The ILO Committee making up governments, employers, and workers, following the adoption of the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention and Recommendation 2019, ILO, Geneva. 

© International Labour Organization
(Geneva) – The adoption of a ground-breaking global treaty on June 21, 2019 by the International Labour Organization (ILO) will improve protections for workers facing violence and harassment, Human Rights Watch said today.

ILO member governments, worker representatives, and employers’ organizations spent two years negotiating the text and voted overwhelmingly to adopt the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment, and an accompanying non-binding recommendation that provides guidance on the convention’s obligations.

“Governments, workers, and employers have made history by adopting a treaty that sets standards for ending the scourge of violence and harassment in the world of work,” said Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The women who bravely spoke up about their #MeToo abuses at work have made themselves heard at this negotiation, and their voices are reflected in these important new protections.” 

Governments that ratify the treaty will be required to develop national laws prohibiting workplace violence and to take preventive measures, such as information campaigns and requiring companies to have workplace policies on violence. The treaty also obligates governments to monitor the issue and provide access to remedies through complaint mechanisms, witness protection measures, and victim services, and to provide measures to protect victims and whistleblowers from retaliation.

The treaty covers workers, trainees, workers whose employment has been terminated, job seekers, and others, and applies to both formal and informal sectors. It also accounts for violence and harassment involving third parties, such as clients, customers, or service providers.

Previously there was no international standard specifically addressing violence and harassment in the world of work. The World Bank’s “Women, Business and the Law 2018” report found that 59 out of the 189 countries studied had no specific legal provisions covering sexual harassment in employment.

The ILO has found many gaps in legal protections relating to violence and harassment in the workplace. These include a lack of coherent laws, a lack of coverage in laws and policies for workers most exposed to violence, and an overly narrow definition of “workplace” in existing laws and regulations.

The new ILO convention and recommendation affirm the right to freedom from violence and harassment in the workplace. They provide for an integrated, inclusive, and gender-responsive approach for the prevention and elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work.

The convention defines violence and harassment as “a range of unacceptable behaviors and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.”

The treaty recognizes that violence and harassment go beyond just the physical workplace.

“Many workers face violence not only in the four walls of an office or factory, but on their commutes to work, at social events, or while dealing with customers or other third parties,” Begum said.

The convention requires governments to take measures to prevent and protect people from violence and harassment, and to provide enforcement mechanisms and remedies for victims, including compensation. These include adopting legal prohibitions of violence and harassment at work, and ensuring effective inspections, investigations, and protection from retaliation.

Governments should require employers to have workplace policies addressing violence and harassment, appropriate risk assessments, prevention measures, and training. Employers should address violence and harassment in their occupational safety and health management.

The convention also recognizes that vulnerable groups may be disproportionately affected by violence and harassment at work, and calls for states to ensure the right to equality and non-discrimination in employment and occupation.

States will also be required to identify high-risk sectors or occupations and take measures to effectively protect those workers.

The convention also sets out standards for how governments should mitigate the effects of domestic violence in the world of work, including by having flexible working arrangements and leave for domestic violence survivors.

Governments from many regions played a leading role in advocating for stronger protections, including Uganda and Namibia, which led the African Group of states, the European Union group led by France, as well as Canada, New Zealand, Philippines, and many Latin American and Caribbean states.

Out of 476 votes, 439 voted for, seven voted against, and 30 abstained. The United States reversed its decision from last year and chose to vote in favour of the convention.

The convention will enter into force one year after at least two states have ratified it.

Human Rights Watch has documented violence and harassment at work for more than 20 years, particularly for domestic workers, garment workers, fishers, farm workers, and migrant workers.

“The #MeToo movement showed us just how pervasive violence and harassment is in many workplaces, but now we have a treaty that spells the beginning of the end to such cruelty,” said Begum. “Governments should now ratify this treaty and seek to make a safe world of work a reality.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

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

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

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

© Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Panos/Abbie Trayler-Smith

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

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

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

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

Salwa Bughaighis

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

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

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

Security Council Resolution 1325

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

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

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

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

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

Much Work Remains

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

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

©2014 Arantxa Cedillo for Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch


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

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

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

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

Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat

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

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

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

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

©2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Protection and Assistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

Narin (pseudonym)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2011 Farzana Wahidy

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

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

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

Recommendations to Governments, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

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

[i] Human Rights Watch, A Revolution for All: Women’s Rights in the New Libya, May 2013,, p. 11.

[ii] “Libya: Extremists Terrorizing Derna Residents,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 27, 2014,

[iii] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325 (2000), S/RES/1325 (2000) (accessed July 21, 2015).

[iv] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1820 (2008), S/RES/1820 (2008) (accessed  July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1888 (2009), S/RES/1888 (2009) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1889 (2009), S/RES/1889 (2009) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1960 (2010), S/RES/1960 (2010) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106 (2013), S/RES/2106 (2013) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2122 (2013), 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, (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,  (accessed July 8, 2015); and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, PeaceWomen, “Report Watch,” undated, (accessed July 8, 2015).

[vii] United Nations Security Council, Sixty-eighth year, 7045th meeting, October 21, 2013, (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,  (accessed July 8, 2015).

[ix] Human Rights Watch, Mass Rape in North Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabit, February 2015,

[x] Heather Barr, “A seat at the table in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, May 1, 2015, (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, (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xii] Oxfam “Behind Closed Doors: The risk of denying women a voice in determining Afghanistan’s future,” November 24, 2014, (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xiii] See UN Women, “Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: Connections between Presence and Influence,”  October 2012, (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, (accessed July 27, 2015); S/2012/732, October 2, 2012, (accessed July 27, 2015); S/2013/525, September 4, 2013, (accessed July 27, 2015); and S/2014/693, September 23, 2014, (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 (accessed July 20, 2015).

[xiv] “Women take the reins to build peace in Colombia”, UN Women press release, May 28, 2015, (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, (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, (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xvi] “He Left Before Syria’s Women Could Speak,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, December 19, 2013, (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,,%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,

[xx] “Sudan: Surge in Detention, Beatings, Around Elections,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 28, 2015,

[xxi] “Afghanistan: Urgent Need for Safe Facilities for Female Police,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 25, 2013,

[xxii] “Afghanistan: Surge in Women Jailed for ‘Moral Crimes,’” Human Rights Watch news release, May 21, 2015,

[xxiii] Human Rights Watch, “Here, Rape is Normal”: A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia, February 2014,

[xxiv] “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2015,

[xxv] Human Rights Watch, “We are Still Here”: Women on the Front Lines of Syria's Conflict, July 2014,

[xxvi] “Sudan: Soldiers, Militias Killing, Raping Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 14, 2014,; “Sudan: Mass Rape by Army in Darfur,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 11, 2015,

[xxvii] Human Rights Watch, “Those Terrible Weeks in their Camp”: Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria, October 2014,

[xxviii] “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2015,

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,

[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,, p. 5.

[xxxii] World Bank and World Health Organization, “World Report on Disability,” 2011, (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,

[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, (accessed July 8, 2015).

[xlii] “DR Congo: War Crimes by M23, Congolese Army,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 5, 2013,; “Revealed: how the world turned its back on rape victims of Congo,” The Guardian, undated, (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 (accessed July 8, 2015); United Nations Secretariat, Secretary-General’s Bulletin, “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,” October 9, 2003, (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, (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),

[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, (accessed July 8, 2015).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Greece: Camp Conditions Endanger Women, Girls

Asylum Seekers Lack Safe Access to Food, Water, Health Care

(Athens) – Women and girls face relentless insecurity in Greece’s overcrowded Moria “hotspot” for asylum seekers and migrants on Lesbos island, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing a video that shows the dire conditions. The Greek government should take immediate action to ensure safe, humane conditions for women and girls in line with their international human rights obligations and standards for humanitarian emergencies.

As of December 2, 2019, the Moria Reception and Identification Center was holding nearly 16,800 people in a facility with capacity for fewer than 3,000. Overcrowding has led authorities, as well as some asylum seekers and migrants themselves, to erect shelters outside Moria’s fenced boundaries, first in the adjacent area called the Olive Grove and now in a second olive grove, which has no water and sanitation facilities. In all areas, women and girls, including those traveling alone, are living alongside unrelated men and boys, often in tents without secure closures.

“Just going to the bathroom feels too risky for women and girls in Moria,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Their lives are defined by fear, and that won’t change unless the Greek government addresses the pervasive dangers they face.”

During research on Lesbos in October, Human Rights Watch found women and girls in and around Moria lack safe access to essential resources and services including shelter, food, water and sanitation, and medical care. Interviews with 32 women and 7 girls, as well as 7 representatives of aid agencies working on Lesbos, revealed a threatening environment, with few protections from sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

Women and girls said they avoid leaving their shelters or using the toilets, bathing, or waiting in food distribution lines due to fear. Parents said they do not allow their daughters to go out unaccompanied, including to attend school. “I don’t go out [of the tent] alone,” said Naima, 12, who lives in the Olive Grove with her mother and 14-year-old sister. “The men and boys looking at me, I don’t like it…. [If I need the toilet at night], I have to wait all night – I have no choice.”

Women with disabilities face additional barriers because the toilets and showers are far from their shelters over rough terrain or are not adaptable for people with disabilities. Aid workers handling cases of sexual and gender-based violence said protection systems are virtually nonexistent, exposing women and girls to high risk that has increased with overcrowding.

A high-level Greek official said during a call with Human Rights Watch that maintaining adequate conditions in the camps is impossible, especially following recent large numbers of arrivals, because Greece is hosting asylum seekers and migrants well beyond the facilities’ capacity. He noted the pressure on Greece and lack of support from other European Union countries. “Greece cannot be the gatekeeper of Europe, as it is being asked to be by the EU, and also be expected to respect human rights fully,” he said.

Conditions in Moria violate Greece’s obligations to migrants and asylum seekers under international law and fall far below standards of treatment developed for humanitarian emergencies around the world, Human Rights Watch said.

With the intent of facilitating speedy processing and return to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal, Greece has adopted a “containment policy” that traps people in under-resourced camps on the Aegean islands while awaiting the outcome of their asylum claims or return, which can take months or even years. Combined with a lack of government-supported services, this creates an inordinate burden for aid agencies, which provide almost all camp services, interviewees said.

The government’s move in July to stop issuing social security numbers to asylum seekers exacerbates the situation, obstructing their access to public health services except in emergencies. Aid agency representatives said overwhelming demand means they sometimes have to turn away all but the most extreme cases for medical care and gender-based violence support. “Organizations just can’t respond anymore to the increased needs,” said one service provider. “People are being pushed to make horrifying decisions.”

Under Greek law, the authorities should identify “vulnerable” people, including pregnant women and new mothers, survivors of sexual and other serious violence, single parents with children under 18, and people with disabilities, and refer them to appropriate support services and accommodation. This may include housing in apartments outside of Moria.

Human Rights Watch interviewed women and girls who meet current vulnerability criteria but said they had not been screened for vulnerability or identified as vulnerable after weeks or even months, including survivors of gender-based violence, pregnant women, new mothers, women with disabilities, and women alone with children under 18. Since late 2018, staff resignations and shortages at the government agency conducting vulnerability screenings in Moria have led to lengthy delays in identification of vulnerable individuals, and resulting delays in any additional support.

The Greek government should urgently improve security and living conditions for women and girls in Moria, ensuring safe access to secure shelter, food, adequate water and sanitation, and specialized medical care. The government should identify and assist vulnerable asylum seekers and migrants on Greek islands, including survivors of gender-based violence, women alone with children under 18, pregnant women, new mothers, and people with disabilities. It should prioritize awareness-raising about existing services and availability of trained female interpreters.

Other EU countries should share responsibility for accepting asylum seekers and migrants, processing their asylum applications, and facilitating family reunification.

“Women and girls who have come to Greece seeking safety are finding the exact opposite at Moria, and the situation is only getting worse,” Margolis said. “The Greek government has a duty to make sure women and girls don’t have to hide in tents all day out of fear.”

For more information on risks for women and girl asylum seekers on Lesbos, please see below.

Additional Information, Accounts by Women and Girls

All names have been changed to protect privacy and security.

On November 20, 2019, Greek authorities announced plans to relocate 20,000 asylum seekers to the mainland by early 2020 from five Greek islands currently hosting almost 40,000 asylum seekers and migrants, a positive move. However, the government also plans to turn reception centers for identification, processing, and deportation, including Moria, into detention centers.

Rather than establishing blanket detention of asylum seekers and migrants in closed facilities, Greek authorities should ensure humane living conditions in open camps, in line with international and EU standards for reception, protection, security, health, and sanitation. In the meantime, they should urgently adopt measures to secure basic rights, services, and safety for women and girls in Moria and other island hotspots.

A new law that will take effect on January 1 reduces protections for vulnerable groups. They can be subject to accelerated border procedures, and some – such as people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder – will no longer qualify as “vulnerable.”

Beginning in October 2018, a shortage of doctors, psychologists, and social workers from the Health Ministry agency in Moria tasked with conducting vulnerability screenings resulted in severe delays, incomplete screenings, or, at times, a stoppage of screenings altogether. Aid workers supporting vulnerable people at Moria said that this has caused a months-long backlogs in vulnerability screenings.


Inhumane and unsafe conditions at Moria have worsened since a December 2017 Human Rights Watch report on dangerous conditions for women and girls at Moria and in migrant reception and detention facilities on the Greece-Turkey border. Aid workers in Moria describe the current situation as an “emergency.”

Women and girls said that a lack of functional locks and privacy in toilets, bathing facilities, and shelters, as well as poor lighting, frequent outbreaks of violence, and lack of police assistance for security incidents create heightened risks. Faruza, 46, from Afghanistan, lives in a tent in the Olive Grove and said she worries about her daughters, ages 12 and 14. “We don’t have a door [on our tent] – anyone can open it,” she said. “I do not sleep at night. I just sit in the entrance.”

Heba, 27, from Syria, was sleeping in a tent in the second olive grove with her children ages 6 months to 6 years: “Inside [the camp] it would be safer because here you’re in the jungle and far from everything…. To go to the bathroom we have to go all the way around the main gate and inside. For sure I don’t feel safe.”

“There is no law here,” said Susana, 25, from Afghanistan, who is eight months pregnant and living in a tent in the Olive Grove with her husband and two other families. “You see the security, you see the police, but they don’t care. After something really serious happens – if someone dies – they come, but otherwise they don’t do anything. And there is nowhere you can go to report anything.”

Women with disabilities may face additional risks, especially if they lack access to necessary assistive devices. Samiya, 40, from Syria, who has a physical disability, said her leg brace broke en route to Greece, further limiting her mobility and increasing her vulnerability in Moria: “Every night there is fighting, I hear people running…. I can’t sleep because I’m afraid that if something happens people will run away, but I can’t run away – how can I?”

Sexual Harassment, Gender-Based Violence, and Lack of Protection

Many asylum seekers and migrants have experienced sexual or other violence in their countries of origin or en route to Greece. Representatives of agencies assisting victims of sexual and gender-based violence in Moria said incidents in the camp have increased with the growing population.

Under Greek rules governing reception sites, women traveling alone should be housed in separate, fenced-in sections within Moria. Human Rights Watch found single women living outside the sections, including in both olive groves. Multiple women said they were told the protected section was full and could not accommodate them until other women left. Data collected by an agency responsible for housing in Moria showed 361 single women housed in the dedicated sections and an additional 256 in tents outside the sections as of November 28.

Unaccompanied girls should also be housed in separate, secure sections. In Moria, a “safe zone” holds both unaccompanied boys under 14 and girls under 18. Human Rights Watch interviewed sisters ages 16 and 17 living in the safe zone who said boys and girls have separate toilets and showers but neither they nor the shelters have functioning locks.

“When I was alone, I went to the bathroom and a boy came and wanted to open the door and come in,” said Salma, 16, from Afghanistan. “I made a noise to show I was inside, but he continued.” The sisters said they usually feel safe in the section because they are together. “But I don’t know about the girls living alone,” said Afri, 17. A forthcoming report from Human Rights Watch details conditions for unaccompanied children living in Moria.

Human Rights Watch interviewed five women traveling alone who had been sleeping in the open without shelter inside Moria for up to nine nights, including two pregnant women and two with serious health conditions. They said they were told they could not receive tents because they should be housed in the section for women alone. Other women, some with children under 18, said they had spent up to several nights sleeping outside without shelter upon arrival in Moria. The two unaccompanied sisters said they slept in the open for one night before getting housing. A government representative denied that people including women and unaccompanied children are not given tents.

Single women living in tents amid shelters housing unrelated single men and families said they felt especially vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence. Zainab, 20, from Afghanistan, lives alone inside Moria with her 2-year-old son. She said a single man in a nearby tent regularly approaches her shelter: “One time he came and said, ‘You have to sleep with me.’ I said no. He tried to choke me. When he did this, I tried to scream. He pushed me and said, ‘You have to tell me I love you, I want you.’ I said, ‘Okay, okay, I want you.’ Then I ran out…. I thought if I changed my tent maybe another place [in Moria] would be even worse. But now I’m afraid because I don’t know what will happen.”

Even women living in the designated section said they felt unsafe because people housed elsewhere – including men – can enter the section and adolescent boys occupy sections immediately adjacent. They said they experience sexual harassment whenever they leave the section. Mina, 21, from Afghanistan, said authorities are unresponsive if she reports harassment or violence: “Last month, around 11 p.m. when I went to go back inside [the section], a man came and touched my body. I told the police, but they laughed at me and said, ‘You have to go inside and go to sleep.’”

Interviewees said there is an absence of systems to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, and that authorities often dismiss survivors who try to report problems or deter them from filing complaints, even in rape cases. Even if police do arrest a perpetrator, aid workers said, he would typically be released the next day and placed back in the camp pending a court case. They said that a dearth of safe housing options, such as secure shelters, makes it impossible to provide adequate protection for victims of domestic or other gender-based violence. “There are cases of rape where the victim has to go back to the camp, the same place where the perpetrator is living,” said one service provider.

“There is a huge fear of retaliation,” said another aid agency representative, which contributes to underreporting of cases.

International guidelines call for gender-based violence risk mitigation from the onset of crisis response, including through separate, secure accommodation for unaccompanied women and children. Authorities should also identify and monitor high-risk areas in displacement sites and implement responsive security measures.

Water and Sanitation

All of the women and girls Human Rights Watch interviewed said toilets and showers in Moria are unsafe, unsanitary, unhygienic, and inaccessible to people with disabilities, which Human Rights Watch researchers observed firsthand. Although some toilets are separated by gender, signage is unclear and in practice usage is mixed. Some women said they have to bathe in the same stall with the toilet, and that gaps in walls and doors may allow others to see inside.

Guidelines on prevention of gender-based violence in displacement settings call for hygienic, gender-separated toilets and bathing facilities with working locks, adequate lighting, and privacy. The Sphere Standards, a set of principles and minimum humanitarian standards developed by humanitarians, call for safe and equal access to water and sanitation facilities, including private bathing areas for women.

Women and girls said they take extreme measures to avoid using toilets after dark. “I stop drinking tea after 6 p.m. so that I don’t have to go to the bathroom at night,” said Zubaida, from Afghanistan, who lives in the Olive Grove. “I’m afraid to go alone because I see lots of men here. They can do whatever they want. They use drugs and alcohol. I’m afraid someone will rape me.

“One of the biggest problems is we have to go inside the toilet to take a shower,” said Faruza, alone with her 12- and 14-year-old daughters in the Olive Grove. “There is just a tube [for the shower]. There’s a lock inside but we don’t feel safe. If one daughter goes to the shower, the other daughter and I stand outside to protect her.”

Women with disabilities face additional challenges in accessing bathrooms. Samiya said that her leg brace broke en route to Greece, further limiting her mobility. “It is too difficult to go to the bathroom; two people have to go with me,” she said. “Most of the time I don’t drink water so that I don’t have to go to the bathroom.”

Samiya said her assigned tent was far from the bathrooms, but personnel in the camp refused her request to move closer. “Since I arrived [11 days ago] I haven’t had a shower because it is too far away,” she said. “I moved to share a tent with relatives because it is closer to the toilet, but it is still too far…. At night sometimes when I need to go to the toilet my sister and brother help me, but most of the time I go in the tent in a plastic jug.” Human Rights Watch saw firsthand that the walk to the toilets from both Samiya’s original tent and from the tent she shared with relatives required navigating steep and unstable terrain over rocky dirt paths

Pregnant Women and New Mothers

The government is failing to meet basic needs of pregnant women and new mothers, who said they do not receive adequate food or medical care. Human Rights Watch interviewed six pregnant women and one woman who became pregnant and gave birth while in Moria.

Women said they had not accessed comprehensive prenatal care, even for high-risk pregnancies. Fatima, 28, a mother of four from Afghanistan and nine months pregnant, said a heart problem put her in intensive care following her previous child’s birth. “I’ve had pain from the day I came here, in my back and belly – sometimes it is so painful I cannot eat,” she said, noting that she did not access specialized care despite telling personnel at Moria about the pain and her medical history.

Pregnant women said they lacked information about what would happen when it was time to give birth or whom to contact for help, and that a dearth of interpreters prevented them from communicating with medical workers at Moria. Health service providers said they offer basic prenatal and postnatal care, but that limited capacity and resources mean they cannot provide full monitoring for pregnant women each trimester. The Greek government should ensure access to comprehensive prenatal and postnatal care for all women, including migrants and asylum seekers.

International humanitarian standards call for prioritization of pregnant and breastfeeding women for access to food and cash assistance and additional bedding, clothing, and nutrition to meet their needs. Women in Moria said no such measures are taken. “They give you nothing different because you’re pregnant,” said Laila, 35, from Afghanistan and eight months pregnant. “When waiting in the [food] line, I have a problem – pain in my belly, I get dizzy. Sometimes I try to sit down in the line, but it isn’t really possible and no one helps me…. Sometimes I feel like maybe I will die – like I will lose the baby, or the baby will lose me.”

“When I was six months pregnant [in July], it was really hot and I felt I would lose the baby,” said Zarifa, who had a 10-day-old baby and had been in Moria for 11 months. “I went again to [people she believed were humanitarian agency workers in the camp] and said I couldn’t handle it. They said, ‘You are not really a seriously vulnerable case.’ We never got an apartment [outside Moria] – we applied months ago, but we are still here.”

Food and Cash Assistance

Many women, including pregnant women and single mothers, said they spend hours in food distribution lines only to be told there is no food left. Seven women said they faced waits of seven to eight months for cash assistance, leaving them without any financial resources and unable to buy food or goods they do not receive through distributions. Human Rights Watch saw multiple asylum seekers’ cash assistance appointment slips with dates in June 2020 – meaning they could not receive cash assistance until after that date. Representatives of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said they reinforced staff capacity in late October 2019 to respond to needs. They said everyone who was in Moria at that time and eligible for cash assistance will have now been enrolled. All of those who are eligible for cash assistance and who arrived since then should be enrolled within the next six weeks.

“It is very difficult to get food,” said Faruza. “Most of the time [after waiting in line] they say the food is finished. If we don’t get food, we don’t eat…. The appointment for our cash assistance card is in June 2020. In the meantime, I don’t know what to do because we don’t have any money at all.”

Fatima, a mother of four and nine months pregnant, said: “We don’t have money. I don’t know what I will do for the children. They told us that to get the cash [assistance] card it is eight months waiting…. For me, I don’t eat a couple of times and it’s okay, but for the kids it’s really hard.”

Zarifa said she lacked supplies for her 10-day-old baby or resources to purchase them: “They supposedly give you [diapers] but you have to wait all night in line [for morning distribution]. They give 15 Pampers for every kid for a week. It’s nothing. You have to beg other organizations to give you some or you have to buy them yourself.”

Menstrual Hygiene Management

Women said they do not receive sufficient supplies to manage menstrual hygiene and delays in cash assistance leave them unable to purchase sanitary products. The Sphere standards call for provision of “appropriate materials for menstrual hygiene” to women and girls of menstruating age, and means to launder or dispose of them discreetly.

“[Managing] my period is one of the most difficult things – they don’t give us the supplies we need,” said Faruza. “For two of us, they give us four [sanitary pads]. It’s nothing.”

Kamila, 30, from Afghanistan, said an inability to communicate with personnel in the camp compounds the problem. "When I get my period, I bleed so much,” she said. “They just give us pads, but it is so few…. I didn’t tell anyone because I can't speak the language and they don't have a translator.”

Mental Health

Women and girls, some with pre-existing mental health conditions, said they worry about their mental health and the lack of psychosocial support in Moria.

Zarifa said she feels depressed and sought help from a doctor at Moria: “He said you have to go to the city for a private or public psychologist. A private one is 80 or 100 euro a visit. It is impossible. After some time, I gave up.”

Some women said they were unable to get medications for anxiety or depression they had taken regularly before arriving in Greece. “I had depression before,” said Zubaida. “I used [medication] but here when I went to get it, they said no…. Since I came here, I cannot cry, I am not talking with my husband or children. All day I just sit here.”

“My mental health situation is getting worse and worse here,” said Faruza, who said she had been taking medication for two months for depression. “I didn’t go to anyone [here] – there is no place to go, no one to talk to…. The doctor [at Moria] didn’t give me medicine. He said they don’t have any more.”

Faruza’s daughters, alone in Moria with their mother, worry about her mental health. “My mother’s medicine is finishing, and I’m afraid that the only person who makes us feel a bit safe here will no longer feel okay,” said Naima, 12.

Human Rights Obligations and Humanitarian Standards

Greece is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which prohibits governments from subjecting asylum seekers to arbitrary detention and inhuman and degrading treatment. It requires them to provide accommodation and decent material conditions to asylum-seekers. The court has on previous occasions found that Greece has not met its obligations because it did not ensure adequate reception conditions.

The court has ruled that severe overcrowding and inadequate sanitation conditions violated the convention. It found the same on the basis that an asylum seeker was forced to live in conditions of poverty, unable to cater for basic needs and in a constant state of fear of being a victim of violence. The court has also made clear that detained asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable given their experiences when fleeing persecution, which could increase their anguish in detention.

Sphere was created in 1997 by a group of nongovernmental aid organizations and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to improve the quality of humanitarian responses and accountable for their actions. They developed and published the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards, which form the Sphere Handbook, to inform all humanitarian action and support accountability across all sectors. The standards are a set of principles and minimum humanitarian standards in four technical areas of humanitarian response: water supply, sanitation, and hygiene promotion (WASH); food security and nutrition; shelter and settlement; and health.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action were developed by UN and humanitarian aid agencies to guide prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence in all sectors in humanitarian settings. They were updated in 2015.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Women and girls face relentless insecurity in Greece’s overcrowded Moria “hotspot” for asylum seekers and migrants on Lesbos island.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A couple sitting by the ocean in Rabat, Morocco. 

© FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

(Tunis) - The Moroccan parliament should adopt the groundbreaking proposals made by a government-appointed body to enshrine individual freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today. In a memorandum published on October 28, 2019, the National Human Rights Council (also known by its French acronym, CNDH) recommended decriminalizing consensual sex between nonmarried adults and granting more religious freedoms.

The CNDH memorandum aims to contribute to the projected overhaul of Morocco’s penal code, which parliament is scheduled to begin reviewing on November 30. Many Moroccans have gone to prison for nonmarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.  

“Morocco’s parliament should take the State out of people’s bedrooms and let them pursue their consensual private lives without fear of trials and prison time,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, Middle East and North Africa communications director at Human Rights Watch.

The CNDH is established by the constitution to provide guidance on human rights matters to Moroccan institutions.  

Its memorandum identified provisions of the penal code that violate or undermine individual freedoms, including articles 489, 490, and 491, which provide prison terms for same-sex relations, nonmarital sexual relations, and adultery, respectively. These provisions violate the right to privacy, as guaranteed under article 24 of Morocco’s constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Morocco has ratified.

In a report released in June, the Office of the General Prosecutor stated that 7,721 adults were prosecuted for having non-transactional sexual relations outside of marriage in 2018. The number includes 3,048 who were charged with adultery, 170 with same-sex relations, and the remainder for sex between unmarried persons.  

The CNDH also recommended specifically criminalizing rape in marriage, based on “the principle of considering consent the cornerstone of sexual relations between adults.” A law on violence against women, which went into effect in 2018, criminalizes some forms of domestic violence but fails to explicitly define and criminalize marital rape.

The council also urged repealing penal code article 220, which criminalizes proselytizing but only when done to lure people away from Islam.  The discriminatory law punishes “using seduction means in order to shake a Muslim’s faith or convert him to another religion” with up to three years in prison. Authorities have used this provision to deport foreign Christians , but also, to charge or convict Moroccan converts to Christianity allegedly for nothing more than talking about their new faith in the company of Muslims. In 2003, thirteen heavy metal musicians were convicted under article 220 for what the court called “Satan worship.”

The ICCPR protects the right or persons to free religious belief and practice, including the right to “teach” their religion in public and private.

The council recommends decriminalizing the act of eating or drinking in public during fasting hours in the month of Ramadan. Article 222 of the penal code punishes with up to six months in prison people “who are identifiably Muslim who ostensibly break the fast in a public place during Ramadan, without benefiting from one of the exceptions that Islam permits.”  

In 2009, the authorities arrested six religious freedom activists for planning a discreet forest picnic during Ramadan to protest article 222. Since then, the authorities have periodically arrested or prosecuted individuals who were eating, drinking, or smoking a cigarette publicly during Ramadan.

Under the Moroccan penal code, performing or undergoing an abortion is prohibited and punished with prison sentences, unless the procedure is “a necessary measure to safeguard the health of the mother.” The council recommends that the exception clause be broadened to include cases in which the abortion is in the interest of the woman’s “physical, mental and social health.” This wording, the council notes, comes from the World Health Organization’s constitution, which defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

According to numerous studies, criminalization does not lead to a decrease in abortions. It rather compels women to resort to non-medicalized abortions that endanger their right to life, health, privacy, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. There are 600 to 800 abortions every day in Morocco, an estimated one third of them performed in non-medicalized situations. Decisions about abortion belong to a pregnant woman without interference by the state or others, Human Rights Watch said.

A few days after the council published its memorandum, Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani and Human Rights Minister Mostafa Ramid, both leading members of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), rejected the recommendations on individual freedoms, invoking Morocco’s (traditional) “value system.” The PJD has 125 seats out of the 395 in the Parliament’s lower chamber.

The only party in the parliament that publicly supported the council’s recommendations at time of writing is the Party for Progress and Socialism, which holds 12 seats. The press reported that several other parties intend to propose pro-individual freedoms amendments to the draft penal code during parliamentary review, as an “interaction” with the council’s recommendations.

More than 25 nongovernmental organizations, including the Spring of Dignity, a collective of  associations defending women’s rights, the Moroccan organization of Human Rights, and the Forum for Truth and Equity, declared their support for some of the council’s recommendations, with a focus on those concerning individual freedoms.

The CNDH’s memorandum also includes recommendations on other human rights issues, such as abolishing the death penalty, for which a de facto moratorium has been in effect in Morocco since 1993. Human Rights Watch supports that recommendation and opposes capital punishment on principle, because it is inherently cruel and irreversible.

“Parliament should implement the road map that the CNDH has provided to protect personal liberties,” Benchemsi said.  “The state has no business policing the intimate lives of consenting adults.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People shout slogans condemning rising cases of rape and violence against women during a protest in Ahmedabad, India, December 2, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

The 27-year-old veterinarian had called her family to say she was stranded with a flat tire in India’s Hyderabad city, and that a truck driver and his friends had offered to help.

Then she stopped answering her phone. Later her family learned she had been gang raped and murdered.

The assault, which happened last Wednesday, has sparked public protests and demands for swift justice. The authorities in Telangana state arrested four men who had allegedly stopped to “help.”

The state home minister, in charge of law enforcement, blamed the victim for calling her sister instead of the police. Not that it would have made a difference. Her family said that when they attempted to file a missing person’s complaint that night, the police suggested that she had eloped.

Only after the public and media expressed outrage were three police officers suspended for the delay in filing the complaint.  

All of this is hauntingly familiar. Indian newspapers regularly carry stories of gruesome violence against women and girls and the ensuing lack of justice. Following nationwide protests after the 2012 gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi, India’s government adopted significant legal reforms. However, as Human Rights Watch has found, these changes largely remain on paper. Survivors of sexual violence face formidable barriers, from reporting to police, to obtaining health care, counseling, and legal aid. Powerful perpetrators are often protected by the authorities. Increasingly, the victim’s and perpetrator’s religions have unleashed religious prejudice.

According to the latest Indian government data, crimes against women increased 6 percent in 2017 over the previous year. Police registered 33,658 cases of rape – an average of 92 every day.

Women and girls have a right to live with dignity and free from violence. Concerned Indians should consider the words from last week’s United Nations conference focused on violence against women: “Be angry. Ask your government for change.”

Government officials should end their lazy political rhetoric and recognize that calls for the violent punishment of perpetrators do little to protect women and girls. India has enough strict laws. What is needed is enforcement, police accountability, a more sensitive and responsive criminal justice and healthcare system, and a concerted campaign to address gender-based discrimination. Women and girls should be able to live in safety.

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

Garment workers travel on private buses organized by their factory in Cambodia. When women do overtime work but lack safe transportation back home, it can expose them to greater risks of sexual assault at night. 

© 2014 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch
It has been two years since #MeToo went viral, and it’s about time the garment industry’s sexual harassment problem got the attention it deserves. Clothing and footwear brands can do much more to prevent and address gender-based violence in their supply chains, but first they need to confront how badly their inspection or “social auditing” programs fail women.  

Clothing brands or factories often bring in social auditors to examine factory working conditions. But social audits primarily rely on in-factory interviews with workers who may fear retaliation, often leaving them ineffective for detecting workplace sexual harassment.

In fact,  many auditors I have spoken to have offered useful insights about the limitations of audits. Recently, I spoke to an Indonesian social auditor who shared an anecdote about a garment factory he was inspecting in central Java a couple of years ago. He found a notebook on the factory production floor, and within its pages discovered a woman worker’s anonymous note suggesting she was being sexually harassed.

The auditor’s attempts to trace the notebook’s owners and encourage workers to speak up were futile, he said, reflecting his general difficulty with documenting sexual harassment in the industry. Workers he interviewed inside factories usually gave stock or terse responses that he felt factory managers coached them to provide.

On the rare occasions that women workers testified about sexual harassment, he said, factory managers would contest it. They asked him what “proof” he had beyond the complainant’s testimony and demanded to know her name. They argued that one worker’s testimony could not justify a “finding” of workplace sexual harassment in the audit report.

In contrast, women workers who speak outside factory premises feel less anxious about retaliation, according to workers themselves, auditors that Human Rights Watch interviewed, and labor advocates.

For example, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an international labor rights group, found evidence of sexual harassment after conducting off-site interviews with workers for three factories in Lesotho that supplied Levi’s, the Children’s Place, and Kontoor’s. Rola Abirmourched, one of the investigators, reported that despite routine social audits by third parties, sexual harassment in the factories was rampant.

The Lesotho investigation spurred the launch of a promising solution. For over a year, the WRC worked with factory unions and two prominent local women’s rights organizations—the Federation of Women Lawyers in Lesotho, and Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust-Lesotho—to design a program addressing gender-based violence and harassment at work. The factory management signed a legally binding agreement with the unions, committing to implement the program.

The agreement creates an independent investigating body to look into complaints of sexual harassment in accordance with Lesotho’s laws. Levi’s, the Children’s Place, and Kontoor’s agreed to partially fund the program for two years.

This effort imparts some important lessons. For one, involving local women’s rights groups is critical, considering the garment industry’s gender imbalance: the majority of union leadership is male even though the garment workers themselves are predominantly women.

It’s also important to recognize the important role that unions and nongovernmental organizations can play in developing training programs, providing legal services, and facilitating access to counseling for gender-based violence and harassment.

The anti-retaliation protections, the legally binding nature of the program, and support from brands were key to the program’s success, said Libakiso Matlho, national director of Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust-Lesotho. Programs by women’s rights groups to combat sexual harassment are often undercut by factories’ retaliation or failure to hold perpetrators accountable.

Global brands would be smart to take heed of how the Lesotho agreement incorporates key features of the landmark treaty against violence and harassment at work adopted by the International Labour Organization earlier this year. Under the Lesotho agreement, for example, the factories’ policies against gender-based violence and harassment also apply to its suppliers and third-party contractors. The agreement has strong anti-retaliation protections as well.

As garment workers struggle to find dignity at work, global clothing brands should institute strong worker-driven prevention and response programs that bring together credible local women’s rights groups and local unions, instead of depending on social audits. Brands can curb abuse by developing programs that truly empower workers.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

What does it mean to be a human rights voter?

Support candidates who want the government to adopt and enforce laws that promote and protect human rights. This means candidates who defend people from abusive systems, officials, individuals, and corporations, who support equal protection of the law, and who will push for policies that enable everyone to have the same opportunities to pursue their fundamental rights.

Poverty and Inequality

People walk around the neighboring streets around the Fred Jordan Mission, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 12, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

We all have a right to the highest attainable standard of health, to housing, and to an adequate standard of living. About 40 million people in the United States live in poverty, even though many have jobs making at least minimum wage. A human rights voter should back candidates who work to ensure that everyone can get quality medical care, a safe and sturdy roof over their heads, and enough healthy food to eat.

Candidates should urge measures that would prevent companies from preying on the poor. For instance, they should support stronger regulation of predatory lending industries that offer high interest loans, often carrying triple-digit interest rates, that by design lead low-income borrowers into cyclical debt traps and greater poverty.

Questions for candidates:

- Do you support reforms that protect the right of everyone to just and fair work conditions, including a fair wage, that enables them to support their families?

- Will you oppose rollbacks to programs that support individuals’ basic health, nutrition, and housing needs?

- How will you ensure universal access to adequate health care?

- How will you ensure that people are protected from predatory lenders and abusive debt collectors?

Criminal Legal System

The front gate is pictured at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York April 8, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

We need to vastly reduce the number of people behind bars in the US – many of whom are incarcerated because of racist laws and policies that have disproportionately affected black and brown communities for decades. Candidates should support the decriminalization of drug use and possession; an end to disproportionate or cruel sentences, including the death penalty; the use of prolonged solitary confinement, especially for children; the use of pretrial detention only in exceptional cases; and an end to discriminatory money bail.

Questions for candidates:

- Do you support decriminalizing drug possession and use?

- Do you support greater access to evidence-based treatment for substance abuse?

- Will you work to end excessive sentencing? 

- Do you support the Democracy Restoration Act, restoring the right to vote to millions of formerly incarcerated Americans?

- How will you hold law enforcement agencies accountable for excessive use of force and unlawful police killings?

Racial Discrimination

Demonstrators gather outside City Hall to protest the police shooting of Stephon Clark, in Sacramento, California, U.S., March 30, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

Racial discrimination is a serious human rights problem in the United States – from thecriminal legal system and health and housing policies that disproportionately harm Black and Latinx people, to the surveillance of specific groups, such as Muslims or political activists from ethnic or religious minorities, to immigration policies that scapegoat non-citizens as criminals or subject asylum seekers and refugees to disparate treatment based on their national origin. Many of the discriminatory policies that disproportionately impact African Americans and the more general racial and economic discrimination that continues today are legacies of slavery. Candidates should support a congressional commission to develop a proposal to provide reparations for slavery, and the acts of murder, torture, rape, and other violence that accompanied it and continued long after its formal abolition.

Questions for candidates:

- How will you address racial barriers to affordable housing, adequate health care, and equal protection of the law?

- Do you support creating a commission to study how to account for and provide reparations for slavery and its enduring impact?

Women's Rights

People rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court while the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra case remained pending, in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The US government should promote policies, practices, and laws seeking gender equality, because many women and girls have been left out of US successes so far, especially women of color, women with disabilities, Indigenous women, and female immigrants. Voters, no matter their gender, benefit when women in society do well. They should support candidates who back efforts to ensure women get the health care they need and oppose measures to limit treatment and access to contraception and abortion care. Systemic racism, economic and immigration status, and where a woman lives can make accessing even available health care difficult. Candidates should support efforts to target those most marginalized by the current healthcare system. Candidates should work to preserve progress to end violence against women and push for modern workforce policies including paid family leave, including to care for aging loved ones, measures to end the gender wage gap, and improving laws protecting pregnant women and banning sexual harassment.

Questions for candidates:

- What is your position on new regulations that limit women’s access to contraception, allow medical providers to discriminate against them, and block federally funded health providers from giving them information?

- Do you support paid family leave? How would you implement a program?

- Do you support legislative efforts to target and address racial disparities in women’s health outcomes, including the Jeannette Acosta Invest in Women’s Health Act?

- What measures should be taken to protect access to abortion information and services?  


Immigrants attempt to enter the US between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, on April 29, 2019. Family apprehensions in El Paso area have topped about 60,000 individuals, an increase of 1,670%, up from about 3,000 last year, according to officials. 

© 2019 Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

People fleeing their homes in search of safety have a right to seek asylum, and the US has a long history of helping refugees. Immigrants provide huge economic and social benefits to communities across the nation. Candidates should oppose a deterrence-only strategy toward migrants that has led to family separations, harsh detention conditions for adults and children, and a dismantling of the US asylum and refugee system. Candidates should seek to limit excessive surveillance and data collection to enforce the border and should support reform of an immigration system that resulted in serious abuses under previous US administrations.

Questions for candidates:

- Will you oppose requests for additional immigration funds without fundamental policy reform?

- What steps would you take to protect refugees and asylum seekers?

- Will you end the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” a program that is exposing tens of thousands of asylum seekers to danger in Mexico and injustice in US immigration courts?

- What will you do to ensure all immigrants facing deportation get a fair hearing before a judge?

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights

LGBT Rainbow Flag 

© 2008 Ludovic Berton (Wikimedia Commons)

We should work to end discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Candidates should support the Equality Act, which would ban employers, landlords, schools, and others from discriminating against people because they are LGBT. They should support efforts to promote equality, including improving access to health care and addressing violence against transgender people, particularly trans people of color. They should oppose laws and policies that encourage discrimination, including sweeping “religious exemptions” that allow states and businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.

Questions for candidates:

- Do you support the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity?

- How would you address the transgender military ban?

- How would you address violence against transgender people in the US?

- What is your position on religious exemptions that allow employers, landlords, service providers, and business owners to refuse service to LGBT people based on moral or religious convictions?

Privacy, Data Protection, Digital Rights

A 3D-printed Facebook Like symbol is displayed in front of a U.S. flag in this illustration taken, March 18, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Digital rights in the US are at a critical juncture: social media and other companies are vacuuming up vast amounts of personal information about us, yet Congress has not adopted comprehensive data protection laws. Barely regulated technologies affect everyone, including immigrants and schoolchildren. The US government wields massive secret surveillance powers, often with little oversight by Congress or the courts. Candidates should oppose surveillance that may disproportionately harm people of color, such as facial recognition, and rhetoric that stokes fear of Muslims.

Questions for candidates:

- What would you do to create stronger data protection rules for companies and the government?

- Do you support an end to warrantless surveillance programs?

- Do you support safeguards to limit the use of facial recognition software and other emerging technologies that could harm rights?

Climate Crisis and Toxic Pollution

Aerial view of a mountaintop mine in West Virginia.

© 2018 Mariam Dwedar for Human Rights Watch, flight provided by South Wings

Candidates should support policies that protect the human rights of people marginalized or otherwise most affected by climate change and toxic pollution. The global climate crisis means that Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and areas along the eastern US seaboard in particular will face increasingly severe extreme weather events.

Deregulation of health and environmental protections from mining pollution poses a serious danger to poor communities. Similarly, preventing bans of toxic pesticides will continue to put people, especially pregnant women and children, at risk. The independence of federally funded scientific research should be respected, and evidence-based regulations that mitigate the risks of climate change and toxic pollution should be enacted.

Questions for candidates:

- What is your plan to address climate change? How would you improve the US response to extreme weather events, particularly for low-income and marginalized communities?

- Will you commit to respect the independence of federally funded scientific research and enact evidence-based regulations that mitigate the risks of climate change, pollution, and toxic exposures?

- What will you do to make sure that companies responsible for coal-related pollution bear the costs of the clean-up?

- Will you create and enforce pesticide policies that are protective of pregnant women, children, and other groups at greater risk of exposure complications?

- Will you ensure compliance with relevant standards under the Food Quality Protection Act by demonstrating that there is a reasonable certainty a pesticide will not cause harm before approving or renewing its use?

National Security

In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, a U.S. flag is displayed on the control tower of the Camp VI detention facility, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

© 2019 AP Photo

The US government has frequently invoked national security as a justification for human rights violations. To date, there has been no real accounting of past practices, including torture. Candidates should commit to real accountability for US government-sanctioned torture and ill-treatment, including support for declassifying the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program.

Candidates should commit to increasing transparency around the use of lethal force abroad, including by intelligence agencies, and ensuring that civilians unlawfully harmed by US forces receive prompt and appropriate redress. Candidates should commit to ensuring that US personnel implicated in war crimes are fully and fairly prosecuted.

Since early 2002, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has held people in indefinite detention, most without charge or trial. Those being prosecuted face fatally flawed military commissions. Candidates should commit to shuttering the Guantanamo facility and ensuring that there is due process for the detainees who remain there, whether in a court in the US or by transfer to a third country.

Questions for candidates:

- Will you increase transparency around the use of force by the US with the aim of reducing civilian casualties, abiding by the laws of war, including the impartial investigation and prosecution of personnel implicated in war crimes, and compensating civilians unlawfully harmed by US forces?

- Will you permanently close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and end indefinite detention without charge or trial?

- Will you commit to declassifying and releasing the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the use of torture and enhanced interrogation techniques by the CIA following 9/11?

Foreign Policy

Flags fly outside the United Nations headquarters during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz

The next president should reassert a leading US role in the promotion and protection of human rights abroad. The US should return to the United Nations Human Rights Council and other international human rights forums and processes. The US should also recommit to upholding its human rights obligations and adopting a principled, human-rights driven approach to engagement with the world. This means seeking international partners who commit to upholding their human rights obligations and seeking to hold to account those who violate them.

The United States should commend countries for supporting human rights and should work with other countries to hold rights-violating governments, allies, and foes alike to account. It is particularly important to seek candidates who commit to promoting and protecting human rights central to US foreign policy. Candidates should agree to adopt a range of public and private measures to pressure repressive governments to uphold the rights to expression, assembly, and privacy, sexual and reproductive health, rights of LGBT people, freedom of religion, rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and justice for grave international crimes.

Questions for candidates:

- Will you commit to making the protection and promotion of human rights central to US foreign policy?

- Will you support a permanent repeal of the “Global Gag rule” and ensure that US aid does not undermine comprehensive health care for anyone, in particular women, girls, and LGBT and gender non-conforming people around the world?

- Will you ensure US policy demonstrates commitment to resettlement and protection for refugees?

- Will you commit to rejoining the United Nations Human Rights Council?

- Do you commit to support and cooperate with the International Criminal Court?

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Протестный перформанс борцов за права женщин в Санкт-Петербурге после принятия российского законодательства о борьбе с насилием в семье, январь 2017 года.

© 2017 David Frenkel

According to Russian authorities, men in Russia are more likely to suffer from discrimination in domestic violence cases – an outrageous claim that flies in the face of the facts.

The dubious statement is part of Russia’s official response to questions posed by the European Court of Human Rights relating to four domestic violence cases filed against Russia. One of the four women who sought redress from the European court is Margarita Gracheva, whose husband chopped off her hands with an ax. As is often the case in Russia, weeks before this happened, a police officer dismissed Gracheva’s complaint about her husband’s routine threats as a private matter.

In their submission, Russia said men are more likely to be discriminated against because there are fewer male victims and because men “aren’t expected to seek protection,” especially if the perpetrator is female. The authorities also had the audacity to claim the applicants are “undermining” efforts to address domestic violence.

Accounts of horrific, and sometimes fatal, domestic violence increasingly make headlines in Russia. But authorities aren’t taking the issue seriously. The government’s submission reluctantly acknowledges domestic violence is a problem but suggests it’s “exaggerated.”

Authorities insist there are no reasons to adopt specific domestic violence legislation, implying current laws suffice, and argue introducing more laws may result in excessive government interference in “family life”.


Video: Unaddressed Domestic Violence Puts Women at Risk in Russia

Russian authorities often fail to protect women from domestic violence. Serious gaps in Russia’s laws, the lack of protection orders, and inadequate police and judicial responses leave women who face even severe physical violence with little or no protection. 

But Russia systematically fails to protect domestic violence victims. There’s no separate law on domestic violence, not even a legal definition of it. There are no protection orders that could offer survivors immediate and longer-term protection. Shelter spaces are severely limited. In February 2017, amendments decriminalizing first offenses of battery within the family were rammed through the Russian parliament by conservatives claiming this would strengthen families. In reality, they made the situation worse by further weakening protections.

The Russian government needs to be urgently reminded of three simple facts. 

Domestic violence is neither a “family matter” nor a “traditional value.” It endangers lives, causes psychological harm that spans generations and demands a robust legal response. Secondly, it’s the state’s direct responsibility to protect victims of domestic violence. And finally, domestic violence is universally underreported – even more so in Russia due to social stigma and distrust of police. If anything, the lack of reliable statistics on domestic violence in Russia speaks to the gravity of the problem – not the other way around. 

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

Amazon boxes are stacked for delivery in New York City, January 2016. © 2016 ETC.

(New York) – Amazon took a useful first step toward transparency on November 15, 2019 by publicly disclosing on its website the names, addresses, and other details of over 1,000 facilities that produce Amazon-branded products, a broad coalition of human rights groups, labor rights organizations, and global unions said today. But the list is not easily accessible, sortable, or sufficiently specific to learn the type of products made in each of the listed facilities, limiting its value for consumers, workers, and labor advocates.

Amazon’s public disclosure adds to a growing trend of brands and retailers publishing information about their global supplier factories that manufacture their own-brand goods. The 2019 Fashion Transparency Index (FTI) reported that 35 percent of the 200 major apparel brands surveyed published their production locations, up from 12.5 percent of the 40 brands surveyed in the 2016 index. This increase in publicly disclosing supply chain data shows that companies are moving toward greater transparency.

“The decision by Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, sends an unambiguous message that transparency is critically important and here to stay and grow,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior women’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Brands that don’t publicly disclose their supply chains may not know where their products are made, making it harder to determine whether they are acting responsibly, and where the disclosure is not easily accessible, they make it difficult for workers to report labor abuses.”

Amazon’s action, which includes disclosing facilities that produce apparel, consumer electronics, and home goods products, comes at a time when consumers are increasingly shopping online rather than from brick-and-mortar retail locations. The United States Department of Commerce reported that US retail e-commerce sales for the second quarter of 2019 was US$146 billion, accounting for about 10 percent of all retail sales.

The coalition wrote to Amazon in 2018 asking that it publish supply chain information in a manner that would, at a minimum, comply with the standard set out in the “Transparency Pledge.” The Transparency Pledge asks companies to publish a list of the names, addresses, product type, a rough indication of the number of workers at every facility, and the parent company of the factories involved in assembling, embellishing, and finishing their own-brand products (called tier-1 factories) on their websites. The coalition is now campaigning for all apparel and footwear brands to adopt the Transparency Pledge standard.

The Transparency Pledge coalition was formed in 2016 with the goal of making supply chain transparency a norm in the garment and footwear industry. Its nine members are international nongovernmental organizations Clean Clothes Campaign, Human Rights Watch, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network, and Worker Rights Consortium, and global unions IndustriALL, International Trade Union Confederation, and UNI Global Union.

The coalition has reached out to more than 70 companies with own-brand apparel products, urging them to align their supply chain disclosure practices with the Transparency Pledge standard.

A company with Amazon’s resources is able to take stronger action to ensure better transparency and improve human rights due diligence in its supply chains, the coalition said. Amazon should fully align with the Transparency Pledge standard, disclose additional layers of its supply chains, and make the information easily accessible and filterable, following industry good practice. It should also track and publicly disclose which of the factories it uses have unionized workers and collective bargaining agreements.

“We hope Amazon’s disclosure is the first step of many toward supply chain justice,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union. “In addition to transparency, the company needs to make binding commitments with unions to monitor and fix problems in the factories it uses and report on its progress publicly. Amazon can – and should – do better in its supply chain and its own fulfillment centers.”

Usability Problems with Amazon’s Public Disclosure

  • The map is not filterable by product category, brand name, or country
  • The full facilities list is difficult to locate on its website, especially for people with visual impairment
  • It is a consolidated list of “facilities that produce Amazon-branded apparel, consumer electronics, and home goods products,” organized alphabetically, without mentioning the product category produced at each facility disclosed. This makes it difficult to know what product is produced at what facility
  • The list is not filterable by product category, country, and city

Guidance for Publishing Supply Chain Information

Companies publishing supply chain information should pay close attention to making the disclosure effective:

Easy Access

  • Make information easily and freely accessible on their websites
  • Make information available in formats that have downloadable files and enable machine-readable searches to cut down on the time needed to manually sift through these lists
  • Make information filterable by product category, country, and city


  • Clearly state what precisely is being published and what definitions are being used. For example, describe how the company defines terms like “tier-1,” “tier-2,” “tier-3,” “supplier,” and “core manufacturing partners.”
  • Clearly state whether authorized subcontractors for processes to complete branded products are being published, and which processes these are
  • Indicate the aggregate volume of business that is captured by the disclosure and the percentage of total supplier factories published. For example, “The factories named represent 80 percent of the factories where the company’s products are manufactured and are responsible for production of 90 percent of branded products”
  • Indicate exclusions from disclosures, if any, and impending plans to expand disclosures. For example, whether disclosures exclude factories used by licensees, agents, and disclose information for only some or all brands

Regular Updates

  • Specify the date when the information was last updated and how frequently the information is publicly updated
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The United Nation’s top women rights body has criticized Kazakhstan’s government over its poor record on domestic violence and protecting women with disabilities.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has voiced concerns that the offences of “intentional infliction of minor injury” and “battery” – the most common means of prosecuting domestic violence in Kazakhstan – have been decriminalized.

Participants protest against discrimination and gender-based violence during a rally held by members of feminist organizations and social activists in Almaty, Kazakhstan September 28, 2019. The placard reads "To jail for violence, not truth". 

© 2019 REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

The Committee’s concerns echo Human Rights Watch’s own findings. Human Rights Watch documented how the 2017 decriminalization of these offences stops women from getting the protection they need. Moreover, inadequate measures by authorities to prevent violence, hold abusers accountable, and inform women about their rights to shelter and protection orders leaves survivors without support and puts them at risk of further abuse.

Human Rights Watch found that authorities often pressured women not to file complaints about domestic violence or failed to respond when they did. When Aigerim, 38, told police that her husband continued to abuse her even after she filed multiple complaints, an officer told her they could not intervene because she did not have visible wounds. “I asked him, ‘[W]hat, are you going to wait until he kills me?’” she said.

CEDAW has now recommended Kazakhstan’s government amend its law to specifically criminalize domestic violence and ensure effective investigation of violence against women and appropriate punishment of those responsible. They also recommended that police who fail survivors be held accountable and that the government establish adequate shelters for survivors.

The committee also expressed concerns about lack of employment opportunities and limited access to healthcare for women with disabilities, including reproductive health services. It called for an end to women with disabilities being subjected to forced sterilization and forced abortion, and for these practices to be criminalized.

The women’s rights committee is not alone in putting Kazakhstan on notice. During a November 7 review of Kazakhstan’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, several governments urged authorities to criminalize domestic violence.

If unchanged, Kazakhstan’s legislation will leave abusers free to continue hurting women. The government should swiftly implement the Committee’s recommendations and ensure all women’s right to life without fear of abuse.

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

Women protest to demand stronger government action to fight the spread of intimate photos and footage taken by hidden cameras in Seoul, South Korea, July 7, 2018.

© 2018 Ryu Hyo-lim/Yonhap via AP

We only know her as “A,” and she is dead. The court ruled this week in the case of a young woman in South Korea who killed herself after learning she had been secretly filmed in a changing room of the hospital where she worked. She had suffered “nightmares and trauma,” her family said, driving her to an “extreme choice.” Her suicide came three months before her planned wedding.

The man who filmed her was her co-worker, a doctor. The court found evidence of him filming people secretly 31 times over the past two years, in locations ranging from the hospital’s elevator to a children’s nursery to an airport duty free store. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment and a 40-hour counseling program for perpetrators of sexual violence. This sentence seems light, considering his crime pushed a woman to end her life. But the maximum sentence for this crime in South Korea is three years of imprisonment, and our research suggests many perpetrators escape with no prison time at all.

The government does provide victims assistance in seeking removal of images from the internet. But a much more comprehensive response is necessary. The government needs comprehensive sexuality education in schools, and to change social norms around online sexual abuse. Victims need better mental health support and legal assistance and access to civil remedies. Police and prosecutors handling these cases should be obliged to treat victims with respect, and more should be women.

Non-consensual filming and sharing of intimate images can have deadly consequences. One US study found 51 percent of victims had had suicidal thoughts resulting from the abuse. Ninety percent of victims of non-consensually shared intimate images are women. Survivors often remain deeply traumatized, knowing that photos once posted on the internet can re-appear at any time. There are few services for these victims, let alone the long-term ones many need.

In South Korea, this issue is particularly acute, with more than 6,500 cases of illegal filming reported in 2017, sparking mass protests by women angry at the government’s sluggish response. But make no mistake ­ this is a global problem, as recently highlighted by the resignation of US Congress member Katie Hill after intimate images of her were published without her consent. Governments around the world are failing to take this issue seriously. Unless that changes, “A” will not be the last death.

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