapa da Violência 2015: Homicídio de Mulheres no Brasil,” FLACSO, 2015, http://www.mapadaviolencia.org.br/pdf2015/MapaViolencia_2015_mulheres.pdf (accessed June 5, 2017), p. 70.

[9] Law No. 13.104, 2015, art. 1°, www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_Ato2015-2018/2015/lei/L13104.htm (accessed June 5, 2017).

[10] “Maria da Penha” Law No. 11.340, 2006, http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2004-2006/2006/lei/l11340.htm (accessed June 5, 2017).

[11] According to government data, Brazil has 368 women’s police stations and 131 domestic violence units within a non-specialized police station. Roraima has one women’s police station and no domestic violence unit withing a non-specialized police station. “DEAM - Delegacias Especializadas de Atendimento [da] Mulher,” http://sistema3.planalto.gov.br/spmu/atendimento/busca_subservico.php?uf=TD&cod_subs=11 (accessed June 9, 2017); “Postos/Núcleos/Secções de Atendimento [da] Mulher nas Delegacias Comuns,” http://sistema3.planalto.gov.br/spmu/atendimento/busca_subservico.php?uf=TD&cod_subs=12 (accessed June 9, 2017).

[12] Helena Bertho, “Delegacias da Mulher só existem em 7,9% das cidades brasileiras,” AzMina, October 31, 2016, http://azmina.com.br/2016/10/delegacias-da-mulher-so-existem-em-5-das-cidades-brasileiras/ (accessed June 5, 2017).

[13] Elizaveta Perova and Sarah Reynolds, “Women’s Police Stations and Domestic Violence: Evidence from Brazil,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No 7497, November 2015, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/23461/Women0s0police0evidence0from0Brazil.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (accessed June 5, 2017), p. 17.

[14] Federal Senate, “Comissão parlamentar mista de inquérito: Relatório Final: Violência contra a Mulher,” 2013, https://www12.senado.leg.br/institucional/omv/entenda-a-violencia/pdfs/r...inquerito-sobre-a-violencia-contra-as-mulheres (accessed June 5, 2017), p. 49.

[15] Protection orders are only monitored in cities that have set up Maria da Penha patrols, units of the military police or the municipal guard that make regular visits to women with protection orders. Started in Porto Alegre, they exist now in other cities, including Curitiba, São Paulo, Campo Grande, Fortaleza, Salvador, Manaus, and Boa Vista. Bill 547/2015, under consideration in Congress as of this writing, would establish the patrols nationwide by law. See “Comissão aprova nacionalização da ‘Patrulha Maria da Penha,’” Senado Notícias, April 6, 2016, http://www12.senado.leg.br/noticias/materias/2016/04/06/comissao-aprova-nacionalizacao-da-2018patrulha-maria-da-penha2019 (accessed June 5, 2017); Law proposal 547/2015, http://www25.senado.leg.br/web/atividade/materias/-/materia/122758 (accessed June 5, 2017).

[16] “Maria da Penha” Law, art. 5°

[17] Ibid., art. 7°, IV.

[18] José Raimundo de Carvalho and Victor Hugo de Oliveira, “Pesquisa de Condições Socioeconômicas e Violência Doméstica e Familiar contra a Mulher - Relatório Executivo I,” December 6, 2016, www.compromissoeatitude.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Pesquisa-Nordeste_Sumario-Executivo.pdf (accessed June 5, 2017), p. 7.

[19] Email from Major Miguel Arcanjo Lopes, coordinator of community policing and human rights at Roraima’s Military Police, to Human Rights Watch, May 11, 2017.

[20]  Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Captain Cyntya Loureto, coordinator of the Ronda Maria da Penha, Boa Vista, Roraima, March 30, 2017.

[21] Human Rights Watch interview with Cláudia (pseudonym), Boa Vista, Roraima, February 2017.

[22] The complaint says: “He (the stepfather) appeared before this police station to state that his daughter was at his house, and that at the moment he (the stepfather) was not at home, when her former husband arrived, the above-mentioned individual, and to access the property, he broke the fence and once inside the residence, he started an argument with the daughter, and in that moment he (the former husband) hit her in the ribs and, not satisfied with that, he made threats, saying he was going to kill her. He (the stepfather) adds that such threats and acts of aggression are due to the fact that his daughter refuses to continue to live with him (the former husband), and he does not accept the break-up. He (the stepfather) informs that he has already tried to talk to him (the former husband) to ask him not to go after his daughter anymore, without success. That’s the statement.” Even though the report identifies Cláudia´s partner as her husband, Cláudia told Human Rights Watch they were not legally married. The report does not mention the baby. Both Cláudia and her stepfather signed the police complaint.

[23] Human Rights Watch interview with Edinéia Chagas, chief of civil police of the state of Roraima, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 16, 2017. For the estimate of the number of women in the state, see Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, “Projeção da população do Brasil e das Unidades da Federação,” http://www.ibge.gov.br/apps/populacao/projecao/ (accessed June 5, 2017).

[24] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Captain Cyntya Loureto, coordinator of the Ronda Maria da Penha, Boa Vista, Roraima, March 30, 2017.

[25] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Elivânia Aguiar, chief of the women’s police station, Boa Vista, Roraima, May 5, 2017.

[26] Human Rights Watch interview with Edinéia Chagas, chief of civil police of the state of Roraima, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 16, 2017.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with Taise Campos, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 15, 2017.      

[28] Human Rights Watch analysis of police report; interview with Lais (pseudonym), Boa Vista, Roraima, February 2017; and interview with Lucimara Campaner, the only domestic violence prosecutor in the state of Roraima, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 10, 2017.

[29] Human Rights Watch interviews with Lucimara Campaner, the only domestic violence prosecutor in the state of Roraima, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 10, 2017; and Sara Farias, attorney at the Humanitarian Support Center for Women (CHAME, in Portuguese), Boa Vista, Roraima, February 14, 2017.

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with Edinéia Chagas, chief of civil police of the state of Roraima, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 16, 2017.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Elivânia Aguiar, chief of the women’s police station, Boa Vista, Roraima, May 5, 2017.

[34] Code of Criminal Procedure, Decree-Law No. 3.689, 1941, art. 10, www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/decreto-lei/Del3689Compilado.htm (accessed June 5, 2017).

[35] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Elivânia Aguiar, chief of the women’s police station, Boa Vista, Roraima, May 5, 2017.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Lucimara Campaner, the only domestic violence prosecutor in the state of Roraima, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 10, 2017.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview with judge Sissi Marlene Schwantes, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 10, 2017.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Criminal Code, Decree-Law No. 2.848, 1940, art. 129, sec. 9° and 10°, http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/DecretoLei/Del2848.htm (accessed June 5, 2017).

[40] The chief of the women’s police station, Elivânia Aguiar, told Human Rights Watch that in many cases the station’s staff is unable to do the required investigative work due to lack of personnel. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Elivânia Aguiar, chief of the women’s police station, Boa Vista, Roraima, May 5, 2017.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Taise Campos, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 15, 2017.    

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Lucimara Campaner, the only domestic violence prosecutor in the state of Roraima, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 10, 2017.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Paulo André Trindade, homicide prosecutor, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 13, 2017.

[44] Criminal Process No 0010.13.05993-3 – II Homicide Court, Boa Vista.

[45] “Suspeito de ter assassinado adolescente é capturado após dois anos pela Polinter,” FolhaWeb, November 6, 2014, http://folhabv.com.br/noticia/Suspeito-de-ter-assassinado-adolescente-e-capturado-apos-dois-anos-pela-Polinter/2031 (accessed June 5, 2017).

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with Paulo André Trindade, homicide prosecutor, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 13, 2017.

[47] Division for the Advancement of Women in the Department of Social and Economic Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, “The Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women,” 2010, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/vaw/handbook/Handbook%20for%20legislation%20on%20violence%20against%20women.pdf (accessed June 5, 2017), p. 45.

[48] Judges can also restrict or suspend visitation rights to children, order the suspect to temporarily pay alimony, and restrict or suspend the right to bear arms. Judges can apply other restrictions not mentioned expressly in the law. Judges can issue protection orders with or without time limitation.

[49] The Maria da Penha law states the violation of a protection order can be punished with a fine. In addition, Brazil’s Code of Criminal Procedure says in art. 313, para. III that judges can order preventive detention “to guarantee the enforcement of protection orders.” Brazil’s Superior Justice Tribunal has ruled that violating a protection order is not a crime. See "Descumprir medida protetiva não configura delito de desobediência," Consultor Jurídico, January 6, 2015, www.conjur.com.br/2015-jan-06/descumprir-medida-protetiva-nao-configura-delito-desobediencia (accessed June 5, 2017). A bill (PL 173/2015) approved by Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies would make violating a protection order a crime, punishable with up to 2 years in prison. The vote in the Senate was pending at the time of writing. Câmara dos Deputados, “Descumprimento de medidas protetivas da Lei Maria da Penha poderá ser crime,” Câmara Notícias, March 23, 2016, http://www2.camara.leg.br/camaranoticias/noticias/DIREITO-E-JUSTICA/505885-DESCUMPRIMENTO-DE-MEDIDAS-PROTETIVAS-DA-LEI-MARIA-DA-PENHA-PODERA-SER-CRIME.html (accessed June 5, 2017); Law proposal No 173/2015, http://www25.senado.leg.br/web/atividade/materias/-/materia/125318 (accessed June 5, 2017).

[50] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Elivânia Aguiar, chief of the women’s police station, Boa Vista, Roraima, May 5, 2017.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Cláudia (pseudonym), Boa Vista, Roraima, February 2017.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with judge Sissi Marlene Schwantes and the staff of the domestic violence court, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 10, 2017.

[53] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jeane Xaud, the only domestic violence public defender in Roraima, Boa Vista, Roraima, March 28, 2017.

[54] Human Rights Watch obtained both the original police complaint in her case and the subsequent petition for a protection order filed by the domestic violence public defender.

[55] The complaint says: “The victim, Mrs.…appeared at this specialized police station – DEAM (the Portuguese acronym for the women’s police station) to state that on the above-mentioned date and address the following events took place: The victim states that she is legally married with the alleged aggressor, Mr….; that they have lived together for 7 years; that they have a daughter, named …, 4 years old; that the victim states that in the early hours of 12/20/16, at around 00:01 she and the alleged aggressor had an argument during which … (name of husband) attacked her physically, slapping her face, hitting her in the arms and kicking her in the legs; that the victim states that she attacked … (name of husband) with the objective of defending herself; that besides the physical attack, … (name of husband) insulted her profusely, calling her ‘slut,’ ‘bitch,’ among other names; that he even threatened her saying: ‘You are getting to know me today. You are going to see what I am going to do with you;’ the victim states that … (name of husband) had drunk alcohol hours before the events occurred; the victim states that … (name of husband) was always rude; but they did not have many disagreements, although he was also very jealous; the victim states that on the night of the events, after the argument, both calmed down, and the victim slept in one of the rooms and … (name of the husband) in another one; that the next morning the victim talked to … (name of husband) and asked him to leave the house, and he refused; that because of that the victim left the house, taking with her their daughter, and went to live with her mother; the victim states that she wants to initiate a criminal complaint against … (name of husband). That’s the statement.”

[56] Human Rights Watch interview with judge Sissi Marlene Schwantes and the staff of the domestic violence court, Boa Vista, Roraima, February 10, 2017.

[57] Human Rights Watch, Criminal Injustice. Violence Against Women in Brazil, October 1991, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/BRAZIL91O.PDF.

[58] Vanessa Lima, “Casa de Mulher Brasileira em RR Será Entregue em Junho, diz Ministra,” G1, October 29, 2013, http://g1.globo.com/rr/roraima/noticia/2013/10/casa-da-mulher-brasileira-em-rr-sera-entregue-ate-junho-diz-ministra.html (accessed June 6, 2017).

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(São Paulo) – The authorities in the Brazilian state of Roraima are failing to investigate or prosecute domestic violence cases, leaving women at further risk of abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The serious problems in Roraima, the state with the highest rate of killings of women in Brazil, reflect nationwide failures to provide victims of domestic violence with access to justice and protection.

The 22-page report, “‘One Day I´ll Kill You’: Impunity in Domestic Violence Cases in the Brazilian State of Roraima,” examines systemic problems in responding to domestic violence in the state. Human Rights Watch documented 31 cases of domestic violence, and interviewed victims, police, and justice officials. The organization found failures at all points in the system for responding to domestic abuse. 

The authorities in the Brazilian state of Roraima are failing to investigate or prosecute domestic violence cases, leaving women at further risk of abuse.

“Many women in Roraima suffer violent attacks and abuse for years before they summon the courage to report it to the police, and when they do, the government’s response is dreadful,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “As long as victims of domestic violence can’t get help and justice, their abusers will keep right on injuring and killing them.”

Killings of women rose 139 percent from 2010 to 2015 in Roraima, reaching 11.4 homicides per 100,000 women that year, the latest for which there is data available. The national average is 4.4 killings per 100,000 women—already one of the highest in the world. Studies in Brazil and worldwide estimate that a large percentage of women who suffer violent deaths are killed by partners or former partners.

Only a quarter of women who suffer violence in Brazil report it, according to a February 2017 survey that does not provide state-by-state data. Human Rights Watch found in Roraima that when women do call police they face considerable barriers to having their cases heard.

Military police told Human Rights Watch that, for lack of personnel, they do not respond to all emergency calls from women who say they are experiencing domestic violence. Other women are turned away at police stations. Some civil police officers in Boa Vista, the state´s capital, decline to register domestic violence complaints or request protection orders themselves, Human Rights Watch found. Instead, they direct victims to the single “women’s police station” in the state—which specializes in crimes against women—even at times when that station is closed.

Even when police receive their complaints, women must tell their story of abuse, including sexual abuse, in open reception areas, as there are no private rooms to take statements in any police station in the state.

Staff from the Humanitarian Support Center for Women (CHAME, in Portuguese) listen to a woman in Boa Vista, Roraima, on February 17, 2017. CHAME provides legal, psychological, and social support to survivors of domestic violence. 

© 2017 César Muñoz Acebes/ Human Rights Watch

Not a single civil police officer in Roraima receives training in how to handle domestic violence cases. And it shows, Human Rights Watch found. Some police officers, when receiving women seeking protection orders, take statements so carelessly that judges lack the basic information they need to decide whether to issue the order.

Civil police are unable to keep up with the volume of complaints they do receive. In Boa Vista, the police have failed to do investigative work on a backlog of 8,400 domestic violence complaints. Most cases languish for years until they are eventually closed because the statute of limitations on the crime expires–without any prosecution, according to the police.

Taise Campos, a 38-year-old teacher, filed more than 15 police complaints, she told Human Rights Watch, to report repeated acts of physical and verbal abuse by her former husband. But the statute of limitations expired before he could be tried for the alleged crimes. “A person who needs help loses all faith in the justice system,” Campos said.

Durante uma marcha no Dia Internacional da Mulher em São Paulo, em 8 de março de 2014, mulheres seguram fotos de vítimas que morreram por violência doméstica.

© 2014 Nacho Doce/Reuters

Brazil has a comprehensive legal framework, established by the 2006 “Maria da Penha” law, to prevent domestic violence and to ensure justice when it occurs. But implementation of many of its provisions is lagging.

The law, named after a victim who filed a case with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over the lack of response to her case by authorities in Brazil, called for the expansion of women’s police stations and domestic violence units within non-specialized police stations. But these units remain concentrated in major cities and are often very hard to reach for women who live in other areas. Women’s police stations are also badly overburdened, serving an average population of 210,000 women each.

The law also allows judges to order suspected abusers to stay away from a woman’s home and not to contact her or her family, among other protective measures. But police fail to monitor the vast majority of protection orders.

Authorities in Roraima—and Brazil as a whole—need to reduce barriers for women to filing complaints with police, Human Rights Watch said. And the authorities should   ensure that domestic violence cases are properly documented at the time women report them, and then investigated and prosecuted. The authorities also need to allocate more resources to training and investigation—and discipline police officers who fail to carry out their duties.

“While Roraima has the highest rate of killings of women in the country, the problems there are symptomatic of the failure to protect women from abuse nationwide,” Canineu said. “The Maria da Penha law was a major step forward, but more than a decade later, implementation remains woefully inadequate throughout much of the country.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the 69th pre-sessional working group of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its review of South Korea’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This submission focuses on restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, LGBT rights and sex education in schools, ongoing discrimination against women, and addresses articles 3, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, and 16 of the Convention. 

Restrictions on Women’s Reproductive Rights

Article 12

In a 2014 statement on sexual and reproductive health and rights, the CEDAW Committee affirmed that unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity, and that state parties should remove punitive measures for women who undergo abortion.[1]

South Korea’s laws on abortion are punitive and harmful to women and girls. Abortion is considered a crime, and any woman who undergoes an abortion is subject to up to one year of imprisonment or fines up to 2 million won (US $1800). Healthcare workers who provide abortions can face up to two years in prison.[2]

Exceptions are permitted only in cases of rape or incest, if the parents cannot marry legally, if continuation of the pregnancy is likely to jeopardize the pregnant woman’s health, or when the pregnant woman or her spouse has one of several hereditary disorders or communicable diseases that are designated by government decree. Women who are married must have their spouse’s permission to obtain an abortion, and all abortions, for any reason, are prohibited after 24 weeks of pregnancy.[3]

The criminalization of abortion means that many abortions are illegally performed in South Korea. Because of this, abortion care is unregulated, clandestine, and far more dangerous for women and girls who seek abortions, than if the procedure were legal. Restrictive abortion policies are associated with higher numbers of unsafe abortion worldwide.[4]

In 2016, the South Korean government threatened to restrict access to abortion further by toughening penalties on medical providers who perform abortions illegally. Public protests opposing these changes took place in Seoul in October 2016 and at the time of this writing, no amendments had been adopted.[5] 

The government has expressed concern about the country’s falling birth rate, but further restricting abortion is not a response in line with international human rights law. To accomplish policy goals related to population, the government should respect women’s rights to make their own reproductive decisions, and instead consider adopting measures that make it easier for people to have children, or have more children.

Human Rights Watch recommends the Committee ask the government of South Korea:

  • What changes in abortion policy will President Moon Jae-in request and implement?
  • What steps does the government intend to take to remove punitive measures against women who undergo abortions and medical personnel who provide abortions?
  • What steps does the government intend to take to protect the rights of mothers to be free from gender discrimination, such as ensuring equality in parental care leave?

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it call upon the government of South Korea to:

  • Immediately amend its laws to decriminalize abortion and remove all penalties for women who seek abortions, and for doctors and other medical personnel involved in providing abortions.
  • Adopt regulations and policies that make it easier for people to choose to be parents, promote equality in the use of parental leave by women and men, and eliminate stigma and discriminatory provisions in law and policy that disadvantage a single parent, or parents who are not officially married, and their children.

LGBT Rights and Sex Education in Schools

Article 10, 12

Accurate and inclusive sexuality education is integral to upholding the fundamental rights to health, education, and information, and can help reduce unwanted pregnancy, maternal mortality, and HIV.[6] In February 2014, the CEDAW Committee said that adolescents should have access to accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including responsible sexual behavior, prevention of early pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases.[7]

Education ministry officials in Seoul confirmed in February 2017 that South Korea’s new national sex education curriculum will not mention homosexuality. This continues a backsliding that began in 2015, when the government began training district education officials country-wide on new sex education guidelines that made no mention of sexual minorities.[8]

This policy discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth and violates their rights to health, education, and information. Human Rights Watch believes the policy also violates South Korea’s international human rights commitments, and could be harmful to young people and negatively affect public health. HIV infections have increased sharply in South Korea since 2000, and infections are increasing fastest among men in their 20s.[9]

The South Korean government has at times attempted to clarify that the curriculum’s silence should not be taken as exclusionary, with an involved government official stating, “The fact that the guideline does not contain sexual minorities does not necessarily mean that teachers should not do the related lessons.”[10] Human Rights Watch believes a curriculum that neglects inclusion of information about sexual orientation and gender identity fails students, and ad hoc or optional training programs for teachers are not an adequate substitute.

Local governments remove LGBTI protections

In August 2015, South Korea’s Gender Ministry sent the municipal government of Daejeon an order to delete articles in its charter that would protect LGBTI rights as part of gender equality. The Daejon municipal government later removed those articles from the city charter.[11]

Restrictions on LGBT organizations

In February 2015, the government denied to allow an LGBT support group, the Beyond the Rainbow Foundation, to officially register in a discriminatory denial of equal protection of the law and freedom to assemble and associate. The foundation raises funds to support the LGBT movement in South Korea. It documents discrimination against LGBT people, advocates for their rights, and aims to make civic space safer for LGBT people and their families. Denying official registration to the Beyond the Rainbow Foundation curtails this group’s ability to receive tax-deductible donations and operate in full compliance with the law.[12] In March 2017, the Beyond the Rainbow Foundation won its registration case at the appellate court. The Ministry of Justice appealed to the Supreme Court on April 6th, and at the time of this writing, the case was pending at the Supreme Court.[13] 

Human Rights Watch recommends the Committee ask the government of South Korea:

  • What steps have been taken to ensure that accurate, affirming, and age-appropriate information about sexual orientation and gender identity is available and accessible to students in the South Korean schools?

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it call upon the government of South Korea to:

  • Immediately reverse the decision to exclude mention of homosexuality in the national sex education curriculum to ensure the rights to information, education, and health for all persons in South Korea and include appropriate, nondiscriminatory teacher training on this topic;
  • Permit the Beyond the Rainbow Foundation to file its application for registration with the Ministry of Justice, or another appropriate government department, and ensure the application is considered promptly and without discrimination.

Ongoing Discrimination against Women

Articles 3, 5, 11, 13, 15, 16

Human Rights Watch shares the concerns raised by the UN Human Rights Committee in December 2015 relating to ongoing discrimination against women, including patriarchal attitudes and gender-based stereotypes concerning the role of women in the family and in society; the particularly small proportion of women in decision-making positions; the high rate of women in irregular employment and the markedly high wage gap between men and women; and the widespread social stigma and discrimination against unmarried mothers, including their unequal treatment with respect to the provision of child allowance compared to adoptive parents.[14]

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it calls upon the government of South Korea to:

  • Develop measures to eliminate existing patriarchal attitudes and gender stereotypes, by implementing comprehensive awareness-raising programmes to foster equality between women and men in the family and in society; and develop comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education programs for schools and the general public;
  • Ensure equal pay, and eliminate discrimination in irregular employment;
  • Eliminate discrimination against unmarried mothers in all areas of government services and aid.
 

[1] CEDAW Committee, “Statement of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on sexual and reproductive health and rights: Beyond 2014 ICPD review,” 57th Session (Feb. 10-28, 2014), http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CEDAW/Statements/SRHR26Feb2014.pdf (accessed on May 1, 2017).

[2] Republic of Korea Criminal Act, 1995, arts. 269-270; see also Heather Barr (Human Rights Watch), “Abortion Should Not be a Crime,” commentary, The Korea Times, November 10, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/10/abortion-should-not-be-crime.

[3] Republic of Korea Mother-Child Health Act of 1986, art. 14.

[4] Susan A. Cohen, “Facts and consequences: Legality, incidence and safety of abortion worldwide,” Guttmacher Policy Review, November 20, 2009, https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2009/11/facts-and-consequences-legality-incidence-and-safety-abortion-worldwide (accessed May 31, 2017).

[5] Amnesty International, “South Korea: Stop Criminalization of Abortion,” October 28, 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/10/south-korea-stop-criminalization-of-abortion/ (accessed May 15, 2017).

[6] United Nations Population Fund, “Comprehensive Sexuality Education,” September 30, 2016, https://www.unfpa.org/comprehensive-sexuality-education (accessed June 6, 2017); UNESCO, “Comprehensive Sexuality Education: A Global Review,” 2015, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002357/235707e.pdf (accessed June 7, 2017).

[7] “Beyond 2014 ICPD review,” supra. note 1.

[8] Kyle Knight, “South Korea Backslides on Sex Education,” commentary, Human Rights Watch dispatch, February 17, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/17/south-korea-backslides-sex-education; Human Rights Watch, “Letter to the Government of South Korea on Human Rights and Comprehensive Sexuality Education,” July 20, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/21/letter-government-south-korea-human-rights-and-comprehensive-sexuality-education.

[9] Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of HIV and Tuberculosis Control, “HIV/AIDS Control in the Republic of Korea.” 2011, http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/country/documents//ce_KR_Narrative_Report%5B1%5D.pdf (accessed June 7, 2017); Hae-Wol Cho, “What’s next for HIV/AIDS in Korea?” Osong Public Health and Research Perspectives, December 2013: 4(6), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922106/#bib2 (accessed May 1, 2017), pp. 291–292,

[10] Kyle Knight, “South Korea Backslides on Sex Education,” commentary, Human Rights Watch dispatch, February 17, 2017.

[11] “South Korea's Gender Ministry blasted for denying LGBTI rights,” The Korea Herald, October 7, 2015, http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20151007001092 (accessed May 31, 2017).

[12] Kyle Knight (Human Rights Watch), “LGBT group deserves an answer,” commentary, Korea JoongAng Daily, April 22, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/04/22/lgbt-group-deserves-answer.

[13] Jang-Ho Lee, “[판결](단독) ‘법무부, 性소수자 인권재단 허가해야,” Law Times Korea, March 20, 2017, https://www.lawtimes.co.kr/Legal-News/Legal-News-View?serial=108730 (accessed May 17, 2017); Min-Hee Ryu, counsel of the case, informed Human Rights Watch that as of May 10, 2017, the case is pending at the Supreme Court of South Korea.

[14] HRC, “Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of the Republic of Korea,” U.N. Doc CCPR/C/KOR/CO/4, December 3, 2015, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR/C/KOR/CO/4&Lang=En (accessed May 18, 2017).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – New York State has taken an important step toward ending child marriage, as Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 20, 2017 signed legislation to dramatically reduce the circumstances under which children can marry, Human Rights Watch said today. Between 2001 to 2010, 3,850 children under 18 married in New York State.

July 20th 2017, Governer Cuomo signs anti-child marriage law. 2017 Edward Herbert.

Under the previous law, the minimum age for marriage in New York was 18, but the law allowed children of 16 and 17 to marry with parental approval, and children of 14 and 15 to marry with permission from a judge and their parents. The vast majority of US states permit marriage under age 18 under some circumstances. In 27 US states, there is no limit to how young a child can marry if a judge authorizes the marriage.

“Child marriage is a dirty secret in the US, and other states should follow New York’s example by enacting laws to help end this harmful practice,” said Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “US state laws permitting child marriage are out of step with the rest of the world since even countries with high rates of child marriage are recognizing the harm it causes and taking steps to prevent these marriages.”

Child marriage is a dirty secret in the US, and other states should follow New York’s example by enacting laws to help end this harmful practice

Heather Barr

Senior Women's Rights Researcher

A version of the law, A.5524 and S.4407, was originally introduced in the New York State Assembly in 2016, and reintroduced in 2017. It prohibits all marriages before the age of 17 and permits 17-year-olds to marry only with a judge’s permission. Human Rights Watch worked with the organizations Unchained at Last, Tahirih Justice Center, Sanctuary for Families, and the National Organization for Women to urge New York lawmakers to pass the bill. A law curtailing child marriage in Virginia came into effect in June 2016, the governor of Texas signed an anti-child marriage bill last week, and similar legislation has been introduced in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Human Rights Watch has done extensive research on child marriage around the world, interviewing hundreds of married children in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, South Sudan, Tanzania, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Human Rights Watch has also advocated for an end to child marriage in other countries, including Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Of these countries, only Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen have laws that would permit a 14-year-old to marry.

Child marriage occurs in every region of the world and globally, one out of every four girls marries before age 18, and 15 million girls under 18 marry each year—one every two seconds. The overwhelming majority of married children are girls, most of whom marry spouses who are older than they are—in some cases much older.

A growing body of research demonstrates that child marriage is associated with, and in some cases causes, severe harm, wherever married children live. A 2010 study found that girls or young women in the US who married before age 19 were 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school than their unmarried counterparts, and only 25 percent as likely to complete college. Girls who marry as early teens, before age 16, in the US are 31 percent more likely to end up in poverty later in life.

Researchers have found significant associations between child marriage and mental and physical health disorders. Research from other countries shows a correlation between child marriage and domestic violence. Married girls often find it more difficult than married women to escape an abusive or unhappy marriage, and to get services such as shelter and legal assistance.

Children who marry sometimes are pressed or forced to do so by their parents. The previous New York requirement for parental consent provided no protection in such situations.

Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which went into effect in January 2016, countries around the world, including the US, agreed to a target of ending all child marriage by 2030. Countries including Germany, Malawi, Nepal, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden have recently revised their laws in an effort to reduce child marriage. Many other countries have developed or are developing national action plans for ending child marriage by 2030.

“The research is clear—child marriage is deeply harmful to the children and their families, and there is growing global consensus that 18 should be the minimum age for marriage,” Barr said. “The US, through its foreign aid programs, has been a leader in urging an end to child marriage in other regions, including Africa and Asia, but shockingly, virtually all US states still allow it.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Two Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers talk at a blockade on a country road in the province of Alberta. 

© 2012 Reuters
(Saskatoon) – Indigenous women’s accounts of police abuse in Saskatchewan raise serious concerns about their safety in the province, Human Rights Watch said today in a submission to the Government of Canada. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, which launched in September 2016, should closely examine how policing failures and distrust of law enforcement endanger Indigenous women.

The submission is based on six weeks of fact-finding in Saskatchewan between January and July 2016. Human Rights Watch interviewed 64 Indigenous women as well as service providers in Prince Albert, Regina, Saskatoon, and several smaller communities in northern and central Saskatchewan. Human Rights Watch documented Indigenous women’s accounts of police neglect when they reported domestic violence, as well as inappropriate and invasive body and strip searches, sexual harassment, and physical assault. Indigenous women reported a deep mistrust of law enforcement and fear that they would face retaliation if they filed a complaint against a police officer.

“The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada means that police services across the country should be acutely aware of and sensitive to the well-being, vulnerability, and needs of Indigenous women,” said Farida Deif, Canada director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, in some cases, it is the police themselves who are making Indigenous women feel unsafe.”

Indigenous women throughout Saskatchewan told Human Rights Watch that they would not report a crime against them or a crime involving an Indigenous woman that they had witnessed out of fear that the police might retaliate by harassing them or by treating an Indigenous suspect with physical violence.

Concerns about police harassment led some Indigenous women in Saskatchewan, including respected community leaders, to limit their time in public places where they might encounter police officers. This breakdown of trust between Indigenous women and law enforcement is particularly dangerous for victims of violence and those at risk who may be hesitant or fearful to call on the authorities for help.

Many Indigenous women interviewed said they believe that the police abuse they experienced reflects ongoing racial bias against the Indigenous community in Saskatchewan. Canada has made only limited progress to ensure that police are accountable for their policing failures, Human Rights Watch found. Lack of accountability for policing abuses against Indigenous women exacerbates long-standing tensions between police and Indigenous communities in Canada.

“Police abuse undermines Indigenous women’s safety far beyond the direct physical and psychological consequences of any one particular incident,” Deif said. “It breeds a culture of silence that can be life-threatening for victims of violence.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Methodology
 

This submission outlines Human Rights Watch’s findings on police interactions with Indigenous women in Saskatchewan based on six weeks of fact-finding carried out from January to July 2016, in addition to interviews and correspondence with police authorities and complaint mechanisms from August 2016 to January 2017.  The cases documented in this submission fall within Treaty Six Territory and the jurisdiction of the Saskatchewan RCMP "F" Division, as well as the municipal police services of Prince Albert, Regina, and Saskatoon.

The objective of the investigation is to provide an account of police treatment of Indigenous women in Saskatchewan that is grounded in their lived experiences. In August 2016, Human Rights Watch shared preliminary findings with all the police services implicated in this submission, as well as with the municipal police and RCMP complaint mechanisms − the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), respectively. These letters informed authorities of our investigation in Saskatchewan, provided an overview of preliminary findings, and listed detailed questions and requests for data on policing policies and practices, accountability, and training.[1] In October 2016, Human Rights Watch staff met with all municipal police chiefs implicated in this submission, the Commanding Officer of the RCMP “F” Division, members of the PCC, and provincial government officials. By January 2017, all police services and complaints mechanisms had submitted written responses to Human Rights Watch. In March 2017, Human Rights Watch met with a member of the CRCC.

Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 64 Indigenous women and social service providers in Prince Albert, Regina, Saskatoon, and more rural communities in northern and central Saskatchewan to complete this investigation. All interviewees provided oral informed consent to participate. Interviews were conducted in private and individuals were assured that they could end the interview at any time or decline to answer any questions without consequence. The identity of these interviewees has been disguised with randomly-selected pseudonyms and in some cases certain other identifying information has been withheld to protect their privacy and safety.

A working group composed of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous community workers from frontline organizations, academics, and local leaders provided direction and guidance during the investigation.

I. The Landscape of Policing in Saskatchewan

It’s scary being me. They [the police] could make me disappear if they wanted to.

-Sara F., Saskatoon, March 28, 2016

In Saskatchewan, as in Northern British Columbia, Human Rights Watch found evidence of a fractured relationship between law enforcement and Indigenous communities. The legacy of settler colonialism and racist assimilation policies—particularly the residential school system—still overshadow the present-day dynamics between police and Indigenous communities. Residential schools, which the Canadian government operated up until 1994, along with the Catholic Church, forcibly removed Indigenous children and youth from their communities, severing connections to their kinship networks and family, language, and culture. Many Indigenous children and youth in residential schools were also subjected to severe psychological and sexual abuse while in these facilities.[2] The RCMP was actively involved and complicit in ensuring that Indigenous children attended these schools. This historical context fuels the strong mistrust, suspicion, and resentment many Indigenous people continue to feel towards law enforcement.

In addition to this colonial backdrop, more recent policing failures, and violent policing practices in the present, have continued to fuel Indigenous communities’ fear and resentment of the police in many locations in Canada. In 2013 Human Rights Watch documented grave violations of the rights of Indigenous women and girls perpetrated by the RCMP and police uncovered in British Columbia.  In 2015 Radio-Canada exposed similar abuses in Val-d’Or, Quebec.[3]  The province of Saskatchewan has also come under scrutiny and criticism for abusive practices by law enforcement in Indigenous communities—both on and off reserve. These include the now infamous “starlight tours,” where police drove Indigenous people to the outskirts of the city to walk home in the dead of winter, risking death by hypothermia. These starlight tours are reported to have been happening as early as 1976.[4] In 2000, Darrel Night was arrested, taken to the outskirts of Saskatoon and left to walk back from there. Night survived, and his case led to convictions of both officers involved.[5] That same year, the frozen bodies of two Indigenous men had been found within a week of each other in Saskatoon, shortly after Night had come forward. While their inquests were ultimately inconclusive, following their deaths Indigenous leaders reported receiving over 250 phone calls reporting incidents of “starlight tours” across Saskatchewan.[6] The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Special Investigations Unit reported receiving over 800 calls in the first few weeks regarding historic and current complaints about police across Saskatchewan.[7] In 2003, a Commission of Inquiry was established to examine the death of 17-year old Neil Stonechild in 1990.  It found that the police investigation was “superficial at best” and “concluded prematurely,”[8] with “glaring deficiencies” that went “beyond incompetence or neglect.”[9] Mr. Justice David H. Wright presiding over the commission noted the “overly defensive attitude” of police officers regarding complaints against its own,[10] and also the “chasm that separates Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people” such that “our two communities do not know each other and do not seem to want to.”[11] No charges were ever subsequently laid against any police officers in connection with the death of Neil Stonechild.

These past and more recent policing failures contribute to a climate of suspicion and a widely-held belief that the police targets and discriminates against Indigenous men and women with little accountability for violent and racist conduct. Indigenous women told Human Rights Watch that they would not call the police to report a crime committed against them or crimes that they had witnessed involving an Indigenous woman out of fear that the police may harass them, engage in physical violence towards the suspect, or take them on a “starlight tour.”  Lauren T. said, “I have concerns about calling the cops. Even where I was working at [store name withheld] we had some incidents, but I was iffy on calling the cops.”[12]

An Indigenous woman community leader in Saskatchewan echoed these views, telling Human Rights Watch: “I have had problems with stalking, but [I] don’t trust the police. Professionally, I admit this [working with the police] is what we must do, but personally I have zero faith in the police. It doesn’t matter what position or how many degrees we have. By the police services we’re seen as just another Indian.”[13] Concerns about police harassment led this community leader to limit her time in public places where she might encounter police officers.  “We become as invisible as possible,” she told Human Rights Watch.[14]

II. Systemic Discrimination against Indigenous Women and Vulnerability to Violence

There is a historical and colonial background to present-day patterns of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and police failures to respond to such violence.[15]  State law and policy, such as the Indian Residential School system,[16] the Sixties Scoop,[17] and sex-discrimination in the Indian Act,[18] subjected Indigenous families and communities to violence, cultural dislocation, and land dispossession. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada described the cumulative effects of Canada’s Aboriginal assimilationist policies as a form of cultural genocide.[19] The inter-generational impacts of this colonial violence upon Indigenous women and girls are acute. Indigenous women and girls today are disproportionately more vulnerable to socio-economic marginalization than non-Indigenous women and girls.[20] They are more likely to live in poverty, on the streets or in insecure housing, be unemployed, or engage in dangerous economic survival strategies. They do not benefit from the same access to education, and other basic needs, such as clean water on reserve and healthcare.[21]  

Indigenous women are particularly vulnerable to all forms of violence, including violence perpetrated by casual acquaintances[22] and police abuse.[23] In their inquiries into the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls, The United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have affirmed that racist discrimination and socio-economic marginalization were root causes of the violence.[24] In the 2015 United Nations inquiry report into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlighted Canada’s colonial roots, encompassing cultural dislocation, dispossession, intergenerational trauma, and the socio-economic marginalization of Indigenous peoples, as root causes of the violence experienced by Indigenous women.[25]

Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately more vulnerable to violence than their non-Indigenous counterparts in every province and territory, including Saskatchewan. In Saskatchewan, 55 percent of female homicide victims are Indigenous; the highest proportion of Indigenous female homicide victims of any province.[26] Indigenous women are also likely to be murdered at a rate almost seven times higher than non-Indigenous women.[27] While Indigenous women only make up 4.3 percent of the female population in Canada, they account for 16 percent of the total female homicides and 11.3 percent of missing women in the country.[28]

Systemic discrimination against Indigenous women makes them more vulnerable to police violence and harassment. As one Indigenous woman, Clara S., explained, “sometimes they [the police] do and say racist things. They think that Natives are going to keep quiet.” Many of the women and service providers interviewed by Human Rights Watch felt strongly that police officers brought a presumption of criminality to their interactions with Indigenous women. As Ashley D. said, “they look down on a lot of us Natives like we’re nothing; like we don’t deserve assistance. Like they’re out to get us… A lot of times they [the police] will stop you and ask ‘Where are you going? What are you doing?’ [The police] treat you like you got to be doing something [wrong].”[29]

International human rights experts have also raised concerns of entrenched and institutionalized stereotyping of Indigenous women by the police. The United Nations inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada reported that structural bias was, “reflected in the use of demeaning or derogatory language towards Aboriginal women and in stereotypical portrayals of Aboriginal women as prostitutes, transient or runaways and of having high-risk lifestyles.”[30]

The overrepresentation of Indigenous woman who pass through the criminal justice system in Canada and in the province of Saskatchewan underscores these systemic problems. Indigenous women made up more than 85 percent of all adult women admitted into provincial sentenced custody in Saskatchewan, according to the most recent race and gender disaggregated data available, while only accounting for under one-fifth of the adult female population.[31] According to the Saskatchewan branch of the Elizabeth Fry Society, in August 2013, only five of the approximately 140 women prisoners in the provincial Pine Grove Correctional Centre for women in Prince Albert identify as non-Indigenous; in other words, 96 percent of the female prisoner population in Saskatchewan under provincial custody at Pine Grove at the time were Indigenous.[32]

III. Police Abuses against Indigenous Women in Saskatchewan


In Saskatchewan, Human Rights Watch documented 64 alleged cases of violent abuse against Indigenous women at the hands of the police. The abuse documented included excessive use of force, invasive body and strip searches by male officers, and sexual harassment during these searches. These cases mirror a wider pattern of allegations of physical and sexual abuse by police services in Quebec, British Columbia, and elsewhere in Canada documented by local civil society groups and the media.[33] Indigenous community leaders, academics, and activists also described distinctive risks of police abuse for particularly vulnerable groups, including Indigenous girls and Two-Spirit people.[34]

Excessive Use of Force and Intimidation

Several Indigenous women interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported episodes of physical assault by police officers during stops and arrests. One Indigenous woman, Lauren T. described the violence she experienced when stopped by the Prince Albert Police Service in 2014:

[He] asks ‘do you have your driver’s license and registration?’ I was reaching into the cubby hole and asked him why he was stopping me. I knew that I had a right to know why I was being stopped. He asked, ‘Can we deal with this in my car?’ I didn’t know what was going on. Deal with what? I said I didn’t want to leave my baby in the car. He said, ‘the cruiser is just a few steps away.’ I said I’m not going to leave my baby in the car. He started grabbing at my ear through the window. I started screaming. He started hitting my shoulder—I guess so I would let go of the steering wheel.[35]

Some accounts of police abuses reflect aggressive policing of public intoxication and reliance on detention to address alcohol dependence problems in the Indigenous community.[36]  Indigenous women can struggle with drug and alcohol dependence associated with histories of trauma.[37]  One woman, Elaine N., described the abuse and mistreatment she witnessed of another Indigenous woman arrested for public intoxication in a neighboring cell in Saskatoon in the summer of 2015:

Around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning they brought in a woman in her late 40s. She was drunk. She didn’t know what was going on. She was in a cell by me and I could see a reflection of her cell. The police officers stripped her. They took her pants, her shirt, her bra. It was cold. She was screaming because they pepper sprayed her. When they threw her in the cell you could hear the thud. You only get a 3-inch pad to sleep on. She was crying for a while—she was hysterical. The cops refused to give her water—said ‘we’re shutting your water off.’ Left her like that all night. When they brought her in, her clothes were torn and bloody. It bothered me to see the way they treated her as an older lady. She reminded me of my aunts. The lady [police officer] said she was trying to hurt herself, was going to use her bra to hang herself, so they had to take her clothes.[38]

Human Rights Watch only collected testimony of Indigenous women’s experiences in detention in the context of “drunk tanks,” or cells used to temporarily detain intoxicated individuals. These interviews point to a need for publicly managed and operated short- and long-term detox facilities outside the policing and criminal justice systems.

Several police chiefs Human Rights Watch interviewed in Saskatchewan complained that there were not enough addiction treatment centers available nearby, and not enough beds at those centers. They also spoke of the challenges faced by people with chronic alcoholism who have overstayed their welcome at available treatment centers and have nowhere to go. Police themselves recognize the problem and acknowledge that more centers are required and more support needed for those suffering from alcohol dependency. The Prince Albert Police Chief told Human Rights Watch that the most common crimes they see are alcohol-related and noted that his force “arrests 3,000 people a year for no other crime than public intoxication.”[39]

While police officers have a duty to restrain violent individuals to protect others and themselves, any use of force should be justified by the circumstances and limited to the minimum extent necessary. Human Rights Watch documented at least six incidents in which the relevant municipal police service or the RCMP reportedly used excessive force against Indigenous women in Saskatchewan. These cases include the ones noted above, as well as the following:

  • Sharon told Human Rights Watch that in 2013 police officers in Regina slammed her head on the sidewalk during an arrest, resulting in a broken nose and two black eyes.  
  • Alice described an assault by a police dog in Saskatoon in 2013 resulting in stitches, nerve damage, and severe anxiety.
  • Linda reported that a police officer in Regina in 2014 twisted her arm so aggressively during her arrest that she can no longer bend it, comb her hair, or put on a bra.

Degrading and Abusive Body and Strip Searches by Male Officers

They [the RCMP officers] would not wait for a female to search me. I did not have a weapon or anything. I ended up in the drunk tank with just my bra and shorts. Left all night. It was cold. A female officer on the next shift asked ‘why are you in your bra?’

-Anne C., 23, location withheld, July 15, 2016

Human Rights Watch documented reports of degrading and abusive body and strip searches by male officers of Indigenous women in every jurisdiction researched for this submission.  The removal of undergarments in custody—a practice which the Supreme Court of Canada has deemed to be a form of strip search—was mentioned frequently.  According to the Supreme Court, a strip search involves “the removal or rearrangement of some or all of the clothing of a person so as to permit a visual inspection of a person’s private areas, namely genitals, buttocks, breasts (in the case of a female), or undergarments [emphasis added].”[40] This has been interpreted by lower courts to include any removal and inspection of undergarments, and not limited to situations where police are searching an accused for weapons or evidence of the commission of a crime.[41]

Donna H. described being strip searched by a male officer at an RCMP detachment in Regina and what happened when she tried to report it:

A year and a half ago I had an experience here in Regina. I was brought into cells. Usually a woman searches. But they told me to take off my clothes. It was a man who did it. I said this is not right. I was crying. He said take it all off. He shut the door behind him. I had to take off my bra and underwear. I was brought in on a warrant. I said a woman is supposed to be doing it. I was literally starting to cry and he just said, ‘put your clothes back on’ and said I was being released. He just walked out. It had been 10 -15 minutes. I was held for another hour and then they released me. On the way out, I said something to the front desk about what happened. But they didn’t say anything.[42]

Regan S. recounted her experience of sexually inappropriate behavior by officers from one of the municipal police services in Saskatchewan [name withheld]:

I was picked up by two male police officers—not sure exactly what for, maybe a breach. I was wearing yoga pants and a tight tank top. At the police station there is a high desk where they book you. There were four cops back there. I went through intake. There was no matron on duty. The officer behind the desk said to take my bra off. I said I don’t have a bra on. [They] repeated ‘Take your bra off.’ ‘I do not have a bra on.’ We kept arguing. I pulled my tank top straps down [to show no bra straps]. ‘I am not wearing a bra.’ He said, ‘I want to check for myself.’ He came down and said, ‘put your arms out.’ He felt me up and down my body—my complete body. Groped [my] breasts. It was completely absolutely inappropriate. Soon after I got released, I complained to an officer I know. All he did was laugh. He thought it was funny.[43]

In total, Human Rights Watch documented eight incidents in which Indigenous women said that male officers ordered and conducted body and strip searches. It is unclear whether and to what extent this is due to female staffing shortages.

The Prince Albert police chief admitted that while his detachment has been able to recruit a more diverse pool of male officers, they have been far less successful with respect to gender diversity.[44] He said that “for the most part we do have a female on each patrol shift. If not, we always have a female matron on staff and that matron is doing the search if there’s no female officer available.” The Saskatoon Police Chief similarly said that “male officers should not be searching female’s bodies. That should not be happening. I can’t say it never happens but I’m just saying that as a regular course, that should not be happening at all. We have a luxury here. We do have a lot of females [officers] here.”[45]

Nevertheless, despite these assurances Human Rights Watch heard several disturbing allegations of sexual harassment and groping by male RCMP and municipal police officers during these searches. These include the incidents noted above as well as the following:

  • Hannah reported that a male police officer touched her inappropriately and sexually harassed her at a Saskatoon police station in 2013 as she was filing a domestic violence report against her partner.
  • Elizabeth reported that two male police officers groped her in Saskatoon in 2014 during a body search and repeatedly touched her genital area.

Various international human rights standards and practices for law enforcement affirm that strip searches by government authorities should only be conducted by persons of the same sex and in limited circumstances, as they are a significant invasion of privacy.[46] The Supreme Court of Canada echoed this view in R v Golden, explicitly asking in its framework for conducting a strip search in compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, whether the police officer(s) carrying out the search is of the same gender as the individual being searched.[47] It also stated that strip searches are “one of the most extreme exercises of police power” and “cannot be carried out as a matter of routine police department policy.”[48]

The Supreme Court, however, noted a “disturbing trend towards strip searching detained persons as a matter of routine police policy.”[49] Indeed, in 2013, the Fort Qu’Appelle Detachment of the RCMP was found by the Saskatchewan Provincial Court to have had in place a standard operating procedure requiring every woman placed in cells to remove her bra, “notwithstanding the decision in Golden and many cases subsequent thereto, including cases relating to the surrender of bras and hand-search beneath bras.”[50]

As the Supreme Court also observed in Golden, “[w]omen and minorities in particular may have a real fear of strip searches and may experience such a search as equivalent to a sexual assault. The psychological effects of strip searches may also be particularly traumatic for individuals who have previously been subject to abuse.”[51] The British Columbia Provincial Court explicitly noted the First Nations identity of a defendant when describing the reasons why a strip search was unreasonable:

A request of a female youth, from a First Nations background, to remove her brassiere, made by a male police officer, in the proximity of another male officer, is a situation which a reasonable and objective observer would perceive to be frightening, humiliating, and threatening to the young person, likely to make that young person feel as if her bodily integrity is being violated.[52]

Affirming Golden, the Provincial Court went on to say that such policies (requiring an accused to remove her bra pursuant to general policy) can “lead to vulnerable persons experiencing legitimate feelings of violation at the hands of a powerful system that can seem to them to be unjust and bullying” and can also “contribute into an atmosphere in which classes of prisoners such as members of First Nations are belittled and degraded.”[53]

In 2017, the RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission released a final report on the public interest investigation in Northern British Columbia that was conducted in response to the Human Rights Watch’s 2013 report on police failings and abuses in British Columbia.[54]   The final report addressed the shortcomings of RCMP policy and practice relating to strip searches. It found that the RCMP’s national policy requirement that “members obtain the approval of a supervisor for a strip search when one is available [emphasis added] is insufficiently stringent to ensure that such approval will be sought in all but exigent circumstances.”[55] The oversight body also found that the British Columbia RCMP’s policy mandating the removal of bras was “contrary to common law principles” and that “absent reasonable grounds to conduct a strip search, the removal of a prisoner’s bra is unreasonable.”[56]

It should be noted that while the Supreme Court distinguishes “frisk” or “pat-down” searches as less intrusive manners of searching,[57] and thus bearing a lower threshold,[58] the same concerns regarding cross-gender searches arise. They are simply more acute in the context of strip searches. International human rights standards for law enforcement affirm that personal or body searches should be conducted by persons of the same sex.[59]
 

Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Violence

A lot of the Indigenous women who go missing—it starts with this. Until we address the everyday violence how can we address the issue in its entirety?

-Jennifer P., 30, Regina, January 27, 2016

Among the provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have consistently recorded the highest rate of police reported crime, including rates of violence against women that are nearly double the national average.[60] Indigenous women are also more likely than non-Indigenous women to be murdered and disappeared by casual acquaintances, or strangers.[61] Cases of police abuse like those noted above undermine trust between Indigenous communities and law enforcement and result in Indigenous women being reluctant to call the police for help when they or someone they know has experienced violence.  When women choose not to report crimes because of their mistrust of the police, this perpetuates impunity for perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women.

A community counselor in Saskatoon told Human Rights Watch, “a few weeks back a pregnant woman where I live was being beaten up and no one was calling because they want to avoid all contact with the police.”[62]  This sentiment mirrors findings by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Manitoba Justice Inquiry, from over a decade ago.[63]

Domestic violence survivors and community organizations in Saskatchewan reported to Human Rights Watch that calls to the police by Indigenous women and girls seeking help with violence are frequently met with skepticism and victim-blaming, and that police often arrest victims of abuse for actions taken in self-defense.  One Indigenous woman, Lisa K., told Human Rights Watch, “If they [the police] know that they are going to a domestic violence situation, and there’s alcohol, and they’ve been there before, they take their time.”[64]

Another Indigenous woman, Jennifer P., spoke to Human Rights Watch about a municipal police service’s response to the violence experienced by her mother, perpetrated by her non-Indigenous partner:   

My mother was assaulted by her partner… I was very concerned. I found out he had been repeatedly abusive. [Later that same day] I went to check on her. Then I noticed a bunch of cop cars on the opposite side of the street. I asked two of the cops if they would be able to check on her… I explained that she’d been beaten up already that day. They didn’t seem too concerned. They went in. I explained that I had a recording [of partner admitting to assault]. I waited in the car 10 minutes… All of a sudden my mom was being put in cuffs… They said something about her cat being at large and that she was supposed to appear for it. The officer said, ‘your mom’s drunk and she’s not cooperating with us.’ At that point, they told me to leave… And I’m just astonished that this is even happening. I stepped away because they were yanking her out. The cop yelled, ‘Move! Get the fuck out of the way!’ He’s a big man and I’m five foot nothing. ‘Get out of the fucking way! Get into your vehicle or be arrested. You’re not cooperating...’  I went into my vehicle and I just burst out crying.[65]

She went on to describe how a municipal police officer threatened her to force her to cooperate:

He [the police officer] said, ‘We’re taking your mom in. She was not cooperating.’ Then he asked me, ‘Where are your kids?’ If you want to threaten a woman, especially an Indigenous woman, you ask about her kids. I never said I had kids. At that point, I felt unsafe. Is he thinking about throwing me in? Is he thinking about the repercussions of throwing me in?[66]

The case above highlights serious shortcomings in relation to dual charges in domestic violence cases. The Canadian Observatory on the Justice System’s Response to Intimate Partner Violence has recommended that “police service policy and procedures include a statement regarding the importance of determining which party is the principal or dominant aggressor and lay charges against that individual.”[67] However, when the municipal police services and RCMP in Saskatchewan were asked in writing by Human Rights Watch whether they had a specific policy on dual arrests in domestic violence cases, none of the police services could identify such a policy.[68]

IV. Inadequate Police Abuse Accountability Mechanisms

Police accountability is required to ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls. Human Rights Watch argues that Canada needs independent civilian investigations of all allegations of serious police misconduct, including allegations of sexual assault. Our research has indicated that Canada has made only limited progress to ensure that police are accountable for their policing failures affecting Indigenous women and girls, as well as for the violence police officers have committed against Indigenous women and girls.

Lack of accountability also exacerbates long-standing tensions between police and Indigenous communities. Despite law and policy reform, in some jurisdictions allegations of serious police misconduct may still result only in police investigating police.[69] The allegations of abuse toward Indigenous women in Val-d’Or, Quebec, were ultimately investigated by the Montreal police.[70]

In Saskatchewan, two bodies handle complaints of police misconduct, but neither carry the authority to impose sanctions. They act as recommendation bodies only, serving an advisory function, with limited power to compel concrete changes in policy.  The Public Complaints Commission (PCC) can make recommendations to chiefs of police, but disciplinary measures are ultimately to be determined by the chief.[71] Additionally, while the PCC has an investigative arm, the Regina Police Service and Saskatoon Police Service each have their own dedicated professional standards sections, which undertake the investigations. The PCC takes part in some of these investigations, but “there is no set criterion for whether a complaint is assigned to a PCC investigator or to the police service for investigation.”[72] While the PCC is the only police oversight mechanism with mandated Indigenous representation,[73] the present oversight structures are no guarantee of independent investigations and accountability. Both investigations and disciplinary action may ultimately be determined internally by the implicated police service.

Similarly, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP can make recommendations to the RCMP commissioner, but the commissioner may ultimately take no action on the recommendations.[74] Additionally, for all complaints, the RCMP investigates first, with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission reviewing the RCMP’s report, only thereafter determining whether it will investigate or institute a hearing.[75]

Saskatchewan is also one of the five Canadian provinces that does not have an independent civilian special investigations unit. Instead, the Saskatchewan Police Act provides for the appointment of an investigation observer by both municipal police and RCMP in situations where a person has suffered serious injury or died while in custody of that police service or RCMP detachment, or as a result of the actions of a member or officer of that police service or RCMP detachment.[76] The statute also authorizes appointment of an investigation observer where the matter is publicly sensitive and it is in the public interest to do so.[77] However, except in these latter discretionary appointments, an investigation observer must otherwise be a serving or retired member from another police service or detachment of the RCMP.[78]

Obstacles to Reporting Police Misconduct and Abuse

Police representatives told Human Rights Watch that they are committed to protecting and serving Indigenous communities, and that anyone experiencing police abuse should lodge a complaint.  However, Human Rights Watch has documented in both British Columbia and Saskatchewan that Indigenous women and girls do not trust police forces, and report alarming levels of fear of police retaliation.[79] These are inhibiting factors to Indigenous women’s use of available police complaints mechanisms, inadequate as they may be.

Throughout Saskatchewan, Indigenous women reported that they mistrusted law enforcement and feared that they would face retaliation if they filed a complaint against an officer even for the most egregious abuses of power. Lydia A. reported suffering diplopia (or “double vision”) following head trauma she alleged was inflicted by a police officer. She told Human Rights Watch: “Why won’t I file a complaint? I think it would make it to the shredder. And I’ve heard of people doing that and then getting picked on. All of a sudden, you’ve got all of them coming after you.”[80]

Karen D. described the fear that she felt after she filed a complaint against the police, “I was scared shitless when I made the complaint. [I] feared for my life. After what happened to Neil Stonechild, how do I know they’re not going to take me out?”[81]

The few Indigenous women Human Rights Watch spoke with who did report police abuse to the authorities allege that, as result, they experienced retaliatory harassment.   As Sarah P. said, “they pick on you when you complain. Police like to hassle you if you put up a complaint about them. They try to intimidate you. They’ve treated me worse since I complained about the police.”[82]

Jennifer P., a University student, described what she went through to file a police complaint: 

I got in touch with [someone at community organization]. The next day I went to go and report [complaint] with my sister [at the police station]. On shift there is supposed to be a shift supervisor. They said I couldn’t make a complaint without a certain form. I called in the afternoon and couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I discussed it with [same person at community organization]. We made a second trip—went down at 10 am. They said call back. I called back and no one was available. It got to the point that it was so frustrating for me to get in and be heard. I was traumatized by the way I was treated. I wanted to fight. I wanted to stand up for myself. [But] they make you feel like a pain and a bother. I was exhausted and in the middle of my semester. I was extremely drained. I just kind of dropped it.[83]

Police and police complaints commission staff who discourage women from reporting incidents of violence or otherwise obstruct the process of filing a complaint are failing in their duty to protect women from violence and hold perpetrators accountable. Government failure to stop such policing behavior contributes to Canada’s failure to meet its due diligence obligations under CEDAW.[84]

Another possible deterrent to filing a police complaint is the prominent warning on the Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission’s complaint form. The warning states “An intentionally false complaint under The Police Act, 1990 may result in criminal charges for public mischief or obstructing a Peace Officer.”[85] It is worth noting that only one other province has a warning against false complaints.[86] Given the highly fraught relationship between Indigenous peoples and law enforcement, coupled with the vastly unequal power relations, this seems especially troubling and creates an impression that what matters first and foremost is the protection of the police.

V. The Absence of Disaggregated Data

There are no formally documented estimates that indicate how prevalent police mistreatment or abuse against Indigenous women is in Saskatchewan or throughout Canada. There is no standardized mandate of ethnicity-data collection across police forces in Canada.[87] Police forces have generally not been under a mandate to collect race data due to internal bias-free policing rules.[88] the Saskatoon Police Service Chief indicated in an interview with Human Rights Watch that concerns about discrimination were central to the decision not to collect such data. 

The collection of comprehensive, sex- and race-disaggregated data on violence against women is a part of Canada’s due diligence obligation under international law.[89] No disaggregated data was made available to Human Rights Watch upon request from the RCMP on use of force, police stops, or searches of Indigenous men or women because the RCMP does not collect such sex- and race- disaggregated data.[90] Similarly, the municipal police and RCMP complaints mechanisms told Human Rights Watch that they have no mandate to collect race- and gender-disaggregated data, and thus could not confirm how many complaints against the police are made by Indigenous women.[91]

According to the Government of Canada however, the RCMP has now changed its policy and reporting practices and is providing Statistics Canada with data on the ethnic identity of homicide victims and those accused of homicide.[92] Additionally, the federal government reports that Statistics Canada is working with police services to improve the quality of data recorded and reported to Statistics Canada.[93] 

While this is a welcome development, the RCMP should also change its data collection rules on other matters, including use of force, police stops, and searches. Further, such change in policy and practice should be similarly mandated across all police forces in Canada, not just the RCMP. The variations in race- and gender-data collection mandates across police forces in Canada means that even with the RCMP’s improved policy and reporting practices, Statistics Canada’s data will be incomplete and inaccurate.

Human Rights Watch believes that police forces across Canada should collect and report ethnicity- and gender-disaggregated data collection on victims of crime and on complainants of police misconduct, with their voluntary participation, as a means of tackling systemic racism in policing institutions. The absence of race-disaggregated data obscures the racial dimensions of the violence, and inhibits efforts to identify discrimination in responding to incidents of violence involving police officers.

VI. Canada’s Obligations under International Law

Canada is party to international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),[94] the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD),[95] and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Canada has an obligation to protect people’s right to personal security under the ICCPR from attacks by private persons.[96] Canada is also obliged to ensure the rights of Indigenous women are respected, protected, and fulfilled.[97] Pursuant to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons in 2016, Canada should ensure that “indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.”[98] Canada’s treaty obligations extend to the protection of Indigenous women’s rights, central among which is their right to live free from discrimination; this fundamental right encompasses Indigenous women’s right to live free from violence, a form of gender- and race-based discrimination.[99]

All levels of government in Canada should exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish violence against Indigenous women and girls.[100] The Canadian government should also ensure that police treat all people with respect and dignity in a non-discriminatory manner. Failure to act with due diligence in response to the violence against Indigenous women and girls, including police failures to investigate, amounts to a violation of the rights of Indigenous women victims of violence.[101]

Since Human Rights Watch’s 2013 report on police failings in British Columbia, both the United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have completed inquiries into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. In 2015, these expert bodies released reports finding that Canada was violating the rights of Indigenous women and girls. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) concluded that Canada is committing grave violations[102] of the rights of Indigenous women and girls by not meeting its obligations under articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 14 and 15 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.[103]  This conclusion encompasses the Committee’s finding that Canada is failing to fulfill its due diligence obligation to prevent violence, to investigate and punish acts of violence, and to provide reparations to Indigenous women victims of gender-based violence and Indigenous women victims who have gone missing or been murdered by State or non-State actors.[104] The Committee resoundingly concluded that Canada’s formal legislative and institutional framework for responding to incidents of violence is ineffective in practice.[105]        

The UN CEDAW Committee made thirty-eight recommendations to Canada. Thirteen of these recommendations directly implicate the police, including recommendations on:  violence against women, data collection, police investigations and law enforcement, police complaints mechanisms, stereotyping, overcoming the legacy of the colonial period and the elimination of discrimination, and a national public inquiry and plan of action.[106] In the most recent November 2016 review of Canada’s women’s rights record, the CEDAW Committee found that Canada had only implemented the recommendation setting up a national inquiry, and had not acted on the report’s remaining thirty-seven recommendations.[107]  The Committee called on Canada to implement the remaining recommendations without delay in order to meet its due diligence obligation.[108] Canada should immediately act on these recommendations.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

To the Federal Government of Canada

  • Implement without delay all the recommendations of the 2015 UN CEDAW Inquiry Report and cooperate with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on all follow-up procedures.
  • Ensure that the Commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women investigate police agencies and, when the Commissioners remit information back to civilian oversight bodies on matters they believe to be police misconduct, they should do so in a way that does not violate the trust of witness complainants, or prevent the Inquiry from reporting on how to reform police complaints commissions. This recommendation should be acted on in accordance with Call to Action 41 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[109]
  • With leadership from Indigenous women, Two-Spirit people, and communities, ensure that the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls lead to the development and implementation of a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women and girls that responds to and eliminates the structural roots of the violence, and improves the accountability and coordination of government bodies charged with preventing and responding to the violence.
  • Ratify the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará).
  • Ensure that the Chief Commissioner of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP is mandated with the power to require Chiefs of Police to comply with the recommendations of civilian oversight bodies.

 

To the Provincial Government of Saskatchewan

  • Establish an independent special investigation unit in the province for reported incidents of serious police misconduct, including rape and other forms of sexual assault. This mechanism should be independent and civilian in nature with the authority to conduct systemic investigations. Within the unit, there should be a specialized division, with staff who have expertise and specialized training in responding to violence against women, to investigate allegations of physical and sexual assault by police.  
  • Ensure that Chief Commissioners of civilian oversight bodies are mandated with the power to require Chiefs of Police to comply with the recommendations of civilian oversight bodies.

 

To Federal Government of Canada and Provincial Government of Saskatchewan

  • Expand non-incarceration options for individuals arrested for being intoxicated in public, including short- and long-term detox facilities and alcohol management programs, where medical and social services personnel can provide appropriate care in a culturally sensitive way. This recommendation should be acted on in accordance with Call to Action 21 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[110]
  • Ensure that complainants are informed upon submitting a complaint to a civilian oversight body about how they should report any police retaliation related to the lodging of the complaint; and ensure that all police complaints commissions have protocols on how they respond to a complainant who reports police retaliation related to a lodged complaint.

 

To the Saskatchewan Police Services and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

  • Expand training for police officers to ensure that police forces have knowledge about Indigenous history, the legacy of colonial abuses, including policing abuses, and human rights policing standards. This recommendation should be acted on in accordance with Call to Action 57 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[111]
  • Improve trauma-informed training on de-escalation and implement trauma-informed protocols on de-escalation that are specific to police interactions with Indigenous peoples and that better equip officers to resolve disputes without resorting to the use of force.
  • Ensure prompt, thorough, and respectful police response to allegations of violence against Indigenous women and girls so that police officers can properly assist victims of violence and decrease the potential for re-victimization and further harm.
  • In accordance with international policing standards, Canadian constitutional requirements, and the recommendations of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission:
    • end body (“frisk”) searches of women and girls by male police officers in all but extraordinary circumstances; require that any such searches are fully documented and reviewed by supervisors and commanders; prohibit all strip searches of women and girls by male police officers.
    • ensure that women in custody are ordered to remove their bras only in exceptional circumstances in which there is credible evidence that it is necessary to prevent them from doing harm to themselves or others or to obtain evidence related to the reason for the arrest.
  • Ensure that there is a sufficient number of female officers to conduct searches, participate and supervise the interrogation of female detainees, and ensure the safety and security of female detainees.
  • Ensure that policing protocols relating to intimate partner violence within same sex and inter-sex partnerships require officers to make clear who the principal or dominant aggressor is and lay charges against that individual; this protocol should distinguish assault from defensive self-protection and avoid dual charges against both the victim and perpetrator of violence.
  • Collect and make publicly available (as ethically appropriate) accurate and comprehensive race- and gender-disaggregated data that includes an ethnicity variable on violence against Indigenous women, as well as on use of force, police stops, and searches, with the guidance of Indigenous women leaders and in cooperation with Indigenous community organizations and the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR). This recommendation should be acted on in accordance with Call to Action 39 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[112]

 

Acknowledgments

This submission was written by Farida Deif, Canada director of Human Rights Watch. Special thanks are due to Meghan Rhoad, former researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, for spearheading the development of this investigation and for undertaking all the fieldwork. Samer Muscati, former researcher in the women’s rights Division, contributed to the fact-finding. This submission was reviewed by Janet Walsh, deputy director of the women’s rights division; Chris Albin-Lackey, senior legal advisor; and Tom Porteous, deputy program director.

Human Rights Watch undertook the investigation on which this submission is based after being approached by Jaskiran Dhillon, a long-time collaborator with Justice for Girls and current Assistant Professor at The New School. Shortly thereafter, a working group, comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous community workers from frontline organizations, academics, and local leaders, was assembled to assist with the development of the project and to provide ongoing direction and guidance.

Human Rights Watch gratefully acknowledges the leadership and contributions of the working group members: Sue Delanoy, Gladys Ledoux, and Patti Tait at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan; Vice Chief Heather Bear, Kay Lerat, and Omeasoo Wāhpāsiw at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations; Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte at Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik (Women Walking Together); Tasha Hubbard and Alexandria Wilson; Jaskiran Dhillon at The New School; Sheelah Mclean, founder of Idle No More, and John Noon, Headman of Thunderchild First Nation.

Human Rights Watch would like to recognize the contribution of Annabel Webb (Justice for Girls) who provided feedback on drafts of the submission and Siku Allooloo for assisting with on-the-ground outreach efforts during the fieldwork phase of the investigation. Human Rights Watch would also like to thank the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law for their partnership and Dora Chan and Lara Koerner Yeo for their legal research, writing, and editing support.

Human Rights Watch gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Slaight Family, Sarah and Tom Milroy, Rosemary Phelan, Savoy Pitfield Family, The Joan and Clifford Hatch Foundation, Gail Drummond, Ann Elliott, Michelle Koerner, Janet Nixon, Diane Throop, Lindsay Blakely and Jennifer Tory.

We wish to express our gratitude to all of those who spoke with us during this investigation, and particularly to the Indigenous women who shared their stories and the community members, service providers, and activists dedicated to supporting them.

Annex: Sample letter to Police Service 

This is a sample letter that Human Rights Watch sent to all the police services referenced in this submission in August 2016. 

Dear Chief, 

I write to inform that you that Human Rights Watch is in the process of investigating police treatment of indigenous women and girls in Saskatchewan, and has already conducted some field research across the province in January, March, and July 2016. This investigation is a follow-up to Human Rights Watch’s 2013 report on police treatment of indigenous women and girls in northern British Columbia.[113] The cases documented within the current investigation in Saskatchewan fall within locations policed by the RCMP as well as the municipal police services of Prince Albert, Regina, and Saskatoon.

Human Rights Watch is an independent non-governmental organization that monitors and reports on human rights issues in more than 90 countries around the world. We report on a range of human rights issues, including those related to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Human Rights Watch conducted six weeks of field research into police treatment of indigenous women and girls in Saskatchewan, speaking with women and girls (many of whom were crime victims), witnesses, and community service providers in Prince Albert, Regina, Saskatoon, and several smaller communities in northern and central Saskatchewan. While the investigation focuses primarily on documenting policing-related abuses within the last three years, earlier incidents were reported by interviewees. 

Indigenous women and girls reported to us that, throughout the province and across multiple police jurisdictions, they had experienced police using excessive use of force; inappropriate body and strip searches by male officers both during routine stops and in detention; as well sexual harassment, and in some incidents, sexual assault of women by officers. Indigenous women victims of violence (including domestic violence) and those at risk reported police insensitivity to their well-being, vulnerability, and cultural background. Some women said that police had threatened to arrest them (e.g., for drug possession, public intoxication, or breach of parole conditions) when the women reported domestic violence. Overall, indigenous women reported a deep mistrust of the RCMP and municipal police, and fear that they would face retaliation if they filed any form of complaint against an officer. 

Based on recent federal government commitments to address violence against indigenous women and girls, it is clear that these are issues of serious concern to police services across the country. We look forward to a dialogue with the Saskatoon Police Service about our shared interest in ensuring that the police play an effective role in responding to violence against indigenous women and girls.

We are eager to include the perspective of law enforcement in any materials we publish on this issue. We would appreciate your response to the questions and data request below by September 23, 2016.

We would also welcome an opportunity to meet with you or a member of your staff to discuss the range of issues raised during our investigation, as well as specific policing concerns that fall within the jurisdiction of your police service.

Questions

Policing Policies and Practices

  1. What kinds of information do you collect when detaining individuals? Are race, age, and sex/gender information collected? If not, why not?
  2. What rules exist regarding cross-gender body and strip searches of women and girls by police officers? Please detail the protocols that regulate these searches at every stage of interaction with the police from routine stops to arrest and detention.
  3. Are there specific protocols on cross-gender body and strip searches involving minors?
  4. Please detail the circumstances in which a male officer can request that a woman remove her bra or other undergarments during stops, arrests, and detention. What policies are in place for regulating this practice?
  5. What protections are in place to prevent sexually inappropriate behaviour by police officers? What measures are in place to respond to these allegations?
  6. Please elaborate on the policies and standard operating procedures surrounding the use of force by an officer during stops, arrest and detention. What level of force would be deemed “excessive” for a cooperating individual as well as someone resisting arrest?
  7. Please elaborate on the policies and standard operating procedures that apply to custodial arrangements for and body and strip searches of transgender individuals?
  8. What protocols exist regarding the use of pepper spray, tasers, and police dogs, in general and with respect to children?
  9. What protocols exist for responding to domestic violence calls?
  10. What measures are being taken to ensure the well-being and safety of female victims of domestic violence and those at risk?
  11. Is there a specific policy on dual arrests in domestic violence cases?
  12. What, if any, specific measures has your police service taken to address the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women?
  13. Please detail any partnerships your police service maintains with First Nations police services and community workers, mental health professionals, addiction specialists, and domestic violence experts.
  14. Please elaborate on any policies in place within your police service to provide safe alternatives to detention for intoxicated individuals.
  15. What measures are currently in place within your police service and through partnerships with social service providers to rehabilitate repeat offenders and to do so through restorative justice initiatives?
  16. What measures are being taken to build trust in the police among the indigenous communities in your jurisdiction?
  17. Kindly detail whether your police service employs any indigenous liaison workers or volunteers (or has employed over the last 5 years) that are made available to members of this community upon arrival at a police station. 
  18. Kindly elaborate on your indigenous candidate recruitment strategy and provide details on the number of indigenous men and women currently employed by your police service as well as the number employed over the last 5 years.

Accountability

  1. Please outline the disciplinary steps taken if there is a substantiated claim that an officer has used racially discriminatory or sexually inappropriate language when speaking to other officers or civilians.
  2. What recruitment screening strategies are in place to prevent police force candidates with biased views against any group on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other grounds from being offered employment? 
  3. Please outline the disciplinary action taken if an officer is found to have conducted an unjustified body (frisk) or strip search.
  4. Please advise whether police officers on your force are subject to drug testing and under what circumstances.
  5. What percentage of police officers on your force wear body cameras? What protocols exist regarding the use of these cameras and to what extent do officers have discretion on when to turn off the cameras?
  6. What percentage of police vehicles within your jurisdiction have GPS tracking devices? What protocols exist regarding the use of these devices? Is the GPS tracking information logged and, if so, for how long?
  7. What percentage of your police station is equipped with video cameras? Do those cameras record audio? Please indicate which areas of your police station are not covered by video cameras.
  8. Please outline the disciplinary steps taken if there is a substantiated claim that an officer is found to have physically assaulted, verbally abused, sexually coerced, and/or intimidated a woman, girl, or a member of a sexual or gender minority group during arrest or in detention.
  9. When an individual files a complaint against a police officer, how is this information stored and is it visible on their electronic police file/record? Please describe what measures are in place to prevent retaliation against complainants.
  10. Please provide or describe what instructions are given to officers on how they should respond to complaints against police by members of the public.
  11. What measures are being taken to ensure that members of the public, particularly indigenous people, are knowledgeable of the complaints process?
  12. What measures are being taken to minimize the occurrence of violence or disrespectful police interactions with civilians, particularly indigenous people?
  13. Have members of the indigenous community been invited to evaluate the effectiveness of existing cultural awareness programs and have any changes been implemented as a result of their feedback?

Training

  1. What training do police officers receive on handling domestic violence cases and engaging with survivors and people at risk? Kindly detail both the nature and duration of the training as well as how frequently officers are required to take a refresher course.
  2. Do officers receive dispute resolution and anger management training and support? Are officers trained in de-escalation techniques? Kindly detail both the nature and duration of the training as well as how frequently officers are required to take a refresher course.
  3. What training on race-relations, particularly with respect to indigenous communities, is presently being implemented within your police service? Kindly detail both the nature and duration of the training as well as how frequently officers are required to take a refresher course.

Data Request

(Covering the period 2012 -2016)

  1. Number of police interactions with documented use of force, percentage by gender
  2. Number of police interactions with documented use of force, percentage of those that are with indigenous people, and of those the percentage with indigenous women[114]
  3. Percentage of indigenous women arrested who were charged with resisting arrest or obstruction of justice (under sections 129 or 270 of the Criminal Code of Canada); percentage of non-indigenous women arrested who were charged with resisting arrest or obstruction of justice
  4. Number of police interactions with documented strip searches, percentage by gender
  5. Number of police interactions with documented strip searches, percentage of those that are with indigenous people, and of those the percentage with indigenous women
  6. Number of police interactions with documented body searches, percentage by gender
  7. Number of police officers suspended with pay in your police service
  8. Number of complaints of sexual harassment or assault filed by a female officer within your police service
  9. Number of individuals who have suffered serious injury or died, either in custody or during an interaction with an officer in your police service.
  10. Number of complaints received by your police force from members of the public; number of those complaints investigated by your police force; number of those complaints investigated by an external police force; number of those complaints investigated by an investigator from the Public Complaints Commission; number of public complaints against your police force that have been deemed substantiated (in total, and disaggregated by gender and ethnicity, if available).

 

 

[1] See Annex for a sample letter.

[2] Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 2 1939-2000 The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Vol 1, Part 2 (2015), http://www.myrobust.com/websites/trcinstitution/File/Reports/Volume_1_History_Part_2_English_Web.pdf (accessed March 4, 2017) [TRC, Vol 1].

[3] Human Rights Watch, Those Who Take Us Away; Benjamin Shingler, “37 cases of alleged police abuse in Val-d’Or handed over to Crown,” CBC, November 14, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/val-dor-abuse-surete-du-quebec-montreal-police-1.3849786 (accessed March 15, 2017); “Enquête investigation into Val d’Or now available in English,” CBC News, December 12, 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/investigation-into-val-d-or-now-available-in-english-1.3362534 (accessed March 15, 2017). See also: Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission, Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, November 1999, http://www.ajic.mb.ca/volume.html (accessed March 15, 2017); BC Civil Liberties Association, Police-Involved Deaths: The Failure of Self-Investigation, 2012, https://bccla.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/20101123-McAllister-Report-Police-Involved-Deaths-The-Failure-of-Self-Investigation.pdf (accessed March 15, 2017) [BCCLA, “The Failure of Self-Investigation”];  BC Civil Liberties Association, Police Involved Deaths: The Need for Reform, 2012, https://bccla.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/2012-BCCLA-Report-Police-Involved-Deaths3.pdf (accessed March 15, 2017).

[4] “Saskatoon Police Chief Admits Starlight Cruises are not New,” Windspeaker, June 1, 2003, http://www.ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/saskatoon-police-chief-admits-starlight-cruises-are-not-new (accessed May 9, 2017); McCrea, Graydon, Bonnie Thompson, and Tasha Hubbard, Two Worlds Colliding. National Film Board of Canada, 2004, https://www.nfb.ca/film/two_worlds_colliding/ (accessed June 7, 2017). See also:“Saskatoon Police Chief Says Drop-Offs Happened ‘More Than Once’,” CBC, June 9, 2003, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon-police-chief-says-drop-offs-happened-more-than-once-1.380299 (accessed May 9, 2017; Mervin Brass, “Starlight Tours,” CBC, July 2, 2004, http://www.cbc.ca/news2/background/aboriginals/starlighttours.html (accessed May 9, 2017).

[5] After leaving Night in the outskirts of Saskatoon at temperatures of -22 to -25 degrees Celsius and without adequate clothing, no record was made of the arrest and release, and no report was filed with the Police Service. See: R v Munson, 2003 SKCA 28, http://canlii.ca/t/5cj9 (accessed March 14, 2017).

[6] Mervin Brass, “Starlight Tours,” CBC, July 2, 2004, http://www.cbc.ca/news2/background/aboriginals/starlighttours.html (accessed May 9, 2017).

[7] McCrea, Graydon, Bonnie Thompson, and Tasha Hubbard, Two Worlds Colliding. National Film Board of Canada, 2004, https://www.nfb.ca/film/two_worlds_colliding/ (accessed June 7, 2017).

[8] Commission of Inquiry Into Matters Relating to the Death of Neil Stonechild, “Report of the Commission of Inquiry Into Matters Relating to the Death of Neil Stonechild,” October 2004,

http://www.publications.gov.sk.ca/freelaw/Publications_Centre/Justice/Stonechild/Stonechild-FinalReport.pdf (accessed February 28, 2017), p. 198 [Stonechild Commission of Inquiry]; see also CRCC, “Police Investigating Police – Final Public Report,” December 2014, https://www.crcc-ccetp.gc.ca/en/police-investigating-police-final-public-report (accessed February 28, 2017) [CRCC, “Police Investigating Police”].

[9] Stonechild Commission of Inquiry, ibid, p. 199-200; CRCC, “Police Investigating Police”, ibid.

[10] Stonechild Commission of Inquiry, ibid, p. 207; CRCC, “Police Investigating Police”, ibid.

[11] Stonechild Commission of Inquiry, ibid, p. 208. CRCC, “Police Investigating Police”, ibid.

[12] Human Rights Watch interview with Lauren T., First Nation Reserve, March 22, 2016.

[13] An Indigenous community leader (name withheld), Regina, January 27, 2016. 

[14] An Indigenous community leader (name withheld), Regina, January 27, 2016.  

[15] See TRC Summary; CEDAW, Article 8 Optional Protocol Inquiry Report; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, December 21, 2014, http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/indigenous-women-bc-canada-en.pdf (accessed March 4, 2017) [IACHR, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women].

[16] See TRC, Summary. 

[17] Brown v Canada (Attorney General), 2017 ONSC 251, http://canlii.ca/t/gxgqw (accessed May 9, 2017) (the federal government has indicated that it will not appeal the decision: see Tu Thanh Ha and Gloria Galloway, “Ontario judge sides with Sixties Scoop survivors,” Globe and Mail, February 14, 2017, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario-judge-sides-with-60s-scoop-survivors-damages-to-be-decided/article34015380/ (accessed March 20, 2017).

[18] See e.g. The Poverty and Human Rights Centre, “McIvor v. Canada 2017,” http://povertyandhumanrights.org/2017/03/mcivor-v-canada-2017/ (accessed March 20, 2017) (see e.g. paras. 6-12 of “McIvor Objection”); Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, Chair, Centre for Indigenous Governance, Reply to Issues 2, 3, 16 & 18: Indigenous Women and Women in Detention (October 2016), http://fafia-afai.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Canadian-Association-of-Elizabeth-Fry-Societies-Chair-in-Indigenous-Governance-FAFIA.pdf (accessed March 2017), p. 1-3 [FAFIA, CAEFS & Centre for Indigenous Governance, Indigenous Women and Women in Detention].

[19] TRC, Summary. 

[20] See e.g. Legal Strategies Coalition, “Review of Reports and Recommendations on Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada, Master List of Report Recommendations Organized by Theme,” prepared by Pippa Feinstein and Megan Pearce, February 2015, http://www.leaf.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Analysis-of-Implementation.pdf (accessed March 20, 2017), p. 8 (see here for a spreadsheet summarizing previous reports on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls: http://www.leaf.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Spreadsheet-summary-of-reports1.pdf (accessed March 20, 2017)).

[21] FAFIA, CAEFS & Centre for Indigenous Governance, Indigenous Women and Women in Detention, p. 4-8; FAFIA & Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), Murders and Disappearances of Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada, Briefing Paper for Thematic Hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 147th Period of Sessions, March 12, 2013, http://www.fafia-afai.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/6-2013IACHRBriefingPaperMarch-5.pdf (accessed March 20, 2017).

[22] Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview (2014), http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/wam/media/460/original/0cbd8968a049aa0b44d343e76b4a9478.pdf (accessed March 4, 2017), p. 12 [2014 RCMP National Overview].

[23] Numerous civil society reports focus on the root causes of the violence that include socio-economic marginalization and trauma and discrimination stemming from colonial and post-colonial law and practices (see e.g. Amnesty International Canada, Stolen Sisters (2004), https://www.amnesty.ca/sites/amnesty/files/amr200032004enstolensisters.pdf (accessed March 2, 2017); Human Rights Watch, Those Who Take Us Away; Native Women’s Association of Canada, What Their Stories Tell Us (2010), https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2010-What-Their-Stories-Tell-Us-Research-Findings-SIS-Initiative.pdf (accessed March 2, 2017) (see also Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women’s Association of Canada, “National Forum on Community Safety and Ending Violence Workbook” (April 2013), https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2013-NWAC-AFN-Ending-Violence-Workbook.pdf (accessed March 2, 2017), Tab 3; Legal Strategies Coalition documents (2015), http://www.leaf.ca/legal-strategy-coalition-on-mmiw/ (especially the Executive Summary, http://www.leaf.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Executive-Summary.pdf (accessed March 2, 2017).

[24] TRC, Vol 5, p. 258-269; CEDAW, Article 8 Optional Protocol Inquiry Report, paras. 128-131; IACHR, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

[25] CEDAW, Article 8 Optional Protocol Inquiry Report, paras. 23-4, 36-8.

[26] 2014 RCMP National Overview, p. 7-9.

[27] Vivian O’Donnell and Susan Wallace, “First Nations, Métis and Inuit Women,” Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 89-503-X, July 2011, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11442-eng.pdf (accessed March 2, 2017) [O’Donnell and Wallace].

[28] 2014 RCMP National Overview, p. 8 (these percentages are likely an underestimation given that not all police services collect ethnicity data on missing people and homicide victims: see Legal Strategies Coalition on Violence  Against Women, “Analyzing the 2014 Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Report, Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Review” (2014), http://www.leaf.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/2015-06-16-MMIW-LSC-2014-Fact-Sheet-final-version.pdf (accessed March 4, 2017).

[29] Human Rights Watch interview with Ashley D., Saskatoon, July 14, 2016.

[30] CEDAW, Article 8 Optional Protocol Inquiry Report, para. 138.

[31] Statistics Canada, Sixth Edition of Women in Canada: A Gender based Statistical Report, Women and the Criminal Justice System by Tina Hottom Mahoney (April 2011) http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11416-eng.pdf (accessed March 2, 2017), p. 36; 2014 RCMP National Overview, p. 7; O’Donnell & Wallace, p. 7.

[32] Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Warehousing Prisoners in Saskatchewan: A Public Health Approach, by Jason Demers (2014), https://www.policyalterNatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Saskatchewan%20Office/2014/10/warehousing_prisoners_in_saskatchewan.pdf (accessed March 2, 2017), p. 23.

[33] See Human Rights Watch, Those Who Take Us Away; Brennan Neill, “No charges against Quebec provincial police abuse scandal,” CBC, November 15, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/police-abuse-charges-val-d-or-1.3852390 (accessed March 15, 2017); Benjamin Shingler, “No charges in Val-d’Or abuse scandal will breed further mistrust, Indigenous leaders say,” CBC, November 16, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/indigenous-reaction-police-abuse-charges-val-d-or-1.3853031 (accessed March 15, 2017); “Enquête investigation into Val d’Or now available in English,” CBC News, December 12, 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/investigation-into-val-d-or-now-available-in-english-1.3362534
(accessed March 15, 2017). See also: Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission, Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, November 1999, http://www.ajic.mb.ca/volume.html

[34] Indigenous, LGBTQ-identifying people are Two-Spirit people (see Egale, Canada Human Rights Trust, Two Spirits, One Voice, https://egale.ca/portfolio/two-spirits-one-voice/ (accessed May 9, 2017)). Human Rights Watch was provided with second hand accounts of abusive interactions between police and Two-Spirit women and how Two-Spirited women’s fear of retaliation was a principal factor in them not coming forward to speak with Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch was not able to secure interviews with Two-Spirited women.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with Lauren T., Prince Albert, March 22, 2016.

[36] Community service workers in British Columbia have also decried the use of jailing as a means of addressing public intoxication in communities plagued by high alcoholism linked to historical trauma. See Human Rights Watch, Those Who Take Us Away at p.49

[37] See e.g. Aboriginal Healing Foundation Research Series, Addictive Behaviours Among Aboriginal People in Canada (2007), http://www.ahf.ca/downloads/addictive-behaviours.pdf (accessed May 9, 2017), p. 22-25; see also The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, Vol III (November 15, 2012), p. 13, 16, 41, http://www.missingwomeninquiry.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Forsaken-Vol-3-web-RGB.pdf (accessed May 9, 2017); The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, Vol I (November 19, 2012), http://www.missingwomeninquiry.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Forsaken-Vol-1-web-RGB.pdf, p. 32, 36-7, 58, 78, 97 (accessed May 9, 2017).

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with Elaine N., Saskatoon, April 6, 2016.

[39] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Chief Troy Cooper, Prince Albert, October 6, 2016.

[40] R v Golden, 2001 SCC 83 at para 47, http://canlii.ca/t/51xm (accessed February 28, 2017) [Golden].

[41] R v Deschambault, 2013 SKPC 112, para. 52, http://canlii.ca/t/fznh5 (accessed March 5, 2017); R v G(PF), 2005 BCPC 187, para. 32-33, http://canlii.ca/t/1kvk5 (accessed March 5, 2017).

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Donna H., Regina, April 8, 2016.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Regan S., Saskatoon, April 6, 2016.

[44] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Chief Troy Cooper, Prince Albert, October 6, 2016.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Chief Clive Weighill, Saskatoon, October 6, 2016.

[46] United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Centre for Human Rights, “International Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement,” http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/training5Add1en.pdf (accessed May 9, 2017), p. 13 [UNCHR, “International Human Rights Standards”];  United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Human Rights Standards and Practice for the Police,” 2004, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/training5Add3en.pdf (accessed May 9, 2017), p. 21, 44, 45, 46 [UNCHR, “Human Rights Standards”]; International Committee of the Red Cross, “International Rules and Standards for Policing,” June 2015, https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/icrc-002-0809.pdf (accessed May 9, 2017), p. 45 [IRC, “International Rules”] (see also Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding observations on the combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of Canada, CEDAW/C/CAN/CO/8-9, November 18, 2016, para. 49(e)).

[47] Golden, para. 101.

[48] Golden, paras. 89-90.

[49] Ibid, para. 72.

[50] R v Deschambault, 2013 SKPC 112, paras. 58-60, http://canlii.ca/t/fznh5 (accessed March 5, 2017).

[51] Golden, para. 90.

[52] R v G(PF), 2005 BCPC 187, para. 41, http://canlii.ca/t/1kvk5 (accessed March 5, 2017).

[53] Ibid, para. 43.

[54] Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, “Chair-Initiated Complaint and Public Interest Investigation Regarding Policing in Northern British Columbia,” May 15, 2013, https://www.crcc-ccetp.gc.ca/en/chair-initiated-complaint-and-public-interest-investigation-regarding-policing-northern-british (accessed March 4,  2017).

[55] Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RMCP, “Chairperson’s Final Report After Commissioner’s Notice on Chairperson-initiated Complaint and Public Interest Investigation regarding Policing in Northern British Columbia,” February 16, 2017, https://www.crcc-ccetp.gc.ca/en/chairs-final-report-after-commissioners-chair-initiated-complaint-and-public-interest-investigation (accessed February 28, 2017).

[56] Ibid, p.8. 

[57] Golden, paras. 88-89.

[58] Cloutier v Langlois, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 158, paras. 60-61, http://canlii.ca/t/1ft0h (accessed May 9, 2017), affirmed in R v Fearon, 2014 SCC 77, para. 19, http://canlii.ca/t/gflcd (accessed May 9, 2017).

[59] UNHCR, “International Human Rights Standards,” p. 13; UNHCR, “Human Rights Standards,” p. 21, 43, 45, 46; IRC, “International Rules,” p. 45 (see also Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding observations on the combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of Canada, UN Doc CEDAW/C/CAN/CO/8-9, November 18, 2016, at para 49(e)).

[60] Statistics Canada, “Measuring violence against women: Statistical trends”, ed. By Marie Sinha, Juristat, Vol 33, No 1 (2013), p. 13, 21, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2013001/article/11766-eng.pdf (accessed March 4, 2017). 

[61] 2014 RCMP National Overview, p. 12.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with an Indigenous community counselor, Saskatoon, January 16, 2016.

[63] Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Gathering Strength, Vol 3 (1996), p. 83-84, https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/handle/1974/6874/RRCAP3_combined.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y (accessed May 9, 2017); and Manitoba, Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, The Justice System and Aboriginal People, Vol 1, by A.C. Hamilton and C.M. Sinclair (1991), Chp.13 Aboriginal Women, http://www.ajic.mb.ca/volumel/chapter13.html (accessed March 2, 2017).

[64] Human Rights Watch interview with Lisa K., Saskatoon, July 14, 2016.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Jennifer P., Regina, January 27, 2016. 

[66] Ibid.  

[67] See Canadian Observatory on the Justice System’s Response to Intimate Partner Violence, National Framework for Collaborative Police Action on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), 2016, https://cacp.ca/index.html?asst_id=1200 (accessed May 11, 2017), p. 16.

[68] Response letters from police services on file with Human Rights Watch.

[69] BCCLA, “The Failure of Self-Investigation.”

[70] Brennan Neill, “No charges against Quebec provincial police abuse scandal,” CBC, November 15, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/police-abuse-charges-val-d-or-1.3852390 (accessed March 15, 2017); Benjamin Shingler, “No charges in Val-d’Or abuse scandal will breed further mistrust, Indigenous leaders say,” CBC, November 16, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/indigenous-reaction-police-abuse-charges-val-d-or-1.3853031 (accessed March 15, 2017).

[71] The Police Act, 1990 S.S. 1990-91, c. P-15.01, s. 35(2)(c), s. 39(1.1). http://canlii.ca/t/52w3c (accessed March 16, 2017) [SK Police Act]; Public Complaints Commission, Annual Report for 2015-2016, http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/9/93482-2015-16%20Public%20Complaints%20Commission%20Annual%20Report%20FINAL.pdf (accessed March 16, 2017), p. 3.

[72] Human Rights Watch, Freedom of Information Request No. 20160817, Letter from Government of Saskatchewan re ATIP PCC 002-16G ITEM 6.

[73] Justice Wright’s recommendations and findings in the Stonechild inquiry led to several amendments to Saskatchewan’s Police Act. The PCC was created as a result of consultations between local police services and First Nations Groups in 2006. See Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, “Police Investigating Police – Final Public Report,” December 31, 2014, https://www.crcc-ccetp.gc.ca/en/police-investigating-police-final-public-report (accessed March 16, 2017).

[74] The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. R-10, s. 45.72(1)-(2), http://canlii.ca/t/52cjn (accessed March 5, 2017) [RCMP Act]; Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, “Complaint and Review Process Flowchart,” August 11, 2016, https://www.crcc-ccetp.gc.ca/en/complaint-and-review-process-flowchart (accessed March 4, 2017).

[75] RCMP Act, s.45.6(1), s.45.71(3); Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, “Complaint and Review Process Flowchart,” August 11, 2016, https://www.crcc-ccetp.gc.ca/en/complaint-and-review-process-flowchart (accessed March 4, 2017).

[76] SK Police Act, s. 91.1(1).

[77] Ibid, s. 91.1(6).

[78] Ibid, s. 91.1(1), (2), (6), (7).

[79] See Human Rights Watch, Those Who Take Us Away, p. 66-72.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with Lydia A., Saskatoon, January 19, 2016. 

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Karen D., Saskatoon, March 21, 2016.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Sarah P., First Nation Reserve, April 5, 2016

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with Jennifer P., Regina, January 27, 2016.

[84] The CEDAW Committee found that Canada was in violation of CEDAW and failing to meet the due diligence obligation (CEDAW, Article 8 Optional Protocol Inquiry Report, paras. 208-210). 

[86] The OIPRD, Manitoba LERA, Nova Scotia OPCC, and Newfoundland RNCPCC forms only ask complainants to certify that the contents in the form are true. The British Columbia OPCC, PEI OPC, and Quebec Commissaire Déontologique Policier/Police Ethics Commissioner are completely silent in their forms. The Alberta LERB does not have an official complaints form, but their complaints resolution instructions are also silent on criminality. Only the NBPC has any reference to possible offences: “Please note that it is an offence to knowingly make false or misleading statements or file a complaint in bad faith or to prevent or obstruct a person filing a complaint (Police Act, SNB 1977, c P-9.2, s. 26). See: Office of the Independent Police Review Director (Ontario), “Complaint About the Police,” https://complaint.oiprd.on.ca/OIPRD.Efile/Complaint_en.aspx (accessed May 9,2017); Law Enforcement Review Agency (Manitoba), “The Law Enforcement Review Act,” http://www.gov.mb.ca/justice/lera/complaint/pubs/lera_complaintform2.pdf (accessed May 9 ,2017); Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (Nova Scotia), “Form 5 – Public Complaint – [Section 31(1)] Police Act Regulations,” http://www.novascotia.ca/opcc/publications/Form_5_and_Form_5A.pdf (accessed May 9,2017); Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Public Complaints Commission, “Complaint,” http://www.justice.gov.nl.ca/rncpcc/Forms/COMPLAINT%20FORM.pdf (accessed May 9,2017); Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (British Columbia), “Submit Online Complaint,” https://www.opcc.bc.ca/form/index.asp (accessed May 9,2017); Office of the Police Commissioner (Prince Edward Island), “Complaint Form,” http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/oag_complaintMU.pdf (accessed May 9,2017); Commissaire Déontologique Policier/Police Ethics Commissioner (Quebec), “Complaint,” https://deontologie-policiere.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/commissaire/formulairePapier/formulaire-plainte-en.pdf (accessed May 9,2017); Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, “How to Resolve a Complaint about the Conduct of a Municipal Police Officer,” https://www.solgps.alberta.ca/programs_and_services/public_security/law_enforcement_oversight/policing_oversight_complaints/Publications/Complaint%20Municipal.pdf (accessed May 9, 2017); New Brunswick Police Commission, “Making a Complaint,” http://www.nbpolicecommission.ca/site/en/complaints (accessed May 9, 2017).

[87] NWAC, “Small Steps on a Long Journey”, December 2011, p. 5, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/EGM12_NWAC.pdf (see also Interim Report of Canada on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as received September 16, 2016, p. 5-6, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2fCCPR%2fFCO%2fCAN%2f25188&Lang=en (accessed May 9, 2017): the federal government reports, “The RCMP has also updated its reporting policies and practices to ensure better data collection on the Indigenous origin of victims of violence crimes” without providing any guidance as to what those policies are, or whether they are aligned with similar reforms across all police jurisdictions).

[88] Information from RCMP, 2012 (e.g. RCMP, Operational Manual, Bias Free Policing).

[89] Violence against Women The Due Diligence Standard as a Tool for the Elimination of Violence against Women, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2006/61 (January 20, 2006), para. 32 [The Due Diligence Standard]; UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Erturk, Indicators on violence against women and State response, UN Doc A/HRC/7/6, January 29, 2008, para. 30  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx (accessed March 16, 2017).

[90] Letter from RCMP, Supt. David Vautour, Access to Information and Privacy Branch, December 5, 2016.

[91] Letter from Public Complaints Commission, Brent Cotter, Chairperson, August 17, 2016; Email communication from Rochelle Boudreau, Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP/Government of Canada, to Human Rights Watch, August 4, 2016. 

[92] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of States parties due in 2014, Canada, UN Doc CEDAW/C/CAN/8-9, April 13, 2015, para. 132; Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Twenty-first to twenty-third periodic reports of States parties due in 2015, Canada, UN Doc CERD/C/CAN/21-23, June 8, 2016, para. 67.

[93]Ibid.

[94] ICCPR, adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976 (acceded to by Canada in 1976).

[95] ICERD, adopted December 21, 1965, G.A. Res. 2106 (XX), annex, 20 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 14) at 47, U.N. Doc. A/6014 (1966), 660 U.N.T.S. 195, entered into force January 4, 1969 (acceded to by Canada in 1970).

[96] See UN Human Rights Committee, Decision: Delgado Paez v. Colombia, (195/1985), July 12, 1990, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/SDecisionsVol3en.pdf (accessed May 8, 2017), p. 135; UN Human Rights Committee, Decision: Jayawardene v. Sri Lanka, (916/00), U.N. Doc. A/57/40 at p. 234 (2002), http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/undocs/916-2000.html (accessed May 8, 2017).

[97] CEDAW, Article 8 Optional Protocol Inquiry Report, paras. 201-205; 208-209.

[98] United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted October 2, 2007, U.N. GAOR Supp 49 at 1-11, U.N. Doc. A/RES/61/295 (2007), art. 22.

[99] CEDAW, General Recommendation 19, Violence against Women, (Eleventh session, 1992), Compilation of General Comments and Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc HRI\GEN\1\Rev.1 (1994), p. 84, see paras. 1, 6.

[100] See Human Rights Watch, Those Who Take Us Away, p. 78, footnote 213; and IACHR, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, p. 69-81.

[101] CEDAW, Article 8 Optional Protocol Inquiry Report, para 210; see also The Due Diligence Standard, paras. 29-32.

[102] IACHR, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, paras. 213-215.

[103] Article 8 Optional Protocol Inquiry Report, paras. 211, 215.

[104] Ibid, paras. 202, 207-9.

[105] Ibid, para. 207 (see also IACHR, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, p. 137).

[106] Ibid, para. 216, p. 47-51.

[107] CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of Canada, CEDAW/C/CAN/CO/8-9, November 18, 2016, para. 26.

[108] Ibid, para. 27.

[109] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (2015), http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf (accessed March 8, 2017); see Call to Action 41: “The inquiry’s mandate would include: i. Investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.; ii. Links to the intergenerational legacy of residential schools.”

[110] Ibid, Call to Action 21: “We call upon the federal government to provide sustainable funding for existing and new Aboriginal healing centres to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harms caused by residential schools…”

[111] Ibid, Call to Action 57: “We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”

[112] Ibid, Call to Action 39: “We call upon the federal government to develop a national plan to collect and publish data on the criminal victimization of Aboriginal people, including data related to homicide and family violence victimization.”

 

[113] Human Rights Watch, Those Who Take Us Away.

[114] Human Rights Watch uses the term “Indigenous,” however, we recognize that the term “Aboriginal” is more common in some contexts. We would appreciate information corresponding to either term.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

© 2017 Marco Tibasima for Human Rights Watch

(Dakar) – Millions of pregnant and married adolescent girls across many African countries are being denied their education because of discriminatory policies and practices, Human Rights Watch said today, on the Day of the African Child. More than 49 million girls are out of primary and secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa, with 31 million of them out of secondary education, undermining their rights and limiting their opportunities.

Early marriage and teenage pregnancy are significant factors. In sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of girls marry before age 18, and African countries account for 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage globally. The region also has the world’s highest prevalence of adolescent pregnancies. In 14 sub-Saharan countries, between 30 and 51 percent of girls give birth before they are 18. Cultural or religious beliefs often stigmatize unmarried, pregnant girls, with the result that many pregnant girls are forced into early marriages.

“The African continent has one of the world’s highest rates of adolescent pregnancy, but many governments insist on tackling this social and public health challenge by punishing girls and jeopardizing their future,” said Elin Martínez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Governments should focus on helping girls prevent unintended pregnancies and support their efforts to stay in school.”

Although most sub-Saharan African countries have made commitments to guarantee compulsory primary and lower-secondary education for all children, many exclude or expel pregnant girls and young mothers from school.

Tanzania and Sierra Leone are among the sub-Saharan African countries that have harmful policies and practices that discriminate against pregnant and married girls, Human Rights Watch research shows. In Tanzania, Human Rights Watch found that school officials conduct pregnancy tests and expel pregnant students. Nineteen-year-old Rita, from northern Tanzania, said she was expelled when she became pregnant at age 17. “Teachers found out I was pregnant,” she said. “I found out that no student is allowed to stay in school if they are pregnant … I didn’t have the information [sexual education] about pregnancies and what would happen.”

Some countries, including Cameroon, South Africa, and Zambia, have adopted “re-entry” policies so that adolescent mothers can return to school after giving birth. However, even if governments have these policies, school officials often fail to carry them out adequately or at all. Young mothers frequently lack support to re-enroll due to school fees and related costs, limited support from their families, stigma in school, and a lack of affordable childcare and related early childhood services.  

Many adolescent girls become pregnant because they lack the information needed to make informed decisions about their sexuality, family planning, and their reproductive health, while others are coerced into sex and require protection and access to health services and support. According to the United Nations, 80 percent of women ages 15 to 24 who have HIV globally live in sub-Saharan Africa and across the continent, and girls aged 15 to 19 are five times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys.

Sexuality and reproduction are often not included in the national school curricula. In a handful of countries where they are included in HIV awareness or “life skills” programs or subjects, teachers are frequently unwilling to teach these subjects because of the sexual and reproductive health content, or due to constraints on teaching time and resources.

All African governments have made a commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals to guarantee gender equality and universal access to free primary and secondary education for all children by 2030. The African Union has recognized the importance of ending child marriage, understanding that it is a major impediment to regional development and prosperity, and of eliminating all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination.

African governments should guarantee that girls have equal access to free quality primary and secondary education and support to stay in school, Human Rights Watch said. Governments should reverse harmful policies and practices that stigmatize girls, including forced pregnancy testing and regulations that allow for the expulsion of pregnant or married girls. Governments should also adopt laws that clearly set 18 as the minimum marriage age for boys and girls.

They should also adopt clear guidelines that instruct schools to re-enroll young mothers, provide support services in schools, and ensure that young mothers have access to early childhood services. Governments should also ensure that all children have access to age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality, and reproductive education. Where possible, school-based services should be connected to youth-friendly health services to ensure that adolescents receive impartial, nonjudgmental information.

“Governments have the prime responsibility to ensure that girls access free primary and secondary education, without facing stigma and discrimination,” said Martínez. “All governments should scrap policies that exclude pregnant or married girls, and put in place special measures to ensure that all adolescent girls can go to school.”

In Girls’ Own Words

Malawi
In Malawi, roughly half of all girls marry before age 18. Between 2010 and 2013, 27,612 girls in primary and 4,053 girls in secondary schools dropped out due to marriage. During the same period, another 14,051 primary school girls and 5,597 secondary school girls dropped out because they were pregnant.

Girls told Human Rights Watch that marriage interrupted or ended their education, and with it their dreams to be doctors, teachers, or lawyers. Many said that they could not return to school after marriage because of lack of money to pay school fees, childcare, flexible school programs or adult classes, and the need to do household chores. Others said that their husbands or in-laws would not allow them to stay in school.

Kabwila N., 17, said she left school in standard eight at age 15 because of poverty. She said she could not go back to school because she felt ashamed about her pregnancy: “I would not want to go back to school because I started having sex with my boyfriend while at school. I am not fit to go back.”

South Sudan
In South Sudan, 52 percent of girls marry before their 18th birthday. According to UNESCO, over 1.3 million primary-school-age children are out of school, and the country has the world’s lowest secondary school enrollment rate, at four percent.

Mary K., of Yambio County, said: “My father refused me to go to school. He said it is a waste of money to educate a girl. He said marriage will bring me respect in the community. Now I have grown up and I know that this is not true. I cannot get work to support my children and I see girls who have some education can get jobs.”

Anyier D., 18, said that her uncles forced her to leave school at 14 in 2008 to marry an old man she did not know: “I would wish to return to school even if I have children. People think that I am happy but I am not because I don’t have an education. I don’t have something of my own and I am only cleaning offices. If I had gone to secondary school, I would get a good job.”

Tanzania
In Tanzania, fewer than a third of girls who complete primary schooling complete lower-secondary school, and over 15,000 girls drop out annually due to pregnancy. Human Rights Watch found that in some cases adolescent girls dropped out of lower-secondary school due to sexual exploitation and violence by teachers.

Joyce, 17, from Shinyanga, said: “There are teachers who engage in sexual affairs with students – I know many [girls] it has happened to ... If a student refuses, she is punished ... I feel bad … even if you report the matter it won’t be taken seriously. It makes us feel unsafe. Three girls dropped out because of teachers and sex in 2015.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Excessive working hours

© 2016 Rositsa Raleva for Human Rights Watch

“Rashida,” from Kigamboni in Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam, said a recruiter promised her a job as a domestic worker for a family in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

Instead, she wound up in a recruitment agency office in Dubai, where employers came to inspect workers to take home.

“When I arrived in Dubai, it was a big office and there were a lot of women, as if on sale, as they [potential employers] come and choose which one they want,” 23-year-old “Rashida” told me. “They say ‘stand up,’ they look at you up and down, then say, ‘No, I don’t want. Let me see another person.’”

“Rashida” ended up working for four families, lasting only from several days to a week with each one before returning to the office either because the employer did not want her or because she could not endure dismal working conditions, including being forced to sleep in a storeroom and being given little food. One family provided just “two slices of bread” for her each morning and evening. During this time, she did not receive a single cent. After finding work with a fifth employer, she worked for two years, 18 hours a day, with no rest breaks, and no day off. 

“Rashida” is one of countless women who migrate on the promise of decent working conditions but get trapped in abusive situations. There are an estimated 2.4 million migrant domestic workers in the Gulf states. While some have decent salaries and working conditions, many of the hundreds of workers I have interviewed told me that their employers forced them to work up to 21 or 22 hours a day with no rest breaks or days off, confiscated their passport, provided little or spoiled food, restricted their communication, and physically or sexually abused them.  Over the past 10 years, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented these violations across the Gulf, including in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

Domestic workers’ visas are tied to their employers under the kafala (visa-sponsorship) system, and workers cannot leave or transfer employers without their employer’s permission. If they do, they can be charged with “absconding” and face fines, imprisonment, and deportation. They are also excluded from labour laws or accorded little legal protection, and many leave without justice or redress.

Some countries are considering reforms that will guarantee domestic workers labour rights. In May, the United Arab Emirates’ Federal National Council adopted a bill on domestic workers that  for the first time guarantees a weekly rest day, 30 days of paid annual leave, paid and unpaid sick leave, and 12-hours of rest a day,  among other rights. In February, Qatar’s cabinet also adopted a bill on domestic workers which guarantees a weekly rest day, 30-days of paid leave, 10-hour working days, and an end-of-service payment. While a significant advance, these draft laws still fall short of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention, as they provide fewer protections than those accorded other workers under national labour laws.

The UAE’s bill on domestic workers also experiments with a new form of sponsorship. It designates recruitment agencies as the “sponsor” that provide employers with domestic workers for “temporary employment.” The potential advantage is that employers will no longer wield additional power over workers as their immigration sponsor, and they may be less tempted to recoup upfront recruitment costs by underpaying their workers.

However, there are also risks. The UAE already has cleaning companies that act as employers for live-in domestic workers who are hired for each job on a temporary basis, but until recently, there were no regulations governing this service. Human Rights Watch research found instances in which cleaning companies paid workers less than the salaries agreed upon in their contracts or repeatedly sent workers to employers with histories of abuse.

Oman is also considering allowing cleaning companies to provide employers with domestic workers hired by the hour. Effective oversight over such agencies and cleaning companies will be crucial.

Gulf states like Oman, UAE, and Qatar are introducing reforms for domestic workers that are improvements on paper. On International Domestic Workers Day, they should commit to enforcing and monitoring these changes so that they become true guarantees in practice.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sonia Ossorio of NOW-NYC addresses the crowd at a protest against US laws allowing child marriage.

© 2016 Susan Landmann

People don’t believe me when I tell them that child marriage is legal in New York, and that state law permits children as young as 14 to marry if they have permission from their parents and the court. “What?” people almost shout at me. “You’re joking!”

Then they say something like, “But that must be an ancient law – of course no one that young actually gets married, right?”

Well, actually they do. Between 2001 and 2010, 3,850 children under the age of 18 married in New York. Most were 16 or 17, but some were 15 and, yes, 14. The vast majority were underage girls marrying adult men.

This week, we moved a step closer to ending child marriage in New York. Both houses of the New York state legislature have now passed legislation that bans all marriage of children under the age of 17, and permits 17-year-olds to marry only with permission from a judge. Everyone else would have to wait until they are 18.

There’s one step left – Governor Andrew Cuomo must sign the bill in order for it to become law.

He should definitely sign it.

Child marriage – marriage before the age of 18 – is deeply harmful to children who marry and their children. Married children often drop out of school and are locked in poverty as a result. Married girls often have early pregnancies, which carry health risks – including death – for them and their babies. Girls who marry earlier are at higher risk of domestic violence than women. Married girls often face extra barriers in escaping an abusive or unhappy marriage and accessing shelter and legal assistance.

Countries around the world have committed to end child marriage by 2030, and many are developing plans to meet this goal. Donor countries, including the United States, have given funds to help developing countries fight child marriage. Germany, Malawi, Nepal, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden are among the countries that recently changed their laws in an effort to reduce child marriage.

In the US, things are moving, but slowly. Twenty-seven states still have no minimum age for how early children can marry if a judge signs off. New York has a chance to show leadership and be one of the first states to move toward ending child marriage. Come on, Governor Cuomo, protect New York’s girls.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am