Human Rights Attorneys call for a global treaty to end VAW
Every Woman Treaty is thrilled to support human rights attorneys from across the world in calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council to call for a global treaty to end violence against women during its upcoming session.
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As human rights attorneys and scholars, we support the call for a global treaty to address the most prevalent human rights violation in the world: violence against women and girls. More than one in three women around the world experience intimate partner or sexual violence in their lifetimes and more than 600 million women live in 15 countries where domestic violence is not a crime. The right to be free from violence is a universal human right, presupposing a standard — that no violence is acceptable — that applies to all women in all places at all times.
Violence is a serious human rights violation that merits attention on its own. Despite the widespread ratification of the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), forward-looking normative and enforcement solutions are needed.
Our work towards a new global treaty is grounded in an analysis of the gaps in the existing legal frameworks: normative, geographical, and enforcement. Below follows a consideration of each gap.
Violence against women is not comprehensively covered in any single specialised international treaty. Although references to violence against women in international and regional treaties are numerous, they differ in substantive scope and nature. Some international norms address specific aspects of this global problem, including domestic violence, violence in armed conflicts, or workplace violence, for example. And some international norms address how women experience specific forms of violence due to social forces that create additional disadvantages and risks, including women with disabilities, indigenous women, and older women. But no single international treaty comprehensively addresses all aspects of a State’s duty to respect, protect, and fulfill every woman’s right to live free from gender-based violence. Therefore, a new holistic treaty focused solely on violence against women would provide much-needed normative specificity, while removing lack of clarity over definitions and responsibilities.
CEDAW’s broad scope dilutes its attention to violence against women. Although CEDAW addresses some forms of violence against women, such as human trafficking and child and forced marriage, it fails to address the most common forms: domestic and sexual violence. CEDAW does not mention the words “rape,” “assault,” or even “violence.” For this reason, the
CEDAW Committee has been forced to interpret CEDAW in creative ways to address these normative gaps. The resulting “General Recommendations” provide a fuller picture, but States often consider these to be merely persuasive guidelines and not legally binding obligations because those recommendations are not found within the body of the treaty that States ratified. A new treaty focused solely on violence against women would incorporate the valuable input from the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations and from other non-binding sources into a comprehensive and legally binding international norm.
When a specific human rights issue is deemed sufficiently important, the international community usually adopts a specialised treaty to address it, even if the underlying issue is already addressed tangentially in an existing general treaty like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Violence against women is one of the most pressing human rights issues in the world, affecting one out of three women globally. The adoption of a specialised treaty on violence against women would therefore be in line with previous efforts to address the normative gaps left by the broad scope of other international treaties. One pertinent example is the Convention Against Torture (CAT): although torture was already prohibited under the ICCPR, States decided to adopt a separate specialised treaty to better address this human rights violation. The same can be said of other specialized treaties that address issues already covered inadequately in more general treaties, such as racial discrimination and enforced disappearance, and that address categories of individuals already protected by more general treaties, such as children, migrant workers, and persons with disabilities. These specialised treaties complement and provide more comprehensive protections that fill the normative gaps left by general treaties. In line with this trend, violence against women similarly deserves to be recognized in a specialised treaty as its own distinct and complex human rights violation.
Regional treaties on violence against women, such as the Istanbul Convention in Europe, the Convention of Belém do Pará in the Americas, and the Maputo Protocol in Africa, have been successful in minimizing the above-described normative gap. However, those regional standards do not apply globally. Women in other regions, such as Asia and the Middle East, lack access to a context-specific treaty that specifically addresses violence against women. This leaves 75 percent, or three out of four women and girls globally, with no coverage at all from a regional legally binding standard.
These regional instruments also provide inconsistent standards and definitions, and offer survivors and victims varying degrees of protection and recourse. For example, the Maputo Protocol has been ratified by only 42 of 54 nations that are eligible, and while some states have incorporated provisions of the Protocol into domestic law, many others have not. And while the Belém do Pará Convention recognizes many women’s rights, as well as several duties States
Parties have to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women, the convention treaty limits its use in litigation to the list of duties in Article 7, which restricts its effectiveness.
The geographic gap outlined here cannot be adequately filled by vague references to customary international law. Although the CEDAW Committee suggested in its General Recommendation No. 35 that the prohibition of gender-based violence against women has evolved into a principle of customary international law, the International Court of Justice has stated that the content of customary international law may not always be identical to that of treaty law. That is, there may be a normative gap between customary international law and treaty law. The scope of customary international law in the area of violence against women is uncertain and vague, at best, and lacks the specificity necessary to address all aspects of this complex human rights violation. References to customary international law are certainly useful, particularly in situations where a State has not ratified a relevant treaty, but a specialised treaty provides a greater level of protection.
A global treaty on violence against women would not only help bridge this geographic gap, but also complement the existing regional legal framework by providing a more universal definition of violence against women applicable to all States. In her statement to the Commission on the Status of Women in 2017, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Dubravka Šimonović called for “stronger cooperation between global and regional mechanisms dealing with violence against women and for a joint and complementary use of global and regional instruments on violence against women with the aim of ensuring synergies.” A unifying treaty would provide that synergy.
Existing international and regional monitoring and implementation mechanisms fail to adequately address violence against women. Regional enforcement mechanisms, such as the Inter-American, African, and European courts of human rights, do not have jurisdiction outside their regions. At the international level, compliance is monitored by UN treaty bodies and UN Charter-based mechanisms, both of which have severe structural, normative, and budgetary limitations. The adoption of a new international treaty on violence against women will allow for renewed discussions and debate on how best to address this enforcement gap. While this proposed new treaty may not answer all funding shortfalls faced by the UN, adopting a clear and workable text would attract a fresh wave of global interest in implementation and thus funding.
UN Charter-based mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review, rely on the existing fragmented framework and offer no binding legal obligations on States. Furthermore, the reports submitted by States in this context do not prioritize addressing violence against women. Instead, such reports are of a general nature, very short in length, and do not allow for a detailed account of the State’s efforts to address violence against women.
UN treaty bodies similarly require States to periodically submit reports on several substantive issues addressed in each treaty, but none requires States to submit a report that specifically and exclusively addresses violence against women. State reporting to the CEDAW Committee, for example, dilutes the issue of violence against women because of the multiple other issues of discrimination States must cover in their cyclical reports. Furthermore, the CEDAW Committee does not have the time, resources, and expertise to fully monitor and supervise State compliance with all aspects of violence against women. Since a complaint mechanism was put in place in 1999, the CEDAW Committee has reviewed 66 cases. Of these, 18 directly address violence against women. Yet 14 cases — approximately 78 percent — originated in Europe and Canada. The average length for resolution was 2.7 years, with total time to justice averaging 8.5 years. Further, the optional protocol to CEDAW expressly prohibits the complainant from filing anonymously, a practice counter to widely accepted standards. Thus, a new binding comprehensive treaty would avoid that current systemic weakness.
In light of these shortcomings, it is time to rethink treaty monitoring and implementation mechanisms aimed at addressing violence against women. A new legally binding international instrument will generate the momentum necessary to innovate while developing stronger frameworks for domestic plans of action, budget commitments, and enforcement mechanisms, all of which should be clear and measurable, as required by SDG 5 indicators. Existing and on-going discussions about reforming the current treaty-body system will inevitably inform the monitoring and implementation mechanisms of a new treaty on violence against women.
We, therefore, join the call for a global treaty to address these normative, geographic and enforcement gaps, and hope that our analysis assists your country’s consideration of how you could join – and indeed champion – the fight against all forms of violence against women and girls.
Thank you for your leadership in this important area.
Najla Ayoubi, Afghanistan; Antara Tasmeen, Bangladesh; Dr. Saira Rahman Khan, Bangladesh; Irin Zaman, Bangladesh; Nafia Ferdousi, Bangladesh; Puja Kapai, China; Anne Scully-Johnson, China; Mia Leung Hoi Ching, China; Patrick Lau Yat Shing, China; Leila Nazgul Seiitbek, Kyrgyzstan; Dr Keerty Nakray, India; Kirthi Jayakuma, India; Ujwala Raghavan Iyengar, India; N. Arvintara, Mongolia; Ayesha Siddique Khan, Pakistan; Benazir Jatoi, Pakistan; Khadija Ali, Pakistan; Maimana Khattak, Pakistan; Maria Chaudhry, Pakistan; Mariam Mumtaz Rajper, Pakistan; Nida Usman Chaudhary, Pakistan; Ramsha Khalid Malik, Pakistan; Rohma Habib, Pakistan; S. Jugnoo Kazmi, Pakistan; Sarah Kazmi, Pakistan; Diab AlSheykh, Pakistan; Ulrike Qubaja, Pakistan; Nadejda Atayeva, Uzbekistan.
EUROPE Albena Koycheva, Bulgaria; Iluta Lace, Latvia; Dr. Margarita Jankauskaite, Lithuania; Dr.Vilana Pilinkaite Sotirovic, Lithuania; Angelina Zaporojan-Pirgari, Moldova; Natalia Vilcu, Moldova; Joanna Smętek, Poland; Roman Wieruszewski, Poland; Mihaela Mangu-Darvariu, Romania; Petruta Chiforiuc, Romania; Mari Davtyan, Russia; Edna Okine, Scotland; Elaine Webster, Scotland; Holly Brannan, Scotland; Jane Scoular, Scotland; Jennifer Glinksi, Scotland; Jennifer Martinez Sillarz, Scotland; Lynsey Mitchell, Scotland; Rachel Conway, Scotland; Seonaid Cavanagh, Scotland; Sheeba Kiran, Scotland; Angela Hefti, Switzerland; Laura Schurr, Switzerland; Martha Jean Baker, United Kingdom; Tanjeem Ahmed Khan, United Kingdom.
LATIN AMERICA & CARRIBEAN Dr. Viola V.R. Van Bogaert, Aruba; Vanessa Coria, Mexico.
MENA Asmaa Al Ameen, Iraq; Peshawa Husamaddeen Abdullah, Iraq; Pishawa Hesamaddeen Abdullah, Iraq; Viyan Mohamed, Iraq; Alhan Nahhas-Daoud, Israel; Mada al-Carmel, Israel; Saeda Mokari-Renawi, Israel; Sarah Ihmoud, Israel; Uhad Daher-Nashif, Israel; Saida Kouzzi, Morocco; Stephanie Willman Bordat, Morocco.
NORTH AMERICA Laurie A. Tannous, Canada; Brian Citro, USA; Alvaro Baca, USA; Brittney Rezaei, USA; Britton Schwartz, USA; Bryce Braegger, USA; Kelbie Raeann Kennedy, USA; Marco Traversa, USA; Nnenaya Amuchie, USA; Noemi Desguin, USA; Penelope Schoeffel, USA; Rachel Goldstein, USA; Ramona Boodoosingh, USA; Sital Kalantry Kalantry, USA; Smita Suman, USA; Tess Mullin, USA; David L. Richards, USA; Denise Gosselin, USA; Denise Scotto, USA; Francisco J. Rivera Juaristi, USA; Helen Rubenstein, USA; Kelly Stoner, USA; Lindsay G. Robertson, USA; Sara Andrews, USA; Stephanie Ortoleva, USA; Susan L. Burke, USA.
OCEANIA Dr. Amy Barrow, Australia; Dr. Susan Harris Rimmer, Australia; Professor Annie Cossins, Australia; Professor Felicity Gerry, Australia; Tevita Seruilumi, Fiji; Amelia Retter, New Zealand; Caitlin Coughtrey, New Zealand; Dr. Petra Butler, New Zealand; Emma Talbot, New Zealand; Frances Gourley, New Zealand; Grace Kahukore-Fitzgibbon, New Zealand; Jasmine Harding, New Zealand; Jennifer Smith, New Zealand; Mollie Matich, New Zealand; Rachel Kim, New Zealand; Rhonda Powell, New Zealand; Sandra Iskander, New Zealand.
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