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

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

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

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

© Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Panos/Abbie Trayler-Smith

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

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

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

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

Salwa Bughaighis

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

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

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

Security Council Resolution 1325

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

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

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

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

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

Much Work Remains

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

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

©2014 Arantxa Cedillo for Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Participation

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

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

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

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

Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat

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

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

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

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

©2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Protection and Assistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

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

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

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

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

Narin (pseudonym)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2011 Farzana Wahidy

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

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

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

Recommendations to Governments, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xlviii] Rome Statute, art. 28.

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

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

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

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

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Women walk past a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during Janadriyah Cultural Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 12, 2018. 

© 2018 REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

(Beirut) – Saudi authorities carried out sweeping campaign of repression against independent dissidents and activists, including two waves of mass arrestsin 2019, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020 
 
The arrests and harassment coincided with the most significant advancements for Saudi women in recent years, including removing travel restrictions for women 21 and over and granting women more control over civil status issues. 
 
Reforms for Saudi women do not whitewash the rampant harassment and detention of Saudi activists and intellectuals, including women’s rights activists, who simply expressed their views publicly or privately,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Saudi Arabia has any hope of rehabilitating its tattered image, the authorities should immediately release everyone they’ve locked away merely for their peaceful criticism.” 
 
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future. 
 
Saudi leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, faced no meaningful justice during 2019 for abuses by state security agents over the past few years, including the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 and the alleged torture of women’s rights advocates. 
 
Dozens of Saudi dissidents and activists, including four prominent women’s rights defenders, remain in detention while they and others face unfair trials on charges tied solely to their public criticism of the government or peaceful human rights work. Mass arrests in April and November targeted over 20 Saudi intellectuals and writers. 
 
As the leader of the coalition that began military operations against Houthi forces in Yemen on March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. On June 20, 2019, a United Kingdom appeals court ruled that the UK government’s refusal to consider Saudi Arabia’s laws-of-war violations in Yemen before licensing arms sales was unlawful, a ruling that resulted in the suspension of new UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the government makes a new lawful decision on arms licenses or obtains a new court order. 
 
In late July, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers promulgated landmark amendments to three laws that will begin to dismantle the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system, including allowing women 21 and over to travel abroad and to obtain a passport without the approval of a male guardian. The reforms also included important advances for women on civil status issues, allowing wometo register their children’s births with the civil status office, which was previously restricted to fathers or paternal relatives. Changes to the Labor Law introduced a new protection against discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, disability, or age. 
 
“It’s a cruel irony that Saudi women are enjoying new freedoms while some of those who fought hardest for them remain behind bars or facing blatantly unfair trials,” Page said. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Students protesting against a discriminatory government decision limiting enrollment in public university to 24 years, hold up signs that say “education is a right for all.”

© 2019 Mohamed Maa al-Einein Sid El-Kheir, Nouackchott, Mauritania

(Beirut) – Mauritania’s first presidential transition in a decade has raised hope that the new head of state, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, will ensure human rights protections for all Mauritanians, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020Ould Ghazouani should prioritize repealing repressive laws that curb freedom of expression, ensure women’s rights, and instruct security forces to respect the right to demonstrate peacefully.  
 
Under the outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, authorities used laws on criminal defamation and the counterterrorism law to prosecute and jail human rights defenders, activists, social media activists, and political dissidents. Two bloggers, Abderrahmane Weddady and Cheikh Ould Jiddouwere detained for three months for social media posts criticizing corruption in Mauritania before charges against them were dropped.  
 
Mauritania’s Ould Ghazouani should prioritize long-overdue reform of a harsh penal code that allows the death penalty in blasphemy cases and that is effectively used to muzzle speech,” said Eric Goldstein, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. “The new president should also take decisive steps to ensure that women and girls who are survivors of violence have the support they need to move on with their lives.”  
 
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future. 
 
The penal code stipulates the death penalty for blasphemy. On July 29, 2019 – four days before Ould Ghazouani’s inauguration  the authorities freed Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, a blogger who had been imprisoned in a blasphemy case for five-and-a-half years; a court initially sentenced him to death. Although an appeals court reduced the sentence to two years in prison, authorities held him in solitary and arbitrary detention for an additional 21 months, ostensibly for his own protection. Upon his release, Ould Mkhaitir immediately sought asylum in France.  
 
Mauritania should revoke criminal defamation and blasphemy laws and work towards abolishing the death penalty in all cases, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. 
 
In October 2019, police violently dispersed student demonstrations taking place in Nouakchott against a rule that prevented students who had reached the age of 25 from enrolling for the first time in public universities. In November, the government suspended this discriminatory rule.   
 
Under current legislation, all sexual relations outside of marriage are criminalized and there is no law against gender-based violence, despite a high prevalence of such violence in Mauritania. Women and girls face many barriers to accessing justice. For example, those who report rape risk prosecution for sexual relations outside of marriage (also known as zina) if they cannot prove that the sex was noconsensual 
 
The government should cease prosecutions and detentions in so-called zina cases, decriminalize the offense, and adopt a law on gender-based violence in line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should also establish specialized prosecutorial units to assist victims of gender-based violence, ensure greater access to medical care, and provide direct support services to survivors. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrants seeking asylum wait in line with their case paperwork on October 5, 2019, during a weekly trip by volunteers, lawyers, paralegals and interpreters to the migrant campsite outside El Puente Nuevo in Matamoros, Mexico.

 

 

© 2019 Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP

(Washington, DC, January 15, 2020) – The Trump administration is cruelly punishing migrants and eviscerating the right to seek asylum in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2020. Many state and local governments have stepped up policing in impoverished communities rather than address problems of homelessness, mental health, and gangs with services, support, and economic development.

“The Trump administration’s punitive approach to asylum seekers and poor people of color has pushed people so far from rights protections that even their lives may be at risk,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, US Program director at Human Rights Watch. “For certain marginalized groups in the US, the government appears to be committing a total assault on their fundamental human rights.”

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.

The government has detained migrants, including children, in inhumane, traumatizing, jail-like detention facilities, forcibly separated families, and chilled access to public assistance for immigrants and their US citizen family members. It has returned asylum seekers to Mexico to await hearings in dangerous and unhealthy conditions and moved to block asylum claims from people who pass through other countries before reaching the US border.  

Local policing has effectively “criminalized” communities of color most affected by poverty. Using criminal processes to address social problems fuels incarceration, and the US maintains the world’s highest reported rate of incarceration, despite slight decreases of people locked up in recent years.

Uneven healthcare coverage across US states creates an environment in which women in the US die at much higher rates than they do in comparably wealthy countries from preventable causes of maternal deaths and cervical cancer. The Trump administration’s “gag” rule, which went into effect in August, bars doctors receiving federal family planning (Title X) funds from giving women information on the full range of pregnancy options available.

In its foreign policy, the Trump administration flouted international human rights and humanitarian law, undermined multilateral institutions, and made little use of its leverage to promote human rights abroad. Although the administration sanctioned some abusive individuals and governments, it also partnered with – and publicly praised – governments and leaders with horrific rights records. The administration approved sales of advanced military equipment to Saudi Arabia despite the country’s responsibility for numerous war crimes in Yemen and failed to properly investigate military operations killing civilians in Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

The Trump administration should end abusive policies that punish asylum seekers and subject them and migrant children and families to unnecessary or inhumane detention and instead adopt fair asylum and migrant procedures. Federal, state, and local authorities should invest in the health and well-being of communities to end overpolicing of communities of color and should reverse policies that erode the health and reproductive rights of women.

“The US government needs to act at all levels to tip the scales in favor of human rights over human suffering for everyone in the US,” Austin-Hillery said.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Haitian woman was selling charcoal on the empty edges of her small town when a white, uniformed United Nations peacekeeper offered her a lift in his marked vehicle. He raped her shortly after she got in. “I could not fight back,” said Marie Badeau (a pseudonym) when I interviewed her in 2016, more than four years after the rape. “I felt outside of my body like I did not have all my senses.”

After we talked, she introduced me to her daughter conceived from the rape. The four-year-old had notably paler skin and hair than Badeau. “I just tell people it’s none of their business … when they look at her funny,” she said.

Though Badeau loves her daughter unconditionally, the young mother’s depression deepened whenever the girl complained of hunger.

An academic paper published in December by the journal International Peacekeeping suggests that Badeau is one of many poor Haitian women struggling with the long-term emotional and financial consequences of raising a child born from a peacekeeper father. The women were poor to begin with and find themselves even worse off now. Of the 2,500 community members interviewed by the researchers about living in towns with peacekeepers, 10 percent raised – without prompting – the issue of children fathered by the soldiers. The notoriety of the many nicknames for these children suggest both their prevalence and stigmatization, the researchers said.

For years, the Associated Press and other media outlets have published credible reports of sexual abuse and exploitation by the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti, which concluded its operations in 2017. The details are shocking.

“Sexual exploitation and abuse” is a broad term that includes crimes like rape but also violations of the UN’s ban on any sexual relationships that include “abuse of position of vulnerability,” which essentially covers the local population everywhere UN peacekeepers deploy. Poverty, conflict and chaos all make women and girls profoundly vulnerable to abuse by UN soldiers. Stigma, along with steep barriers to obtaining contraception and safe abortions (in Haiti abortion is completely prohibited), make even consensual relationships more dangerous.

Haiti is just one of many countries where peacekeepers have raped women and girls, or sexually exploited them in exchange for food or support. My colleagues have also reported on rape by African Union forces in Somalia, French and UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic and UN troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the UN can investigate allegations of sexual abuse and rape, peacekeeper accountability is up to the country that sends the troops. As a result, prosecutions have been rare even after media coverage and outrage.

In recent years, the UN has stepped up its efforts to tackle the issue and push on the troop contributing countries. In 2015, the UN began publishing the nationalities of soldiers alleged to have sexually exploited and abused women and girls. It also established a trust fund and programs for psychological care, job training and other services for victims, including children fathered by peacekeepers. In 2017, the UN established a global “Victim Rights Advocate” and embedded victim advocates within peacekeeping missions. Annual reports and logged case updates are publicly available.

Badeau told me she was too ashamed to report her situation and didn’t know how she could. She had not sought out post-rape care for similar reasons. The UN’s new resources for survivors may explain the increase in reports, including older cases. Affordable or free legal assistance has improved in some places but remains patchy.

The need to better provide rape and sexual abuse survivors with long-term psychological assistance is well-established. Less clear is what the children born of rape or relationships with peacekeepers will need over the years to come. More research is needed. Children of peacekeeper fathers should have the opportunity to obtain their biological parent’s nationality, a rare occurrence but one that has happened at least once, in Uruguay.  

UN efforts have led to some improvements by troop and police contributing countries such as more training and troop vetting ahead of deployment. Some countries have tried new approaches. South Africa holds courts-martial in the same locale as the victim, to improve access to witnesses and evidence, and ensure that justice is seen to be done.

But countries need to do more. The UN has requested they appoint paternity focal points in the forces who can collect DNA and help mothers negotiate the legal system of the contributing country. Most don’t. Some countries’ legal systems need to be updated to better hold soldiers accountable for their behavior when deployed. For example, some governments still do not accept paternity claims. And more women police and soldiers should be included in peacekeeping forces.    

In the meantime, it’s crucial that the UN, the media and civil society groups continue to exert pressure on countries that contribute peacekeepers to respond to abuse allegations more seriously and more transparently. Otherwise, prosecutions of crimes will remain the exception.

For decades, desperate civilians have sought UN peacekeepers to alleviate some of the worst horrors of our times. Survivors of violence, displacement and poverty shouldn’t have to fear that those charged with protecting them will contribute to their suffering.

Skye Wheeler is a senior researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.

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

Women protest against gender-based violence in Brasilia, Brazil, in 2016.

 
© 2019 Wilson Dias/Agência Brasil

Brazil's Family, Women and Human Rights Minister Damares Alves called a news conference on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. She remained silent for 30 long seconds in front of television cameras and left. Later, she explained to reporters she did it on purpose to make them see “how difficult it is for a woman to remain in silence. It is very bad to take the voice away from a woman.”

She wanted to attract attention to a new publicity campaign to combat violence against women. At an event to announce the campaign, Minister Alves spoke “about the innumerable policies and laws toward women already implemented by this administration,” according to a news release from her ministry.

And yet, funding for projects to protect women has dried up since January 2019, when president Jair Bolsonaro took office. The budget of the Secretariat of Policies for Women, which is within Alves' ministry, was cut by 27 percent in 2019, according to data obtained by Human Rights Watch through a Freedom of Information Request. Furthermore, of the 51 million reais (US$12 million) allotted by Congress in 2019, the Secretariat had actually used only about 40 percent (20 million reais) by November.

More than 90 percent of all the money the Secretariat did spend went to maintain a phone line created in 2005 where women can report violence or get information about services.

But federal government investment in the services described on the hotline is minimal. Adequate support services, the ones that the federal government should be designing and funding in cooperation with municipal and state authorities, can make a difference for thousands of women. One of those women is a 27-year-old mother of two whom I met in October in Boa Vista, Roraima, the state with the highest rate of killings of women in the country. She told me she had suffered domestic violence for nine years and reported it to police five times, but police “did nothing,” she said.

In February, she left her partner and moved in with her sister, but her sister's partner was also abusive. After two months away, she could not find a safe place to live with her children and had no safe alternative but to move back with her partner and back “to the violence,” she said.

On October 16, her partner beat her particularly brutally in front of her children. “I thought I was going to die,” she said, crying. This time, she reported the beating to the police at the “House of Brazilian Women” in Boa Vista, a facility opened in December 2018 that houses specialized police and a temporary shelter, and provides psychological and other support. For the first time after reporting violence to the police, she saw the police actually respond and look for her abuser. She also obtained a protection order, which forbids the abuser from approaching her. And she stayed for two days at the temporary shelter, where I met her.

“This house is very important,” she said. “It´s a place of hope. I can leave the violence behind.”

There are five similar houses in the country, including one in São Paulo that Minister Alves opened on November 11. But the Bolsonaro administration has spent zero reais of the almost 13 million (US$3 million) allocated by Congress to build additional houses in 2019, according to the data obtained by Human Rights Watch.

The publicity campaign Minister Alves opened on November 25 promotes the slogan, “If a woman loses her voice, they all lose.” It should say “we all lose.” And publicity campaigns are of little help if the government does not invest in the services and policies that women desperately need.

 

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

We write in advance of the 75th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women relating to Pakistan’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

  1. Girl’s Education (Article 10)

The Pakistan government is failing to educate a huge proportion of the country’s girls. Many girls simply have no access to education, including because of a shortage of government schools – especially for girls. According to United Nations statistics, thirty-two percent of primary school age girls are out of school in Pakistan, compared with 21 percent of boys.[1]

Human Rights Watch documented barriers to education for girls in all four of Pakistan’s provinces.[2] Among the factors keeping girls out of school are the government’s under-investment in schools, lack of schools, prohibitive school fees and related costs, corporal punishment, and a failure to enforce compulsory education. Further issues include the poor quality of education in both government and low-cost private schools, a lack of government regulation of private schools, and corruption. In addition to these factors within the education system, girls are also blocked from attending school by external factors including child labor, gender discrimination, child marriage, sexual harassment, insecurity, and attacks on students, teachers, and schools.

Pakistan’s government has over many years invested far less in education than is recommended by international standards. In 2017, Pakistan was spending less than 2.8 percent of its gross domestic product on education–far below the 4 to 6 percent recommended by UNESCO - leaving the government’s education system severely under-funded.[3] Government schools are in such short supply that even in major cities, many children cannot reach a school on foot safely in a reasonable amount of time. The situation is far worse in rural areas. And there are many more schools for boys than for girls.

The situation worsens as children, especially girls, get older. Secondary schools are in shorter supply than primary schools, and colleges have even less capacity, especially for girls. Many girls who complete the top level at one school cannot attend a school where they could go on to the next level. In the absence of an adequate system of government schools, there has been a massive growth in the number of private schools, many of them low-cost. But poor families often cannot afford any tuition fees and the government’s near-total failure to regulate and monitor these schools means that many are of poor quality.[4]

We propose that the Committee pose the following questions:

  • Does the government have plans to improve the number and quality of schools, particularly for girls?
  • What plans does the government have to address the obstacles for girls’ participation in education?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Adopt measures to increase the number and quality of schools, especially for girls.  
  • Develop and implement a time-bound plan to achieve full gender parity on educational participation, from pre-primary through higher education.
  1. Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (Article 10)

Human Rights Watch has documented a significant number of attacks on students, teachers, and schools, and the use of schools for military purposes, such as for barracks or bases. Attacks have often been directed at female students and their teachers and schools, blocking girls’ access to education.

Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools

According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, between 2013 and 2017, armed non-state groups and unknown parties reportedly attacked hundreds of schools, across every province, typically using explosive devices, killing several hundred students and teachers, and damaging and destroying infrastructure.[5] One-third of these attacks targeted girls and women and were “aimed at repressing or stopping the learning or teaching of girls and women.”[6]

The most lethal attack on education in recent years in Pakistan was the December 16, 2014 attack by armed militants on the Army Public School in Peshawar city, killing 145 people, nearly all of them children.[7]

In 2017 and 2018, just under half of all attacks on schools in Pakistan were committed against girls' schools.[8] For example, the United Nations  verified 42 attacks on educational facilities and students in 2017 and 2018, 18 of which targeted girl’s education.[9] In some cases, girls' schools received written or verbal threats or were attacked with improvised explosive devices or grenades. For example, on May 7 and 9, 2019, bombs reportedly planted by an armed group damaged two girls' middle schools in North Waziristan.[10] During the same time period, middle schools and tribal leaders in the area allegedly received pamphlets demanding authorities shut down girls’ schools in the area.[11] In addition, the UN reported that in August 2018, 14 girls’ schools were destroyed in a single day in Chilas, Gilgit-Baltistan.[12]

Impunity Following Attacks

Despite hundreds of attacks on teachers, students and educational institutions, the Pakistani government has rarely successfully prosecuted those responsible. This failure was highlighted in June 2015, when it was reported that eight out of the ten individuals arrested and charged for the attack on Malala Yousafzai were acquitted, even after they all confessed to their role in court.

Instead of conducting proper investigations and prosecuting those implicated, the Pakistani government constituted secret military courts after the 2014 Army Public School attack. Although there have been a number of convictions, the families of victims do not know if the actual perpetrators were punished since the trials were conducted in secret. Some of those convicted were executed.

In December 2015, four people found guilty by a military court of providing funds, transportation and other assistance to the Army Public School attackers were executed at a prison in Kohat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In December 2016, the army chief ratified the death sentences of four individuals found guilty by a military court of planning the attack on Bacha Khan University. The military also ratified the death sentence of another individual found guilty by a military court of being involved in attacks on security officials and “the destruction of an education institution” in December 2016, but the government did not provide more details about the educational institution that was allegedly destroyed.[13]

In 2013, this Committee recommended that at the national and provincial levels, coordinated and consistent measures be taken to ensure that perpetrators of violent attacks and threats against female students, teachers, and professors by various non-state actors, as well as the escalating number of attacks on educational institutions “are promptly investigated, prosecuted and punished,” and to “consider the establishment of a rapid response system whenever there are attacks on educational institutions, in order to promptly repair and rebuild them and replace educational materials so that women and girls can be reintegrated into schools/universities as soon as possible.”[14]

Military Use of Schools and Colleges, in Pakistan and Abroad

The Pakistan military offensive in 2009 forced the Taliban out of the Swat Valley, vacating many schools that the militants had used as bases, but the army then occupied many of these schools instead. Although most schools have now been vacated, the military was still using about 20 schools in Swat as of December 2016, when Human Rights Watch was last able to verify.[15]

An undergraduate college for women in the Swat town of Khwazakhela had been under army occupation since 2009. This college is one of the four undergraduate degree colleges in Swat. The space was being used as offices for senior military officials and the college building was heavily fortified. An alternate space had been allotted for the college and classes were continuing. However, a very high number of girls had dropped out because the new space was not as accessible. This was the situation until at least March 2017, when Human Rights Watch was last able to verify.[16]

In June 2017, Kamran Michael, Pakistan’s then-minister for human rights, conceded to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights during its review of Pakistan, that the Pakistani army had used schools as barracks.

Pakistani security forces use of schools for military purposes is not limited to incidents within Pakistan. In January 2017, Human Rights Watch found a school in the town of Mouruba, Ouaka province, Central African Republic, being used as base by Pakistani peacekeepers who were part of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). The town’s residents had fled in December 2016, when a militia group took control of the town. One parent said: “When we came back the Pakistanis were in the school. They arrived sometime this month. We would like to restart the school, but now the Pakistanis are there and we would rather have MINUSCA in the town to protect us.” A 16-year-old boy told Human Rights Watch, “I hope that peace returns so the Pakistanis leave the school and we can reopen it. … I would like to be an intellectual. Without school I will have no future, so it is important to me.”[17]

This use of the school by the Pakistani peacekeepers was contrary to both a directive from the peacekeeping mission and regulations of the UN Department of Peacekeeping’s Infantry Battalion Manual.[18] Human Rights Watch informed MINUSCA authorities of the occupied schools in Mourouba and it was subsequently vacated. Pakistan has not endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental international commitment to protect education in armed conflict. As of December 2019, 101 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. The declaration includes a pledge to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Pakistan to “take measures to protect schools, in particular secular and girls’ schools, and prevent possible attacks, including those targeted at teachers, and the occupation of schools by armed groups.”[19] In 2017, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights urged Pakistan to “immediately and completely ban the use of schools by military forces,” and invited Pakistan “to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and commit to using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.”[20]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • Are protections for schools from military use included in any policies, rules, or trainings for Pakistan’s armed forces?
  • How many schools were either partially or wholly used for military purposes by government security forces during the reporting period, and for what time? How many of those were girls’ or coeducational schools?
  • What measures has the government taken in response to recommendations to respond to attacks on schools and prevent the military use of schools made by this committee in 2013, by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016, and by the Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights in 2017?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, thereby committing to take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools by armed forces and armed groups, and to use as a minimum standard the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.
  • Develop a comprehensive policy for protecting students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack and military use, and this policy should include specific attention to the threats facing education for girls and women. Engage all concerned ministry staff at the central and local levels in implementing this strategy. Include short-term measures for prevention and response, as well as adopting conflict-sensitive education policies and programs to reduce the risk of future conflict.
  • Address and remedy the disproportionate harm to girls’ access to education as a result of hostilities and military use of schools. Adopt measures to assist girls who have been denied or risk losing access to education.
  • Issue clear, public orders to the security forces, including the military, police, and paramilitary forces, to curtail the military use of schools.
  • Immediately vacate all education institutions and hostels being partially used for military purposes whether in or outside conflict zones and restore such buildings to their intended users.
  • Immediately vacate all education institutions and hostels being completely occupied where feasible alternatives exist, and where they do not, urgently take steps to identify or create feasible alternatives.
  • Ensure that students deprived of educational facilities as a result of hostilities, the military use of their school, or the need for their school to be repaired or reconstructed, are promptly provided access to nearby alternative schools.
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute those individuals responsible for attacks on schools or damaging schools in violation of international law.
  • Ensure that troops deployed on UN peacekeeping missions are trained on the requirement that “schools shall not be used by the military in their operations,” and ensure that such troops are provided the necessary logistical support to accomplish their mission without using schools.
  1. Child Marriage (Article 16)

In Pakistan, 21 percent of girls are married by the age of 18, and 3 percent before 15.[21] Child marriage tends to occur in the country’s most marginalized and vulnerable communities and has devastating consequences. Girls who marry are more likely to drop out of school than other girls, they face greater pregnancy-related health risks than women, and their babies are more likely to have health problems. Married girls are more likely to face domestic violence than woman who marry later.

The current law sets the legal age of marriage at 16 for girls and 18 for boys, which violates Pakistan’s obligations under international law by permitting marriage too early, and also by setting different marriage ages for girls and boys.[22]

In May 2019, the National Assembly of Pakistan opposed a bill that would set the minimum age for marriage at 18.[23]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps is the government taking to comply with the target of ending all child marriage before age 18 by 2030, as per Sustainable Development Goal target 5.3?
  • Is the government taking steps to reform the law to ban child marriage, in accordance with international law?  

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Raise the national minimum age of marriage to 18 with no exceptions and develop and implement a national action plan to end child marriage.
  1. Impunity for So-called “Honor Killings” and Violence (Article 2)

Violence against women and so-called “honor killings” are common in Pakistan, while convictions of those responsible are rare. Women are murdered, often by family members, and a loophole in the law allows the legal heirs of the victim to pardon those responsible.

Following the high-profile case in 2016 in which a well-known woman, Qandeel Baloch, was murdered by her brother in an “honor killing,” there was a widespread outcry in Pakistan. This led to legislative action and the promise of prompt prosecution. Parliament passed a law imposing harsher punishments for “honor killings” and partially eliminated the pardon loophole.

However, “honor killings” and pressure to pardon perpetrators seem to have continued unabated. There are no credible official figures on the number of “honor killings” because they often go unreported or are passed off as suicides or natural deaths by family members; yet there are an estimated 1,000 “honor killings” every year.[24]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Ensure prosecution of all murder and other violence attributed to “honor.”
  • Further reform the law to completely eliminate the loophole that allows the perpetrator to be pardoned by the victim’s family.
  • Increase access to emergency shelter and other services for women and girls at risk of violence from their family.
  1. Trafficking of “Brides” (Articles 15 and 16)

Reports beginning in 2019 document the trafficking of women and girls from Pakistan to China for sale as “brides.” This follows similar developments in other countries in Asia where Human Rights Watch has done extensive research on this topic.[25]

In China, the percentage of women has fallen steadily since 1987. Researchers estimate that China now has 30 to 40 million “missing women,” an imbalance caused by a preference for boys and exacerbated by the “one-child policy” in place from 1979 to 2015, and ongoing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. This gender gap has made it difficult for many Chinese men to find wives and fueled a demand for trafficked women from abroad.[26]

The Pakistan government has acknowledged that bride trafficking is occurring and pledged to work with China to combat the trade.[27] In spite of these promises there is evidence that the trade continues and that many hundreds of women and girls are affected.[28]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to prevent the trafficking of women and girls, recovering victims of trafficking, and assisting survivors?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Investigate all allegations of human trafficking and prosecute all perpetrators including brokers, traffickers, and buyers.
  • Urge the Chinese government to do more to recover Pakistani trafficking victims in China and investigate and prosecute perpetrators in China including brokers, traffickers, and buyers.
  • Raise awareness in vulnerable communities regarding the risk of trafficking.
  • Provide comprehensive services to trafficking survivors including medical, legal, psychosocial, and livelihoods assistance and shelter.
  1. Sexual Violence against Women Perpetrated by Police (Article 2)

There have been numerous recent incidents in which Pakistani police have been accused of committing sexual violence against women.

In September 2018, a police official was charged with raping a 6-year-old girl in Dera Ghazi Khan district, Punjab province.[29] In April 2019, an assistant sub-inspector of police was charged with raping a woman in Bahawalpur district, Punjab.[30] In May 2019, a 22-year-old woman in Rawalpindi district, Punjab, reported to police that four men had abducted her at gunpoint and raped her, alleging that three of the four assailants were police officers. The authorities have since arrested all four suspects and suspended three police officers as criminal investigations proceed.[31]

Sexual assault victims often fear pressing charges, concerned that they and their families may be subjected to harassment and intimidation by the police, due to harmful gender attitudes and pressure from perpetrators. Without proper witness protection, survivors can be intimidated into silence. These barriers reflect deeply entrenched gender inequality in society, including in state institutions like the police and judiciary.

Pakistan faces grave security challenges that require a rights-respecting, accountable police force able to protect the entire population. When police become perpetrators of sexual violence, the credibility of all police are damaged and victims are even less likely to seek their help.[32]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Ensure that police officers responsible for crimes are appropriately held to account including through prosecution.
  • Enact reforms to increase the recruitment, retention, and promotion of female police officers.
  • Provide comprehensive services for survivors of sexual violence including medical, legal, and psychosocial assistance.
 

[1] United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), “State of the World’s Children data,” December 2017.

[2] Human Rights Watch, “‘Shall I Feed My Daughter, or Educate Her’: Barriers to Girls’ Education in Pakistan,”

November 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/11/12/shall-i-feed-my-daughter-or-educate-her/barriers-girls-education-pakistan.

[3] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) et al., “Education 2030: Framework for Action,” December 2015, art. 105. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002456/245656e.pdf (accessed September 12, 2018).

[4] Human Rights Watch, “‘Shall I Feed My Daughter, or Educate Her’: Barriers to Girls’ Education in Pakistan.”

[5] GCPEA, “Education Under Attack 2018,” May 2018, http://eua2018.protectingeducation.org/, p. 33.

[6] Ibid., p. 49.

[7] Declan Walsh, “Taliban Besiege Pakistan School, Leaving 145 Dead,” New York Times, December 16, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/world/asia/taliban-attack-pakistani-school.html

[8] Information provided by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2019.

[9] UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict,” S/2019/509, July 30, 2019, para. 219.

[10] Pazir Gul, "Two girls’ schools hit by bomb explosions in North Waziristan," Dawn, May 10, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1406747/two-girls-schools-hit-by-bomb-explosio... (accessed June 27, 2018)

[11] Saroop Ijaz, “Rise in Militant Attacks on Schools in Pakistan Recent Violence Shows Grave Risks Pakistani Schoolgirls Face,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, May 14, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/14/rise-militant-attacks-schools-pakistan.

[12] United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, "Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General," A/72/865–S/2018/465, May 16, 2018, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2018/465&Lang=E&Area=U... (accessed January 9, 2019), para. 238.

[13] Human Rights Watch, “Dreams Turned into Nightmares: Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Pakistan,” March 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/03/27/dreams-turned-nightmares/attacks-students-teachers-and-schools-pakistan

[14] Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Pakistan, adopted by the Committee at its fifty-fourth session, CEDAW/C/PAK/CO/4, March 27, 2013.

[15] Human Rights Watch, Pakistan - “Dreams Turned into Nightmares.”

[16] Ibid.

[17] Human Rights Watch, “No Class: When Armed Groups Use Schools in the Central African Republic,” 2017.

[18] “MINUSCA directive on the protection of schools and universities against military use,” Inter-Office Memorandum, December 24, 2015; Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support, The United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual, 2012, sec. 2.13 (“schools shall not be used by the military in their operations”).

[19] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report

of Pakistan” CRC/C/PAK/CO/5, July 11, 2016, para 61(g).

[20] Concluding observations on the initial report of Pakistan, E/C.12/PAK/CO/1, June 23, 2017, paras. 79-80.

[21] United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage,” 2012.

[22] Saroop Ijaz, “Time to End Child Marriage in Pakistan: Proposed Bill an Important Opportunity to Protect Children,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, November 9, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/09/time-end-child-marriage-pakistan.

[23] “Pakistani parliamentarians again oppose the child marriage prohibition bill,” Gulf News, May 1, 2019.

[24] Saroop Ijaz, “Pakistan Should Not Again Fail ‘Honor Killing’ Victim: End Impunity of Family Murders of Women,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, August 22, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/23/pakistan-should-not-again-fail-honor-killing-victim.

[25] Human Rights Watch, “‘Give Us a Baby and We’ll Let You Go’: Trafficking of Kachin ‘Brides’ from Myanmar to China,” 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/03/21/give-us-baby-and-well-let-you-go/trafficking-kachin-brides-myanmar-china.

[26] Sophie Richardson, “Pakistan Should Heed Alarm Bells Over ‘Bride’ Trafficking,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, April 26, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/26/pakistan-should-heed-alarm-bells-over-bride-trafficking.

[27] “Chinese men lure Pakistani girls with marriage to traffic them,” Siasat, April 18, 2019.

[28] “AP Exclusive: 629 Pakistani girls sold as brides to China,” AP, December 7, 2019.

[29] “Policeman 'rapes' 6-year-old girl in DG Khan,” Daily Pakistan, September 4, 2018.

[30] “ASI booked for raping woman in Bahawalpur,” Dawn, April 15, 2019.

[31] “3 policemen among four arrested in Rawalpindi rape case,” Dawn, May 18, 2019.

[32] Saroop Ijaz, “Rape Allegations Against Pakistan’s Police: Prosecute Officers Implicated, Enact Wider Reforms,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, May 23, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/23/rape-allegations-against-pakistans-police.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In 2020 you should be watching out for…  workplace changes that pick up the baton of the #MeToo movement.

It’s been over two years since the #MeToo movement erupted, exposing—amid shared stories of abuse from women of all ages, nationalities, and social and economic backgrounds—endemic workplace harassment and abuse. It also revealed the systemic failure to stop it.

For 2020 and beyond, we have a new standard to which we can hold governments and employers around the world accountable for sexual harassment and violence against workers. Fueled by the outpouring of experiences that women articulated in the wake of #MeToo, a new treaty has huge positive potential, not just for women in the workplace, but for all workers.

The 2019 International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Violence and Harassment at Work—which 439 out of 476 governments, employers, and workers from around the world voted to adopt in June at the United Nations in Geneva—sets out key measures to tackle the scourge of harassment at work. These include the adoption of national laws prohibiting workplace violence and taking preventive measures, as well as requiring employers to have workplace policies on violence. The treaty also obligates governments to provide access to remedies through complaint mechanisms, victim services, and to provide measures to protect victims and whistleblowers from retaliation.

The ratification process is just beginning, with at least 10 countries signaling willingness to ratify the new treaty, including Argentina, Belgium, France, Iceland, Ireland, Namibia, Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, and Uruguay. With public support and pressure, more are expected to follow suit. We can also expect countries to undertake national reforms even where they do not ratify the treaty.

Workplace sexual harassment isn’t inevitable. It flourishes when governments and employers fail to prevent it, protect survivors, and punish abusers. A 2018 World Bank report found that 59 out of 189 economies—including Guatemala, Iran, and Japan—had no specific legal provisions prohibiting sexual harassment in employment. And the ILO has found that existing laws often exclude those workers most exposed to violence, such as domestic workers, farmworkers, and those in precarious employment. For instance, I have interviewed hundreds of migrant domestic workers in the Middle East, many of whom described being beaten or sexually harassed and assaulted by their employers. They are more at risk of such violence because they are usually excluded from labor laws, and their visas are tied to their employers whom they cannot leave or change jobs without their permission. 

So, what do we hope to change as a result?

New national legislation, reforms to existing laws, and increased commitment to implementation.

States should ban violence and harassment, including gender-based violence, at work in their laws and policies. They can mount prevention campaigns, conduct inspections and investigations, and provide ways for victims to make complaints and get remedies, including compensation. They should also protect whistleblowers and victims from retaliation.

Crucially, states should also ensure that employers have workplace policies addressing violence and harassment, with risk assessments, prevention measures and training.

Added momentum to public debates around the issue through information campaigns and examples of successful investigations and remedies.

Having good examples of how to fight workplace violence can have a ripple effect. Governments can work with employers and worker organizations to develop information campaigns that can reach the public most widely, as well as specific campaigns to highlight how violence and harassment will not be tolerated, how it can be reported, and what will be done about it. Effective and accessible complaints procedures, successful investigations by employers or authorities, as well as sanctions against the abuser or their employer, and remedies for victims will encourage more women to come forward and help deter abuse.

For instance, while clothing brands or factories often bring in social auditors to examine factory working conditions, social audits primarily rely on in-factory interviews with workers who may fear retaliation, often leaving them ineffective for detecting workplace sexual harassment. In contrast, women workers who speak outside factory premises feel less anxious about retaliation. The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an international labor rights group, found evidence of sexual harassment in three factories in Lesotho after conducting off-site interviews with workers. All three factories had been using routine social audits by third parties.

Following this, the factory management signed legally binding agreements with the unions and three brands, committing to implement a program designed by factory unions and two prominent local women’s rights organizations. It includes creating an independent investigation body to look into complaints of sexual harassment, anti-retaliation protections, and provides that factories’ policies against gender-based violence and harassment also apply to its suppliers and third-party contractors.

Attention to the most invisible—and most precarious—sectors who are out of the media spotlight, but who face the most pervasive workplace abuses.

Workplace violence is not limited to paid workers. Protections against violence should also include people who are often at greater risk: volunteers, interns, job applicants, and job seekers. Dangling the possibility of a job in return for sex to someone looking for a job is known as quid pro quo; many women have highlighted how often this happens. Companies should investigate and sanction such behavior. In December 2019, activists in Japan called on the government, companies, and universities to stamp out sexual harassment of job-hunting students.

Global trade unions, motivated by the adoption of this new treaty, are planning national campaigns to support ratification. These campaigns will highlight the abuses faced in numerous sectors that have been out of the spotlight. For instance, the market traders organizing themselves in Uganda’s capital Kampala to stop harassment, and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) launched a global campaign in May 2018 to press the world’s largest hotel company, Marriott, to sign a global framework agreement to protect its workers from sexual harassment across all Marriott hotels globally. Coming off protests at Marriott hotels worldwide including an event at the International Labour Conference, Marriott did not heed calls to negotiate such a global accord but instead announced in September 2018 that it would continue to roll out alert devices, commonly known as “panic buttons,” for their workers across North America in 2020.

In contrast, in January of 2019 the IUF successfully negotiated the first global agreement on sexual harassment in the hotel sector with the Spanish multi-national hotel chain Meliá, and in September 2019, the IUF successfully negotiated an agreement with the French multi-national hotel chain AccorInvest on measures to combat sexual harassment at work, including disseminating detailed information relating to the zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.

States should also identify sectors of work and work arrangements that leave workers more vulnerable to violence and harassment. Domestic workers, garment workers—most of them women—and those in precarious employment, like short-term contracts and the increasing gig-economy, can easily become prey to abuse. An employer can put in place complaint mechanisms but making a complaint should not mean the end of their job or career. Tackling these structural issues so that all such workers are protected will be important.

Recognition that harassment by or against third parties and workers is a workplace safety issue too.

Governments and employers should also address third parties who harass or are harassed. They are the patients that abuse or face abuse by medical staff; the customers and the service staff; the teachers and their students. According to a 2018 survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers body (NASUWT) in the UK, one in five of their members said they had been sexually harassed at school by a colleague, manager, parent or pupil since becoming a teacher. Safety at work is not just threatened by colleagues or managers, but by the people with whom we interact with for the purpose of work.

#MeToo helped expose the endemic abuses that women face in the workplace. 2020 should see the start of the structural reforms needed to end violence and harassment at work for them, and all workers, on a global scale.

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

In the often impenetrable world of fashion, transparency is finally en vogue. Over the past three years, clothing and footwear brands are finally lifting the veil on which factories make their products. Sustainability-minded holiday shoppers can now see which brands are taking this important step toward protecting the rights and lives of garment workers and which are holding out.

This trend hasn’t come soon enough for workers and their advocates. In late 2013, I spent weeks interviewing garment workers in Cambodia facing forced overtime, harassment, retaliation against union organizers and other abuses. Among other things, I returned home determined to increase transparency in the garment industry. I knew that as long as companies continued to hide the names, addresses and other information about the factories that make their branded products, worker safety would be at risk.

Transparency about factory information helps workers. It makes it easier for workers and their advocates to determine which brands are responsible for helping them when labor abuses remain unresolved, or more important, how to prevent such abuses.

When fashion brands and retailers don’t publicly share names and street addresses of their supplier factories, it impedes the ability of workers to fight back against labor abuses. I’ve heard the painful stories of pregnant workers who said factory managers unjustly fired them for being “unproductive” and forcing workers to work long hours, threatening that they would be fired if they refused. It was impossible for them to figure out which brand to alert, because finding information proved elusive. In the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted across Asia, many garment workers recounted harrowing experiences like these.

Corporate recognition for transparency has been slow. Back in 2005, Nike responded to pressure from U.S. university students’ campaigns and published its factories list. Adidas, Levi Strauss and Patagonia joined soon thereafter. About a decade later, only about 20 more companies were on board.

Meanwhile, multiple disasters struck the garment industry. In an eight-month span between 2012 and 2013, garment factories in Pakistan and Bangladesh burned down. The Rana Plaza building housing six garment factories collapsed in Bangladesh. About 1,500 workers died in these tragedies and hundreds more were injured.

Activists described rummaging through the rubble to painstakingly piece together information about whose products were made there, since such identifying information hadn’t been made publicly available. Without these desperate efforts, it would have been impossible to create compensation funds for families of workers who died and those who survived, or to push forward new oversight on fire and building safety in Bangladesh.

Transparency isn’t a panacea. A brand’s transparency about its sources doesn’t miraculously make the factory safer or ensure that workers earn a living wage. But it’s a step toward accountability and an important building block for decent working conditions.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch formed a coalition with eight other organizations and global unions to make supply chain transparency a norm in the industry. We developed a standard called the “Transparency Pledge.”

Over the last three years, the industry response has been huge thanks to consumer demand for accountability. In 2017, 17 companies committed to align with the Transparency Pledge. In 2019, the number more than doubled. Numerous other companies have published their supplier factory information after hearing from our coalition. Most recently, Amazon began its long-overdue journey toward transparency by disclosing information about factories for its branded products.

The progress is encouraging, but thousands of brands and retailers still hide this vital sourcing data from the public. Meanwhile, working conditions remain dangerous for garment workers across many parts of the world. In the case of factory disasters and other labor abuses, brands that are not transparent can quietly avoid responsibility if their labels are not traced.

Consumers have helped us usher in this new trend toward transparency, and this holiday season, they can help us with the unfinished work starting by checking the status of their favorite brands. We’re confident that shoppers will show companies that claim to care about workers without walking the walk that accountability isn’t a fad.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the 75th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women relating to Afghanistan’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In its third periodic report to CEDAW (24 January 2019, CEDAW/C/AFG/3), the State party provides information on progress made in terms of increasing the contribution of women in the peace process in a meaningful manner, investigating and prosecuting all cases of violence against women under the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law (EVAW), increasing the number of girls enrolled in school, instating beneficial and sustainable health practices, modernizing its Penal Code and developing a Family Law that sets the minimum age of marriage for male and female at 18 years old. Although some progress has been made since the Committee’s last review of Afghanistan, several obstacles remain to the realization of the rights of women and girls guaranteed under CEDAW. This submission will focus on obstacles affecting women’s participation in peace negotiations, elimination of violence against women, ensuring access to education for girls and protection of education in armed conflict, ending the harmful practice of “virginity exams” and the prosecution of “moral crimes”.

  1. Women’s Participation in the Peace Process (articles 7 and 8)

In September 2019, US-Taliban talks broke down, but they have since restarted. Given deep divisions in Afghan society particularly along ethnic lines, it cannot be assumed that a US withdrawal without a larger political settlement among Afghans will lead to peace. In addition, many Afghan women justifiably fear that a peace agreement may not mean peace for them—especially because of the struggle they have faced to be included in the discussion.

Under Taliban rule, Afghan women and girls suffered shocking rights violations, including denial of education and freedom of movement. Today, the armed group’s views on women have moderated slightly but remain highly repressive. For example, the Taliban now call for “education for all” but in areas currently under their control they generally prevent girls from studying beyond puberty.

Afghan women’s rights activists have long feared their rights could be a bargaining chip–and one easily surrendered–in peace negotiations with the Taliban. They have fought for years for a place at the table as negotiators–and been almost entirely rebuffed. And with the Afghan government and other Afghan opposition politicians so far excluded from US-Taliban talks, women’s participation has not advanced.

US-Taliban negotiations have focused on US troop withdrawal, and whether the Taliban will pledge not to provide a base for international terrorism, with little public discussion of any other aspects of a political settlement, including women’s rights. A US-Taliban deal is meant to be followed by an “intra-Afghan dialogue” where other issues would be discussed including, presumably, women’s rights. After years of pressure from—and exclusion of—women’s rights activists, the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani in November 2018 for the first time named women to the government’s delegation to peace negotiations. But it remains unclear what role, if any, that delegation would have in the “intra-Afghan dialogue,” and whether that dialogue would include other Afghan women leaders. Uncertainty over the results of the 2019 presidential elections has cast the future of those talks in further doubt.  

As the process moves forward, the Afghan government should be a strong defender of women’s rights to be full participants in the peace process and ensure that any peace deal fully protects women’s rights under international human rights law and the Afghan constitution.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • How is the Afghan government preparing to defend women’s rights in the context of peace negotiations?
  • What level of women’s participation is planned for the Afghan government’s delegation for the intra-Afghan dialogue and how will those women be chosen?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • The Afghan government’s delegation to the intra-Afghan dialogue and all other peace discussions and negotiations should ensure women’s equal participation.
  • The Afghan government should make protecting and improving on all aspects of the status of women’s rights the highest priority in negotiations.
  1. Failure to Enforce the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (article 15)

An estimated 87 percent of Afghan women experience abuse in their lifetimes.0F[1] In 2009, then-President Hamid Karzai signed legislation that dramatically expanded the list of abuses against women that constitute criminal offenses, and set tough new punishments. The Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), made assaulting a woman punishable by three to five years in prison. It made child marriage a crime for the first time, making those responsible for such marriages subject to two to five years’ imprisonment. But the government has not taken meaningful steps to enforce the law.1F[2] Research by the UN found that very few reported cases of violence against women were prosecuted. The vast majority of cases either resulted in no action or were resolved through mediation, sometimes without the victim’s consent and often offering her no meaningful relief.2F[3] The negative experiences women have in the justice system deter many other women and girls from reporting violence.

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Ensure that the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women is meaningfully enforced to protect women from abuse and violence, including disciplining police, prosecutors and judges who fail to protect women and girls.
  • Track all reported cases of violence against women, including the disposition, means of resolving them, and outcomes, and publish this data annually, disaggregated by province and district.
  1. Girl’s Access to Education (article 10)

Afghan government and international donor efforts since 2001 to educate girls have significantly faltered in recent years. An estimated two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school.3F[4] As security in the country worsens and international donors disengage from Afghanistan, progress made toward getting girls into school has stalled.

Girls’ education is often highlighted as a success story by donors and the Afghan government, and millions more girls are in school today than were in school under Taliban rule. But the stated aim of getting all girls into school is far from realized, and the proportion of students who are girls is now falling in parts of the country. Around 3.5 million children are out of school, 85 percent of whom are girls. Only 37 percent of adolescent girls are literate, compared to 66 percent of adolescent boys.4F[5]

Afghanistan’s government provides many fewer schools for girls than boys at both the primary and secondary levels. In half the country’s provinces, fewer than 20 percent of teachers are female–a major barrier for girls whose families will not allow them to be taught by a man, especially as adolescents.5F[6] Many children live too far from a school to attend, which particularly affects girls. About 41 percent of schools have no physical buildings, and many lack boundary walls, water, and toilets – disproportionately affecting girls.6F[7]

Under Afghan law, education is compulsory through class nine, though in reality many children have no access to education to this level – or sometimes, to any level. Administrative barriers and corruption create additional obstacles, especially for displaced and poor families. Even when tuition is free, there are costs for sending children to school and many families cannot afford to send their children or choose under financial constraints to favor educating sons.7F[8] About a quarter of Afghan children work to help their families survive desperate poverty. Many girls weave, embroider, beg, or pick garbage rather than study.8F[9]

Donors have worked with the Afghan government to develop innovative models to allow girls to study during conflict, including “community-based education,” a network of classes, often held in homes, that allow children, particularly girls, to access education in communities far from a government school. But because these classes are funded solely by donors and implemented by nongovernmental organizations, they have no consistent connection with the government school system and come and go due to unreliable funding cycles.

According to UNESCO, governments should spend at least 15 to 20 percent of its total national budget, and 4 to 6 percent of GDP, on education. Least developed countries should reach or exceed the higher of these benchmarks. In 2016, Afghanistan spent 13 percent of its public expenditure, and 4 percent of GDP, on education.9F[10]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What progress is the government making on correcting the imbalance between the number of schools for girls versus for boys?
  • What progress is the government making on recruiting and retaining more female teachers?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the government of Afghanistan:

  • Increase girls’ access to education by institutionalizing and expanding education models that help girls study; and take concrete steps to meet the government’s international obligation to provide universal free and compulsory primary education and help make secondary education free and available to all.
  • Provide an equal number of schools and school places for girls and boys and ensure that conditions in these schools are equal in terms of adequacy of facilities, staffing, and supplies.
  • Ensure that all girls’ schools are staffed by female teachers.
  • Increase spending on education to meet international best practices.
  1. Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 10)

School districts across Afghanistan find themselves on the front lines of the country’s armed conflict. In areas under Taliban control, girls’ schooling is limited to only a few years, or they are banned from education altogether. In areas where the government and insurgents are fighting for control, girls seeking education face heightened security threats including sexual harassment, kidnapping, and acid attacks, as well as targeted attacks and threats against girls’ education.

Afghan armed forces and the Taliban also use schools for military purposes. In 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the military use of several schools in Baghlan.10F[11]

When the Taliban first reappeared in the Postak Bazaar area in Dand-e Ghori in 2009, they took over the second story of Ghulam Jelani Jalali Middle School as a military base. The Taliban burned all the textbooks and teaching materials at the school that did not conform to their stringent Islamist doctrine. Government forces counterattacked while the school was in session, causing the students to flee in a panic; one student suffered shrapnel injuries. The Afghan Local Police (ALP) then deployed on the school’s second floor. Nonetheless, the school tried to function, moving some of the older girls to a different building, as many families had refused to send their girls to school because of the regular gunfire from ALP militia members. The Taliban had previously objected to male and female students and teachers studying together, which also played a part in the decision to relocate the female students.

In February 2016, the Afghan army conducted a clearance operation near the Qalai Khwaja High School in Dand-e Ghori. During the operation, the military carried out a controlled detonation of an improvised explosive device that the retreating Taliban had placed near the school, and the explosion rendered six of the classrooms unusable. An army contingent remained stationed in the school following the clearance operation until March when the Taliban recaptured the area.

In April 2016, the Khial Jan Shahid Primary School, located in Omarkhail village in Dand-e Shahabuddin, which enrolled about 350 boys and girls as of April 2016, was occupied by the Taliban. They used the school as a base for about five months. During a military operation in early 2016, government forces attacked Taliban fighters based at the primary school, shelling the building with mortars and raking it with gunfire. The military forced the Taliban fighters to abandon the school, but the intense battle left the school compound almost completely destroyed.11F[12]

Attacks on schools continue. Between January and June 2019, UNAMA documented 25 incidents impacting education. Sixteen incidents were attributed to Taliban, including six incidents of attacks by the Taliban targeting girls’ schools in Farah province. For instance, on April 14, Taliban detonated explosives that caused substantial damage to a high school, hampering education for about 1,000 students.12F[13]

Afghanistan was among the first countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, joining in May 2015. By endorsing the declaration, Afghanistan committed itself to a number of measures aimed at strengthening the prevention of, and response to, attacks on students, teachers, and schools, including by: collecting reliable data on attacks and military use of schools and universities, providing assistance to victims of attacks, investigating allegations of violations of national and international law and prosecuting perpetrators when appropriate, developing and promoting “conflict sensitive” approaches to education, and seeking to continue education during armed conflict. The have also committed to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

In April 2016, the education minister wrote to both the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the National Security Council requesting assistance in vacating schools being used for military purposes.13F[14] In 2018, the Afghan government stated that their “National Policy on Prevention and Mitigation of Civilian Harm,” provides specific guidelines to be undertaken by security forces that “strictly prohibits … the utilization of civilian facilities, including schools, hospitals, and clinics, for military purposes.”14F[15]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • Can the government share with the Committee a copy of the provisions in the National Policy on Prevention and Mitigation of Civilian Harm strictly prohibiting the use of schools for military purposes?
  • Are protections for schools from military use included in any other policies, rules, or trainings for Afghanistan’s armed forces?
  • How many schools were either partially or wholly used for military purposes by government security forces during the reporting period, and for what time?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Congratulate the government of Afghanistan on endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, and thereby committing to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.
  • Address and remedy the disproportionate harm to girls’ access to education as a result of hostilities and military use of schools.
  • Issue clear and public orders to all security forces to refrain from the military use of schools in line with the Safe Schools Declaration and using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict as a minimum standard.
  • Issue clear and public instructions to national and provincial authorities to monitor and report any use of schools by Afghan security forces.
  • Ensure that students deprived of educational facilities as a result of hostilities, the military use of their school, or the need for their school to be repaired or reconstructed, are promptly provided access to nearby alternative schools.
  • The ministries of interior and education should collect data on military use of schools by both Afghan security forces and non-state armed groups. Data should include the names and locations of the school being used; the purpose for which they are being used; the duration of the use; the specific security force unit or armed group making use of the school; the enrollment prior to use and attendance during use; impact on students unable to attend school; actions taken by the authorities to end military use of the school; and the damages sustained during the military use of the school. All data should be disaggregated by gender to capture any disproportionate impact on girls.
  • The ministries of defense and interior should establish and implement preventive measures, including advance planning and the provision of necessary logistics and equipment, through coordination with the security forces and the education ministry to avoid the military use of schools, and to vacate them expeditiously where armed forces are using them.
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute those individuals responsible for attacks on schools or damaging schools in violation of international law.
  • Continue to develop and share examples of its implementation of the declaration’s commitments—including concrete measures to deter the military use of schools—with this Committee and other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.
  1. “Virginity Examinations” (article 12)

In July 2018, a new policy was announced by the Ministry of Public Health that promised to bar government health workers from engaging in the abusive practice of forcing women and girls to undergo invasive and medically meaningless vaginal and anal exams to determine whether they are “virgins.”

“Virginity examinations” are a routine part of criminal proceedings in Afghanistan. When women or girls are accused of “moral crimes” such as sex outside of marriage, police, prosecutors, and judges regularly send them to government doctors who conduct examinations of the genitals that purport to provide information about the individual’s sexual history. The reports from these examinations are treated as fact by courts and used at times to justify long prison sentences under Afghanistan’s harsh law against sex outside of marriage.

These examinations are invasive, scientifically invalid and conducted without meaningful – or sometimes any – consent.  Ending “virginity exams” should be part of broader reform regarding the treatment of women in the justice system.15F[16]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:

  • What steps are being taken to ensure the new policy of barring government health workers from forcing women and girls to undergo invasive and medically meaningless vaginal and anal exams is being fully enforced?
  • What mechanism has the government put in place to facilitate awareness of the new policy, reporting of health workers who violate the policy, and disciplinary action against those health workers?

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • End the harmful practice of “virginity exams” used on women and girls.
  • Decriminalize consensual sex between adults and ensure that the justice system distinguishes between consensual sex and rape.
  1. Child Marriage (article 16)

In Afghanistan a third of girls marry before the age of 18.16F[17] Under Afghan law, the minimum age of marriage for girls is 16, or 15 with the permission of the girl’s father or a judge. In practice, the law is rarely enforced, so even earlier marriages occur. The consequences of child marriage are deeply harmful, and include girls dropping out or being excluded from education. Other harms include serious health risks—including death—to girls and their babies due to early pregnancy. Girls who marry are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence than women who marry later.17F[18]

An education official told Human Rights Watch that the government is developing a pilot education program for girls in three districts in Nangarhar province that has both low girls’ education participation and high rates of child marriage.18F[19] In April 2017, the Afghan government launched a national plan to end child marriage.19F[20] But there has been little progress in implementing the plan. Given the government’s poor track record of implementing laws and policies designed to protect the rights of women and girls, there is reason for scepticism about the likely impact of these efforts.20F[21]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Fully implement the National Action Plan to end child marriage.
  • Strengthen the role of the province-level Child Protection Action Networks (CPANs). Ensure that educators, communities and local government officials work with the local CPAN to protect the most vulnerable children, children at risk of child marriage and provide them with access to child protection services.
  1.  “Moral crimes” (articles 15 and 16)

Human Rights Watch estimated in 2013 that half of all women in prison and about 95 percent of girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan were arrested on “moral crimes” charges.21F[22] These so-called crimes include “running away” from home, and committing or attempting to commit zina, or having sex outside of marriage. In most cases, the women and girls accused of these “crimes” were fleeing child or forced marriage or domestic violence. Women and girls who have been raped are often charged with zina, alongside their rapist.

Zina is a crime under the Afghan Penal Code and is punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison. “Running away” is not a crime under Afghan law, but police and prosecutors often treat it as a crime, sometimes bringing charges as “attempted zina.”22F[23]

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Reform the Penal Code provisions on “moral crimes” to decriminalize all consensual sex between adults.
  • Reform the law to provide a clear and inclusive definition of sexual assault, incorporating rape and marital rape, and defining all non-consensual sex as sexual assault.
  • The government should also adopt clear law regarding the age at which a young person can consent to sex, set tough penalties for an adult who has sex with a child below the age of consent, and ensure that such children are treated as crime victims and not targeted for zina accusations.
  • Abolish “running away” charges as well as “attempted zina” charges.
  • Inform justice officials and the police of new rules on “running away” and rape cases, and ensure full compliance by distributing clear and compulsory guidance on these two issues to all police station and prosecution offices.

[1] CITE NEEDED

[2] Heather Barr, “A Law Ignored and Another Horror in Afghanistan,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, January 20, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/20/dispatches-law-ignored-and-another-horror-afghanistan.

[3] “Justice through the Eyes of Afghan Women: Cases of Violence against Women Addressed through Mediation and Court Adjudication,” UNAMA, April 2015,

https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/old_dnn/UNAMA/UNAMA-OHC....

[4] “Education” UNICEF Afghanistan, accessed December 12, 2019, https://www.unicef.org/afghanistan/education.

[5] United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and European Commission, “Afghanistan Gender Country Profile—final report: short version,” September 21, 2016, p. 9, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[6] “Afghanistan Statistical Yearbook: 2016-2017,” 2017, pp. 106-7.

[7] Ministry of Education, “Education in Afghanistan: At a Glance, From 2001 to 2016 and beyond,” undated, provided to Human Rights Watch in April 2017 by Deputy Minister of General Education Dr. Ibrahim Shinwari, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[8] Human Rights Watch, “I Won’t Be a Doctor, and One Day You’ll Be Sick: Girls’ Access to Education in Afghanistan,” 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/17/i-wont-be-doctor-and-one-day-youll-be-sick/girls-access-education-afghanistan

[9] Government of Afghanistan, Central Statistics Organization, “Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey,” p. 125.

[10] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) et al., “Education 2030: Framework for Action,” December 2015, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002456/245656E.pdf (accessed June 14, 2017), art. 105.

[11] Human Rights Watch, Education on the Front Lines: Military Use of Schools in Afghanistan’s Baghlan Province, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/08/17/education-front-lines/military-use-schools-afghanistans-baghlan-province.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Midyear Update on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 1 January to 30 June 2019,” UNAMA, July 30, 2019, https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/unama_poc_midyear_update_2019_-_30_july_2019_english.pdf

[14] Letter from Minister of Education to Ministry of Interior Affairs, number 311, April 2016 and Letter from Minister of Education to National Security Council, number 194-196, July 2016, both available in Human Rights Watch, Protecting Schools from Military Use: Law, Policy, and Military Doctrine, May 2019.

[15] Statement by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Protection of Civilians Annual Report, February 12, 2018.

[16] Heather Barr, “A Step Towards Ending 'Virginity Exams' in Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, July 10, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/10/step-toward-ending-virginity-exams-afghanistan.

[17] UNICEF, “State of the World’s Children 2016,” https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-marriage/.

[18] Human Rights Watch, “I Won’t Be a Doctor, and One Day You’ll Be Sick.”

[19] Ibid.

[20] Government of Afghanistan and UNFPA, “National Action Plan to End Early and Child Marriage in Afghanistan: 2017–2021,” July 2016, on file with Human Rights Watch, p. 10.

[21] Heather Barr, “Will Afghanistan Follow Through on Promise to End Child Marriage?: Up to One-Third of Afghan Girls Married Before Age 18,” commentary, Human Rights Dispatch, April 20, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/20/will-afghanistan-follow-through-promise-end-child-marriage.

[22] cite

[23] “Afghanistan: End ‘Moral Crimes’ Charges, ‘Virginity’ Tests: President Ghani Should Honor Pledge not to Arrest Women Fleeing Abuse,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 25, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/25/afghanistan-end-moral-crimes-charges-virginity-tests.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Protesters gather to participate in a Women's March highlighting demands for equal rights and equality for women, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

© 2017 AP Photo/John Minchillo

In 2020 you should be watching out for workplace changes that pick up the baton of the #MeToo movement.

It’s been over two years since the #MeToo movement erupted, exposing—amid shared stories of abuse from women of all ages, nationalities, and social and economic backgrounds—endemic workplace harassment and abuse. It also revealed the systemic failure to stop it.

For 2020 and beyond, we have a new standard to which we can hold governments and employers around the world accountable for sexual harassment and violence against workers. Fueled by the outpouring of experiences that women articulated in the wake of #MeToo, a new treaty has huge positive potential, not just for women in the workplace, but for all workers.

The 2019 International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Violence and Harassment at Work—which 439 out of 476 governments, employers, and workers from around the world voted to adopt in June at the United Nations in Geneva—sets out key measures to tackle the scourge of harassment at work. These include the adoption of national laws prohibiting workplace violence and taking preventive measures, as well as requiring employers to have workplace policies on violence. The treaty also obligates governments to provide access to remedies through complaint mechanisms and victim services, and to provide measures to protect victims and whistleblowers from retaliation.

The ratification process is just beginning, with at least 10 countries signaling willingness to ratify the new treaty-- Argentina, Belgium, France, Iceland, Ireland, Namibia, Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, and Uruguay. With public support and pressure, more are expected to follow suit. We can also expect countries to undertake national reforms even where they do not ratify the treaty.

Workplace sexual harassment isn’t inevitable. It flourishes when governments and employers fail to prevent it, protect survivors, and punish abusers. A 2018 World Bank report found that 59 out of 189 economies—including Guatemala, Iran, and Japan—had no specific legal provisions prohibiting sexual harassment in employment. And the ILO has found that existing laws often exclude those workers most exposed to violence, such as domestic workers, farmworkers, and those in precarious employment.

 I have interviewed hundreds of migrant domestic workers in the Middle East, many of whom described being beaten or sexually harassed and assaulted by their employers. They are more at risk of such violence because they are usually excluded from labor laws, and their visas are tied to their employers whom they cannot leave or change jobs without their permission. 

So, what do we hope to change as a result?  

Individual countries should ban violence and harassment, including gender-based violence, at work in their laws and policies. They can mount prevention campaigns, conduct inspections and investigations, and provide ways for victims to make complaints and get remedies, including compensation. They should also protect whistleblowers and victims from retaliation.

Crucially, countries should also ensure that employers have workplace policies addressing violence and harassment, with risk assessments, prevention measures and training.

Having good examples of how to fight workplace violence can have a ripple effect. Governments can work with employers and worker organizations to develop information campaigns that can reach the public widely, as well as specific campaigns to highlight how violence and harassment will not be tolerated, how it can be reported, and what will be done about it. Effective and accessible complaints procedures, successful investigations by employers or authorities, as well as sanctions against the abuser or their employer, and remedies for victims will encourage more women to come forward and help deter abuse.

For instance, while clothing brands or factories often bring in social auditors to examine factory working conditions, social audits primarily rely on in-factory interviews with workers who may fear retaliation, often leaving them ineffective for detecting workplace sexual harassment. In contrast, women workers who speak outside factory premises feel less anxious about retaliation. The Worker Rights Consortium an international labor rights group, found evidence of sexual harassment in three factories in Lesotho after conducting off-site interviews with workers. All three factories had been using routine social audits by third parties.

The factory management signed legally binding agreements with the unions and three brands, promising to carry out  a program designed by factory unions and two prominent local women’s rights organizations. It includes creating an independent investigation body to look into complaints of sexual harassment, and anti-retaliation protections, and provides that factories’ policies against gender-based violence and harassment also apply to its suppliers and third-party contractors.

Workplace violence is not limited to paid workers. Protections against violence should also include people who are often at greater risk: volunteers, interns, job applicants, and job seekers. Dangling the possibility of a job in return for sex to someone looking for a job is known as quid pro quo; many women have highlighted how often this happens. Companies should investigate and sanction such behavior. In December, activists in Japan called on the government, companies, and universities to stamp out sexual harassment of job-hunting students.

Global trade unions, motivated by the adoption of this new treaty, are planning national campaigns to support ratification. These campaigns will highlight the abuses faced in numerous sectors that have been out of the spotlight. For instance, the market traders are organizing  in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to stop harassment, and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) opened  a global campaign in May 2018 to press the world’s largest hotel company, Marriott, to sign a global framework agreement to protect its workers from sexual harassment across all Marriott hotels globally.

Coming off protests at Marriott hotels worldwide including an event at the International Labour Conference, Marriott did not heed calls to negotiate such a global accord but instead announced in September 2018 that it would continue to roll out alert devices, commonly known as “panic buttons,” for their workers across North America in 2020.

In contrast, in January, the IUF successfully negotiated the first global agreement on sexual harassment in the hotel sector with the Spanish multi-national hotel chain Meliá. And in September, it  successfully negotiated an agreement with the French multi-national hotel chain AccorInvest on measures to combat sexual harassment at work, including disseminating detailed information relating to the zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.

States should also identify sectors of work and work arrangements that leave workers more vulnerable to violence and harassment. Domestic workers, garment workers—most of them women—and those in precarious employment, like short-term contracts and the increasing gig-economy, can easily become prey to abuse. An employer can put in place complaint mechanisms but making a complaint should not mean the end of their job or career. Tackling these structural issues so that all such workers are protected will be important.

Governments and employers should also address third parties who harass or are harassed. They are the patients who abuse or face abuse by medical staff; the customers and the service staff; the teachers and their students. According to a 2018 survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers body (NASUWT) in the UK, one in five of their members said they had been sexually harassed at school by a colleague, manager, parent, or pupil since becoming a teacher. Safety at work is not just threatened by colleagues or managers, but by the people with whom we interact with for the purpose of work.

#MeToo helped expose the endemic abuses that women face in the workplace. In 2020, we should see the start of the structural reforms needed to end violence and harassment at work for women, and all workers, on a global scale.

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

Secretary Alex Azar
Department of Health and Human Services
Hubert H. Humphrey Building
200 Independence Avenue SW., Room 445-G
Washington, DC 20201

RE: Proposed Rule on Health and Human Services Grants Regulation

Dear Secretary Azar,

Human Rights Watch opposes the Proposed Rule on Health and Human Services Grants Regulation (RIN 0991-AC16).[1] We also oppose the decision of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), effective immediately, that it will not enforce certain existing nondiscrimination protections in its grantmaking. The regulatory protections enacted in 2016 were designed to ensure that federal funding is not used to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, among other grounds.[2] With the proposed rule, HHS would give grantees a license to discriminate that jeopardizes the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and compromises the effectiveness of federally funded health and welfare programs.

In recent years, Human Rights Watch has conducted firsthand research on the discrimination that LGBT people face in health and welfare programs. In February 2018, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled “All We Want is Equality”: Religious Exemptions and Discrimination Against LGBT People in the United States, which documented how state religious exemption laws jeopardize LGBT people’s access to physical and mental health care, adoption and foster care, and other goods and services.[3] In July 2018, Human Rights Watch released “You Don’t Want Second Best”: Anti-LGBT Discrimination in US Health Care, which specifically explored the barriers that LGBT people face in healthcare settings.[4] Finally, in November 2018, Human Rights Watch released Living at Risk: Transgender Women, HIV, and Human Rights in South Florida, which detailed in part how discrimination in healthcare programs and settings prevents transgender women from obtaining effective HIV prevention, treatment, and care.[5] Our opposition to the proposed rule is informed by the extensive research that formed the basis for these reports.

The proposed rule is a step in the wrong direction. It fails to recognize the significant discrimination and daunting barriers that many LGBT people encounter when seeking health and welfare services. It exacerbates these problems by sending a signal to providers and LGBT people alike that discrimination is permissible. It jeopardizes the rights of children, including LGBT children. And it promotes a dangerous approach to religious freedom that treats religious belief not as a shield, but as a sword used to deny other people their rights. To safeguard the rights of all people, Human Rights Watch urges HHS not to proceed with the proposed rule.

I. LGBT People Face Persistent Discrimination in Health and Welfare Programs

Under Executive Order 13563, HHS may only propose a rule where it has made a reasoned determination that a rule’s benefits outweigh its costs and it is tailored to impose “the least burden on society.”[6] However, the proposed rule fails to incorporate an understanding of the barriers that LGBT people continue to face in accessing health and welfare programs.

Data consistently show that LGBT people are at heightened risk for a variety of physical and mental health issues.[7] Yet LGBT people are less likely to have the means to seek medical care, and are twice as likely to be uninsured as their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts.[8] When they do seek care, they often face discrimination. In a nationally representative survey conducted by the Center for American Progress in 2017, 8 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents and 29 percent of transgender respondents reported that a healthcare provider had refused to see them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year.[9]

Discrimination contributes to the physical and mental health issues that LGBT people experience. In a nationally representative survey from 2017, 68.5 percent of LGBT people who experienced discrimination in the past year said it negatively affected their psychological well-being, while 43.7 percent said it negatively affected their physical well-being.[10] Researchers have found that “in US regions where LGB people have better social and legal conditions, they also have better health and lesser health disparities compared with heterosexuals.”[11] Repealing protections for LGBT people may not only make it more difficult to curb discrimination, but may actually contribute to adverse health outcomes.

While healthcare settings offer particularly vivid examples, LGBT people interviewed by Human Rights Watch have also described discrimination in adoption and foster care, antiviolence programs and shelters, homeless shelters, programs for runaway and homeless youth, sexuality education, and other domains that will be affected by the proposed rule. Removing explicit nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity will put LGBT people at heightened risk in federally funded programs across these areas.

The proposed rule also sows confusion for grantees. Under Executive Order 13672, federal contractors are not permitted to discriminate in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.[12] The proposed rule is likely to burden contractors and grantees by imposing inconsistent nondiscrimination requirements in different domains. The least burdensome option for society is to consistently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in both hiring and employment and in the provision of goods and services.

II. The Proposed Rule Jeopardizes LGBT Rights

Human Rights Watch has documented how discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity prevents LGBT people from obtaining goods and services. The administration has announced or undertaken efforts to narrowly construe prohibitions on sex discrimination under federal law,[13] making explicit protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in HHS grantmaking particularly important.

Individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch described three distinct difficulties that LGBT people face in obtaining health and welfare services. First, in our research, Human Rights Watch has documented multiple cases where LGBT people were refused services that were provided to heterosexual, cisgender people. At times, those refusals led individuals to delay or even forego the services they sought. In the domain of adoption and foster care, for example, one couple in Tennessee described being turned away from three different agencies and nearly giving up on becoming parents before finding an agency that would place children with a same-sex couple.[14] Similarly, same-sex couples in Michigan noted that being turned away from religiously affiliated adoption and foster care agencies significantly limited their ability to form a family, requiring lengthy travel and other barriers that heterosexual couples did not confront.[15] More than a dozen interviewees were unaware of local programs for people experiencing intimate partner violence and/or homelessness that were open to transgender individuals, leaving them unable to access vital programs available to others.[16]

While service refusals are a particularly glaring form of discrimination, they are not the only kind of discrimination LGBT people experience. Interviewees have described incidents of being mocked for their gender expression or repeatedly addressed by the wrong name or pronouns,[17] being chastised and prayed over during routine testing for HIV/AIDS,[18] and other forms of discrimination and disrespect. Allowing grantees to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity increases the likelihood of this kind of mistreatment and humiliation in federally funded programs.

These various factors contribute to a third barrier that is exacerbated by discrimination: LGBT people’s hesitation to seek out goods and services in environments where they feel discrimination is likely. Practitioners who work with LGBT individuals noted that many of their clients had foregone care for years because of the discrimination they had faced in the past or felt they were likely to face from providers. Kelley Blair, who runs the Diversity Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, noted from her practice that:

A lot of people have never been to therapy. And they may be 30 or 40 years old. They’ve waited a very long time to come in for services. They delay transitioning until they’re 40 or 50 years old. Some haven’t gone to a primary care health provider for basic things, basic healthcare issues. Our trans males haven’t gone in for pap smears until they’re 30 or 40 years old, some haven’t had basic HIV/AIDS screenings. And that’s because of the discomfort they feel with a general practitioner.[19]

LGBT individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed hesitation about trying to adopt or foster children from agencies they perceived to be hostile to LGBT individuals or seeking commercial services where they felt they might be turned away. On the heels of efforts to roll back nondiscrimination protections for transgender people under the Affordable Care Act, moving ahead with the proposed rule will only further the impression that discrimination against LGBT people is legally permissible and deter people from seeking the goods and services they need.

III. The Proposed Rule Jeopardizes Children’s Rights

In addition to the rights of LGBT people, permitting HHS grantees to discriminate in federally funded programs will jeopardize the rights of children. When child welfare programs are allowed to discriminate against LGBT parents, for example, children may face longer waiting periods or even age out of the system as a result. For LGBT children, these restrictions may prevent placements with families who are particularly well equipped to provide a loving, affirming home.

The proposed rule would also affect children’s rights outside of the child welfare context. Allowing providers of sexuality education to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity can, for example, prevent LGBT children from receiving information about sex and sexuality that is crucial to their sexual health and safety. And in interviews, LGBT young people experiencing homelessness have told Human Rights Watch that they feel uncomfortable and even unsafe in shelters that do not respect their gender identity and expression.[20] In these and other domains, the proposed rule would not only endanger LGBT rights, but the rights of children as well.

IV. The Proposed Rule Is Not Needed to Protect Religious Freedom

A portion of the proposed rule suggests that it is needed to safeguard religious freedom for recipients of federal funding.[21] As discussed more fully above, this argument misunderstands the freedom of religion, turning it from a shield for an individual’s beliefs into a sword used to deprive others of their rights.

The proposed rule would replicate some of the worrying features of recent religious exemptions in the United States. Unlike true religious exemptions, it would not attempt to strike a balance between equality and religious liberty, and instead would simply eliminate nondiscrimination protections wholesale in the name of religious objectors. It shows no regard for the harm that eliminating nondiscrimination protections would inflict on those who are at particular risk of losing access to goods and services. It instead would allow grantees to discriminate whether or not they harbor a religious objection, turning narrow exceptions for religious objectors into a universal rule. The result would not only fail to recognize the state’s legitimate interest in making federally funded services open to all, but also misunderstand the role of exemptions by turning narrow and particular exceptions into a sweeping license to discriminate. 

V.        Rights at Stake

The proposed rule will function in practice to limit a variety of rights under international law. Among these are the right to nondiscrimination, the right to health, and children’s rights.

  1. The Right to Freedom from Discrimination

The right to freedom from discrimination is a central principle of international human rights law.[22] As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United States is obligated to guarantee effective protection against discrimination, including discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.[23] 

The UN Human Rights Committee, which provides authoritative guidance on the ICCPR, has clarified that the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion does not protect religiously motivated discrimination against women, or racial and religious minorities.[24] It has urged states considering restrictions on the manifestation of religion or belief to “proceed from the need to protect all rights guaranteed under the Covenant, including the right to equality and non-discrimination.”[25]

As Human Rights Watch has documented, religious exemptions at the state level have emboldened service providers to discriminate against LGBT people. Indeed, there is substantial evidence that permitting such discrimination is the primary motivation for some of these exemptions.[26] By granting virtually unfettered discretion to providers who refuse to meet the needs of LGBT people – and declining to provide any safeguards to mitigate the harm that such refusals inflict – the proposed rule likely fails to satisfy the US’s obligations under international law.

  1. Right to Health

Exemptions that deny or deter people from seeking healthcare services jeopardize the right to health. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognizes “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,”[27] without discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or “other status,” including sexual orientation and gender identity.[28] The United States has signed but not ratified the ICESCR, obligating it to refrain from actions that undermine the object and purpose of the treaty.[29] In addition, the ICESCR and the jurisprudence of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide a useful and authoritative guide to the kind of state action necessary to advance and protect the right to health.

When states enact laws allowing healthcare providers to deny service because of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, they undermine the right to health. Individuals may be denied services outright; have difficulty finding services of comparable quality, accessibility, or affordability; or avoid seeking services for fear of being turned away.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has noted that the right to health is threatened both by direct discrimination and by indirect discrimination, in which laws appear neutral on their face but disproportionately harm a minority group in practice.[30] To promote the right to health, the Committee has thus urged states to “adopt measures, which should include legislation, to ensure that individuals and entities in the private sphere do not discriminate on prohibited grounds.”[31] 

  1. Children’s Rights

The United States is obligated to adopt special measures to protect children, as required by the ICCPR.[32] These protections include appropriate economic, social, and cultural measures.[33] Consistent with the right to equality before the law and to equal protection of the law,[34] measures of protection for children should be “aimed at removing all discrimination in every field.”[35]

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed but not ratified by the United States, provides an authoritative understanding of children’s rights globally and the measures needed to ensure they are respected and protected.[36]

The convention specifies that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children, whether taken by public or private social welfare institutions, and should be the paramount consideration where adoption is concerned.[37] Permitting child welfare agencies to turn away qualified parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, however, limits the options available to children in need of placement and may delay or deny foster or adoptive placements for those children. Moreover, doing so may pose a particular threat for LGBT children who are in the care of agencies that harbor objections to LGBT people.

The convention additionally recognizes that children, including LGBT children, have the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to seek and receive information, and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.[38]

Permitting discrimination in federally funded health and welfare programs undermines these rights and denies children the special measures of protection to which they are entitled.

VI. Conclusion

The proposed rule raises serious concerns about discrimination and access to substantive goods and services that are advanced by HHS grantmaking. It is virtually certain to limit LGBT people’s access to federally funded programs, license refusals of service and outright discrimination, and deter LGBT people from accessing the goods and services they need. It is also likely to jeopardize the rights of children, including LGBT children, who should be served by these programs. In these ways, it jeopardizes the right to nondiscrimination, the right to health, and children’s rights under international law. For all of these reasons, Human Rights Watch calls on HHS to reject the proposed rule.

Sincerely,

Ryan Thoreson
Researcher, LGBT Rights Program
Human Rights Watch

 

[1] Department of Health and Human Services, “HHS Issues Proposed Rule to Align Grants Regulation with New Legislation, Nondiscrimination Laws, and Supreme Court Decisions,” November 1, 2019, https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2019/11/01/hhs-issues-proposed-rule-to-al... (accessed December 17, 2019).

[2] See Health and Human Services Grants Regulation, 81 FR 89393 (December 12, 2016).

[3] Human Rights Watch, “All We Want is Equality”: Religious Exemptions and Discrimination against LGBT People in the United States, February 19, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/02/19/all-we-want-equality/religious-exe....

[4] Human Rights Watch, “You Don’t Want Second Best”: Anti-LGBT Discrimination in US Health Care, July 23, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/07/23/you-dont-want-second-best/anti-lgb....

[5] Human Rights Watch, Living at Risk: Transgender Women, HIV, and Human Rights in South Florida, November 20, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/11/20/living-risk/transgender-women-hiv-....

[6] Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review, Executive Order 13563 (January 18, 2011), https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/18/executi... (accessed December 16, 2019).

[7] See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “About LGBT Health,” March 24, 2017, https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/about.htm (accessed December 17, 2019).

[8] Kellan Baker and Laura E. Durso, “Why Repealing the Affordable Care Act is Bad Medicine for LGBT Communities,” Center for American Progress, March 22, 2017, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2017/03/22/428970/repe... (accessed December 17, 2019).

[9] Shabab Ahmed Mirza and Caitlin Rooney, “Discrimination Prevents LGBTQ People from Accessing Health Care,” Center for American Progress, January 18, 2018, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2018/01/18/445130/disc... (accessed December 17, 2019).

[10] Sejal Singh and Laura E. Durso, “Widespread Discrimination Continues to Shape LGBT People’s Lives in Both Subtle and Significant Ways,” Center for American Progress, May 2, 2017, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2017/05/02/429529/wide... (accessed December 17, 2019).

[11] Brief of Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., and Other Social Scientists and Legal Scholars Who Study the LGB Population as Amici Curiae Supporting Respondents, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111 (U.S. 2017), p. 26.

[12] Jeremy W. Peters, “Obama’s Protections for L.G.B.T. Workers Will Remain Under Trump,” New York Times, January 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/30/us/politics/obama-trump-protections-l... (accessed December 17, 2019). The nondiscrimination protections were weakened when President Trump rescinded Executive Order 13673, which required contractors to provide documentation that they were in compliance, but the requirements themselves remain in place. See Mary Emily O’Hara, “LGBTQ Advocates Say Trump’s New Executive Order Makes them Vulnerable to Discrimination,” NBC News, March 29, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/lgbtq-advocates-say-trump-s-news... (accessed December 17, 2019).

[13] See Ryan Thoreson, “Trump Administration Moves to Roll Back Health Care Rights,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, August 13, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/13/trump-administration-moves-roll-back....

[14] Human Rights Watch interview with Chris and CJ P., Nashville, Tennessee, January 8, 2018.

[15] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Kristy and Dana Dumont, Dimondale, Michigan, January 29, 2018; Human Rights Watch interview with Erin Busk-Sutton, Detroit, Michigan, January 18, 2018.

[16] See, for example, Human Rights Watch interview with Judith N. (pseudonym), Johnson City, Tennessee, December 10, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Nadia Valdez, Howard Brown Health, Chicago, Illinois, March 26, 2018; Human Rights Watch interview with Andy Dugan, Equality Ohio, Columbus, Ohio, July 31, 2019.

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with Holly Calvasina, Choices, Memphis, Tennessee, January 10, 2018; Human Rights Watch interview with Renae T., Memphis, Tennessee, January 12, 2018.

[18] Human Rights Watch interview with Trevor L. (pseudonym), Memphis, Tennessee, January 10, 2018; Human Rights Watch interview with Kayla Gore, OutMemphis, Memphis, Tennessee, January 10, 2018.

[19] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Kelley Blair, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, November 17, 2017.

[20] Human Rights Watch interview with Trace C. (pseudonym), New York City, New York, January 30, 2018; Human Rights Watch interview with Kyle P. (pseudonym), New York City, New York, January 30, 2018; see also Human Rights Watch interview with Elliott DeVore, Knoxville, Tennessee, December 8, 2017.

[21] Health and Human Services Grant Regulation, 84 FR 63831, 63832-63833 (November 19, 2019).

[22] International protections for the right to freedom from discrimination include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (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, ratified by the United States on June 8, 1992, arts. 2, 4, 26; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force January 3, 1976, art. 2(2); 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, art. 2; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), adopted December 21, 1965, G.A. Res. 2106 (XX), annex, 20 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 14) at 47, U.N. Doc. A/6014 (1966), 660 U.N.T.S. 195, entered into force January 4, 1969, ratified by the United States on October 21, 1994, art. 5; International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Migrant Workers Convention), adopted December 18, 1990, G.A. Res. 45/158, annex, 45 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49A) at 262, U.N. Doc. A/45/49 (1990), entered into force July 1, 2003, art. 1(1), art. 7.

[23] ICCPR, art. 26. The Human Rights Committee has clarified that article 26 of the ICCPR prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. See UN Human Rights Committee, Toonen v Australia, CCPR/C/50/D/488/1992 (March 31, 1994), http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/undocs/html/vws488.htm (accessed December 17, 2019). The Human Rights Committee frequently expresses concern about discrimination based on gender identity in its concluding observations on state compliance with the ICCPR. See UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Azerbaijan, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/AZE/CO/4 (November 16, 2016), paras. 8-9; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Burkina Faso, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/BFA/CO/1 (October 17, 2016), paras. 13-14; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Colombia, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/COL/CO/7 (November 17, 2016), paras. 16-17; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Costa Rica, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/CRI/CO/6 (April 21, 2016), paras. 11-12; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Denmark, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/DNK/CO/6 (August 15, 2016), paras. 13-14; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Ecuador, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/ECU/CO/6 (August 11, 2016), paras. 11-12; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Ghana, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/GHA/CO/1 (August 9, 2016), paras. 43-44; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Jamaica, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/JAM/CO/4 (November 22, 2016), paras. 15-16; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Kazakhstan, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/KAZ/CO/2 (August 9, 2016), paras. 9-10; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Kuwait, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/KWT/CO/3 (August 11, 2016), paras. 12-13; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Morocco, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/MAR/CO/6 (December 1, 2016), paras. 11-12; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Slovakia, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/SVK/CO/4 (November 22, 2016), paras. 14-15; UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: South Africa, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/ZAF/CO/1 (April 27, 2016), paras. 20-21.

[24] See Human Rights Committee, General Comment 28: Article 3 (The Equality of Rights Between Men and Women), March 29, 2000, UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.10, para. 21 (“Article 18 may not be relied upon to justify discrimination against women by reference to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.”); Human Rights Committee, General Comment 22: Article 18 (1993), para. 2 (“The committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.”), in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, UN Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1, at 35 (1994); ibid. at para. 7 (noting that “no manifestation of religion or belief may amount to … advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination” and that “States parties are under the obligation to enact laws to prohibit such acts.”).

[25] Human Rights Committee, General Comment 22, para. 8.

[26] Human Rights Watch, “All We Want is Equality.”

[27] ICESCR, art. 12.

[28] ICESCR, art. 2(2); UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 20: Non-Discrimination in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/GC/20 (July 2, 2009), para. 32.

[29] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1980), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, art. 18.

[30] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 20, para. 10.

[31] Ibid., para. 11.

[32] ICCPR, art. 24; Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 17: Article 24 (Rights of the Child) (April 7, 1989), para. 1, in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1, at 23 (1994).

[33] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 17, para. 3.

[34] ICCPR, art. 26.

[35] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 17, para. 5. As noted in section IV.a., above, the right to freedom from discrimination includes freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

[36] Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp.

[37] Ibid., arts. 3(1), 21.

[38] Ibid., arts. 2, 13, 24.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am