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

(Beirut) – Qatar submitted documents to the United Nations on May 21, 2018, to join two core human rights treaties, following cabinet approval on March 14, Human Rights Watch said today. But Qatar’s accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights includes formal reservations that will deprive women and migrant workers of the treaties’ protections.

Qatar rejected gender equality provisions in marriage, divorce, and child custody on grounds that they contravene Sharia, or Islamic law. It also declared it would interpret several provisions in line with Sharia, including on defining cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment – avoiding bans on capital and corporal punishment – minimum marriage ages, and freedom of religion. And it said it would interpret the term “trade unions” in accordance with its national law, limiting migrant workers’ rights to form unions.


“Qatar’s accession to these core human rights treaties is an important public commitment to uphold the rights of everyone in the country,” said Belkis Wille, senior Qatar researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But the government undercuts its own actions by falling back on tired and outdated carve-outs to reject equal rights for women and migrant workers.”

Qatar is the third country of the Gulf Cooperation Council states to ratify both covenants, following Kuwait and Bahrain.

Qatar’s reservations relating to equal rights between men and women in marriage, divorce, and child custody are done on religious grounds, a position similar to that of several other countries that cite Sharia or other religious personal status laws for making such reservations. Qatar’s personal status law discriminates against women by requiring a male guardian to approve their marriage. The law gives men a unilateral right to divorce while requiring women to apply to the courts for divorce on limited grounds and women are required to obey their husbands.

Qatar also provides that fathers retain guardianship over their children following divorce even if the mother has custody. In most cases, boys live with their mother until age 13 and girls until age 15, when they automatically move to their father’s custody unless the court rules otherwise or extends the custody in the best interest of the child. Women, but not men, lose custody if they remarry. Under inheritance provisions, female siblings receive half the amount their brothers get.

Qatar also said it will interpret the right to profess and practice one’s own religion so that it “does not violate the rules of public order and public morals, the protection of public safe[t]y and public health, or the rights of and basic freedoms of others.” While people of other faiths can practice their religion in Qatar, the penal code prohibits proselytizing.

Article 116 of Qatar’s Labor Law allows only Qatari nationals the right to form workers’ associations or trade unions. As a result, migrant workers, who make up over 90 percent of the workforce, cannot exercise their rights to freedom of association and to form trade unions. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Though there is dissent about its origin, the first celebration of Mother’s Day was a war protest, one envisioned as a day of peace by Julia Ward Howe—a fascinating woman—whose proclamation in 1870 urged women to come together first to “bewail and commemorate the dead” and then to “solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace.” Far from being a celebration of motherhood, it was a powerful call to action. (Then, in 1908, Anna Jarvis, a West Virginian, designated a day to honor her mother; it became an official U.S. holiday in 1914.)

Nearly a century and a half later, Mother’s Day for the most part has been stripped of any activist past and instead focuses on the private and commercial adulation of mothers and motherhood. The “aspirational” image of motherhood is the upper-middle-class white woman juggling work and home, in style, and with perfect abs.

That image of mothers and motherhood, exalted as it is in culture and political rhetoric, is far from the reality for the majority of women who are mothering in America today.

The gender pay gap continues to hurt women and their families. All things being equal—educational attainment and same occupation—women still earn 8 cents less on the dollar than men. One study found that the gap between mothers and fathers, both working full time, is 29 cents.

Underlying all of this is the cruel and unbelievable fact that the United States, unlike the vast majority of the countries of the world, does not have a federal paid family leave—forcing many women to return to work after childbirth before their bodies are properly healed or their children are ready. At the same time, the cost of child care in the United States is astronomically high, with 71 percent of parents in one recent poll saying it is a very serious or somewhat serious problem.

Recently, the Trump administration issued a policy that reverses the presumption against holding pregnant women in immigration detention—leaving pregnant women in facilities that lack adequate health care and separated from family and support networks.

Immigrant mothers detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection often aren’t treated respectfully. Our research shows the stress that mothers are under there; one mother of a 5-month-old told us that she stopped lactating because of the stress and then wasn’t provided formula appropriate for her baby.

Legalized discrimination—such as allowing adoption agencies to prohibit same-sex couples from adopting, or permitting health care providers to deny reproductive care to lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women—is endorsed by more and more states and even in proposed federal regulations. As one mother in a same-sex couple seeking reproductive health services told my colleague, “[My] passion to have a family was so strong, and to realize that one person’s beliefs could just overrule that—you just feel desperate.”

U.S. laws, policies and practices are making many mothers feel desperate, and that desperation falls disproportionately on women of color, women living in poverty or without adequate income, women without legal immigration status, or those with disabilities.

It’s why we need to get back to the roots of Howe’s original Mother’s Day—and why a coalition of groups led by women of color and others that support them are calling for a “Mamas Day” to lift up black mothers in this country. Black women earn less, on average, than their white counterparts, their infants die at twice the rate of babies born to white mothers, and they themselves are nearly four times as likely to die in childbirth as white mothers.

Congress can help to make radical changes to benefit all the country’s mothers, by supporting H.R. 1318, the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act, and S. 1112, the Maternal Health Accountability Act, which are aimed at reducing the maternal death rate

They should also support the Mothers and Offspring Maternal & Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA) Act when Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Il.) introduces it to help improve the access black mothers have to quality maternal health care by, among other measures, ensuring that hospitals and providers adopt best practice protocols.

It’s time we started caring for mothers in the United States the way that they care for us.

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

Related Content

Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights welcome the opportunity to provide joint input into the November 2017 request by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for an exceptional report from the Myanmar government on the situation of women and girls from northern Rakhine State.

This submission outlines the findings of our organizations through several separate on-the-ground investigations in 2016, 2017, and 2018 that documented widespread human rights violations committed against ethnic Rohingya women and girls by Myanmar security forces.

Our organizations have documented numerous mass atrocity crimes—including widespread killings, torture, rape and other sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, and mass arson—committed by Myanmar’s army and other state security forces. Human Rights Watch has found that these atrocities against the Rohingya amount to crimes against humanity.[1] Fortify Rights, along with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Allard K. Lowenstein Clinic at Yale Law School, found strong evidence of genocide being committed against the Rohingya.[2] In November 2017, Pramila Patten, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said the Myanmar army’s widespread use of sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls was “a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group,” adding that she documented the basis for characterizing the crimes as genocide.[3] In December, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that one “cannot rule out the possibility that acts of genocide have been committed.”[4] In March 2018, UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee said the crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar “bear the hallmarks of genocide.”[5]

This latest campaign of violence against Rohingya comes in the context of a long history of abuse and discrimination against Rohingya women by Myanmar authorities. These include sexual harassment and violence as well as denial of access to sexual and reproductive health care for women and girls protected under international law.

We have organized key findings of our research in response to some of the questions posed by CEDAW to the Myanmar government.

Information concerning cases of sexual violence, including rape, against Rohingya women and girls by state security forces, and details on the number of women and girls who have been killed or have died due to other non-natural causes during the latest outbreak of violence.

In December 2016 and January 2017, Human Rights Watch researchers in Bangladesh interviewed 18 women, of whom 11 had survived sexual assault, as well as 10 men, all of whom had fled military-led “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State in late 2016. Altogether, Human Rights Watch documented 28 incidents of rape and other sexual assault.[6] In September and October 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed 52 Rohingya women and girls, including 29 survivors of rape, who fled to Bangladesh since the 2017 “clearance operations” began.[7] Rape survivors were from 19 different villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, mostly in northern Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships.

In December 2016 and March 2017, Fortify Rights spoke to eight Rohingya women who were raped and gang raped by Myanmar army soldiers in October and November 2016 in seven villages in Maungdaw township.[8] Six of these cases were gang rapes; two were rapes followed by attempted gang rapes. All but one rape survivor who spoke to Fortify Rights witnessed soldiers rape other Rohingya women and girls as well. Fortify Rights also documented and analyzed the testimony of more than 17 witnesses to rapes in October and November, and from 14 Rohingya who provided additional information related to rape committed by Myanmar army soldiers in the above villages and other villages during that period.[9] Five medical doctors and physicians treating Rohingya rape survivors in Bangladesh and three international aid workers provided further information to Fortify Rights on the rape of Rohingya women during “clearance operations” in Maungdaw township in October and November 2016.[10] Fortify Rights also documented rape and sexual violence in August and September 2017 in all three townships of northern Rakhine State, including through interviews with nine witnesses to rapes, gang rapes, and post-rape body mutilation by Myanmar army soldiers.[11]

Witnesses and survivors of rape described to Fortify Rights how Myanmar army soldiers gang raped Rohingya women and girls in homes, schools, paddy fields, forested areas, and other community buildings, often in plain view of other soldiers and civilians.

Human Rights Watch found that Myanmar security forces raped and sexually assaulted women and girls both during major attacks on villages following August 25, 2017, as well as in the weeks prior to these major attacks, sometimes after repeated harassment. In every case described to Human Rights Watch, the perpetrators were uniformed members of security forces, almost all military personnel.

Rape survivors described brutal circumstances of the rapes. All but one of the rapes reported to Human Rights Watch were gang rapes, involving two or more perpetrators. In eight cases, women and girls reported being raped by five or more soldiers. They described being raped in their homes and while fleeing burning villages. Human Rights Watch documented six cases of “mass rape” by the Myanmar military, including in Tula Toli village, officially known as Min Gyi, in Maungdaw township. In these instances, survivors said that soldiers gathered them together in groups and then gang raped or raped them. Ethnic Rakhine villagers, acting alongside and in apparent coordination with government security forces, were also responsible for sexual harassment, often connected with looting.

The rapes were accompanied by further acts of violence, humiliation, and cruelty. Security forces beat women and girls with fists or guns, slapped them, or kicked them with boots. In two cases, women reported that their attackers laughed at them during gang rapes, and more frequently attackers threatened their victims either verbally or through actions like putting a gun to their heads. Some attackers also beat women’s children during the attacks. Fortify Rights documented instances of soldiers killing Rohingya women and mutilating their bodies after raping them, including cutting off breasts and cutting vaginas and stomachs with long knives.

Rape survivors spoke of enduring numerous abuses at once. In addition to being gang raped, three women described with great distress seeing security forces murder their young children. Other women and girls said they witnessed killings of their elderly parents, their husbands, other family members, and neighbors. Many reported witnessing cruelty toward those especially vulnerable, such as a soldier killing a 5-year-old girl who could not keep pace with her fleeing family, or security forces pushing older persons who could not flee back into burning houses.

None of the rape survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch or Fortify Rights received post-rape care in Myanmar. Survivors did not receive urgent interventions that must take place within days of the rape, such as emergency contraception (within 120 hours) or prophylaxis against HIV infection (within 72 hours). The Myanmar government continues to obstruct humanitarian access to much of Rakhine State.

Humanitarian actors in Bangladesh have said that they have received and treated or provided support to dozens or, in some cases, hundreds of women who survived rape or other attacks. The UN reported that humanitarian organizations had provided support to 2,756 survivors of sexual and gender based violence.[12] These likely represent only a small proportion of the actual number of women and girls raped, given that they do not include those who were raped and subsequently killed, that survivors may be reluctant to seek assistance due to the stigma attached to sexual assault, and that various other factors discourage reporting, including concern about paying fees for medical care and lack of confidence in future criminal investigations. Of the survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch, almost two-thirds had not reported their rape to authorities or humanitarian organizations. Most of the survivors with whom Fortify Rights spoke had not reported their rape to anyone at the time—even members of their families.

UN humanitarian reports indicate that sexual violence has been widespread in the recent attacks against Rohingya, with a cumulative total of 6,097 incidents of gender-based violence reported from late August through late March, including, but not limited to, sexual forms of violence.[13] Between October 22 and 28 alone, 306 gender-based violence cases were reported, 96 percent of which included emergency medical care services.[14] These UN figures aggregate different organizations’ cases. One Bangladeshi organization that does outreach work with survivors of sexual violence told Human Rights Watch in September 2017 that they had received hundreds of new cases of rape and other sexual violence since the August 25 attacks. Another organization said they had provided services to 58 survivors of rape and 12 survivors of sexual assault that had arrived since August 2017. A third organization said they had identified 50 recent rape survivors as of September 2017.

Rohingya women and girls were also raped and subjected to sexual harassment by Myanmar security forces during security operations in late 2016. Human Rights Watch documented 28 incidents of rape and other sexual assault in this period. Some incidents involved several victims.[15]

Fortify Rights met a local physician in December 2016 in Cox’s Bazar who had treated 13 Rohingya women and girls who survived rape and sexual violence in villages in Maungdaw township between October and December 2016. When Fortify Rights met him again in March 2017, he had treated more than 60 Rohingya women and girls, ages 13 to 30, for rape and sexual violence.

Rohingya women and girls told Human Rights Watch they had been afraid of rape for many months prior to these events, and had often experienced sexual harassment and assault from security forces and civilians aligned with those forces as part of their lives beforehand.

Women continued to suffer even after reaching Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch spoke to 10 women who continued to experience physical injuries, including vaginal tears, bleeding, or infections as a result of rape, without accessing care. Many women interviewed by Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, including suicidal ideation. Despite donor governments’ important contributions to the humanitarian crisis, Rohingya rape survivors still lack access to long-term post-rape care.[16] Access to safe abortion care, including for rape survivors, has also been in short supply.[17]

Information on investigations, arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences or disciplinary measures imposed on perpetrators, including members of the armed forces, found guilty of such crimes.

As best as we have been able to ascertain, there have been no meaningful, impartial investigations into sexual violence committed by Myanmar security forces, nor arrests, prosecutions, or convictions since the security force operations began in August 2017. On the contrary, Myanmar authorities have on multiple occasions offered wholesale denials of allegations of rape and sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls by state security forces. During an April 2018 meeting with UN Security Council members in Naypyidaw, Commander-in-Chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing responded to concerns from the delegation about sexual violence by the armed forces by stating “that the representatives need to consider the fact that it is a nature to exaggerate the rape case any country does not accept,” according to his office.[18]

The findings of the final report of the Tatmadaw investigation team led by Lt. Gen. Aye Win concerning the conduct of the armed forces during the security clearance operations.

The Myanmar armed forces, or Tatmadaw, issued a report on Facebook on November 13, 2017, laying out the key findings from the investigation headed by Lt. Gen. Aye Win.[19] The report claims that state security forces committed no wrongdoing, including that “security forces did not commit shooting at innocent villagers and sexual violence and rape cases against women.” The wholesale denial contradicts considerable evidence to the contrary, including photographic evidence and testimony of thousands of witnesses, as well as satellite imagery collected by Human Rights Watch that shows the partial or complete destruction of 362 Rohingya villages.[20] The military has stated that “all the findings [from the Tatmadaw investigation] are true and correct” as recently as April 30.

The Myanmar government has established several separate commissions to investigate the patterns of violence beginning in Rakhine State in 2016, none of which have been credible or impartial.[21]

Whether instructions have been or are being issued to all branches of the state security forces that torture, gender-based violence including rape and other forms of sexual violence, expulsions, and other human rights violations are prohibited and that those responsible will be prosecuted and punished.

Myanmar authorities have repeatedly said that their forces are aware of and have followed Myanmar law, military codes of conduct, rules of engagement, and international law, and that forces will be held accountable for any breaches.

Our organizations are troubled by the authorities’ denials of attacks on women. In September, the Rakhine State border security minister denied the reports of sexual violence. “Where is the proof?” he said. “Look at those women who are making these claims—would anyone want to rape them?”[22] When Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights, and others documented widespread rape of women and girls during military “clearance operations” in late 2016 in northern Rakhine State, the Myanmar government crudely rejected these allegations as “fake rape.”[23]

The gender-specific measures taken by the state party to rehabilitate and compensate Rohingya women and girls who are victims/survivors of such violence.

Our organizations are unaware of any such measures taken by the Myanmar government. Nor has the government claimed to have taken such action. Rather, the government has maintained its wholesale denials of any assault perpetrated against Rohingya women and girls. In a May 2018 statement on his meeting with the UN Security Council delegation, the military commander-in-chief claimed that “he heard refugees who fled to Bangladesh said they were raped by the Myanmar Tatmadaw.… If rape cases happen, the victims need to inform the committee [on Rakhine State, led by Aung San Suu Kyi] which will take action against all complaints.… However, there is no complaint till today.”[24]

The number of Rohingya women and girls who have died during childbirth.

We do not have estimates on how many women and girls died in childbirth.

In September 2017, Human Rights Watch documented three cases in which Myanmar security forces obstructed women from accessing emergency maternal health care. For example, one 40-year-old woman from Maungdaw township told Human Rights Watch that she knew of two neighbors who had died during childbirth after soldiers guarding her village would not allow them to leave the village to get medical help. Another woman, also from a village in Maungdaw township, said that her cousin died “on the road” because soldiers at a checkpoint refused to allow her to travel to a hospital. In a third example, highlighting restraints on Rohingya prior to the late 2017 “clearance operations,” a woman from Buthidaung township said her sister died in childbirth around May 2017: “My sister Mumena died giving birth.… We had to wait to get money for a bribe. We needed to get money by phone from outside and then get cash and then go bribe the military. Then we knew we would need to bribe the nurse too. But she died before we got the money.”

The “clearance operations” and violence against Rohingya in late 2017 made no exceptions for pregnant women, including those who were heavily pregnant during the attacks on villages. Women in late stages of pregnancy described fleeing from their homes—walking up and down steep hills slippery from monsoon rains, through rivers and dense vegetation, often with little to eat and on sore hips and swollen legs. Several interviewees told Human Rights Watch that six weeks after having fled, they still felt pain that they believed was linked to their forced migration. Human Rights Watch also interviewed three women who gave birth on their journey to Bangladesh without any medical support.

Human Rights Watch collected testimony from women and girls about their lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care in their home villages in Rakhine State. Of the 52 women Human Rights Watch interviewed, only two knew what a condom was, and only one had received prenatal care when she was pregnant. Humanitarian aid workers and Bangladeshi health officials working to provide health care to Rohingya women and girls who had arrived since August 2017 said that they generally found knowledge and experience of maternal and sexual care to be extremely low.

For many years, the Myanmar authorities subjected Rohingya women to a strict two-child policy. Rohingya found to have violated restrictions on childbirth were prosecuted under Criminal Law section 188, which could result in imprisonment for up to 10 years, fines, or both.[25] For several years, Rohingya women told Fortify Rights they feared repercussions from authorities for unauthorized childbirth. This fear, compounded by lack of access to safe, modern birth control options to prevent unwanted pregnancies, forced pregnant Rohingya women to either flee the country or resort to illegal and unsafe abortions. Clandestine efforts to terminate pregnancies rather than face government retaliation for unsanctioned childbirth resulted in death and harmful medical repercussions.[26] Abortions among Rohingya women in northern Rakhine State have traditionally been conducted using the “stick method,” whereby a stick is inserted into the uterus to terminate the pregnancy. Women report being afraid to seek necessary medical attention for subsequent health complications.

The number of clinics providing obstetric services and the ratio of doctors and midwives to the Rohingya population.

We do not have precise figures detailing the number of clinics and doctors available to provide obstetric services, or the ratios. However, several contextual features and figures should be considered with respect to the provision of, and access to, these services. The Rohingya population in Rakhine State has extremely poor access to health care of any kind in all parts of the state due to multiple factors, including the limited number of health care facilities and restrictions on freedom of movement that make routine access to any facilities or care difficult. Prior to the violence in northern Rakhine State beginning in October 2016, UN sources estimated that there was one physician per 75,000 persons and one physician per 83,000 persons in the Rohingya Muslim-majority townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, respectively, whereas in Sittwe, the Rakhine Buddhist-majority capital of Rakhine State, there was one physician for every 681 persons.[27] Additionally, Rohingya in northern Rakhine State have for years been subjected to a network and series of checkpoints where they were often forced to pay bribes, and frequently faced harassment or arbitrary detention, further decreasing the odds of their seeking or receiving health care.[28] Currently, humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State is severely restricted, including lifesaving medical care.

Throughout Rakhine State, access to health care is extremely limited, particularly for Rohingya. Outside of northern Rakhine State, the government confines more than 124,000 Rohingya to dozens of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps located in five townships. Access to health facilities for these displaced people is mostly limited to in-camp provisions by nongovernmental organizations whose access is needlessly restricted by the authorities. Rohingya in IDP camps in Sittwe township may be referred to Sittwe General Hospital, but only for life-threatening cases, and they are treated in a Muslim-only ward. Referrals are difficult to acquire, and Rohingya in these camps told Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights in 2017 that they are required to pay for their own security and transportation to the hospital, which is cost prohibitive. Rohingya women in Sittwe township camps reported in 2017 to Fortify Rights that access to health care is the most common reason for taking out loans, and some Rohingya women explained that they elected not to seek medical help in order to avoid acquiring debt that they would be unable to pay off. [29]

In general, state security forces require all Rohingya confined to IDP camps to obtain permission to travel, and Rohingya must also pay a fee to authorities. Moreover, once permission is granted and a fee is paid, Rohingya can only travel in the presence of security forces, if the security agents on duty agree to escort them. This escort “service” is not considered a right but a privilege, and it is not always forthcoming—for example, the authorities only escort Rohingya in the morning or afternoon, regardless of the situation.[30] These restrictions have impacted women’s health and maternal mortality.

The number of Rohingya families displaced by the violence, disaggregated by sex, and measures taken by the government to ensure their voluntary and safe return, economic reintegration, and compensation for loss of land or property.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 94,500 people were displaced in northern Rakhine State in October and November 2016, including more than 74,500 men, women, and children who fled to neighboring Bangladesh.[31] Since August 2017, more than 717,000 have fled to Bangladesh.[32] In addition, untold numbers of Rohingya have fled Myanmar steadily since 2012, including from violence, draconian restrictions, and avoidable deprivations in humanitarian aid. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated that from 2013 to 2015, more than 200,000 fled by sea toward Thailand and Malaysia from the Myanmar-Bangladesh border area. Many ended up in the custody of transnational human trafficking syndicates who held Rohingya women in conditions of enslavement and, in many cases, sold women and girls to the highest bidder.

The Myanmar government has announced plans for the repatriation of refugees, including hastily built processing centers and transit camps, yet has failed to establish any means of ensuring that returns are safe, dignified, and voluntary, as provided by international standards. Photos of the transit camps reveal buildings enclosed by high barbed-wire perimeter fencing.

The Myanmar government has a poor record of treating Rohingya displaced by past abuses or providing sustainable conditions for their return, such as in the case of the confinement of more than 124,000 Rohingya who fled ethnic cleansing in 2012 and remain in supposedly “temporary” camps in central Rakhine State. Humanitarian conditions in central and northern Rakhine State remain abysmal, with access for aid agencies reduced since August 2017, according to the UN and aid groups. Protecting returning refugees will not be possible without significant monitoring efforts by international observers. The Myanmar government has largely rejected international demands to allow free access for international aid agencies, the media, and rights observers, allowing only a small number of humanitarian agencies to deliver aid in northern Rakhine State, and denying genuine access to independent journalists and rights monitors.

We recommend that CEDAW call upon the government of Myanmar to:

  • Ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian aid organizations in Rakhine State, including organizations assisting sexual violence survivors and providing sexual and reproductive health care.
  • Ensure unimpeded access for journalists and human rights monitors in Rakhine State.
  • Cooperate fully with international investigations into alleged crimes in Rakhine State, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission established by the Human Rights Council.
  • Comply with the UN Security Council November Presidential Statement, which called on the Myanmar government to “implement measures in line with UN Security Council resolution 2106 (2013) to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual violence and … work with the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.”
  • Immediately repeal all discriminatory laws, regulations, and local orders and cease practices that restrict the marriage, movement, childbirth, and livelihoods of Rohingya. Communicate to central, state, and local governments and the general public that the relevant authorities are to immediately cease all official and unofficial practices related to discriminatory restrictions against Rohingya.
  • Amend the 1982 Citizenship Law to end discriminatory provisions against Rohingya and reduce statelessness by providing Rohingya equal access to citizenship rights.
    • In accordance with the universal prohibition of racial discrimination, amend the 1982 Citizenship Law to use objective criteria to determine citizenship, such as descent, through which citizenship is passed through one parent who is a citizen or permanent resident.
    • Revise the Citizenship Law in accordance with article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that Rohingya children have the right to acquire a nationality where otherwise they would be stateless because they have no relevant links to another state.
  • Ensure full access to quality sexual and reproductive health care, including prenatal care and emergency obstetric care. This includes making sure such services are available and accessible to Rohingya populations and lifting restrictions on travel and movement.
  • Take appropriate measures and provide means to allow women victims and their families willing to return to their original homes to return in safety and with dignity, and take effective and adequate measures to rebuild the homes and basic infrastructure destroyed.
  • Facilitate the safe reintegration of women victims and their families. Special efforts should be made to ensure the full participation of returned victims and their families in the planning and management of resettlement, reintegration, and rehabilitation programs. Myanmar has the duty and responsibility to assist returned victims and their families to recover, to the extent possible, their property and possessions that they left behind or were dispossessed of. When recovery of such property and possessions is not possible, competent authorities should provide or assist these people in obtaining appropriate compensation or other forms of just reparation.
  • Repeal the four so-called race and religion protection laws, which are discriminatory and violate the rights of religious minorities and women.
  • Ensure that the draft Prevention and Protection of Violence Against Women Law includes measures for accountability for sexual violence, in particular conflict-related abuses, with provisions for military perpetrators to be tried in civilian courts. Publicize the draft law to solicit input from all civil society prior to its tabling in parliament.

[1] Human Rights Watch, “Crimes against Humanity by Burmese Security Forces against the Rohingya Muslim Population in Rakhine State since August 25, 2017,” September 26, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/burma_crime.... Human Rights Watch previously determined that the Myanmar government was responsible for crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in 2012 and 2016 when ethnic Rakhine villagers supported by Buddhist monks carried out killings with help from state security forces. Rohingya women and girls have been subjected to rape in past persecution by Myanmar authorities, for example in 1978 when attacks drove 200,000 Rohingya out of the country. See Human Rights Watch, “All You Can Do Is Pray”: Crimes against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State, April 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/04/22/all-you-can-do-pray/crimes-against....

[2] Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “They Tried to Kill Us All”: Atrocity Crimes against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, Myanmar, November 2017, http://www.fortifyrights.org/downloads/THEY_TRIED_TO_KILL_US_ALL_Atrocit... Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and Fortify Rights, Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? A Legal Analysis, October 2015, http://www.fortifyrights.org/downloads/Yale_Persecution_of_the_Rohingya_....

[3] Serajul Quadir, “UN Official Says Will Raise Sexual Violence against Rohingya with ICC,” Reuters, November 12, 2017, https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKBN1DC0MW.

[4] BBC, “Myanmar: The Hidden Truth,” December 18, 2017, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09kdnwb.

[5] “Statement by Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council,” March 12, 2018, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22806&L....

[6] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/06/burma-security-forces-raped-rohingya... see also Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Rohingya Recount Killings, Rape, and Arson,” December 21, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/21/burma-rohingya-recount-killings-rape....

[7] Human Rights Watch, “All of My Body Was Pain”: Sexual Violence against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma, November 16, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/11/16/all-my-body-was-pain/sexual-violen....

[8] Those seven villages are Kyet Yoe Pyin, Pwint Hpyu Chaung, Kyar Goung Taung, Ngan Chaung, Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, Wapeik, and U Shey Kya villages. See Fortify Rights interviews with individuals 48, 04, 42, 41, 55, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, December 2016 and March 2017.

[9] Fortify Rights interviews with 19, 22, 37, 08, 11, 12, 25, 32, 30, 64, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, December 2016 and March 2017.

[10] Fortify Rights interviews with 1, 27, 35, 36, 54, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, December 2016.

[11] Fortify Rights interviews with 5-2, 9-2, 11-2, 23-2, 25-2, 33-2, 38-2, 43-2, 45-2, Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, August 27 – September 4, 2017.

[12] UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence,” S/2018/250, March 23, 2018, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-C..., p. 17.

[13] Inter Sector Coordination Group, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis, Cox’s Bazar,” March 25, 2018, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/180325_iscg_si....

[14] Inter Sector Coordination Group, “Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis, Cox’s Bazar,” October 29, 2017, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/171029_weekly_....

[15] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/06/burma-security-forces-raped-rohingya....

[16] Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis, “Women and Girls Critically Underserved in the Rohingya Humanitarian Response,” February 22, 2018, http://iawg.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/IAWG-Statement-on-Rohingya-Hu....

[17] Ibid. See also Anu Kumar and Sayed Rubayet, “Rohingya Women Have Suffered Enough. They Don’t Deserve Discriminatory Health Care,” Ipas, December 14, 2017, https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-rohingya-women-have-suffered-enough-t....

[18] “Discussions Between Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Permanent Envoys of UNSC,” Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, May 4, 2018, http://www.seniorgeneralminaunghlaing.com/2018/05/discussions-between-se....

[19] Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services (CINCDS) Facebook post, November 13, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/Cincds/posts/1511217488999111.

[20] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Scores of Rohingya Villages Bulldozed,” February 23, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/17/burma-40-rohingya-villages-burned-oc....

[21] On August 6, 2017, the National Investigation Commission on Rakhine State, headed by Vice President Myint Swe, held a news conference on its findings into alleged abuses against ethnic Rohingya, following a nine-month domestic inquiry. Myint Swe told journalists that there was no evidence of crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing. However, in Human Rights Watch’s view, the 13-member commission used investigative methods that produced incomplete, inaccurate, and false information. A previous army-led investigation into allegations of abuses against Rohingya communities in late 2016 by Tatmadaw forces led by the same general, Lt. Gen. Aye Win, found that only two minor incidents of abuse occurred during security operations. One of the documented crimes was the theft of a motorbike. Human Rights Watch documented killings, sexual violence including rape, and destruction of civilian property in the attacks that forced tens of thousands of people to flee during the same period under investigation. An investigation into allegations of rape in Maungdaw township in Rakhine State by Myanmar authorities found that no rapes had taken place, but was conducted in a highly problematic way that does not meet basic standards and would not have provided opportunity for women and girls to speak freely. Myanmar authorities announced in April 2018 that seven soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for their involvement in the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Inn Din village in Maungdaw, Rakhine State. Meanwhile, authorities have been destroying evidence of attacks against Rohingya villages. Since late 2017, the Myanmar government has cleared at least 60 villages of all structures and vegetation using heavy machinery. Most of these villages were among the 362 villages completely or partially destroyed by arson since August 25.

[22] Jonathan Head, “Rohingya Crisis: Seeing Through the Official Story in Myanmar,” BBC, September 11, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41222210.

[23] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/06/burma-security-forces-raped-rohingya....

[24] “Discussions Between Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Permanent Envoys of UNSC,” Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, May 4, 2018, http://www.seniorgeneralminaunghlaing.com/2018/05/discussions-between-se....

[25] Fortify Rights, Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, February 2014, http://www.fortifyrights.org/downloads/Policies_of_Persecution_Feb_25_Fo.... See addendum to regional order 1/2005, “Population Control Activities,” point number 3, original on file with Fortify Rights; see also Chris Lewa, “Two-Child Policy in Myanmar Will Increase Bloodshed,” CNN, June 6, 2013, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/06/opinion/myanmar-two-child-policy-opinion.

[26] Fortify Rights communications with representatives of an international organization, January 2014.

[27] Republic of the Union of Myanmar, “Final Report of Inquiry Commission on Sectarian Violence in Rakhine State,” citing UN reports, July 8, 2013, http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs15/Rakhine_Commission_Report-en-red.pdf, p. 41.

[28] See Physicians for Human Rights, “Myanmar’s Rohingya Continue to Suffer Systematic Extortion, Abuse,” October 12, 2016, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/press/press-releases/myanmar-rohingy... Fortify Rights, Policies of Persecution.

[29] Fortify Rights interviews with Rohingya women, Sittwe township, Rakhine State, Myanmar, 2017; see also CCCM Cluster, Danish Refugee Council, and UNHCR, Sittwe Camp Profiling Report, 2017, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/sittwe_camp_pr..., p. 7.

[30] Several Rohingya in the camps explained to Fortify Rights how they are unable to travel anywhere in the evening. For example, a resident in Dar Pai camp said: “After the conflict of 2012, if anyone has an emergency case in the nighttime, then there is nowhere for us to get treatment during the nighttime. We cannot go outside in the nighttime.” Fortify Rights interview with 136, Sittwe township, Rakhine State, September 2, 2015.

[31] UN OCHA, “Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot, February 28 – March 6, 2017,” March 6, 2017, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ROAP_Snapshot_1....

[32] UNHCR, “Refugee Response in Bangladesh,” May 15, 2018, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/myanmar_refugees.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Rohingya woman walks through Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 22, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

(Yangon) – Myanmar should comply with a United Nations committee’s request for information on the military’s responsibility for widespread rape of Rohingya women and girls in northern Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights said today. The two groups provided the committee with an 11-page joint report on sexual violence committed by Myanmar’s security forces against Rohingya villagers in 2016 and 2017.

In November 2017, the independent expert committee monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a global women’s rights treaty, requested the Myanmar government submit a report on the situation of women and girls from northern Rakhine State by May 28, 2018. The CEDAW committee has only requested such an “exceptional report” three times previously.

“The CEDAW committee’s rare request for Myanmar to report on sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls outside normal reporting procedures shows the extreme nature of the military’s mass atrocities,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government should cease its shameless denials and start openly cooperating with international monitors.”

The CEDAW committee request followed numerous reports of Myanmar army-led attacks on Rohingya Muslims, including mass killings, rape and other sexual violence, and widespread arson in hundreds of predominantly Rohingya villages, forcing more than 717,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017.

The joint report by Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights includes information based on hundreds of interviews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, including 37 women and girls who were raped in August and September 2017, mostly by gangs of uniformed soldiers. Witnesses and survivors also saw many other women and girls raped in groups, which amounted to patterns of gang rapes, as well as biting, kicking, and other physical abuse. Many recounted soldiers killing their elderly parents or children, including by throwing their infants into fires.

The CEDAW committee’s rare request shows the extreme nature of the Myanmar military’s mass atrocities.

Skye Wheeler

Women’s Rights Emergencies Researcher, Human Rights Watch

“I was held down by six men and raped by five of them,” said a 33-year-old Rohingya woman. “First, [the soldiers] killed my brother.… [They] stuck a knife into my side and kept it there while the men were raping me. That was how they kept me in place.… I was trying to move and [the wound] was bleeding more.”

The CEDAW committee requested that Myanmar’s government provide information on the battalions that carried out the attacks in northern Rakhine State and their commanding officers. As a party to CEDAW, Myanmar is required to report on its implementation of the convention, including in the case of exceptional reports, which are requested in situations where there is “reliable and adequate information indicating grave or systematic violations of women’s human rights.”

Myanmar’s government claims it instructs its security forces to respect military codes of conduct that forbid rape. It has repeatedly denied that its forces committed rape, including through biased investigations that lack credibility. A Rakhine State minister responded to reports of sexual violence against Rohingya last year by saying: “Look at those women who are making these claims – would anyone want to rape them?”

“Myanmar’s security forces used brutal gang rapes to terrify and injure as part of their ongoing attack on the Rohingya population,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights. “The authorities’ denials, essentially saying Rohingya women are liars, compound the terrible harms inflicted.”

The CEDAW committee also requested that the Myanmar government report on any efforts to provide justice and other reparations to sexual violence victims, as well as on access to sexual and reproductive health care for Rohingya women and girls. Successive Myanmar governments have persecuted the Rohingya for decades, denying them citizenship rights, freedom of movement, and equal access to education and health care.

CEDAW should call on the Myanmar government to:

Ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian aid organizations, journalists, and human rights monitors in Rakhine State
Immediately repeal all discriminatory laws and cease practices that restrict the marriage, movement, childbirth, and livelihoods of Rohingya
Ensure full access to quality sexual and reproductive health care, including prenatal care and emergency obstetric care

Sexual violence, like torture, is often followed by long-term trauma and serious mental health consequences including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Rohingya survivors of sexual violence and other attacks should be able to access long-term health care services as well as a path to justice and voluntary, dignified, and safe return to their homes.

International condemnation and calls for independent, rigorous investigations have been growing. In April 2018, the Myanmar army was included on the UN secretary-general’s “list of shame,” a register of national armed forces and armed groups whose members are credibly suspected of carrying out sexual violence.

The Myanmar government has continued to deny the UN Fact-Finding Mission and UN special rapporteurs access to northern Rakhine State. The authorities also continue to obstruct the delivery of humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations.

“Myanmar has repeatedly ignored international calls for information and access,” Smith said. “The CEDAW committee’s report request was an important step, but the UN should now ramp up its pressure on the government to end its atrocities against women and girls as well as its denials of abuses ever taking place.”

Burmese security forces have committed widespread rape against women and girls as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

South Korean police officers stand guard in front of the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea on March 10, 2017. 
 
© 2017 Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
(Seoul) – Criminalization of abortion is incompatible with South Korea’s human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said today in an amicus brief to the Constitutional Court of Korea. The court will hear a case on May 24, 2018, involving the country’s laws on abortion. The court should decriminalize abortion, and authorities should ensure that safe and legal abortion is accessible.

South Korea’s laws provide that procuring or providing an abortion in most circumstances is a crime. A woman who undergoes an abortion risks a prison sentence of up to a year or a fine of up to 2 million won (US$1,850). Healthcare workers who provide abortions can face up to two years in prison, though there are exceptions in cases of rape or incest if the pregnancy is between blood relatives who cannot marry legally, if continuing the pregnancy is likely to jeopardize the woman’s health, or if the woman or her spouse has certain hereditary or communicable diseases. Married women must have their spouse’s permission for an abortion.

“South Korean women are being denied reproductive choices that should be their right,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director. “South Korea should remove all penalties for women who seek an abortion and their medical providers, and ensure access to safe, legal abortion.”

International human rights treaties require governments to respect women’s reproductive and other human rights. Authoritative interpretations of these treaties by United Nations experts have said that governments should eliminate criminal penalties for abortion and take steps to ensure that legal abortion is accessible. The experts also have said that other barriers to abortion should be removed, including requirements for spousal consent.

The criminalization of abortion in South Korea negatively affects many human rights, Human Rights Watch said. The amicus brief to the Constitutional Court analyzes its impact on women’s rights to life, health, nondiscrimination and equality, privacy, information, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, as well as the right to decide the number and spacing of their children.

UN human rights bodies and experts have criticized South Korea’s punitive restrictions on abortion and have urged the government to modify these laws. In December 2017, a report by the UN working group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights conditions for South Korea said that it should “[r]espect reproductive rights of women, which include decriminalization of abortions” and “[r]emove all penalties for women who seek abortion, and for doctors and other medical personnel involved in providing these services.”

In March 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged South Korea to “legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the pregnant woman, or severe fetal impairment, and to decriminalize it in all other cases, remove punitive measures for women who undergo abortion, and provide women with access to quality post-abortion care, especially in cases of complications resulting from unsafe abortions.” The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) made similar recommendations in 2017, as did the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 2012.

Unsafe abortions pose a grave threat to the health of women and girls. According to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Guttmacher Institute, 25 million unsafe abortions occurred every year between 2010 and 2014. The WHO has noted that the removal of restrictions on abortion results in reduction of maternal mortality.

“South Korea’s Constitutional Court should protect women’s health and safety by ruling in accordance with international law,” Gerntholtz said. “Decisions about abortion belong to a pregnant woman, without penalty or interference by the government or anyone else.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a graduation ceremony at King Faisal Air College in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 25, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

UPDATE:

Saudi authorities have released two of the leading women’s rights activists, Aisha al-Manea on May 23 and Hessa al-Sheikh on May 24. Both were arrested the previous week but not named in the local state media campaign accusing those detained of treason. The conditions of their release have not been made public. Among those still detained are Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Mohammed al-Rabea, and Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh. Saudi activists have said that others arrested but not identified in government-aligned media include Madeha al-Ajroush and Walaa al-Shubbar. Saudi activists have told Human Rights Watch that the detainees are being held incommunicado.

(Beirut) – Saudi authorities have accused seven recently detained women’s rights activists and others associated with the women’s rights movement of serious crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. A statement issued by the Presidency of the State Security cited possible charges for “suspicious contact with foreign parties” and undermining the “security and stability” of the state that appear to be directly based on their activism.

The Presidency of the State Security was created by King Salman shortly after he named his son, Mohammad bin Salman, crown prince in June 2017, and reports directly to the king’s office. Within days of the activists’ arrests, pro-government newspapers and social media accounts launched an alarming and apparently coordinated campaign against them, branding them “traitors.” Saudi activists say at least four other women’s rights defenders have also been arrested since May 15, 2018, bringing the total suspected number of detainees to at least 11.

“The crown prince, who has styled himself as a reformer with Western allies and investors, should be thanking the activists for their contributions to the Saudi women’s rights movement,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the Saudi authorities appear to be punishing these women’s rights champions for promoting a goal bin Salman alleges to support – ending discrimination against women.”

Local state media outlets identified the long-time rights advocates Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, and Eman al-Nafjan, along with Mohammad al-Rabea, an activist, and Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, a human rights lawyer, among those arrested. It is not clear if the detained activists have been charged with the offenses the State Security cited.

Saudi activists told Human Rights Watch that the seriousness of the allegations and the viciousness of the deeply personalized media campaign are unprecedented and shocking. Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper reported that those arrested could face up to 20 years in prison. Al-Jazirah, a local daily newspaper, published a photo of al-Hathloul and al-Yousef on its front page under a headline describing them as citizens who betrayed the state. A pro-government Twitter account posted images of those arrested with the word “traitor” splattered in red across their faces. Saudi Arabia does not permit any independent media to operate in the country.

Several of the detained activists are best known for campaigning against the ban on women driving and publicly advocating abolishing the male guardianship system, which gives men the authority to make a range of critical decisions on behalf of their female relatives. Their arrests come ahead of the anticipated lifting of a ban on women driving on June 24.

Saudi rights defenders said that in September 2017, the day the lifting of the ban was announced, officials working for the king’s office (also known as al-Diwan al-Malaki in Arabic) had phoned prominent activists, including some of those now detained, and warned them not to speak to the media.

Al-Yousef, 60, is a retired professor of computer science at King Saud University, and a leading activist in the longstanding campaign against the male guardianship system. Under this system, women need the permission of their male guardian – who may be their father, husband, brother, or even son – to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married, or even leave prison.

Al-Nafjan, 39, is an assistant professor of linguistics at a university in Riyadh, and the author of a popular blog on Saudi society, culture, and women’s rights. She has written about women’s rights for numerous international media, including the New York Times and the Guardian. In 2013, al-Yousef and al-Nafjan protested the driving ban by filming as they drove by police stations in Riyadh and were both briefly detained.

Saudi authorities detained al-Hathloul, 28, in November 2014, as she attempted to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates while live-streaming to bring international attention to the issue. She was held in a juvenile detention center for 73 days. She has built a significant social media following since then, with over 300,000 followers on Twitter, which has widespread popularity in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammad bin Salman has offered rhetorical support for women’s rights reforms, especially during his whirlwind public relations tour in the United States and Europe promoting business opportunities and promising “a return to moderate Islam.” During his interview with 60 Minutes on March 19, he said: “Saudi women still have not received their full rights. There are rights stipulated in Islam that they still don’t have. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go.”

Such reforms have so far been limited. In addition to planning to lift the driving ban, the authorities have allowed women to hold jobs previously closed to them, such as air traffic control, border control, and traffic police. However, the male guardianship system, the most serious impediment to women’s rights, remains largely intact.

Moreover, Mohammad bin Salman has overseen a widespread crackdown on prominent activists, lawyers, and human rights defenders, which has intensified since he began consolidating control over the country’s security institutions.

In mid-September 2017, Saudi authorities arrested dozens of people, including prominent clerics and intellectuals, in what appeared to be a coordinated crackdown on dissent. Other Saudi activists and dissidents are serving long prison terms based solely on their peaceful activism, including Waleed Abu al-Khair, Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abdullah al-Hamid, Fadhil al-Manasif, Sulaiman al-Rashoodi, Abdulkareem al-Khodr, Fowzan al-Harbi, Raif Badawi, Saleh al-Ashwan, Abdulrahman al-Hamid, Zuhair Kutbi, Alaa Brinji, and Nadhir al-Majed.

“Every government that believed that the Saudi crown prince is a reformer and a champion for women should demand the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights activists,” Whitson said. “It’s not real reform if it takes place in a dystopia where rights activists are imprisoned, and freedom of expression exists just for those who publicly malign them.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

May 23, 2018

 

Justices of the Constitutional Court of Korea
15 Bukchon-ro, Jae-dong
Jongno-gu
Seoul 03060
Republic of Korea

 

Honorable Justices of the Constitutional Court of Korea,

As you prepare to rule on case 2017Hun-Ba127 concerning the laws on abortion in the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Human Rights Watch has the honor of submitting the annexed amicus brief on international human rights law and abortion.

Human Rights Watch has extensive expertise on the right to access abortion as an international human rights issue. We have conducted in-depth investigations specifically on access to abortion in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Ireland. Our investigations into related issues, such as sexual violence in armed conflict or on child marriage, have also addressed inaccessibility of safe abortion, including in projects on Brazil, Sudan, Central African Republic, India, Kenya, Uganda, Algeria, Nepal, Burundi, Colombia, Haiti, and Libya. We work to raise public awareness about access to abortion and human rights through advocacy and media work, for example in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Paraguay, Poland, South Korea, Honduras, the United Kingdom, Angola, Papua New Guinea, Italy, the United States, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Spain, Turkey, and Uruguay.

The criminalization of abortion in South Korea jeopardizes many human rights, including women’s rights to life, health, non-discrimination and equality, privacy, information, to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and to decide the number and spacing of children. This amicus brief explains authoritative interpretations of international human rights law, which clearly establish that governments are required to decriminalize abortion and ensure access to safe, legal abortions to be in compliance with international human rights treaties.

We hope that the Constitutional Court will take into account South Korea’s international legal obligations during its deliberations and ensure that those obligations are met by requiring the decriminalization of abortion and safe, legal access to the procedure in South Korea.
 

Thank you for your consideration.

 

Sincerely,

 

Liesl Gerntholtz
Director, Women’s Rights Division

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A sign in support of Planned Parenthood is seen outside a town hall meeting for Republican U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy in Metairie, Louisiana, U.S. February 22, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The Trump Administration today proposed a policy that would ban organizations providing abortion services in the US from receiving federal family planning money, known as Title X funding.

This proposed rule is aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of women’s health care in the country. It will inflict tremendous harm on poor women and women of color in the US, who are more likely to depend on healthcare providers who receive this funding.

The proposed rule, introduced by the US Department of Health and Human Services, is terrifyingly far-reaching. It would prevent clinics that receive some Title X money from using their own, non-federal funds to provide abortions – they are already prevented from doing so with federal money. It would reportedly even stop clinics that receive Title X funding from referring patients to safe and legal abortion services provided elsewhere. This would force doctors to withhold essential healthcare information from women about their pregnancy options.

It’s the country’s poorest who will be hardest hit. Title X is a national program that funds services to more than 4 million Americans, ensuring access to basic reproductive health care. Planned Parenthood provides a broad range of services in some of the country’s most marginalized communities. More than half of its clinics are in areas designated “medically underserved” that are home to poor women and women of color.

The restrictions are hauntingly similar to the Trump administration’s policy on global health funding, referred to as the Global Gag Rule. This requires foreign nongovernmental organizations receiving US global health assistance to certify that they don’t use their non-US funds to provide abortion services, counsel patients about the option of abortion, or refer them for abortion. It also forbids them from advocating for the liberalization of abortion laws. Research by Human Rights Watch and others in Uganda and Kenya, which rely on US health funds to combat high maternal death rates and HIV, have found the policy has led to cuts in key sexual and reproductive health services. Experts also fear an increase in unsafe abortions – and maternal deaths – due to reduced family planning services.

Now the administration wants to import a version of this draconian policy back home. This proposed rule is bad for public health, bad for women, and bad for families.

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

Amicus Brief: Decriminalization on Abortion in South Korea

Honorable Justices of the Constitutional Court of Korea

 

I. Introduction

Human Rights Watch has the honor of submitting this amicus brief in connection with case 2017Hun-Ba127, which is before the Constitutional Court of Korea (Constitutional Court). This case involves a review of the constitutionality of the Republic of Korea (South Korea)’s criminal law on abortion.

Under articles 269 and 270 of the Criminal Act, abortion is a crime, and any woman who undergoes an abortion risks up to one year of imprisonment or fines up to 2 million won (US$1850). Healthcare workers who provide abortions can face up to two years in prison, or more under certain circumstances.[1]

Article 14 of the Mother and Child Health Act provides for limited exceptions to the criminalization of abortion. Those exceptions allow women to procure abortion without fear of punishment in very limited cases, such as when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, if continuation of the pregnancy is likely to jeopardize the pregnant woman’s health, including her life, or when the pregnant woman or her spouse has a hereditary disorder or communicable disease designated by a government decree.[2] Married women require their spouse’s permission to obtain an abortion.[3]

The Constitutional Court is now reviewing the laws relating to abortion. As the Court reviews case 2017Hun-Ba127, Human Rights Watch urges it to take international human rights law, and authoritative interpretations of how it applies to abortion, into account. South Korea’s laws and jurisprudence should comply with its international human rights obligations, including by decriminalizing abortion and ensuring safe, legal access.

 

II. International human rights jurisprudence related to abortion

Access to safe abortion is a human rights imperative. Authoritative interpretations of international human rights law establish that denying women and girls access to abortion is a form of discrimination and jeopardizes a range of human rights. UN human rights treaty bodies regularly call for governments to decriminalize abortion in all cases, to legalize abortion in certain circumstances at a minimum, and to ensure access to safe, legal abortion.

Drawing on recent jurisprudence of UN human rights treaty bodies, this amicus brief provides an overview of key international human rights that are at risk when abortion is illegal or inaccessible. It focuses on the rights to life, health, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, nondiscrimination and equality, privacy, information, and the right to decide the number and spacing of children.

South Korea is obligated to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights guaranteed under the international human rights treaties to which it is a party, including but not limited to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),[4] the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)[5], the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT),[6] the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)[7] and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)[8]. Fulfilment of South Korea’s obligations under these and other relevant treaties includes ensuring that abortion is safe, legal, and accessible. UN bodies have specifically criticized South Korea’s abortion law and have called for reform.

 

Right to life

Denial of access to safe, legal abortion puts the lives of women and girls at risk. A 2017 global report on abortion found that 25 million unsafe abortions were performed every year between 2010 – 2014, and that many women and girls die of complications. It found that between 8 to 11 percent of maternal deaths around the world relate to abortion, resulting in 22,800 – 31,000 preventable deaths each year.[9] The World Health Organization has noted that that the removal of restrictions on abortion results in reduction of maternal mortality.[10]

The right to life is guaranteed by international human rights treaties and customary international law. For example, article 6(1) of the ICCPR provides that: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”[11] Similarly, article 6 of the CRC states that “every child has the inherent right to life.”[12]

International human rights bodies and experts have repeatedly stated that restrictive abortion laws contribute to maternal deaths from unsafe abortions and jeopardize the right to life. For instance, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), which monitors states’ compliance with the ICCPR, has explained that the right to life should not be understood in a restrictive manner.[13] It has instructed states that when they report to the Committee, they should provide information on measures to ensure that women do not have to undergo life-threatening, clandestine abortions.[14] The HRC is updating its general comment on the right to life. The current draft emphasizes that any regulation of abortion must not violate the right to life, or any human right under the ICCPR, of a pregnant woman or girl. It calls on states to eliminate barriers to safe and legal abortion, and to ensure that any restrictions do not subject pregnant women and girls to physical or mental pain or suffering. It affirmatively calls on governments to provide safe, legal, and effective access to abortion.[15]

In country-specific concluding observations related to states’ compliance with the ICCPR, the HRC has noted the relationship between restrictive abortion laws and threats to women’s and girls’ lives. It has frequently expressed concern about criminalization of abortion, and has called for expanded exceptions.[16] The Committee’s standard language in many recent concluding observations is as follows: “The State party should amend its legislation with a view to ensuring effective access to safe, legal abortion when the life or health of a pregnant woman or girl is endangered and when carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the woman or girl substantial pain or suffering, most notably when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or when it is not viable.”[17]

The HRC has also called on states to guarantee unimpeded and timely access to legal abortion services, saying that states should “ensure the availability of medical facilities and guaranteed access to those facilities for legal abortion.”[18] It has called for measures such as establishing referral systems for women seeking abortion services, publishing public health guidelines on abortion, facilitating access to information on legal abortions, lifting requirements for prior court authorization for abortions, removing requirements for multiple medical authorizations, combatting the stigma related to abortion, and considering incorporation of abortion into national health insurance schemes.[19]

The UN CEDAW Committee, which monitors state compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), has also repeatedly expressed concern about the links between maternal mortality and unsafe abortion, and has called for decriminalization of abortion in all cases and legalization of abortion, at a minimum in specific circumstances. In a 2014 statement, the CEDAW Committee said:

Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity. As such, States parties should legalize abortion at least in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the mother, or severe fetal impairment, as well as provide women with access to quality post-abortion care, especially in cases of complications resulting from unsafe abortions. States parties should also remove punitive measures for women who undergo abortion.[20]

Echoing this statement, many of the CEDAW Committee’s concluding observations call for states to “legalize abortion not only in cases in which the life of the pregnant woman is threatened, but also in cases of threats to her health, pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and cases of severe fetal impairment, and to decriminalize abortion in all cases.”[21]

This was the case in the CEDAW Committee’s 2018 review of South Korea. The Committee commented on the risk of maternal mortality and morbidity in the country due to unsafe abortions. It recommended that the country legalize abortion under some circumstances and decriminalize it in all cases. It said:

The Committee expresses its concern that, even though abortion is legal under certain circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest, under the Mother and Child Health Act, it remains a punishable offense under the Criminal Code. In addition, the Committee is concerned that in September 2016, the Ministry of Health and Welfare reportedly defined abortion in violation of the Mother and Child Act as an unethical medical practice, subjecting health care professionals to criminal punishment and medical license suspension. It, however, welcomes that this policy measure was later withdrawn. In that regard, the Committee takes note of the information provided by the State party that the constitutionality of the criminalization of abortion is currently before the State party’s Constitutional Court.

The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation (CEDAW/C/KOR/CO/7, para. 35) and, in view of the fact that unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity, calls on the State party to legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life and/or health of the pregnant woman, or severe foetal impairment, and to decriminalize it in all other cases, remove punitive measures for women who undergo abortion, and provide women with access to quality post-abortion care, especially in cases of complications resulting from unsafe abortions.[22]

The CEDAW Committee also regularly calls for measures to ensure access to safe abortion. For example, it calls for training of medical personnel; ensuring that conscientious objection by health-care personnel does not pose an obstacle for terminating a pregnancy; eliminating procedural obstacles that hinder access to legal abortion, including requirements for committee approval or judicial recognition of criminal acts in rape cases; adopting protocols on provision of legal abortion; raising awareness among women and providers about access to legal abortion; protecting medical confidentiality; and conducting campaigns to prevent abortion stigma.[23]

Similarly, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors the implementation of the CRC, has noted that “the risk of death and disease during the adolescent years is real, including from preventable causes such as … unsafe abortions” and urged states to “decriminalize abortion to ensure that girls have access to safe abortion and post-abortion services, review legislation with a view to guaranteeing the best interests of pregnant adolescents and ensure that their views are always heard and respected in abortion-related decisions.”[24] The Committee has expressed concern about the elevated risks of maternal mortality among adolescent mothers,[25] and has explicitly called for decriminalization of abortion “in all circumstances” in many concluding observations.[26]

Moreover, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors compliance with the ICESCR, has called on states to amend restrictive abortion laws and to increase access to legal abortion in order to decrease maternal deaths.[27] The Committee has observed that denial of abortion often leads to maternal mortality or morbidity, which in turn constitutes a violation of the right to life or security.[28] It has urged states to remove penalties for women who seek abortion, and to make it legal in certain circumstances.[29] It has expressed deep concern about prohibitions on abortion with no exceptions.[30]

The Committee has also said that states should ensure that abortion services can be accessed in practice, for example by adopting protocols on legal abortion, guaranteeing that conscientious objection laws are not an obstacle to abortion, and ensuring that health insurance covers abortion.[31]
 

Right to health

The right to health is protected in numerous human rights treaties. For example, the ICESCR guarantees everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the CRC guarantees this right for children.[32] CEDAW provides, “[S]tates Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.”[33]

Unsafe abortions are a grave threat to the health of women and girls. According to the 2017 report by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, 25 million unsafe abortions occurred every year between 2010 and 2014.[34] Complications from unsafe abortions can include incomplete abortion, hemorrhage, vaginal, cervical and uterine injury, and infections. Unavailability of safe abortion also poses risks to mental health, including severe anguish and risk of suicide.[35]

International bodies have repeatedly stated that criminalization of or unreasonable restrictions on access to abortion violate the right to health. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated that “States must reform laws that impede the exercise of the right to sexual and reproductive health. Examples include laws criminalizing abortion….”[36] In country-specific concluding observations, the Committee has recommended that states advance women’s health by providing for exceptions to criminalization of abortion and removing barriers to access.[37] In its 2017 review of South Korea, the Committee said that it was “concerned about the criminalization of abortion” and urged the country to:

[D]ecriminalize women undergoing abortion so as to guarantee women’s right to sexual and reproductive health and the protection of their dignity, and ensure that sexual and reproductive health services are made available and accessible to all.[38]

The CEDAW Committee has affirmed states’ obligation to “take appropriate legislative, judicial, administrative, budgetary, economic and other measures to the maximum extent of their available resources to ensure that women realize their rights to health care.”[39] It explained that “barriers to women’s access to appropriate health care include laws that criminalize medical procedures only needed by women and that punish women who undergo those procedures.”[40] As noted above, the CEDAW Committee consistently recommends that states amend their laws to decriminalize abortion in all cases, and legalize abortion at least in cases of rape, incest, risk to the life or health of the women, and severe fetal impairment.[41]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has warned of the danger of unsafe abortion to adolescent girls’ health. It has often urged states to decriminalize abortion in all circumstances, and to ensure that adolescent girls have access to safe abortions.[42]

This was the case in the Committee’s review of South Korea in 2012. It expressed concern that “the legislative prohibition of abortions, except in narrowly defined situations of exception, does not adequately take into account the best interests of pregnant adolescents and can give rise to situations which exacerbate the difficulties faced by them, including exposing them to the risks of unsafe illegal abortions and/or forced discontinuation of their studies and/or forced release of their children for adoption.” It recommended that South Korea:

[R]eview its legislation on abortion with a view to ensuring that it is in full compliance with the principle of the best interests of the child, including by ensuring that single adolescent mothers are allowed access to safe abortions and adequately protected from the risks of illegal abortions and the forced adoption of their children.[43]

The Special Rapporteur on the right to health has also recommended that states decriminalize abortion.[44] He has stated that “criminal laws penalizing and restricting induced abortion are the paradigmatic examples of impermissible barriers to the realization of women’s right to health and must be eliminated,” and that the criminalization of abortion has a “severe impact on mental health.”[45]
 

Right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

The right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is protected by human rights treaties, including the ICCPR and CAT, and by customary international law.

Criminalization and inaccessibility of abortion can amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and violate the right to freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The UN Committee against Torture has said that criminalization of abortion with few exceptions may result in women experiencing severe pain and suffering if they are compelled to continue pregnancy. It has expressed concern at the severe physical and mental anguish and distress experienced by women and girls due to abortion restrictions.

The Committee has called on governments to “allow for legal exception to the prohibition of abortion in specific circumstances in which the continuation of pregnancy is likely to result in severe pain and suffering, such as when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or in cases of fatal fetal impairment.”[46] It has also criticized restrictions on access to legal abortions in cases in which laws are unclear, abortions require third party authorizations, or physicians or clinics refuse to perform abortions on the basis of conscientious objection.[47]

Similarly, the Human Rights Committee has ruled in individual cases against Ireland, Peru, and Argentina that the governments violated the right to freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by failing to ensure access to abortion services in these cases.[48] It pointed out that this right relates not only to physical pain, but also to mental suffering.[49]

The CEDAW Committee has also described criminalization of abortion and denial or delay of access to legal abortion as “forms of gender-based violence that, depending on the circumstances, may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”[50] Similarly, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has also said that denial of abortion “in certain circumstances can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”[51]

The UN special rapporteur on torture has said, “Highly restrictive abortion laws that prohibit abortions even in cases of incest, rape or fetal impairment or to safeguard the life or health of the woman violate women’s right to be free from torture and ill-treatment.”[52] He continued:

The denial of safe abortions and subjecting women and girls to humiliating and judgmental attitudes in such contexts of extreme vulnerability and where timely health care is essential amount to torture or ill-treatment. States have an affirmative obligation to reform restrictive abortion legislation that perpetuates torture and ill-treatment by denying women safe access and care….[53]

Rights to nondiscrimination and equality

The rights to nondiscrimination and equality are set forth in all major international human rights treaties.[54] CEDAW prohibits discrimination against women in all spheres, including in the field of health care. It requires that states “take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.”[55]

In a 2014 statement, the CEDAW Committee observed that “failure of a State party to provide services and the criminalization of some services that only women require is a violation of women's reproductive rights and constitutes discrimination against them.”[56] In its General Recommendation on women and health, the CEDAW Committee noted that “barriers to women’s access to appropriate health care include laws that criminalize medical procedures only needed by women and that punish women who undergo these procedures.”[57] Furthermore, in country-specific concluding observations, the CEDAW Committee has often stated that restrictive abortion laws constitute discrimination against women.[58]

Moreover, the Human Rights Committee has held that lack of availability of reproductive health information and services, including abortion, undermines women’s right to nondiscrimination.[59] In the case Whelan v. Ireland, it found that the state had violated the claimant’s right to nondiscrimination by failing to provide access to abortion services.[60]

Similarly, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has also said that punitive abortion laws constitute a violation of children’s right to freedom from discrimination.[61] The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has said, “A wide range of laws, policies and practices undermine the autonomy and right to equality and non-discrimination in the full enjoyment of the right to sexual and reproductive health, for example criminalization of abortion or restrictive abortion laws.”[62] It has also noted that abortion restrictions particularly affect poor and less educated women.[63]
 

Right to privacy

The ICCPR provides that “[n]o one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation,”[64] and other treaties and authoritative interpretations reinforce the right to privacy and medical confidentiality.  

The CEDAW Committee has noted that policies that require spousal authorization for abortion impinge on women’s right to privacy,[65] and has recommended that states adopt policies guaranteeing the right to privacy or medical secrecy for patients who undergo or providers who perform abortions.[66] Its 2014 statement on sexual and reproductive health and rights emphasized women’s “right to access sexual and reproductive health information and services with the consent of the individual alone.”[67] It has also called for access to confidential abortion and post-abortion care services, even if the abortion is not legal.[68]

The Committee has also stated that while breaches of patient confidentiality affect both men and women, they may deter women from seeking advice and treatment for diseases of the genital tract, contraception, incomplete abortion, and in cases where they have suffered sexual or physical violence.[69]

The Human Rights Committee has remarked that “where States impose a legal duty upon doctors and other health personnel to report cases of women who have undergone abortion,” this may constitute a violation of a woman’s right to privacy.[70] The HRC’s draft General Comment on the right to life reiterates that any restrictions on abortion must not interfere with the right to privacy.[71] In several individual cases, the HRC has found that criminalization of abortion, or a state’s refusal to act in accordance with a woman’s decision to undergo a legal abortion, constituted a violation of the right to privacy.[72] It has also called for respect for professional secrecy of health providers and confidentiality for patients who undergo abortion.[73]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has emphasized, “All adolescents must have access to confidential adolescent-responsive and non-discriminatory reproductive and sexual health information and services, available both on and off-line, including … safe abortion services.”[74] It has recommended that governments ensure that children have access to confidential medical counsel and assistance without parental consent, including for reproductive health services.[75] It has specifically called for confidential access for adolescent girls to legal abortions.[76]

The CESCR has recommended that states ensure that the personal data of patients undergoing abortion remain confidential and has commented on the problem of women seeking health care for complications from unsafe abortions being reported to authorities.[77] Likewise, the Committee against Torture has called for protection of privacy for women seeking medical care for complications related to abortion.[78]
 

Right to information

The right to information is set forth in the ICCPR and is directly related to rights under other treaties.[79] For example, CEDAW provides that states must eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure “[a]ccess to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning”[80] and provide “[t]he same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education, and means to enable them to exercise these rights.”[81]

The right to information includes both a negative obligation for states to refrain from interference with the provision of information by private parties and a positive responsibility to provide complete and accurate information necessary for the protection and promotion of rights, including the right to health.[82]

The Human Rights Committee has called on states to facilitate public information on access to legal abortion and ensure that health care providers who offer information about abortion are not subject to criminal sanctions.[83]

The CESCR has stated that the right to health includes the right to health-related education and information.[84] It has said, “Information accessibility includes the right to seek, receive, and disseminate information and ideas concerning sexual and reproductive health issues…. All individuals and groups, including adolescents and youth, have the right to evidence-based information on all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, including … safe abortion and post abortion care.”[85] The Committee has called on states to ensure that information on sexual and reproductive health, including abortion, is available without discrimination.[86]

The CEDAW Committee has urged states to raise awareness among women and girls about when abortion is legal, and to provide comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health.[87] The CRC has also called on states to ensure that children have access to reproductive and sexual health education and information, including in schools.[88] It has recommended that states “adopt or integrate a comprehensive gender-sensitive sexual and reproductive health policy for adolescents, emphasizing that unequal access by adolescents to such information and services amounts to discrimination.”[89]
 

Right to decide the number and spacing of children

CEDAW provides that “States Parties shall ... ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women…. The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education, and means to enable them to exercise these rights.”[90]

The CEDAW Committee has called on states to increase access to high-quality contraception methods as a means to prevent unwanted pregnancy and reduce the use of abortion as a method of family planning.[91] However, in certain circumstances, abortion may be the only way for a woman or girl to exercise her right to decide the number and spacing of children, particularly if she becomes pregnant through rape or incest. The CEDAW Committee has noted that “[d]ecisions to have children or not, while preferably made in consultation with spouse or partner, must not nevertheless be limited by spouse, parent, partner or Government.”[92] Moreover, it has called on states to “address the power imbalances between men and women, which often impede women’s autonomy, particularly in the exercise of choices on safe and responsible sex practices.”[93]
 

III. Conclusion

Human Rights Watch urges the Constitutional Court to take into account the Republic of Korea’s international legal obligations during its deliberations. It should guarantee that those obligations are met by ensuring the decriminalization of abortion, and that Republic of Korea’s laws grant and protect safe, legal access to the procedure.

 

[1] Art.269 and 270, Criminal Act, https://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=28627&lang=ENG (accessed April 27, 2018).

[2] Art. 14, Mother and Child Health Act, https://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_mobile/viewer.do?hseq=33648&type=part&key=38 (accessed April 27, 2018).

[3] Art. 15, Presidential Decree No. 22075.

[4] Republic of Korea became a party on April 10, 1990.

[5] Republic of Korea became a party on April 10, 1990.

[6] Republic of Korea became a party on January 9, 1995.

[7] Republic of Korea became a party on December 27, 1984.

[8] Republic of Korea became a party on November 20, 1991.

[9] Guttmacher Institute, “Abortion Worldwide 2017: Uneven Progress and Unequal Access,” 2018, pp.10 and 33.

[10] World Health Organization, Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems,” (Geneva: WHO, 2012), noting, “The accumulated evidence shows that the removal of restrictions on abortion results in reduction of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion and, thus, a reduction in the overall level of maternal mortality.”

[11] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), art. 6(1).

[12] Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), art. 6.

[13] UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), General Comment No. 6 on the right to life, UN Doc HRI/GEN/1/Rev.9 (2008), para. 5.

[14] HRC General Comment No. 28 on equality of rights between men and women, UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.10 (2000), para. 10.

[15] Draft HRC General Comment on the right to life, para. 9. In July 2017, during its 120th session, the Human Rights Committee finalized its first reading of the draft General Comment, the version of which can be found at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CCPR/GCArticle6/GCArticle6_EN.pdf. The draft has been updated during several sessions in the intervening period and Human Rights Watch has the version from March 2018 on file.

[16] See, for example, HRC concluding observations on El Salvador, UN Doc. CCPR/C/SLV/CO/7 (2018); Guatemala, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GTM/CO/4 (2018); Lebanon, UN Doc. CCPR/C/LBN/CO/3 (2018); Cameroon, UN Doc. CCPR/C/CMR/CO/5 (2017); Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN Doc. CCPR/C/COD/CO/4  (2017); Dominican Republic, UN Doc. CCPR/C/DOM/CO/6  (2017); Jordan, UN Doc. CCPR/C/JOR/CO/5 (2017); Mauritius, UN Doc. CCPR/C/MUS/CO/5 (2017); Honduras, UN Doc. CCPR/C/HND/CO/2 (2017); Madagascar, UN Doc. CCPR/C/MDG/CO/4 (2017); Pakistan, UN Doc. CCPR/C/PAK/CO/1 (2017); Bangladesh, UN Doc. CCPR/C/BGD/CO/1 (2017); Morocco, UN Doc. CCPR/C/MAR/CO/6 (2016); and Ecuador, UN Doc. CCPR/C/ECU/CO/6  (2016).

[17] Many of the concluding observations listed in footnote 8 include this language.

[18] See, for example, HRC concluding observations on Jordan, UN Doc. CCPR/C/JOR/CO/5 (2017).

[19] See, for example, HRC concluding observations on Lebanon, UN Doc. CCPR/C/LBN/CO/3 (2018); Cameroon, UN Doc. CCPR/C/CMR/CO/5 (2017); Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN Doc. CCPR/C/COD/CO/4 (2017); Italy, UN Doc. CCPR/C/ITA/CO/6 (2017); Poland, UN Doc. CCPR/C/POL/CO/7 (2016); Colombia, UN Doc. CCPR/C/COL/CO/7 (2016); Burkina Faso, UN Doc. CCPR/C/BFA/CO/1 (2016); and Ghana, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GHA/CO/1 (2016).

[20] 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 (2014), http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CEDAW/Statements/SRHR26Feb2014.pdf.

[21] See, for example, CEDAW Committee concluding observations on Chile, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/CHL/CO/7 (2018); Fiji, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/FJI/CO/5 (2018); Marshall Islands, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/MHL/CO/1-3 (2018); Republic of Korea, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/KOR/CO/8 (2018); Saudi Arabia, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SAU/CO/3-4 (2018); Suriname, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SUR/CO/4-6 (2018); Burkina Faso, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BFA/CO/7 (2017); Guatemala, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GTM/CO/8-9 (2017); Kenya, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/KEN/CO/8 (2017); Kuwait, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/KWT/CO/5 (2017); Monaco, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/MCO/CO/1-3 (2017); Nauru, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/NRU/CO/1-2 (2017); Oman, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/OMN/CO/2-3 (2017); Paraguay, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/PRY/CO/7 (2017); Costa Rica, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/CRI/CO/7 (2017); Niger, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/NER/CO/3-4 (2017); Nigeria, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/NGA/CO/7-8 (2017); El Salvador, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SLV/CO/8-9 (2017); Ireland, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/IRL/CO/6-7 (2017); Jordan UN Doc. CEDAW/C/JOR/CO/6 (2017); Micronesia, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/FSM/CO/1-3 (2017); Rwanda, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/RWA/CO/7-9 (2017); Sri Lanka, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/LKA/CO/8 (2017); Argentina, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/ARG/CO/7 (2016);  Bangladesh, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BGD/CO/8 (2016); Bhutan, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BTN/CO/8-9 (2016); Burundi, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BDI/CO/5-6 (2016); Haiti, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/HTI/CO/8-9 (2016); Tanzania, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/TZA/CO/7-8 (2016); and Honduras, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/HND/CO/7-8 (2016).

[22] CEDAW Committee concluding observation on the Republic of Korea, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/KOR/CO/8 (2018), paras. 42 and 43.

[23] See, for example, CEDAW Committee concluding observations on Chile, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/CHL/CO/7 (2018); Burkina Faso, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BFA/CO/7 (2017); Israel, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/ISR/CO/6 (2017); Kenya, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/KEN/CO/8 (2017); Monaco, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/MCO/CO/1-3 (2017); Nauru, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/NRU/CO/1-2 (2017); Paraguay, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/PRY/CO/7 (2017); Costa Rica, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/CRI/CO/7 (2017); Italy, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/ITA/CO/7 (2017); El Salvador, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SLV/CO/8-9 (2017); Ireland, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/IRL/CO/6-7 (2017); Sri Lanka, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/LKA/CO/8 (2017); and Argentina,  UN Doc. CEDAW/C/ARG/CO/7 (2016).

[24] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20 on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence, UN Doc. CRC/C/GC/20 (2016), paras. 13 and 60.

[25] See, for example, concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Guatemala, UN Doc. CRC/C/GTM/CO/5-6 (2018); Marshall Islands, UN Doc. CRC/C/MHL/CO/3-4 (2018); and Palau, UN Doc. CRC/C/PLW/CO/2 (2018).

[26] See, for example, concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Guatemala, UN Doc. CRC/C/GTM/CO/5-6 (2018); Marshall Islands, UN Doc. CRC/C/MHL/CO/3-4 (2018); Palau, UN Doc. CRC/C/PLW/CO/2 (2018); Panama, UN Doc. CRC/C/PAN/CO/5-6 (2018); Solomon Islands, UN Doc. CRC/C/SLB/CO/2-3 (2018); Sri Lanka, UN Doc. CRC/C/LKA/CO/5-6 (2018); Malawi, UN Doc. CRC/C/MWI/CO/3-5 (2017); Saudi Arabia, UN Doc. CRC/C/SAU/CO/3-4 (2016); Sierra Leone, UN Doc.  CRC/C/SLE/CO/3-5 (2016); Haiti, UN Doc. CRC/C/HTI/CO/2-3 (2016); Peru, UN Doc. CRC/C/PER/CO/4-5 (2016); Kenya, UN Doc. CRC/C/KEN/CO/3-5 (2016); and Ireland, UN Doc. CRC/C/IRL/CO/3-4 (2016).

[27] See, for example, concluding observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on the Republic of Korea, UN Doc. E/C.12/KOR/CO/4 (2017); The Philippines, UN Doc. E/C.12/PHL/CO/5-6  (2016); Kenya,  UN Doc. E/C.12/KEN/CO/2-5 (2016); and Pakistan, UN Doc. E/C.12/PAK/CO/1 (2017).

[28] CESCR, General Comment No. 22 on the right to sexual and reproductive health (2016), para. 10.

[29] See, for example, CESCR concluding observations on Honduras, UN Doc. E/C.12/HND/CO/2 (2016); Poland, UN Doc. E/C.12/POL/CO/6 (2016); the Philippines, UN Doc. E/C.12/PHL/CO/5-6 (2016); Costa Rica, UN Doc. E/C.12/CRI/CO/5  (2016); Macedonia UN Doc. E/C.12/MKD/CO/2-4 (2016); Kenya, UN Doc. E/C.12/KEN/CO/2-5 (2016); and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, UN Doc. E/C.12/GBR/CO/5 (2009).

[30] See, for example, CESCR concluding observations on the Philippines, UN Doc. E/C.12/PHL/CO/5-6 (2016); Honduras, UN Doc. E/C.12/HND/CO/2 (2016); and El Salvador, UN Doc. E/C.12/SLV/CO/3-5 (2014).

[31] See, for example, CESCR concluding observations on Spain, UN Doc. E/C.12/ESP/CO/6 (2018); Mexico, UN Doc. E/C.12/MEX/CO/5-6 (2017); Moldova, UN Doc.  E/C.12/MDA/CO/3 (2017); Uruguay, UN Doc. E/C.12/URY/CO/5 (2107); Poland, UN Doc. E/C.12/POL/CO/6 (2016); and Costa Rica, UN Doc. E/C.12/CRI/CO/5 (2016).

[32] ICESCR, art. 12(1) and CRC art. 24.

[33] CEDAW, art. 12.

[34] World Health Organization and Guttmacher Institute, “Global, regional, and subregional classification of abortions by safety, 2010–14: estimates from a Bayesian hierarchical model,” The Lancet, vol. 390, pp. 2372–2381, November 2017.

[35] Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, UN Doc. A/66/254, August 3, 2011, para. 36.

[36] CESCR, General Comment No. 22 on the right to sexual and reproductive health (2016), para. 40.

[37] See, for example, concluding observations of the CESCR on the Republic of Korea, UN Doc. E/C.12/KOR/CO/4 (2017); Pakistan, UN Doc. E/C.12/PAK/CO/1 (2017); Honduras, UN Doc. E/C.12/HND/CO/2 (2016); Poland, UN Doc. E/C.12/POL/CO/6 (2016); the Philippines, UN Doc. E/C.12/PHL/CO/5-6  (2016); Costa Rica, UN Doc. E/C.12/CRI/CO/5 (2016); Kenya,  UN Doc. E/C.12/KEN/CO/2-5 (2016); and Macedonia, UN Doc. E/C.12/MKD/CO/2-4 (2016). 

[38] CESCR, concluding observations on the Republic of Korea, UN Doc. E/C.12/KOR/CO/4 (2017), paras 59 and 60.

[39] CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 24 on women and health, UN Doc. A/54/38/Rev.1 (1999), para. 14.

[40] Ibid.

[41] See, for example, CEDAW Committee concluding observations on Chile, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/CHL/CO/7 (2018); Fiji, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/FJI/CO/5 (2018); Marshall Islands, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/MHL/CO/1-3 (2018); Republic of Korea, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/KOR/CO/8 (2018); Saudi Arabia, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SAU/CO/3-4 (2018); Suriname, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SUR/CO/4-6 (2018); Burkina Faso, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BFA/CO/7 (2017); Guatemala, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/GTM/CO/8-9 (2017); Kenya, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/KEN/CO/8 (2017); Kuwait, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/KWT/CO/5 (2017); Monaco, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/MCO/CO/1-3 (2017); Nauru, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/NRU/CO/1-2 (2017); Oman, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/OMN/CO/2-3 (2017); Paraguay, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/PRY/CO/7 (2017); Costa Rica, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/CRI/CO/7 (2017); Niger, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/NER/CO/3-4 (2017); Nigeria, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/NGA/CO/7-8 (2017); El Salvador, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SLV/CO/8-9 (2017); Ireland, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/IRL/CO/6-7 (2017); Jordan UN Doc. CEDAW/C/JOR/CO/6 (2017); Micronesia, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/FSM/CO/1-3 (2017); Rwanda, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/RWA/CO/7-9 (2017); Sri Lanka, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/LKA/CO/8 (2017); Argentina, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/ARG/CO/7 (2016);  Bangladesh, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BGD/CO/8 (2016); Bhutan, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BTN/CO/8-9 (2016); Burundi, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BDI/CO/5-6 (2016); and Honduras, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/HND/CO/7-8 (2016).

[42] See discussions above under “the right to life.”

[43] CRC, concluding observations on the Republic of Korea, UN Doc. CRC/C/KOR/CO/3-4 (2012), paras. 10 and 11.

[44] Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, UN Doc. A/66/254, para. 65(h).

[45] Ibid., para. 36.

[46] See, for example, concluding observations of the Committee against Torture on Timor-Leste, UN Doc. CAT/C/TLS/CO/1 (2017); Ireland, UN Doc. CAT/C/IRL/CO/2 (2017); and Ecuador, UN Doc. CAT/C/ECU/CO/7 (2016).

[47] See, for example, concluding observations of the Committee against Torture on Macedonia, UN Doc. CAT/C/MKD/CO/3 (2015); Peru, UN Doc. CAT/C/PER/CO/5-6 (2013); Bolivia, UN Doc. CAT/C/BOL/CO/2 (2013); Poland, UN Doc. CAT/C/POL/CO/5-6 (2013); and Kenya, UN Doc. CAT/C/KEN/CO/2 (2013).

[48] Whelan v. Ireland, CCPR/C/119/D/2425/2014 (2017); Mellet v. Ireland, CCPR/C/116/D/2324/2013 (2016); K.L. v. Peru, CCPR/C/85/D/1153/2003 (2005); and L.M.R. v. Argentina, CCPR/C/101/D/1608/2007 (2011).

[49] Ibid. See also HRC General Comment No. 20 on the prohibition of torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, UN Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1 (1994), para. 5.

[50] CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 35 on gender-based violence against women (2017), para. 18.

[51] CESCR, General Comment 22, para. 10.

[52] Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, UN Doc. A/HRC/31/57 (2016), para. 43.

[53] Ibid., para. 44.

[54] For example, ICCPR, art. 2 and ICESCR, art. 2.

[55] CEDAW, art. 2(f).

[56] CEDAW Committee, “Statement of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on sexual and reproductive health and rights: Beyond 2014 ICPD review” (Feb. 2014).

[57] CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 24, para. 14.

[58] See, for example, the CEDAW Committee concluding observations noted under the analysis of the right to life and right to health above.

[59] See, for example, HRC concluding observations on the Philippines, UN Doc. CCPR/C/PHL/CO/4 (2012); Paraguay, UN Doc. CCPR/C/PRY/CO/3 (2013); Peru, UN Doc. CCPR/C/PER/CO/5 (2013); and Ireland, UN Doc. CCPR/C/IRL/CO/4 (2014). See also L.M.R. v. Argentina, UN Doc. CCPR/C/101/D/1608/2007 (2011).

[60] Whelan v. Ireland, CCPR/C/119/D/2425/2014 (2017), para. 7.12.

[61] See, for example, CRC concluding observation on Namibia, UN Doc. CRC/C/NAM/CO/2-3 (2012).

[62] CESCR General Comment No. 22, para. 34.

[63] See, for example, CESCR concluding observations on El Salvador, UN Doc. E/C.12/SLV/CO/3-5 (2014); and Nepal, UN Doc. E/C.12/NPL/CO/3 (2014). 

[64] ICCPR, art. 17(1).

[65] See, for example, CEDAW Committee concluding observations on Turkey, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/TUR/CO/7 (2016); and Indonesia, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/IDN/CO/6-7 (2012).

[66] See, for example, CEDAW Committee concluding observations on Turkey, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/TUR/CO/7 (2016); El Salvador, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SLV/CO/8-9 (2017); and Peru, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/PER/CO/7-8 (2014).

[67] CEDAW Committee, “Statement of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on sexual and reproductive health and rights: Beyond 2014 ICPD review.”

[68] See, for example, CEDAW Committee concluding observation on Monaco, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/MCO/CO/1-3 (2017); and El Salvador, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/SLV/CO/8-9 (2017).

[69] CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 24, para. 12(d).

[70] HRC, General Comment 28 on equality of rights between men and women (2000), para. 20.

[71] Draft General Comment on the right to life, op. cit.

[72] See Whelan v. Ireland, CCPR/C/119/D/2425/2014 (2017); Mellet v. Ireland, CCPR/C/116/D/2324/2013 (2016); K.L. v. Peru, CCPR/C/85/D/1153/2003 (2005); and L.M.R. v. Argentina, CCPR/C/101/D/1608/2007 (2011).

[73] See, for example, HRC concluding observation on El Salvador, UN Doc. CCPR/C/SLV/CO/7 (2018).

[74] CRC General Comment No. 20 on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence (2016), para. 64.

[75] See, for example, CRC concluding observations on Poland, UN Doc. E/C.12/POL/CO/6 (2016); Indonesia, UN Doc. CRC/C/IDN/CO/3-4 (2014); Venezuela, UN Doc. CRC/C/VEN/CO/3-5 (2014); and Morocco, UN Doc. CRC/C/MAR/CO/3-4 (2014).

[76] See, for example, CRC concluding observations on Sri Lanka, UN Doc. CRC/C/LKA/CO/5-6 (2018); and India, UN Doc. CRC/C/IND/CO/3-4 (2014).

[77] See, for example, CESCR concluding observations on El Salvador, UN Doc. E/C.12/SLV/CO/3-5 (2014); and Slovakia, UN Doc. E/C.12/SVK/CO/2 (2012).

[78] See, for example, CAT concluding observations on Paraguay, UN Doc. CAT/C/PRY/CO/4-6 (2011); and Peru, UN Doc. CAT/C/PER/CO/5-6 (2013).

[79] ICCPR, art. 19(2).

[80] CEDAW, art. 10(h).

[81] Ibid., art. 16(e).

[82] See ICESCR, art. 2(2). See also CESCR General Comment No. 14 on the right to the highest attainable standard of health (2000); and CESCR General Comment No. 22 on the right to sexual and reproductive health (2016).

[83] See HRC concluding observations on Colombia, UN Doc. CCPR/C/COL/CO/7 (2016); Burkina Faso, UN Doc. CCPR/C/BFA/CO/1 (2016); and Ireland, UN Doc. CCPR/C/IRL/CO/4 (2014).

[84] CESCR General Comment No. 14, para. 11.

[85] CESCR General Comment No. 22, para. 18.

[86] See CESCR concluding observations on Colombia, UN Doc. CCPR/C/COL/CO/7 (2016); the Philippines, UN Doc. E/C.12/PHL/CO/5-6 (2016); and Honduras, UN Doc. E/C.12/HND/CO/2 (2016).

[87] See, for example, CEDAW Committee concluding observations on Burkina Faso, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/BFA/CO/7 (2017); Costa Rica, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/CRI/CO/7 (2017); Ireland, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/IRL/CO/6-7 (2017); and Uruguay, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/URY/CO/8-9 (2016).

[88] See, for example, CRC concluding observations on Guatemala, UN Doc. CRC/C/GTM/CO/5-6 (2018); Panama, UN Doc. CRC/C/PAN/CO/5-6 (2018); and Sri Lanka, UN Doc. CRC/C/LKA/CO/5-6 (2018).

[89] CRC General Comment No. 20, para. 64. See also para 61, where the Committee notes that “[a]ge-appropriate, comprehensive and inclusive sexual and reproductive health education, based on scientific evidence and human rights standards and developed with adolescents, should be part of the mandatory school curriculum and reach out-of-school adolescents.”

[90] CEDAW, article 16(1).

[91] See CEDAW Committee, “Statement of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on sexual and reproductive health and rights: Beyond 2014 ICPD review”; CEDAW Committee concluding observations on Cuba, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/CUB/CO/7-8 (2013); and CEDAW Committee concluding observations on Eritrea, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/ERI/CO/5 (2015).

[92] CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation no. 21, on equality in marriage and family relations, para. 22.

[93] CEDAW Committee, “Statement of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on sexual and reproductive health and rights: Beyond 2014 ICPD review.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Denmark will have a new kind of “speed dating” beginning on May 15. Top fashion brands will be meeting with experts in sustainable business from across the world to exchange innovative ideas at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. The summit’s program is packed with different topics, but among them is one close to my heart—transparency in the garment industry.

Transparency in supply chains –that is, revealing exactly where a company’s products are made and by whom—is really important. It allows worker representatives to better protect factory workers from abuse that can endanger their jobs, health, and even their lives. And it assures the people who buy the products, like me, that the people who made the products can easily find out which brands they produce for—a critical piece of information needed to escalate complaints about labor abuses.

An employee works in a factory of Babylon Garments in Dhaka January 3, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

Garment workers—mostly women across the world—work in factories producing clothing for big-name brands. One of the brands whose jeans I wear every other day, Levi Strauss, is among those that produces a list of names of factories and their precise locations.  It sounds like an obvious thing to do, but apparently not in the world of fashion. Multiple brands, including Mango and Urban Outfitters, whose dresses hang in my wardrobe, don’t disclose key information about their supply chains.

A growing number of conscious consumers like me are keen to know where precisely--and under what conditions—our clothes were made. At the very least, publishing the names and locations of factories builds more faith in the brands we like. It demonstrates a brand’s willingness to share key information with workers and advocates about their manufacturing sites, making it easier for workers to get in touch with relevant brands when they experience labor abuses. Hiding this information makes it harder for workers to reach out to brands when needed.

Three weeks ago Bangladesh marked the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, which killed more than 1,000 workers and injured many others. Soon after the disaster, labor advocates had to scramble to figure out which brands the workers were producing in the five garment factories in the building.

Top brands that have shown their commitment to supply chain transparency will be at the Copenhagen summit. These include Nike, H&M, C&A, G-Star Raw, and Levi Strauss, which have fully aligned with the Transparency Pledge, a threshold minimum standard of supply chain transparency in the apparel sector developed by nine non-governmental organizations and global unions.

But many other companies have declined to follow this example. Voluntarism has its limits. The EU Parliament recognized this in 2017 and called for binding due diligence obligations, but to date, no such proposal from the European Commission has followed.

Individual countries should take the initiative, and this is where Denmark should step in. Members of parliament should introduce legislation to ensure that apparel companies doing business there follow some basic degree of transparency and also conduct rigorous human rights checks.

Such legislation should draw on good features from  various countries’ laws --for instance, the UK’s Modern Slavery Act and France’s “duty of vigilance” law. Countries like the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada are also considering legislation to govern corporations’ human rights responsibilities for their global supply chains.

Until Denmark develops legislation to help level the playing field for businesses, the Danish partnership for sustainable and responsible fashion and textile sector, led by apparel associations, should take a strong stand on the side of industry good practices. The partnership should make supply chain transparency a key goal that its member-companies should achieve before 2020.

Consumers want strong action, and they are watching.

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

A woman carries water in Al Fashir, capital of North Darfur, Sudan, September 6, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

International media has rightly focused on the case of Noura Hussein, a 19-year-old Sudanese woman sentenced to death for killing her husband – whom she’d been forced to marry – as he tried to rape her.

The court which tried Noura apparently had no regard to the fact that her husband had previously raped her violently with the help of his family members, or that she was forced into the marriage by her own family at just 16. Instead, it convicted her of murder and sentenced her to death by hanging after the man’s family opted for death over diya, or compensation. The United Nations and rights groups have appealed for clemency, and #justicefornoura is trending.

This is not the first time Sudan has attracted global condemnation for sentencing a woman to death. In 2014, an eight-month-pregnant woman, Mariam Yahyia Ibrahim, was sentenced to death for the crime of apostasy, for claiming to be Christian, and to 100 lashes for the crime of adultery, for marrying a non-Muslim Southern Sudanese.

Beyond Sudan’s intolerable imposition of the death penalty, both these cases illustrate the country’s discriminatory laws, which also allow children as young as 10 to be forced into marriage. Despite 2015 amendments to the criminal code, judicial authorities don’t recognize marital rape as a crime. The government also enforces discrimination through morality and public order laws, which make dress code violations and other personal choice crimes punishable by humiliation and flogging. In 2016, Human Rights Watch documented how these, in combination with security officials’ abuses, can be used to silence those who challenge authority.

And that’s not all. Sudan’s security forces have also raped civilians in Darfur, sometimes on a mass scale, and in other conflict zones, crimes which may constitute crimes against humanity, and for which nobody has been brought to justice. The United Nations expert on sexual violence in conflict noted following her recent visit to Sudan that there is a deep-seated culture of denial around rape, because it is prohibited under Islam. “No religion or faith, however, is immune from sexual violence,” she said. Sudanese authorities should take note.

In Mariam’s case, the courts eventually overturned the sentence. They should do the same for Noura. All Sudanese women and girls should be free from systemic discrimination and in particular protected from rape while the perpetrators are brought to justice. As one Khartoum-based activist told me, “there are many Nouras.”

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