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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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]
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]
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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]
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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]
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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.
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.
(Erbil) – The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) executed and dumped the bodies of possibly hundreds of detainees at a site near Mosul, Human Rights Watch said today.
Multiple witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the bodies of those killed, including bodies of members of Iraqi security forces, were thrown into a naturally occurring sinkhole at a site known as Khafsa, about eight kilometers south of western Mosul. Local residents said that before pulling out of the area in mid-February, ISIS laid improvised landmines at the site, which are sometimes referred to as improvised explosive devices or booby traps.
The site is one of dozens of ISIS mass graves found between Iraq and Syria, but could be the largest discovered thus far, Human Rights Watch said. While it is not possible to determine the number of people executed at the site, the estimates of residents, based on executions they witnessed and what ISIS fighters in the area had told them, reaches into the thousands.
Iraqi forces seized control of the site in mid-February 2017. Human Rights Watch visited the site on March 7, but did not inspect the sinkhole closely due to the landmines. An improvised explosive device left at the sinkhole killed a journalist and at least three Iraqi security forces on February 25.
Residents said they had seen multiple mass executions at the 35-meter-wide sinkhole, sometimes on a weekly basis starting in June 2014 until May or June 2015. They said they heard ISIS fighters talking about other executions, including of former police, former Iraqi Security Force members, and members of the Awakening Force (Sahwa), the Sunni force that fought extremist fighters from 2007 to 2008.
On March 11, 2017, the Iraqi Security Forces announced that they had found another mass grave, about two kilometers from Badoush prison, that held between 500 and 600 men – though it is unclear how they determined these numbers. On March 13, Human Rights Watch spoke to an Iraqi military commander who had visited the site four days earlier and had witnessed Iraqi forces exhuming bodies there. On March 15, a general in the Iraqi military’s 9th division told Human Rights Watch that under the division’s supervision, medical experts from Baghdad had exhumed about 400 bodies from the site.
This is the second report of ad hoc and unprofessional exhumations taking place without authorization.
Widespread or systematic murder carried out by a state or organized group as part of an attack against a civilian population – as part of a policy to commit murder – constitutes a crime against humanity. The deliberate killing of civilians and civilian or military prisoners during an armed conflict constitutes a war crime.
To facilitate accountability for these crimes, Iraq should ratify the Rome Statute, giving the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity there, and should incorporate the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide into its domestic law.
All parties to the conflict in Iraq should respect the 1997 Ottawa (Mine Ban) Treaty, which Iraq has ratified.
“The strong desire to exhume the remains of loved ones from ISIS mass graves is perfectly understandable, but hastily conducted exhumations seriously harm the chances of identifying the victims and preserving evidence,” Fakih said. “While exhuming the remains of those killed at Khafsa may be difficult, authorities should do what they can to make sure that those who lost their loved ones there have access to justice.”
Five residents from villages near Khafsa told Human Rights Watch that on June 10, 2014, they saw ISIS fighters bring four large trucks filled with blindfolded men, with their hands bound, to the sinkhole. Two residents of al-Athba, a village three kilometers from Khafsa, two residents of Swada, a neighboring village, and a resident of Irbid, three kilometers away, who were able to see the site, described what they saw.
The witnesses said the fighters unloaded the men, lined most of them up on the edge of the sinkhole, and opened fire so that the bodies fell in. Fighters shot a smaller number of people a short distance away and threw their bodies into the hole, the witnesses said. One of the men from al-Athba and the man from Irbid said ISIS fighters later told them that the men they had executed were prisoners from Badoush.
The killings at the Khafsa sinkhole apparently continued regularly from late 2014 to mid-2015. One of the residents from Swada, a shepherd, said that in September 2014, he was near Khafsa and saw male ISIS fighters arrive in a pickup truck with at least 13 women, all with full face coverings and cloaks and blindfolds, with their hands bound. He said the ISIS fighters shot the women on the precipice of the pit. He said he witnessed three more group executions subsequently, including the execution of three of his relatives.
One of al-Athba residents, also a shepherd, said he witnessed one execution at the end of 2014, after ISIS fighters called on the residents of al-Athba to come to the sinkhole over the mosque loudspeaker. Fighters brought three of his friends and his cousin to the site because they were accused of having shared GPS coordinates of ISIS positions with the Iraqi forces, he said. The fighters beheaded the men on a wooden block in front of the town residents, and then threw the bodies into the pit. He said fighters told him they had killed another of his cousins, an army officer, and dumped him in the pit.
The shepherd from al-Athba said that at another time, at the end of 2014, he was with his sheep in the area and saw ISIS fighters arrive in two cars and drag out a very large, strong man. They walked him up onto the precipice of the sinkhole, and as they were about to shoot him, he grabbed one of the fighters and jumped into the hole, holding him. Two witnesses of multiple executions said that fighters started carrying out executions further from the precipice after that because of the fighter they had lost.
Another shepherd from al-Athba said that in February 2015 he was about 30 meters from Khafsa with his sheep when he saw six ISIS fighters arrive in a large bus and march at least 20 men to flat ground near the sinkhole. They lined the men up and shot them, then threw their bodies in, he said. In March 2015, the man said, he was again in the area with his sheep and saw two fighters pull up in a car, take four prisoners out, and shoot them near the pit, then throw their bodies into the sinkhole.
Human Rights Watch interviewed a family from Kudila, 60 kilometers southeast of Khafsa, who had fled their home in March 2016. The husband, a former Iraqi soldier, said that ISIS had imprisoned him for 18 days in Qayyarah in March 2015 for selling cigarettes. He said that fighters took several prisoners from the facility while he was there, and he overheard guards saying they were taking them to Khafsa for execution. The prisoners did not return.
Another man from Sawda said that in early 2015, he saw fighters driving 11 freezer trucks toward the sinkhole, and heard from local ISIS fighters that as many as 1,000 people transported to the site in those trucks had been executed that day.
The five people living near Khafsa said they had heard estimates of between 3,000 and 25,000 people executed at the site. They said they often heard screams and gunfire. By early 2015, the stench from the bodies had become unbearable and families were telling ISIS fighters that they would need to move to Mosul if it persisted. One of al-Athba residents said: “It was summer so we had to sleep on the roof, but we were not able to sleep because the stench of the dead was so strong. The smell was overwhelming.” Another said, “The smell was disgusting, we were inside our houses but the smell still reached us.”
In response to the complaints, fighters brought several cranes and dumped the contents of several large trailers into the hole then filled the rest of the pit with earth using several excavators, according to two of the residents Human Rights Watch interviewed. One said, “They [ISIS] told us the trailers were also full of bodies.” ISIS did not carry out any more executions at the site after it was filled in, all the locals said. They said the smell of decomposing bodies diminished after that.
Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch shows that the sinkhole was filled in sometime between March and June 2015.
By the time Iraqi government forces retook the area around the sinkhole in February 2017, the filled-in earth had started to subside. Images taken then by international journalists show the remains of what look like two cars in the middle of the filled-in pit.
The location was already labeled on the open-source online map, Wikimapia, as an ISIS mass grave in April 2014 by an unnamed user, before the area had fallen to ISIS-control, but when there was already a strong ISIS presence in the area. The two shepherds from al-Athba and a federal police officer said that as early as 2004, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor group to ISIS, had used the sinkhole to dump bodies of people they executed for allegedly collaborating with the Americans or the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Governments.
(Beirut) – The Iraqi parliament should set penalties for the crime of domestic violence, remove provisions that prioritize reconciliation over justice, and improve victim protections in a domestic violence bill, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter and memorandum to the speaker of parliament.
Parliament is completing its review of the draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law, which was introduced in 2015. Parliament should make key amendments and then urgently approve the bill.
“A strong domestic violence law could help save Iraqi women’s lives,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Iraqi parliament should make sure the final bill includes essential provisions to prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and prosecute the abusers.”
Domestic violence is a global phenomenon and remains a serious problem in Iraq. The Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS) 2006/7 found that one in five Iraqi women are subject to physical domestic violence. A 2012 Ministry of Planning study found that at least 36 percent of married women reported experiencing some form of psychological abuse from their husbands, 23 percent reported verbal abuse, 6 percent reported physical violence, and 9 percent reported sexual violence. While more recent national studies are not available, women’s rights organizations continue to report a high rate of domestic violence.
The strengths of the draft bill include provisions for services for domestic violence survivors, protection orders (restraining orders) and penalties for their breach, and the establishment of a cross-ministerial committee to combat domestic violence. However, the memorandum identifies several gaps and approaches in the bill that would undermine its effectiveness.
The draft law calls for the parties to be referred to family reconciliation committees and for prosecutions of abusers to be dropped if reconciliation is reached. But women in Iraq are often under tremendous social and economic pressure to prioritize the family unit over their own protection from violence. United Nations guidance provides that mediation should be prohibited in all cases of violence against women and at all stages of legal proceedings because mediation removes cases from judicial scrutiny. Promoting such reconciliation incorrectly presumes that both parties have equal bargaining power, reflects an assumption that both parties may be equally at fault for violence, and reduces accountability for the offender.
“By promoting family reconciliation as an alternative to justice, the draft law undermines protection for domestic violence survivors,” Begum said. “The government should send a message that beating up your wife won’t be treated leniently through mediation sessions, but instead be regarded as a crime.”
While the draft law defines domestic violence as a crime, it fails to set penalties. It also does not repeal provisions in the Iraqi Penal Code that condone domestic violence. These include provisions that husbands have a right to punish their wives and that parents can discipline their children. Those responsible for “honor” violence or killings can benefit from reduced sentences as the Penal Code provides for mitigated sentences for violent acts including murder for so-called “honourable motives” or if a man catches his wife or female relative in the act of adultery or sex outside of marriage.
Other recommended changes include:
- Setting out specific duties for both the general police and specialized police officers in responding to domestic violence. Police play an important role in responding to domestic violence and can help determine whether a victim is able to pursue remedies through the justice system.
- Outlining various types of evidence that can be considered in domestic violence cases. Attacks tend to happen in homes behind closed doors where often there are no witnesses other than children, who typically cannot testify.
- Distinguishing between short-term emergency orders and longer-term protection orders, including making clear that short-term orders can be issued without all parties present on the basis of a victim’s testimony, whereas a longer-term order would allow for a full hearing and review of evidence.
The bill provides for the establishment of government shelters, but it should require coordination with local women’s rights organizations on the administration, training, and operation of such shelters, and permit privately run shelters for survivors of domestic violence. This is particularly important given that women’s rights nongovernmental organizations, which have provided such shelters, have often been subject to physical attack and threats by offenders and have faced hostility by some government officials, Human Rights Watch said.
Women’s rights groups in Iraq have campaigned for years for legislation on domestic violence. The Iraqi constitution expressly prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family.” But only the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has a law on domestic violence. Iraq’s Anti-Violence against Women Strategy (2013-2017), and the National Strategy on Advancement of Women in Iraq, adopted in 2014, call for legislation on domestic violence/violence against women.
Iraq has international human rights obligations to prevent and respond to these abuses. Several international treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which oversees the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) treaty, have called for states parties to pass violence against women legislation. Iraq ratified the treaty in 1986.
Some members of parliament have voiced concerns that the bill might be against Islamic principles. However, women’s rights organizations and some parliament members met in February 2017, with prominent clerics in Najaf, south of Baghdad, the capital, and found that they had no objections to the bill. Moreover, most Muslim-majority countries outside of the Middle East and North Africa region have adopted such legislation.
In recent years, several countries and autonomous regions in the Middle East and North Africa have also introduced some form of domestic violence legislation or regulation, including Algeria, Bahrain, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. These laws vary in the degree to which they comply with international standards. Several other countries, including Morocco and Tunisia, are considering draft legislation on domestic violence.
“Iraq should ensure that its legislation on domestic violence is in line with international standards, as a model for the region,” Begum said.
Dr. Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri
The Speaker of the House
House of Representatives, Parliament
Re: Draft Law on Anti-Domestic Violence Before Parliament
Dear Dr. Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri,
We write concerning the 2015 draft Law on Anti-Domestic Violence and its amendments in 2016 which are currently before the House of Representatives for review. We urge you to strengthen the bill to better prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and hold abusers accountable.
Iraqi legislators’ effort to address domestic violence by drafting this bill is a positive step forward. The bill includes many positive provisions including services for domestic violence survivors, protection orders and penalties for their breach, and the establishment of a cross-ministerial committee to combat domestic violence. However, there are still several gaps in the bill which could undermine its effectiveness in combatting domestic violence. Human Rights Watch has outlined some of these concerns as well as recommendations on how the bill could be strengthened in the attached memorandum.
Our commentary on the proposed law is based on international human rights standards, and our experience in investigating the state response to domestic violence around the world for more than twenty years. We have collaborated with governments, international agencies, and civil society groups to promote strong domestic violence laws and programs.
Our concerns include, among others, that the draft law fails to adequately define domestic violence or set out penalties for the crime of domestic violence. The bill also prioritizes “family reconciliation” over protection and justice for survivors. UN guidance provides that mediation should not feature in any legal proceedings on violence against women.
The draft law also fails to set out concrete duties of the police in responding to domestic violence and the different types of evidence that could be considered in domestic violence cases. While the bill includes protection orders for survivors, it does not distinguish between, and provide for, emergency (short-term) orders and longer-term orders, including that short-term orders can be issued ex parte (without all parties present) on the basis of a victim’s testimony, whereas a longer-term order would allow for a full hearing and review of evidence.
While the bill provides for the establishment of shelters, it should require coordination with local women’s rights organizations on the administration, training, and running of such shelters. The bill should further provide for other services for survivors including a 24-hour hotline for assistance, access to healthcare, and legal assistance. The bill should also clarify that prevention measures should include awareness-raising activities, development of educational curricula on violence against women, and sensitizing the media regarding domestic violence.
There is a growing trend to combat domestic violence through legislation in the Middle East and North Africa. Several countries and autonomous regions in the Middle East and North Africa region have introduced some form of domestic violence legislation or regulation, including Algeria, Bahrain, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. These laws vary in the degree to which they comply with international standards. Several other countries, including Morocco and Tunisia, are considering draft legislation on domestic violence. Beyond the Middle East and North Africa, most Muslim-majority countries or autonomous regions have also adopted domestic violence or violence against women legislation including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Gambia, Malaysia, Maldives, Nigeria, the Punjab province of Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, and Turkey. Iraq should ensure that its legislation on domestic violence is comprehensive and in line with international standards.
Thank you for your time and attention to this letter. We hope that our comments are useful in your deliberations, and that we can work together to promote women’s safety and rights. Please contact my colleague Rothna Begum at at xxxxxxxxxxxxxx or at +1-xxx-xxx-xxxx if you would like to discuss any of the points further.
Women’s Rights Division
cc: The Legal Committee in the House of Representatives
The Women, Family and Child Committee in the House of Representatives
Domestic violence remains a serious problem in Iraq. The Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS) 2006/7 found that one in five Iraqi women are subject to physical domestic violence. A 2012 Ministry of Planning study found that at least 36 percent of married women reported experiencing some form of psychological abuse from their husbands, 23 percent to verbal abuse, 6 percent to physical violence, and 9 percent to sexual violence.
While the Iraqi constitution expressly prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” only the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has a law on domestic violence. Iraq’s Anti-Violence against Women Strategy (2013-2017), adopted in March 2013, and the National Strategy on Advancement of Women in Iraq, adopted in 2014, both called for legislation on domestic violence/violence against women.
Enacting and enforcing a national law to combat domestic violence that meets international standards is a critical measure for preventing and responding to these abuses. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Iraq ratified in 1986, considers violence against women a form of gender-based discrimination, and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has called on state parties to pass violence against women legislation.
The recommendations below on amending the draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law are based on international standards and best practice such as the 2012 UN Women “Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women” (hereafter referred to as the UN Handbook) which established key elements for legislation on violence against women, including domestic violence.
Our commentary focuses on the following elements:
- Definitions and criminalization
- Prioritization of reconciliation over protection and justice
- Role of law enforcement
- Role of the judiciary
- Protection orders
- Other services for survivors, including shelter
- Prevention measures
Definitions and criminalization
The draft law, as amended in 2016, defines domestic violence in article 1 as “any action, omission, or the threat to do so within the family, and the consequent material or moral damage.” The UN Handbook recommends legal definitions of domestic violence to include physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence. We also recommend that the definitions of psychological and economic violence include “coercive control” as a key part of such acts. Coercive control “includes a range of acts designed to make victims subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behavior.”
Psychological violence, as a component of domestic violence, including its scope, should then be further defined, in line with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recommendation, “as controlling, coercive or threatening behavior or intentional conduct seriously impairing a person’s psychological integrity through coercion or threats.” Economic violence should also be further defined in line with UN guidance, including the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs guidance on statistical surveys concerning violence against women. It should explain that economic violence includes an individual’s controlling, coercive or threatening behavior, or intentional conduct aimed at denying an intimate partner access to financial resources, property, and goods; deliberately failing to comply with economic responsibilities, such as maintenance or financial support for the family; denying access to employment and education; and denying participation in economic decision-making.
The UN Handbook also recommends that laws should either explicitly state that sexual violence against an intimate partner (often referred to as “marital rape”) is considered a form of domestic violence or state in its definition that “[n]o marriage or other relationship shall constitute a defence to a charge of sexual domestic violence under this legislation.”
In the draft law, as amended in 2016, article 1 defines domestic violence as within the family and then defines the family as “a group of natural persons related to each other by matrimony or relatives till the fourth stage, in addition to those subject to custody or guardianship or curatorship.” This domestic violence definition does not include those in intimate relationships but who are not married, and also excludes those formerly in intimate relationships such as divorced and separated couples. The UN Handbook recommends that laws on domestic violence apply to “individuals who are or have been in an intimate relationship, including marital, non-marital, same sex and non-cohabiting relationships; individuals with family relationships to one another; and members of the same household.” Algeria, for instance, included “former spouses” when it criminalized some forms of domestic violence, such as assault and psychological violence. By not including other forms of domestic relationships, the draft law fails to protect all victims of domestic violence.
Furthermore, while article 1 of the draft law refers to the “crime” of domestic violence, it does not provide specific penalties for it. Article 20 of the draft law provides penalties for breach of protection orders, and article 22 sets out that offenses in the law act as aggravating circumstances, but does not stipulate what they are. As such, the draft law fails to set out penalties for the crime(s) of domestic violence, and additional penalties for situations that act as aggravating circumstances.
Moreover, article 41(1) of the Penal Code provides that “the punishment of a wife by her husband, the disciplining by parents and teachers of children under their authority within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom” is the exercise of a legal right and as such, is not a crime. In addition, the Penal Code also provides for mitigated sentences for violent acts including murder for so-called “honourable motives” or if catching his wife or female relative in the act of adultery/sex outside of marriage. The Penal Code also allows perpetrators of rape or sexual assault to escape prosecution or have their sentences quashed if they marry their victim.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which oversees the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in its concluding observations on Iraq in 2014, called on Iraq to “review the draft law on domestic violence with a view to ensuring that penalties are imposed on perpetrators of violence against women and harmonize the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures accordingly.”
The UNODC guidance on sentencing also recommends that laws should specify factors that judges can take into account, including aggravating factors such as history of abuse, risk of recidivism, and rehabilitation needs which the draft law is currently silent on.
Additionally, though the draft law maintains gender neutral language, it does not address the fact that women, both in Iraq and globally, are disproportionately affected by domestic violence. The UN Handbook recommends that legislation acknowledge that “violence against women is a form of discrimination.” It also recommends that legislation should be gender-sensitive which requires “recognizing the inequalities between men and women, as well as the specific needs of men and women.”
We recommend amending article 1 of the draft law to:
- Define domestic violence to include physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence.
- Further define psychological violence as “controlling, coercive or threatening behavior, or intentional conduct seriously impairing a person’s psychological integrity through coercion or threats.”
- Further define economic violence to include an individual’s controlling, coercive, or threatening behavior, or intentional conduct aimed at denying an intimate partner access to financial resources, property, and goods; deliberately failing to comply with economic responsibilities, such as alimony or financial support for the family; denying access to employment and education; and denying participation in economic decision-making.
- Extend the scope of domestic violence to include individuals who are or have been in an intimate relationship, including non-marital (e.g. engaged, divorced, cohabiting), same sex, and non-cohabiting relationships (e.g. married couples who are separated).
- Either explicitly state that sexual violence against an intimate partner is considered a form of domestic violence or provide that “[n]o marriage or other relationship shall constitute a defense to a charge of sexual domestic violence under this legislation.”
- Set out penalties for the crime(s) of domestic violence, and ensure it is harmonized with the Penal Code including repealing article 41 (1) which condones the use of domestic violence; removing penal code provisions allowing reduced penalties for perpetrators of honor crimes, and precluding the defense to domestic violence crimes relating to catching a wife or female relative committing adultery/sex outside of marriage; and repealing provisions that allow perpetrators of sexual assault or rape to escape prosecution or have their sentences quashed if they marry their victim.
- Recognize that domestic violence disproportionately affects women, and that violence against women is a form of discrimination.
Prioritization of reconciliation over protection and justice
The draft law prioritizes reconciliation over protection and justice for abused victims. One of the goals of the draft law is to “work on family reconciliation to protect families and the society as a whole.” Article 19 of the draft law states that the judge should refer the parties to the Department of Social Research for reconciliation, and where reconciliation fails, the court shall take legal action. It also provides that legal procedures to prosecute the perpetrator are to stop once reconciliation has been reached.
This approach fails to adequately protect victims of violence, punish perpetrators of crimes, and ensure access to proper redress. Domestic violence is considered a private matter in Iraq, particularly as Iraqi law considers husbands to have a right to discipline their wives, and parents of their children, and women are often under tremendous social and economic pressure to prioritize the family unit over their own protection from violence. Victims often have less bargaining power which skews the outcome of reconciliation processes.
The UN Handbook calls for mediation to be prohibited in all cases of violence against women, at all stages of legal proceedings. It provides that when mediation is offered as an alternative, “it removes cases from judicial scrutiny, presumes that both parties have equal bargaining power, reflects an assumption that both parties are equally at fault for violence, and reduces offender accountability.”
We recommend amending the draft law to:
- Remove all references to “reconciliation” as an aim of the law and as mechanisms for domestic violence survivors (articles 2, 3(2), 7(7) (deleted), 17(5), and 19).
Role of law enforcement
The UN Handbook recommends that domestic violence laws establish concrete duties for police, prosecutors, and other officials who play a role in law enforcement or investigations in cases of violence against women. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution on Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (hereinafter Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures) calls on member states to “empower and equip police, prosecutors and other criminal justice officials to respond promptly to incidents of violence against women.” It also calls for the police and other law enforcement agencies to “have, with judicial authorization where required by national law, adequate powers to enter premises and conduct arrests in cases of violence against women and to take immediate measures to ensure the safety of victims.”
The draft law, however, does not refer to police officers or outline concrete duties for police officers in responding to cases of violence against women, other than the Department of Family Protection (which sit in many police stations). This is a critical omission as police can play an important role in responding to domestic violence, and can help determine whether a victim is able to pursue remedies through the justice system or is ignored.
The UN Handbook calls for police duties to include recording domestic violence complaints, interviewing the parties and witnesses, and filing official reports.
Article 9 of the draft law provides that domestic violence victims may submit complaints to either specialized domestic violence investigative judges, the public prosecutors, investigative judges, or the Department of Family Protection. However, the law should also include the general police as an additional authority as it will allow survivors to report complaints in areas where other relevant authorities may not be available.
The draft law should also restate duties of the police as per the Criminal Procedure Code, including to require them to record domestic violence complaints, file an official report, send such reports to investigative judges, and that the police should interview the parties and witnesses after notifying the investigative judge or public prosecutor, or on the orders of, the investigative judge.
In addition, the UN Handbook also calls for police duties to include conducting a risk assessment; advising the survivor of her rights; arranging for transport for medical treatment; providing or arranging transport for the survivor/complainant, survivor’s children or dependents, if it is required or requested; and providing other protection. The UNODC recommends similar measures, and calls on authorities to “prohibit police from engaging in informal mediation in this type of cases.”
For prosecutors, the UN General Assembly’s Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures calls on member states to ensure that “the primary responsibility for initiating investigations and prosecutions lies with the police and prosecution authorities and does not rest with women subjected to violence, regardless of the level or form of violence.” The UN Handbook also recommends that domestic violence laws make clear that the responsibility for deciding whether to prosecute lies with prosecution authorities, not with survivors. It recommends that the law set minimum standards for what prosecutors must communicate to survivors, including decisions about dropping cases.
The UN Handbook recommends that governments adopt “pro-arrest” and “pro-prosecution” policies when there is probable cause to believe that a domestic violence crime has occurred. The UNODC explains that “pro-arrest” policies “highly encourage officers to make an arrest in cases of domestic violence while at the same time leaving some discretion with them. These policies should require a written report on the reasons when the policy is not followed.” Under “pro-prosecution” policies, if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred, prosecution is likely but not mandatory.
Establishing specialized investigative judges for domestic violence in the bill is a positive step as this could help build expertise in the area and increase the effectiveness of responding to domestic violence. The Department of Family Protection (which has under it Family Protection Units) currently acts as specialized police units, however, there are no specialized prosecutorial units to help build expertise which the UN Handbook calls for. However, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Human Rights Office reported that they found the Family Protection Units have a “lack of suitable premises and qualified female personnel.” The authorities could consider also developing specialized prosecutorial units. The UN Handbook warns that an unintended consequence of establishing specialized police or prosecutorial units may result in the marginalization of women’s issues, and, as such, calls for such units to be accompanied by adequate funding and training of staff.
The UN General Assembly’s Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures calls on member states “to provide victims of violence, where possible, with the right to speak to a female officer, whether it be the police or any other criminal justice official.” The UN Handbook also calls for states to provide complainants/survivors “the option of communicating with female police officers or prosecutors.” Women and girls may feel uncomfortable speaking to male officials, or in speaking with them about sexual violence or other intimate details.
Finally, the UN Handbook calls for legislation to mandate “regular and institutionalized gender-sensitivity training and capacity-building on violence against women for public officials” including police, prosecutors, and judges. This could be added to the tasks of the Higher Committee for Anti-Domestic Violence.
We recommend amending the draft law to:
- Include investigative judges and the general police in the list of authorities under article 9(1) to which domestic violence survivors can file a complaint.
- Set out concrete duties under article 9 for the police (both general and police officers in Family Protection Units), including restating duties provided in the Code of Criminal Procedures such as recording the domestic violence complaint, filing an official report, and interviewing the parties and witnesses as per the rules stipulated in the Code of Criminal Procedures. In addition, the bill should also provide for additional police duties including carrying out risk assessments; advising the complainant of his or her rights; arranging for transport for medical treatment; and providing other protection. In case the victim or survivor is a person with a disability, reasonable accommodation should be provided when registering a complaint, which may include the right to record their testimony with the police in the safety of their home or at a place of their choice; or the right to assistance by a “special educator” or interpreter when the complaint is recorded.
- Direct relevant ministries to adopt “pro-arrest” and “pro-prosecution” policies under article 9 in cases of domestic violence when there is probable cause to believe a crime has occurred, in line with UN guidance.
- Clarify under article 9 that the responsibility for prosecuting domestic violence lies with prosecution authorities, not with survivors, and set minimum standards for what prosecutors must communicate to survivors.
- Mandate under article 5(8) regular training programs on combatting domestic violence in a gender sensitive manner for police, prosecutors, and judicial officials in coordination with concerned ministries and civil society organizations.
- Require funding and specialized training for police officers in the Family Protection Units and investigative judges of domestic violence under a new provision in article 5.
- Require that female police or prosecutors are made available where a victim prefers to communicate with them under article 9.
Role of the judiciary
The draft law makes no reference to the types of evidence that can be admissible for domestic violence cases. The UNODC recommends that countries develop guidelines on evidence that should be admissible in court for domestic violence cases. This may include medical/forensic evidence, victim statements, photographic evidence, expert witnesses, physical evidence such as torn clothing and damaged property, and cell phone records, emergency call recordings, and other communications.
Moreover, the UN Handbook states that “medical and forensic evidence are not required in order to convict a perpetrator,” and that prosecution and conviction of an offender can be “based solely on the testimony of the complainant/survivor.” This is important because such attacks tend to happen in homes behind closed doors where often there are no witnesses other than children who typically cannot testify. Sometimes there is a delay before a victim can make a complaint which may also affect the availability of evidence. While the standard should not be that victim testimony is always sufficient on its own for a conviction, it should be possible for courts to convict based on credible victim testimony, consistent with due process standards under international human rights law and with the evidentiary threshold required under Iraqi law to reach a guilty verdict.
We recommend amending article 15 of the draft law to:
Include the types of evidence that are admissible in court proceedings, such as medical/forensic evidence, victim statements, photographic evidence, expert witnesses, physical evidence such as torn clothing and damaged property, and cell phone records, emergency call recordings, and other communications. It should also state that a complainant’s testimony may be sufficient evidence for a conviction. Ensure that disability, including intellectual or psycho-social disability of the victim/survivor, is not used as a justification to nullify or undervalue their testimony.
The draft law provides for protection orders: an important mechanism in the fight against domestic violence. The UN Handbook describes protection orders as “among the most effective legal remedies available to complainants/survivors of violence against women.” The special rapporteur on violence against women noted also that “the protection order which forbids the offender from having contact with the victim and protects her home and family from the perpetrator is an important weapon in the arsenal used to fight domestic violence.” The UN General Assembly’s Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures calls for member states “[t]o provide efficient and easily accessible procedures for issuing restraining or barring orders to protect women and other victims of violence and for ensuring that victims are not held accountable for breaches of such orders.”
However, the draft law does not distinguish between short-term emergency protection orders and longer-term protection orders, as recommended by the UN Handbook. Article 18(1) of the draft law allows investigative judges on domestic violence to issue a protection order which offers victims up to 30 days of “protection” from the suspected perpetrator, and which can be renewed. The draft law originally allowed for an extension of the protection order for up to 180 days in certain cases, but this was deleted in 2016 to allow judges discretion.
Short-term emergency orders respond to situations of immediate danger, often by putting distance between the alleged abuser and the victim. Rather than placing the burden on victims to seek shelter and safety elsewhere, removal of the respondent (the suspected perpetrator) for a limited time is appropriate. In many other countries, these temporary emergency orders are issued by competent authorities designated by law and are issued ex parte (without all parties present) solely on the basis of a victim’s testimony.
Longer-term protection orders are typically issued by courts after notice to the respondent and an opportunity for a full hearing and a review of evidence. In many countries, these orders expire after several months, but the UN Handbook recommends that they be valid for up to one year. The UN Handbook states that “by reducing the number of times that a complainant/survivor must appear in court, such [longer-term] orders diminish the financial, emotional and psychological burdens carried by complainants/survivors, as well as the number of times they are forced to confront the perpetrator.”
Another concern is the accessibility of competent authorities able to issue timely protection orders. The CEDAW Committee in its General Recommendation no.33 on Women’s Access to Justice called for states parties to “take steps to guarantee that women are not subjected to undue delays in applications for protection orders.” The UN General Assembly’s Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures also calls on members states to ensure that “the police and courts have the authority to issue and enforce protection and restraining or barring orders in cases of violence against women, including removal of the perpetrator from the domicile, prohibiting further contact with the victim and other affected parties, inside and outside the domicile; to issue and enforce child support and custody orders; and to impose penalties for breaches of those orders.” It further noted that, “if such powers cannot be granted to the police, measures must be taken to ensure timely access to court decisions in order to ensure swift action by the court. Such protective measures should not be dependent on the initiation of a criminal case” (emphasis added).
The UNODC also provides that states should “[c]onsider providing powers to the police to immediately remove domestic violence perpetrators from the home, under certain circumstances, and to proactively notify victim support organization.” It also calls for ensuring “that protection measures are fast and rapid irrespective of whether the powers to grant such measures are with the police or courts. If granting protection measures lies with the courts, put in place provisions to ensure timely access to court decisions and swift action, including access to courts after hours.”
Currently, the draft law allows only investigative judges for domestic violence to issue protection orders. The amended article 1(6) states that protection orders are issued by family courts and article 16(2) states the complainants of domestic violence who have not sought a protection order [from investigative judges for domestic violence] can still do so at the family court. Victims in crisis who are seeking short-term emergency orders that should be issued within 24 hours may face problems if there are no investigative judges for domestic violence in their area, and where they cannot access family courts easily. If the draft law designates additional authorities able to issue short-term emergency protection orders, such as other investigative judges, this would help victims without immediate access to the family courts to access emergency protection. In addition, the draft law should require the police to assist survivors to access a timely emergency order from other relevant authorities and require them to immediately assist in implementing such orders. UN Women have said that the law should “require that emergency protection orders be issued very quickly to support the goal of victim safety.”
The amended article 16(1) also allows a respondent to appeal the decision of the court to provide admittance to safe centers and a protection order. UN Women have also said that “the emergency or ex parte order should remain in effect until the longer-term protection order comes into effect after a full court hearing.” They also state that such legislation should provide that upon the request of the respondent, a hearing may be promptly scheduled to review the application and determine whether the order should remain in effect.” While the short-term orders could be issued ex-parte, the draft bill could provide that a renewal of a short-term order, or where it remains in effect beyond the expiry of the order, can be subject to appeal from the respondent. The amended draft law removed article 16(3) in the original bill that allowed for protection orders to be regarded as material evidence before courts. However, this article should be reinstated as the UN Handbook calls for legislation to allow “the issuance of a protection order to be introduced as a material fact in subsequent legal proceedings.”
The range of protection order measures currently available under article 17 in the draft law is strong, including the new addition of removing the alleged perpetrator from the home if the victim wants to stay or cannot reach a safe center.
However, while article 17(3) of the law initially provided for one of the protection order measures to require the perpetrator to pay the costs of the medical treatment and child support, this was amended in 2016 so that such costs should be paid as a loan, which stops following a decision by the personal status court on child support. A loan, however, suggests that the victim may be required to pay this back, when such costs should not be borne by a domestic violence survivor. It should be amended to the original wording, and include other needs. For instance, in a longer-term protection order, the respondent can be required to provide financial assistance to the complainant/survivor, including payment of medical bills, counselling fees or shelter fees, monetary compensation and, in addition, in cases of domestic violence, mortgage, rent, insurance, financial maintenance, and child support. The state should ensure at all times that the survivor and her family, including children, can address their immediate financial needs, including medical bills.
Moreover, article 17(5) which prohibits contact with the victim should also include prohibiting contact with her children (and other people if appropriate) and the places that they frequent.
Furthermore, article 17(5) of the draft law allows for an exception to the prohibition on contact with the victim where the “intention is family reconciliation.” This exception compromises the safety and autonomy of the victim. Abusers may seek to reconcile with their victims only to be violent upon meeting or upon “reconciliation.” While this article now includes that such contact would be by a decision from the investigative judge for domestic violence and with supervision of the Department of Family Protection, there is no mention of the victim’s consent. As noted earlier in this memo, all references to family reconciliation in the draft law should be removed.
The draft bill should also address the residence of any children, and visitation, in protection order proceedings. The UN Handbook warns that “in many countries, violent offenders have used custody of children as a way to continue to abuse and gain access to survivors.” Several countries have authorized courts to consider the safety of the child in protection order proceedings. The UN Handbook recommends that legislation require “Presumption against award of custody to the perpetrator; presumption against unsupervised visitation by the perpetrator; requirement that, prior to supervised visitation being granted, the perpetrator must show that at least three months has passed since the most recent act of violence, that he has stopped using any form of violence, and that he is participating in a treatment programme for perpetrators; and no visitation rights are to be granted against the will of the child.”
We recommend amending the draft law as follows:
- Amend and introduce two paragraphs under article 18 which establish a distinction between emergency (short-term) protection orders (article 18(1)) and longer-term orders (article 18(2)), and set a time-limit for both.
- Amend article 18(1) to:
- Provide for emergency (short-term) protection orders (issued in situations where there is immediate danger of an act of violence), and authorize authorities, in addition to investigative judges and family courts, for domestic violence such as other general investigative judges, with the power to issue short-term emergency orders.
- Require the police (including general police officers and police officers in Family Protection Units) to assist survivors to access a timely emergency order from other relevant authorities and to immediately implement such orders.
- Clarify that such orders provide relevant officials with the authority to order a respondent out of the home and to stay away from the survivor.
- Stipulate that emergency orders can be issued ex parte without evidence beyond a victim’s statement.
- Stipulate that a short-term order can remain in effect until a longer-term order is issued, and provide that any renewal or the “remain in effect” beyond the expiry of the order can be subject to appeal from the respondent.
- Amend article 18(2) to:
- Provide that domestic violence complainants can apply for longer-term orders, which should require a full hearing and review of all evidence, and a maximum time limit of up to a year, which can be renewable.
- Amend article 16(1) to remove the clause which allows “a respondent to appeal the decision of the court to provide admittance to safe centers and a protection order,” which instead should be outlined under article 18(1) that a respondent can appeal a renewal or “remain in effect” short-term emergency order (see recommendations for article 18(1)), and that long-term orders require a full hearing (see recommendations for article 18(2)).
- Reinstate article 16(3) allowing the issuance of a protection order to be introduced as a material fact in subsequent legal proceedings.
- Amend article 17(3) to remove the addition of “as a loan,” returning to the original wording under article 17(3) ordering the respondent to pay costs of medical treatment and child support and ensure the financial costs to the survivor and her dependents in longer-term orders, such as mortgage, rent, and support for daily living are provided for.
- Amend article 17(5) to include the survivor’s children (and any other people if appropriate) on the prohibition on contact, and remove the exception of the prohibition on contact for the purposes of “reconciliation.”
- Amend article 17 to include a new provision on longer-term protection orders, to provide a presumption that the respondent should not be granted residence (custody) of the child; the presumption that the respondent should not have unsupervised visitation; and the requirement that, prior to supervised visitation being granted, the respondent must show that at least three months have passed since the most recent act of violence, that he has stopped using any form of violence, and that he is participating in a treatment program for perpetrators; and no visitation rights are to be granted against the will of the child.
Other services for survivors, including shelter
Several UN bodies including UN Women, UN General Assembly, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), have called on states parties to ensure that domestic violence survivors have timely access to shelter, health services, legal advice, hotlines, and other forms of support. The CEDAW Committee, in its concluding observations in 2014, called on Iraq to “ensure the availability of shelters for women victims of violence through its territory, so as to strengthen both medical and psychological support services for victims, such as counselling and rehabilitation services, and ensure that they are properly resourced and that the quality of the services provided is regularly monitored.”
Article 8 of the draft law commits the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to set up shelters—referred to as safe centers following amendments in 2016—for domestic violence survivors. This is particularly important given that women’s rights NGOs, which have provided such shelter, have often been subject to physical attack and threats by perpetrators, and faced hostility by some government officials. UNAMI Human Rights Office noted in its August 2014 report in relation to the situation in Iraq from January-June 2014 that “there are few functioning shelters where women can seek protection and they are often sent to female prisons when seeking protection from domestic violence.”
The UN Committee against Torture, in its concluding observations in 2015, called on Iraq to “provide better protection and appropriate care for such victims [of gender-based violence], including access to safe houses, State-run and private shelters…”, as well as ensure that NGOs working to protect women and girls are protected from all forms of harassment and violence, and to include a “law permitting privately run shelters.”
The UN Handbook further recommends that, at a minimum, legislation should provide for “one shelter/refuge place for every 10,000 inhabitants, providing safe emergency accommodation, qualified counselling and assistance in finding long-term accommodation.” They should ensure that such shelters can accommodate women and their children for emergency stays and help them to find a refuge for longer stays. The authorities should also ensure that the ministry works with local women’s rights NGOs in the administration of such shelters, and that officials do not harass or attack existing NGO shelters.
Article 16(1) of the draft law is problematic as it provides that domestic violence survivors can apply to investigative judges on domestic violence for a protection order and to be admitted to a shelter, and that the respondent can appeal such an order. The draft law should not allow an appeal by the respondent against the admittance of a domestic violence survivor to a safe center. This provision strips victims of their autonomy and creates opportunities for perpetrators to further harass and intimidate the victim and may jeopardize the victim’s safety and pursuit of judicial redress. As such, firstly, this article should be amended to separate the right to shelter from the application of a protection order. Secondly, as investigative judges on domestic violence may not be easily accessible, the law should designate additional authorities who can admit victims to shelters.
The draft law provides that the Department for Family Protection propose “necessary and appropriate mechanisms for the protection of victims of domestic violence” and the Higher Committee for Anti-Domestic Violence is required to approve and adopt such proposals. We recommend the legislation itself sets out the key assistance that the victim can receive, including psychosocial, medical, legal, and financial support.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which oversees the application of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, calls on states parties “to provide victims of domestic violence, who are primarily female, with access to safe housing, remedies and redress for physical, mental and emotional damage.”
Survivors of domestic violence incur significant short-term and long-term financial costs related to pain and suffering, reduced employment and productivity, and expenditure on services. The UN Handbook calls for survivors of violence to have access to financial assistance outside of protection orders.
The draft law should also include other services such as a free 24-hour hotline where survivors can seek assistance and referral to other service providers, as well as access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare. The UN Handbook also calls for legislation to state “that all services for women survivors of violence should also provide adequate support to the women’s children.”
We recommend amending the draft law to:
- Separate the right to shelter from the application of a protection order under article 16(1), and ensure that the right to shelter cannot be subject to appeal by the respondent.
- Clarify under article 8 that there should be one shelter/refuge place for every 10,000 inhabitants, providing safe emergency accommodation for survivors and their children, qualified counselling, and assistance in finding long-term accommodation.
- Provide under article 8 that the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs will cooperate with women’s rights NGOs in the administration, training, and running of such shelters, and permit privately run shelters for survivors of domestic violence.
- Establish under article 8 other services for domestic violence survivors including a widely-publicized 24-hour hotline for assistance and referral to service providers, access to healthcare, and legal assistance.
- Establish under article 8 efficient and timely provision of financial assistance to survivors in order to meet their needs.
- State under article 8 that all services for women survivors of violence should also provide adequate support to the women’s children. Ensure that all services provided to the survivors of domestic violence, including shelters, are accessible to women with disabilities on an equal basis with other women.
- Expand the types of authorities to include the police, public prosecutors, investigative judges, and other state agencies responding to a domestic violence survivor who can refer a survivor and her children to a shelter, health services, and other assistance, should they request it, and provide for this under article 9 relating to duties of authorities responding to domestic violence.
Article 2 of the draft law states that one of the aims of the law is to prevent and limit the spread of domestic violence. While the draft law provides that one of the tasks of the Department for Family Protection and the Higher Committee for Anti-Domestic Violence is to propose plans and programs for protection against domestic violence, its reduction, and prevention, it does not set out what such prevention measures should include.
The CEDAW Committee has stated that “[t]raditional attitudes by which women are regarded as subordinate to men or as having stereotyped roles perpetuate widespread practices involving violence or coercion, such as family violence and abuse.” As such, the committee then stated that “[e]ffective measures should be taken to overcome these attitudes and practices” including education, and public information programs to help eliminate prejudices which hinder women’s equality.
The UN Handbook recommends that legislation on violence against women prioritize prevention and provide for a range of measures such as public awareness programs, sensitization of the communications media, and inclusion of material on violence against women and women’s human rights in educational curricula.
We recommend amending article 7(2) the draft law to:
- Clarify that prevention of domestic violence should include measures such as awareness-raising activities; development of educational curricula on violence against women, women’s human rights, and promotion of healthy relationships; and sensitizing the media regarding domestic violence.
 Republic of Iraq, “The Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS) 2006/7,” 2008, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2008/pr02/2008_iraq_family_... (accessed March 6, 2017).
 Ministry of Planning Central Statistical Organization-CSO, “Iraq Women Integrated Social and Health Survey (I-WISH) Summary Report,” March 2012, pp. 47-48, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/I-WISH%20Report... (accessed March 6, 2017).
 Iraq Constitution, article 29; Domestic Law no. 8 Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
 UN Women, “Handbook on Legislation on Violence against Women,” 2012, http://www2.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/librar... (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN Handbook, section 220.127.116.11.
 UN Women, EndVAWNow.org (virtual knowledge center), “Definition of Domestic Violence,” undated, http://www.endvawnow.org/en/articles/398-definition-of-domestic-violence.html (accessed January 19, 2017).
 UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Violence against Women,” 2014, includes The Blueprint for Action: an Implementation Plan for Criminal Justice Systems to Prevent and Respond to Violence against Women (hereinafter Blueprint for Action) which provides a framework for developing national implementation plans for the criminal justice system to respond to violence against women in line with the recommendations and provisions contained in the Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures, p. 39, https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Strengthening_Crime_Prevention_and_Criminal_Justice_Responses_to_Violence_against_Women.pdf (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division, “Guidelines for Producing Statistics on Violence against Women— Statistical Surveys,” ST/ESA/STAT/SER.F/110 (2014), http://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/docs/Guidelines_Statistics_VAW.pdf (accessed March 6, 2017).
 Ibid., p.17.
 UN Handbook, section 18.104.22.168.
 UN Handbook, section 22.214.171.124.
 Algeria Law no.15-19 of 30 December 2015, Modifying and Completing Ordinance no.66-156 of 8 June 1966 on the Penal Code, available at http://www.joradp.dz/FTP/JO-FRANCAIS/2015/F2015071.pdf (accessed March 16, 2017).
 Articles 128(1) and 409 of the Penal Code, Law No. 111 of 1969.
 Article 398 of the Penal Code, Law No. 111 of 1969.
 CEDAW Committee, Concluding observations on the combined fourth to sixth periodic reports of Iraq, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/IRQ/CO/4-6, March 10, 2014, para. 18(d), http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fIRQ%2fCO%2f4-6&Lang=en (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Violence against Women,” 2014, pp. 16-17, https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice‐and‐prisonreform/Strengthening_Crime_Prevention_and_Criminal_Justice_Responses_to_Violence_against_Women.pdf (accessed March 6, 2017).
 World Health Organization, “Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence,” 2013, http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85239/1/9789241564625_eng.pdf (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN Handbook, section 3.1.1.
 UN Handbook, section 3.1.4.
 Article 3(2), draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law.
 UN Handbook, section 3.9.1.
 UN Handbook, section 3.8.1.
 UN General Assembly, Resolution A/RES/65/228, Strengthening crime prevention and criminal justice response to violence against women, annex, “Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice,” March 31, 2011, paras. 15(a) and 16(i), http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/65/228 (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN Handbook, section 3.8.1.
 Article 40-50, Criminal Procedure Code, Law no. 23 of 1971, as amended on March 14, 2010, http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/research/Egypt/Criminal%20Procedures.pdf (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN Handbook, section 3.8.1.
 UNODC, “Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Violence against Women,” p. 57.
 UN General Assembly, “Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice,” March 31, 2011, para. 15(b).
 UN Handbook, section 3.8.2.
 UNODC, “Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Violence against Women,” p. 65.
 Ibid., p. 76.
 UN Handbook, section 3.2.4.
 UNAMI Human Rights Office/OHCHR Baghdad, “Report on Human Rights in Iraq: January – June 2014,” August 2014, section 5.2, p. 14, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/IQ/HRO_Jan-Jun2014Report_en.pdf (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN Handbook, section 3.2.4.
 UN General Assembly, “Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice,” March 31, 2011, para. 16(L).
 UN Handbook, section 3.2.4.
 UN Handbook, section 3.2.3.
 See UNODC, “Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Violence against Women,” pp. 71-72.
 See UN Handbook, section 3.9.5.
 UN Handbook, section 3.10.1.
 Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2003/75, January 6, 2003, para. 30, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G03/101/00/PDF/G0310100.pdf?OpenElement (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN General Assembly, “Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice,” March 31, 2011, para. 18(f).
 UN Handbook, section 3.10.4 and section 3.10.5.
 UN Handbook, section 3.10.5.
 CEDAW Committee, General recommendation No. 33 on women’s access to justice, U.N.Doc. CEDAW/C/GC/33, August 5, 2015, para. 51(j), http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/GC/33&Lang=en (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN General Assembly, “Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice,” March 31, 2011, para. 15(h).
 UNODC, “Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Violence against Women,” p. 41.
 UN Women, EndVAWNow.org (virtual knowledge center), “Emergency or ex parte order for protection remedy,” undated, http://www.endvawnow.org/en/articles/411-emergency-or-ex-parte-order-for... (accessed January 19, 2017).
 UN Women, EndVAWNow.org (virtual knowledge center), “Emergency or ex parte order for protection remedy.”
 UN Handbook, section 3.10.2.
 UN Handbook, section 3.10.3.
 UN Handbook, section 3.10.3.
 UN Handbook, section 3.10.3.
 UN Handbook, section 126.96.36.199.
 UN Handbook, section 188.8.131.52.
 UN General Assembly, “Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice,” 2011; CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 19, Violence Against Women, (Eleventh session, 1992), art. 24, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/1_Global/I... (accessed March 6, 2017); CESCR, General Comment No.16 (2005), Substantive issues arising in the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights: The equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social, and cultural rights (art. 3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights), UN Doc E/C.12/2005/4 (August 11, 2005), para. 27.
 CEDAW Committee, Concluding observations on the combined fourth to sixth periodic reports of Iraq, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/IRQ/CO/4-6, March 10, 2014, para. 29(c).
 UNAMI Human Rights Office/OHCHR Baghdad, “Report on Human Rights in Iraq: January – June 2014,” August 2014, section 5.3, p. 14.
 Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the initial report of Iraq, U.N. Doc. CAT/C/IRQ/CO/1, September 7, 2015, para. 24, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CAT%2fC%2fIRQ%2fCO%2f1&Lang=en (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN Handbook, section 3.6.1.
 UN Women, EndVAWNow.org (virtual knowledge center), “Other important legislative provisions for assistance to complainant/survivors,” undated, http://endvawnow.org/en/articles/401-other-important-legislative-provisi... (accessed March 6, 2017).
 Article 5(3), draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law.
 CESCR, General Comment No. 16 (2005), Substantive issues arising in the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights: The equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social, and cultural rights (art. 3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights), UN Doc E/C.12/2005/4 (August 11, 2005), para. 27.
 UN Handbook, section 3.6.5.
 UN Handbook, section 3.6.1.
 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, General Recommendation No. 19, Violence against Women, (Eleventh session, 1992), Compilation of General Recommendations and General Comments adopted, para.11, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/recommendations/recomm.htm#recom19 (accessed March 6, 2017).
 UN Handbook, section 3.5.1.
Eliza Samudio was one of the 4,465 women killed in 2010 in Brazil. In October 2009, the 25-year-old had gone to police to report that her former partner had hit her, threatened to kill her if she did not have an abortion—which is illegal in Brazil—and forced her to take abortive substances.
A test of her urine from the time confirmed the presence of abortive chemicals. The problem is that it took police more than eight months after she filed the complaint to test it. By that time, Samudio was dead.
The police had requested a protective order for Samudio when she reported the incident, but it was denied by a judge from a domestic violence court. The judge contended that the law governing protective orders did not apply, because Samudio did not maintain “a stable affective relationship” with her aggressor, with whom she had only one sexual encounter.
The abortive substances, meanwhile, failed to work, and after delivering the baby in February 2010, Samudio filed a paternity lawsuit. In June, relatives and associates of her former partner kidnapped her. One of them strangled her, dismembered her, and fed parts of her body to dogs, according to testimony during a 2013 trial that resulted in the conviction of the former partner—and a sentence of more than 22 years in prison—for ordering the crime.
As gruesome as it was, Samudio’s murder might have gone unnoticed in a country where partners, former partners, or relatives kill more than 2,000 women each year. But in Samudio’s case, the man involved is Bruno Fernandes de Souza, at the time the goalkeeper and captain of Flamengo, one of the richest clubs in Brazil and the one with the largest fan base.
After Bruno—as he is known in Brazil—spent more than six years in detention, a Supreme Court justice found the appeals court was taking too long to decide the appeal. Bruno, he ruled in February, should await the decision in freedom. At age 32, Bruno walked out of prison, and Boa Esporte, a second-division team, snapped him up.
The team lost its private sponsors as a result of that decision, and the municipal government of Varginha, the small town where Boa Esporte plays, is considering whether to maintain its financial support. This week a group of women staged a protest in Varginha against Bruno’s hiring, dressed in black and with hands painted red. But some fans applauded him after his first training with the team and sought his autograph.
The uproar in Brazil has brought attention to the deadly serious problem of violence against women. The 2006 Maria da Penha law—named after a survivor of domestic violence—was a major step forward, creating a comprehensive legal framework to prevent violence or ensure justice for it.
But one in three Brazilian women suffered psychological or physical violence during the past year, according to a poll released last week: Brazil needs to do a lot more to enforce the Maria da Penha law.
Brazilian women frequently endure abuse for years before they go to a police station—and no wonder. When they finally do, they are often greeted by untrained officers who file away their statements to remain forever in oblivion. A 2013 parliamentary inquiry found unjustifiable delays in investigations of domestic violence cases, delays so long that the statute of limitations runs out and the abuser is never prosecuted.
Even for women who successfully obtain a protective order, the document is often worthless. In the vast majority of cases, nobody monitors compliance.
Brazilian authorities should expand police stations that specialize in violence against women, provide relevant training to all police officers, ensure proper investigations, and deploy patrols to guarantee that men respect protective orders.
In 2010, Bruno himself, commenting to reporters about a fight between fellow soccer player Adriano and his then fiancée, wondered “who here hasn't hit his wife?” And he added a common Brazilian saying: “No one should poke their nose into a husband-and-wife fight.”
But we all should. Violence against women shouldn’t be tolerated as a fact of life. More political will and societal rejection are needed to end it.
(Johannesburg) – The Angolan government must allow protesters to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today, ahead of a planned demonstration in Luanda for a woman’s right to have an abortion.
The protest, scheduled for March 18, 2017, is in response to the new draft penal code currently before parliament, which punishes, without exceptions, those who have or perform an abortion with up to 10 years in prison.
“We have often seen Angolan police use unnecessary and excessive force against peaceful demonstrators,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southern Africa.
Parliament approved an amendment on abortion on February 24, as part of the process of replacing Angola’s penal code from the 1886 colonial-era version. The government had proposed a bill that would criminalize abortion, except in cases of rape, or when the mother’s health is in danger. But parliament rejected that proposal and made abortion, without exceptions, illegal. The final vote on the draft penal code is slated for March 23.
Under the current penal code, abortion is also illegal. The organizers of the protest want the new code to end the ban on abortions. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call for the decriminalization of abortion in all circumstances.
The protest organizers informed the Office of the Governor of Luanda Province, Gen. Higinio Carneiro, of their intention to march at 10 a.m. Central African Time from Santa Ana Cemetery to the Heroines Monument (Largo das Heroinas). As of March 17, the group had not received a reply.
“The right to protest is protected both under the constitution and international law, so the Angolan authorities have a duty to ensure that these protesters can march freely and without any intimidation,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“Especially as elections approach, authorities should show that they will tolerate dissenting views.”
In recent years, the United States has played a significant role protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, both domestically and internationally, consistent with the universality of human rights as inclusive and indivisible.
And yet, the US has included the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), a group that supports the criminalization of homosexuality, in the US delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Strange bedfellows? Apparently not.
What does C-Fam stand for? Remember the outrage in the US over Russia’s “gay propaganda law” that gave permission to discriminate against LGBT people and led to a surge in violence with impunity? C-Fam is an ardent supporter of Russia’s propaganda law.
C-Fam’s director and most visible spokesperson, Austin Ruse, has called “‘the homosexual lifestyle’ harmful to public health and morals.” C-Fam regularly publishes articles attacking the fundamental human rights of LGBT people and is vehemently opposed to women’s rights, including reproductive rights. C-Fam does not accept the need for gender equality and actually aims to undermine international agreements to end discrimination, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which the US has signed but not ratified.
Under the guise of supporting families, C-Fam promotes an agenda of intolerance. Last year, ahead of a high-level meeting at the UN on the family co-sponsored by C-Fam, Ruse denounced marriage equality, saying that “the family is under extreme pressure at the UN from those who want to redefine the family and to accept the notion that two people of the same sex can create a family and adopt children.” Lisa Correnti, C-Fam’s executive vice president and chosen US delegate, has repeated attacked the LGBT community and policies that support the human rights of LGBT people.
It is an unusual move for the US to include a group opposed to fundamental human rights in its CSW delegation. What message is the US sending around the globe? Surely this is not what UN Ambassador Nikki Haley had in mind when she pledged to “unabashedly promote American values.”
As leaders around the world celebrate women’s achievements this month, it’s worth examining the year in sexist speech by politicians. The last 12 months, sadly, help put to rest any claims that sexism, even at the highest levels, is a thing of the past. And while U.S. president Donald Trump drew most of the attention for his often sexist rhetoric as he pursued the White House, he has by no means cornered the market on the antiquated practice as the following chronicle demonstrates.
Just last month, South African AmaXhosa King Mpendulo Zwelonke Sigcawu declared that the country is not ready for a female leader, saying, “The country’s problems have overwhelmed leaders who are men‚ how much more for a woman,” to the amusement of male bystanders.
Others question whether women have a place outside the home at all. Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari dismissed his wife’s political acumen after she criticized his leadership in October, saying that she “belongs to my kitchen and my living room.” In a June 2016 speech, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likened a childless woman to “half a person” and said, “A women who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house, however successful her working life is, is deficient, is incomplete.”
Russian Senator Vitaly Milonov echoed Erdogan in October, calling women who terminate pregnancies “empty-headed ladies” and saying, “The fact that she is a successful businesswoman, manager, is irrelevant. The relevant is being a mother.”
When five female airport guards in Kandahar, Afghanistan were gunned down on their way to work in December, a provincial council member said in a Facebook post, “Women should stay in their homes with hijab and dignity, a valued [position] that God has given them.”
In August, Brazil’s health minister Ricardo Barros said that “men work harder than women,” leaving them less time to look after their health.
And in the U.S. in February, a Republican party leader in Utah wrote a letter opposing a wage-equality bill because men “need to make enough to support their families and allow the Mother [his capitalization] to remain in the home to raise and nurture the children.” Last week, a European Parliament member, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, asserted that “women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent.”
Other leaders behave as if sexual violence is acceptable, or even funny. At a campaign rally in April 2016, then-mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, who won the Philippine presidency, lamented the historical rape of an Australian missionary, saying, “But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.”
A former Dubai police chief took to Twitter last month to cite what he called a “Swedish proverb”: “When a woman says no, she really means to say yes.” (Sweden quickly stepped in to say that the country has no such proverb, and “no means no.“)
Such commentary is not solely reserved for male politicians. Pushing for Russia’s decriminalization of some forms of domestic abuse, Senator Yelena Mizulina said that “a man beating his wife is less offensive than when a woman humiliates a man.”
Some political leaders even spring to the defense of others’ sexist remarks. When video emerged of Donald Trump claiming to use his power and influence to grab women “by the pussy,” the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) and Brexit leader Nigel Farage excused the comments as “alpha male boasting,” saying, “It’s the kind of thing, if we are being honest, that men do.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin made light of disputed allegations that Trump had hired sex workers on a Moscow visit, joking at the women’s expense, “I can hardly believe that he ran off to meet with our girls of low social morals. Although, of course, ours are the best in the world.”
Female politicians are also the targets of direct attack. In October, a candidate for UKIP leadership tweeted a request to silence Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon by taping her mouth shut, adding, “And her legs, so she can’t reproduce.”
Many women in politics say that harassment and sexist commentary are par for the course. Even in Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is lauded for his feminism, MP Michelle Rempel wrote of blatant sexism in Parliament last April, citing instances when a male colleague implored her to talk about issues when she was “less emotional,” and when another male parliamentarian responded to a request from her by saying, “It turns me on when you’re direct.”
In South Africa, a male MP yelled a term for “sex worker” at a female colleague as she took the floor in February, and another female MP was subjected to cat noises while speaking, which some news outlets called a parliamentary “tradition.”
And what awaits those who attempt to fight back against sexism on the political stage? More sexism and harassment. In May, when French female MPs said they could no longer stay silent about the scale of the abuse they withstand, “right-wing male MPs began loudly jeering ‘aaaw’ as if to a child.”
Such brazen sexism shows that nowhere in the world have we come as far as we thought – or hoped – on equality, or even human decency.
But we cannot allow the quotidian nature of sexist remarks numb us to their effects, especially when they come from the mouths (or tweets) of political leaders. As British MP and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott recently warned, constant abuse makes “other women look at how those of us in the public space are treated and think twice about speaking up publicly, let alone getting involved in political activity.”
Even International Women’s Day this year featured sexist leaders. Brazilian President Michel Temer praised women’s ability at “pointing out unbalances in supermarket prices.” Former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine said U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has “a man-size job.”
When politicians give voice to the ugliest forms of sexism, it is especially important to fight back. What does it say that so many in leadership roles can show public displays of sexism with few, if any, lasting repercussions?
Don’t let politicians’ photo opportunities during this month of honoring women replace a commitment to gender equality and women’s rights during the other 12 months of the year. They can begin by stopping their own sexist language in politics, and demanding the same of leaders everywhere, of all political parties, from city councillor to prime minister, and everyone in between.
Teachers often leave a mark on students. In Tanzania, it can hurt.
“When I was slapped, I felt I had the teacher’s hand on my face,” said Sandra, from Kahama district, whose name I have changed to protect her privacy.
In October, a video of a group of teacher trainees in Mbeya beating a male student who had reportedly not done his homework, went viral on the internet. The trainees were suspended and the school’s head teacher demoted.
But this was not an isolated incident, and government officials don’t always act when teachers abuse students. What was different in this case was that it was caught on camera and drew public outrage and condemnation.
Corporal punishment is a routine and state-sanctioned part of many students’ everyday reality in Tanzania, where a 2014 study by the African Child Policy Forum concluded that “the frequency of abuse by teachers … is alarmingly high.” A 2011 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study on violence against children showed that teachers in the East African country frequently whipped, kicked, punched, or threatened both female and male students, including with a weapon.
Contrary to its international human rights obligations, Tanzania has national regulations that explicitly allow corporal punishment, including guidance on caning in schools. School officials, usually head teachers, are allowed to “[strike] a pupil on his hand or on his normally clothed buttocks with a light, flexible stick but excludes striking a child with any other instrument or on any other part of the body.” Punishment should not exceed four strokes, and female pupils should only receive punishment from a female teacher. Students who refuse punishment or teachers who violate these regulations can face disciplinary action.
In a recent study, Human Rights Watch documented widespread use of corporal punishment that exceeds the legal limit of the government’s current regulations. Teachers beat students without reporting it. as is required. Children are caned or beaten for all sorts of reasons, including being late for school—often after walking for hours to get there; not answering questions correctly; failing exams; or not completing assignments. They are slapped with hands, forced to jump squats, told to kneel and walk on their knees with hands on their backs, cut grass, and mop toilets. Others endure scathing personal insults.
Female students suffer further humiliation. Girls in one school told us that female teachers hit them on the breasts. Girls also said they suffer additional indignity when beaten while menstruating. One girl said, “They use a stick as punishment, in the bottom and back. We have to bend over like this.… During periods it’s worse…. When they beat us using the stick, they keep on hitting, sometimes our cloth [sanitary] pads come out and the bleeding stains our clothes.”
Girls also face safety challenges in schools, including sexual abuse and harassment by teachers, with little accountability. They are also forced to undergo pregnancy tests and, if found to be pregnant, are expelled from school as a warning to other girls.
Teachers justify corporal punishment by referring to the adage that if you spare the rod you spoil the child. They say it is a way to make students learn. Senior political leaders have also repeatedly encouraged corporal punishment in schools. In 2013, then-Deputy Minister for Education and Vocational Training Philipo Mulugo publicly linked the absence of corporal punishment and the decline of discipline in schools. Last March, President John Magufuli attributed his success to the beatings he received in class: “I am wondering why they stopped caning in schools,” he said. “I was also caned and that’s why I am standing here today.”
But corporal punishment, in all its forms, is violence against children and should have no place in institutions of learning. It harms children’s physical, mental and emotional health; their behavioral development; their ability to learn well; and can lead to dropping out of school.
Tanzania needs to take concrete steps to end violence against students in schools. It should abolish corporal punishment in policy and practice, including by revoking the National Education (Corporal) Punishment Regulations of 1979, and adopt a policy and regulations on positive ways to promote discipline. It should combat sexual abuse against female students by setting up confidential reporting mechanisms in schools, and ensuring that all cases are reported to appropriate enforcement authorities, including police, and that cases are duly investigated and prosecuted. It should end mandatory pregnancy testing in schools.
Schools should not be places of fear and violence. Twenty-nine countries in Africa have outlawed corporal punishment in schools, including Tanzania’s neighbors Kenya and Uganda. Taking measures to prevent teacher-on-student violence and abuse will not only ensure that Tanzania is in compliance with its international and regional human rights obligations; it will help create an environment in which children can thrive and learn.
Canada has unveiled a new approach to fixing the drinking water crisis faced by indigenous First Nations peoples.
Carolyn Bennett, minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), reaffirmed the 2016 budget commitment to $1.8 billion over five years to significantly improve on-reserve water and wastewater infrastructure. Her ministry provided information on what has been spent so far in the 2016-2017 fiscal year: $275.7 million in targeted funding has been allocated to support water and wastewater initiatives, including 201 water and wastewater projects. This is an exciting number, but the needs are great, and in the past, INAC funding hasn’t always gone to the neediest communities. Bennett added that 29 of these projects are aimed at addressing 44 long-term drinking water advisories in 28 First Nations communities.
The announcement was made during INAC’s and Health Canada’s joint progress update toward meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitment to end drinking water advisories in First Nations in five years.
Last June, Human Rights Watch released a report on the water crisis. A primary concern was that First Nations have not been made leaders in resolving the crisis, and we called for a First Nations-led approach. Only two weeks ago, a Globe and Mail article detailed explosive findings on certain drinking water systems supposedly fixed by INAC – calling them “poorly designed,” “undersized,” and saying they used “inappropriate technology.” These issues may have been avoided if First Nations had been included in setting the agenda.
Today, we are pleased to see INAC commit to First Nations leadership, saying, “The Government of Canada is working more closely with First Nation leaders and technical advisors and to support long-term First Nations-led approaches to address new and ongoing DWAs and other infrastructure and system operation needs.”
The government should also be transparent with First Nations about the progress they are making. Long-term fixes to crisis-level problems can feel unsatisfactory to communities if they’re not accompanied by detailed information. It’s promising that INAC released an easy-to-understand graphic illustrating the investments already made in water and sanitation projects in each province, with community-level progress where it has been made. A recent report released by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Council of Canadians flagged why this community-level data collection and engagement is key.
The drinking water crisis in First Nations is complex. Solving the crisis requires systemic change and long-term vision and commitment – there is no magic wand. This is why a commitment to First Nations-led approaches and full transparency are crucial. Now begins the hard work of making sure this shift in government approach leads to real change in First Nations.
(Washington, DC) – The expanded “Mexico City Policy” or “Global Gag Rule” issued by United States President Donald Trump is a profound setback to hard-fought gains for women and girls’ health in countries around the world, Human Rights Watch said today, on International Women’s Day.
Human Rights Watch issued a question-and-answer document and short video to explain how the policy, issued on January 23, 2017, works and why it is likely to have devastating consequences, including unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal deaths.
“Perversely, the US government is using its position as the largest global donor on health to restrict access to important health services,” said Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of helping improve health in low- and middle-income countries, the US will be undermining progress.”
The soundtrack of my childhood is Tanya Tucker belting out “Delta Dawn,” a song about a 41-year-old woman destined to walk the streets of town because a man of low degree left her, and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh raging against “feminazis.”
I am always amazed at the deep contradictions on gender I learned as a child. I was listening to Rush’s (my household felt we were on a first name basis with him) strident lectures on the pettiness of feminism as my deeply involved father would drive me to baseball practice, where I was the only girl on the team. My first day of practice I got cracked on the head with a fly ball. No moms in sight, I still remember how impressed and relieved all the dads were that I didn’t cry. I was surprised they didn’t discourage me. They sent me back in the field with a pat on the back and a growing egg on my head.
My father exposed me to what the world thinks of women who fight too hard for equality, but also raised me to be strong enough to be one of those women. It’s the same tension I still feel today as I dedicate my career to women’s rights.
Sexism is an odd form of discrimination. It doesn’t always feel pernicious or bad. It can happen in the course of a conversation that otherwise feels progressive, originate from someone you care about deeply who supports you whole-heartedly or occur in a space you generally regard as safe. And, if you raise concerns in those moments, it can feel petty—as Rush told me over the airwaves it was.
But gender discrimination is pernicious, and we have to address it in the smallest of forms if we are ever going to be able to address it in its worst forms—gender-based violence, sexual harassment, child marriage, among others.
Women around the U.S. and world will be opting out of paid and unpaid work today. “A Day Without a Woman” is “recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system–while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment and job insecurity.” Others will wear red in solidarity.
It’s a moment for all of us, with all of our own complex histories and feelings about gender discrimination and feminism, to pause and ask difficult questions. What are the laws and policies and small forms of gender discrimination that hurt women? What would the world look like if businesses and lawmakers worried as much about women as they do about the economy? What is the economy without women? What is an economy that supports the rights of all women?
Pundits are telling us that the U.S. is currently a nation divided, as if this is something new or something irreparable. Women, and other marginalized communities, living in the U.S. will scoff at the suggestion. Communities, homes, schools, sometimes even baseball fields have long been divided by gender and other forms of discrimination. And, yet, they have existed, found common ground and moved forward, sometimes in fits and starts, but forward nonetheless.
When enough people start asking these tough questions enough times it leads us all even closer to common ground. Will employers around the country be shouting women’s rights are human rights today in response to the strike? Maybe not today, but we are playing the long game.
My father and I agree on almost nothing, except how much we love each other and our family. If he can understand a policy or law is good for me or my family, I hope and believe he would see it as a good policy or law even if at its core it doesn’t quite fit his ideological leanings. Will my dad be wearing red today? In addition to listening to Limbaugh growing up, I also learned a little bit about poker. And, I’ll take that bet.