COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS HEARS STATEMENTS BY NGOS ON VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS OF WOMEN
Commission on Human Rights
10 April 2001
President of former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,
Secretary of State for Human Rights of Guatemala,
Address the Commission
The Commission on Human Rights this morning continued its debate on the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective, hearing statements from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which listed various violations of women’s rights and offered recommendations on how to promote and protect these rights.
Also addressing the Commission this morning was Boris Trajkovski, President of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Victor Hugo Godoy, Secretary of State for Human Rights of Guatemala.
Mr. Trajkovski said that his country was facing the most radical form of racism, manifested by armed extremism and terrorism. The crisis was a direct "export" from Kosovo. Unfortunately, it was an expression of the international community's inability to decisively oppose the malignant concept of "ethnically clean territories". That concept, in its essence, was completely anti-democratic and constantly fed the vicious circle of collective hatred, threatening regional stability. The President further said that his country would fight most determinedly for maintaining and strengthening its stability and protecting its territorial integrity using all its resources.
And Mr. Godoy said that the Government of Guatemala was committed to the promotion and protection of human rights. Guatemala had benefitted from the United Nations mechanisms which had allowed the Government to make major progress in building the infrastructure to respect human rights. He said that systems for protection and monitoring of human rights helped States. The monitoring mechanisms were not interfering with sovereign affairs, but rather served as a warning bell for possible shortcomings or dangers.
NGOs highlighted a number of issues which violated the human rights of women including trafficking in women and girls, so-called honour crimes, domestic violence, violence against women during armed conflicts, and female genital mutilation. They also claimed violations of women’s rights in a number of countries and regions around the world.
Reflecting the sentiments of several speakers, the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies said that it would not be wrong to claim that women comprised the largest group of the human race who were systematically denied their basic human rights. Denial of human rights especially to women meant wasting invaluable human resources. In doing so, the potential of half the human race was discounted. The right to education constituted a fundamental human right, said the Representative, adding that denial of this crucial right was tantamount to denial of other civil and political rights like freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to political participation.
Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations took the floor: International Federation of University Women (joint statement on behalf of 14 NGOs), International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (joint statement with Anti-Slavery International), Asian Cultural Forum on Development, Human Rights Watch, World Organization against Torture, Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (joint statement with International Movement for Fraternal Union Among Races and Peoples), Asian Legal Resource Centre, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, All-China Women’s Federation, Femmes Africa Solidarite, International Union of Socialist Youth, Andean Commission of Jurists, Colombian Commission of Jurists, American Jewish Committee, International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, International Federation of Women Lawyers, Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation, World Muslim Congress, Women Against Rape, and World Federation of Trade Unions.
The Commission will resume its meeting at 3 p.m. to continue its debate on the human rights of women.
BORIS TRAJKOVSKI, President of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that his country was facing the most radical form of racism, manifested by armed extremism and terrorism. The crisis that his country was facing was of an external nature. It was a direct "export" from Kosovo. Unfortunately, it was an expression of the international community's inability to decisively oppose the malignant concept of "ethnically clean territories". That concept, in its essence, was completely anti-democratic and constantly fed the vicious circle of collective hatred, threatening regional stability. A generation of new conflict and suffering might be expected if the existence of that concept was ignored. There were still lessons to be learned from Kosovo. Unless decisive action was undertaken by the international community, the motives of the humanitarian intervention in Kosovo and the intervention in the name of human rights would disappear under the attack of the extremist collective tendencies.
This crisis was the greatest challenge for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the course of its existence as a sovereign and democratic country, Mr. Trajkovski continued to say. The response of the armed forces was resolute: it had carried out a legitimate action for neutralizing the terrorists and maintaining the territorial integrity of the country. The action was planned and performed in accordance with the principle of proportionality and without a single civilian casualty. The armed extremists, governed by racist ideology and by their criminal interests, especially trafficking in drugs and women, made the wrong judgment in creating instability in the region. They undermined the fact that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had a multi-cultural functioning democracy, in which all the political parties of the Macedonian Albanians significantly participated in all segments of public affairs.
The President further said that his country would fight most determinedly for maintaining and strengthening its stability and protecting its territorial integrity using all its resources. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia would remain a positive example in the region and a generator of peace, stability and friendship. Yesterday, the country had signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union.
VICTOR HUGO GODOY, Secretary of State for Human Rights of Guatemala, said the Government was committed to the promotion and protection of human rights. There was no justification for violations of these rights. Guatemala shared the concern that other States had pointed out about the selective treatment that certain countries had received by the international community. Guatemala had benefitted from the United Nations mechanisms which had allowed the Government to make major progress in building the infrastructure to respect human rights. Systems for protection and monitoring of human rights helped States. The monitoring mechanisms were not interfering with sovereign affairs, but rather served as a warning bell for possible shortcomings or dangers. All Special Rapporteurs were welcome to visit Guatemala at any time.
At the beginning of the democratic process, the President had stated that the country had made progress in the realization of human rights. The Government had publicly acknowledged its responsibility in resolving past violations. The country had signed international human rights treaties, and had acceded to various optional protocols to the conventions and covenants. Recently, a murder trial had begun in Guatemala in which security forces were charged. Assurances were being made to ensure that the trial progressed properly, and that the perpetrators were brought to justice.
The transition from an authoritarian State to a democratic State could not take place overnight. Guatemala had established an educational campaign organized by the judiciary to train security forces, and problems with them had been reduced. The Government implemented programmes for vulnerable groups, including women, children and indigenous groups. It had worked with regional organizations to help adopt a convention that addressed disappearances. It was important for the Government to contribute to international efforts to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples, including their right to self-determination. Guatemala supported the High Commissioner in her work regarding preparations for a forum for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. This session of the Commission should include among its achievements the establishment of a Special Rapporteur in that field. The Government recognized the right to development as a collective human right. The international community should not shirk its duties and obligations in that respect. The Working Group on this issue should have its mandate renewed. No effort should be spared to find negotiated peaceful solutions to internal conflicts. Guatemala urged the resumption of a dialogue in the Middle East.
CONCHITA PONCINI, of the International Federation of University Women, said in a joint statement on behalf of 14 NGOs that seven years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Platform for Action by the International Conference on Human Rights, the Commission last year had adopted a resolution which decided on the necessity to integrate women's human rights into all agenda items of the Commission in order to mainstream issues specific to women and to gender equality. In fact, in a report in 1996 on extreme poverty, the pragmatic aspects pertaining to the feminisation of poverty was highlighted without even having a specific heading of "Women." This type of integration was a very good example of what should be attained. The resolution was the legal basis which opened the door to the systematisation necessary for the realization of such integration of women's rights. It was regrettable that this had not been systematically reflected in the annotated agenda, which formed part of the official information of the Commission.
It was only through perseverance in addressing the gender perspective in all bodies of the United Nations and elsewhere in a holistic and integrated manner that women would make significant inroads to full gender equality. The NGO Committee on the Status of Women and working groups in Geneva, New York and Vienna stood ready as partners to make this endeavour sustainable.
ATSUKO TANAKA, of the International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism and Anti-Slavery International, recalled that five months ago, the General Assembly had agreed to a major new initiative associated with the new UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. It was a Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. That Protocol, already signed by 84 States, contained a clear definition of what constituted trafficking, and concerned recruitment into a range of forms of exploitation including sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, and slavery or slavery-like practices.
While the Protocol contained some provisions concerning the protection of victims, the Protocol was not prepared by the Commission and its primary aim was to deal with crime rather than to uphold human rights. Thus, while the Protocol called upon States to protect and support victims of trafficking, there was no obligation to do so, thereby significantly weakening the Protocol's protection provisions. In practice, many States continued to treat victims of trafficking as if they were the offenders. They were arrested, detained, summarily deported, and were often made scapegoats upon returning home.
NURUL IZZAH ANVAR, of the Asian Cultural Forum on Development, said that in the past year, women in Malaysia had increasingly become a target of oppression by the authorities. This had happened because women in Malaysia, especially those of the younger generation, were asserting their equal rights to participate in politics and public affairs. The backlash against women who were willing to take a public stand against corruption, and to work for human rights and democracy, had been particularly severe in recent times. The authorities seemed to be determined to punish in whatever way possible the mildest public act of concern for human rights, including women's rights. There was a brutal crackdown at a peaceful rally last November that was a clear example of the variety of ways that women were being directly targeted for their political beliefs. The women of Malaysia were being told, in no uncertain terms, that they risked losing everything they held dear for themselves and their loved ones. They were being told that they did not only need to fear for their personal safety and personal reputation, but they also had to fear for the security of their family and their children if they stood up for their rights as human beings.
JOANNA WESCHLER, of Human Rights Watch, said her organization was concerned about the continuing failure of States to end impunity for so-called "honour" crimes. Honour crimes were acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who were perceived to have brought dishonour upon the family. A women could be targeted by her family for a variety of reasons including refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of sexual assault, seeking a divorce -- even from an abusive husband -- or committing adultery. The mere perception that a women had acted in a manner to bring "dishonour" to the family was sufficient to trigger an attack. The ramifications of that impunity for women were significant. Honour crimes were not specific to any religion, nor were they limited to any one region of the world. Human Rights Watch called on the Commission to condemn all forms of violence against women and to uniformly reject all attempts by States to justify any acts of violence against women as legitimate or defensible.
CARIN BENNINGER-BUDEL, of the World Organization against Torture, said that under international law, States had a duty to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of torture, whether those acts were perpetrated by the State or by private individuals. However, in as much as international definitions of torture had been narrowly interpreted, all too often State policies, laws and inaction perpetuated or condoned torture of women. Crimes against women committed in the name of honour were a gender-specific form of violence, which was either approved or supported by States in many parts of the world, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Jordan, Palestine, Peru, United States, Turkey and Venezuela. Husbands, fathers or brothers had gone unpunished after murdering their wives, daughters or sisters in order to defend the "honour" of the family. The killing or mutilation occurred when a woman allegedly stepped outside her socially prescribed role, especially, but not only, with regard to her sexuality and to her interaction with men outside her family.
BERHANE RAS-WORK, of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children and the International Movement for Fraternal Union Among Races and Peoples, emphasized that violence against women respected no cultural, economic or geographical frontiers. It was so systematic and universal that it had been accepted for far too long and by too many as a norm. Wife battering, rape, abduction of young girls, female genital mutilation, forced and early marriage and a hoist of other practices were all varying forms of violence to which millions of women were subjected. The Inter-African Committee had focused its work on the elimination of those forms of violence that were traditionally condoned and upheld to instil femineity and protect virginity until marriage. Mutilating the genitalia of a baby or young girls was a widely and systematically practised tradition, despite the pain and suffering the act inflicted. The consequences of such a practice, as tragic as they were, had been sufficiently documented and presented to the public eyes and ears in some appropriate fora. The reaction to such cruel and degrading treatment of women in the name of tradition has been timid and retrained, especially from concerned Governments.
RITA KALIBONSO, of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, said there was a lack of legal and institutional remedies in most Asian countries for women who were victims of gender violence. There was discrimination through customary laws regarding divorce and alimony, the social stigma and women's lack of independent economic resources, which made it difficult for women to leave abusive situations. Also, there was inadequate understanding and interpretation of the law that encouraged further violence as domestic violence was generally considered a private matter. Further, malfunctioning of the legal system and the corruption of law enforcement officials prevented women from filing charges against their abusers because they feared the costs of lengthy processes and additional humiliation at the hands of the prosecuting authorities. And there was the attitude of judicial authorities -- the most insidious cause of the lack of remedies for women who were victims of violence.
GUNILLA EKBERG, of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, said her group was working to promote the human rights of women and girls, and to eradicate sexual exploitation in all its forms, especially prostitution and trafficking in women and girls. It was a fundamental human right to live free from sexual exploitation; sexual exploitation undermined the right of all women and girls to human dignity, equality, sexual and bodily integrity, and autonomy; and sexual exploitation disproportionally harmed women and children living in conditions of poverty, as well as those marginalized by race and ethnicity.
The Coalition was, together with over 140 human rights organizations throughout the world, part of the International Human Rights Network. The NGO Network had taken active part in the negotiations for the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its two additional protocols on smuggling of migrants and trafficking in women and children. The Coalition strongly urged the Commission to recommend that all bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international agreements, as well as policies and recommendations by United Nations bodies, address the problem of trafficking in women and children.
CUI LI’S, of All-China Women's Federation, said on 23 January, several "Falun Gong" fanatics set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square. This incident had shocked the whole world. It had especially been a lethal catastrophe for the families. Many times, the families cried bitterly on each other's shoulders at the sight of the victims burned as black as cinders. One victim was a music teacher in a secondary school. Before she started to practice Falun Gong, she was a lively woman of talents and lofty professional ethics. Her daughter, also a victim, was a beautiful and talented girl who had shown a gift for music since she was a little girl, and had taken part in international performances many times. Falun Gong was built on lies. It cajoled some people into its practice under the pretence of building up their health. At this session of the Commission, however, this cult had made itself a victim. This was an intolerable mockery of human rights. It was yet another insult to the victims of Falun Gong, and a cruel injury to their family members. It should be kindness and justice instead of lies and deceit that accompanied human rights. At this Commission, this barbarous cult deserved to be condemned.
BINETA DIOP, of Femmes Africa Solidarite, welcomed Security Council resolution 1325 adopted on 31 October 2000 which recognized the inclusion of women in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction and called for the protection of women in conflict zones. She also welcomed the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) decision at the seventy-third session on the Council of Ministers which was held in Libya from 24-26 February 2001. The decision requested the Secretary-General as well as the Member States to increase women's role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution. Femmes Africa Solidarite had facilitated the process which brought the women of Burundi to take an active role in the peace negotiation process. It had also facilitated the establishment of the Mano Rive Women's Peace Network which covered the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. That network fostered a dialogue between the women of the three countries and involved them in the peace negotiations as well.
TSERING JAMPA, of International Union of Socialist Youth, said that in February 2000, China had released a White Paper on Human Rights in Tibet. It claimed great advances in the field of human rights and personal freedoms, including specific areas of the rights of women. However, reports emanating from Tibet last year depicted an entirely different reality -- one of increasing discrimination, violence and abuse against women. Last year, the Chinese Government made blatantly contradictory statements regarding the population growth for the "backward" western parts of the country. Claiming that population growth would have an adverse effect on the economic development of western regions, China was now initiating more repressive birth control policies on Tibetans, Uighurs and Inner Mongolians. Many of the birth control policies not only contradicted the international instruments on the rights of women, but were threatening the survival of Tibetan families, particularly in the nomadic and farming regions, and the lives of Tibetan women themselves. The Union appealed to the Special Rapporteur on violence against women to investigate the inhuman violence committed against Tibetan women in Tibet by the Chinese authorities. It also urged the Commission to adopt a resolution on China which called for an end to coerced birth control practices by the Chinese authorities in Tibet.
GLADIS AVILA, of the Andean Commission of Jurists, said that significant progress had been achieved in the promotion of the rights of women in the Andean region. In Colombia, the situation of armed conflict had frustrated the conditions of women through trafficking in women. In Bolivia, a national plan of action had been launched with the view to eradicate violence against women. In Ecuador, the Government had created a commission on women and the family whose main goal was to coordinate various policies on the promotion of the rights of women. In Venezuela, the national institute for women had set up rehabilitation centres for female victims of domestic violence. In that country, women continued to be victims of ill-treatment and discrimination. In Chile, a debate had been engaged to increase penalties for violence against women. And in Peru, similar discussion had taken place to guarantee the implementation of sanctions against domestic violence.
NATALIA LOPEZ ORTIZ, of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, said it applauded the Commission's resolution last year that renewed the term of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women. The Special Rapporteur had detailed the practices that affected the human rights and reproductive rights of women. Documents like hers had become important tools in promoting and protecting the rights of women in all parts of the world, including Colombia. The situation of women in Colombia was difficult -- since October 1999, one women had died on average every day because of social and political violence. There were 52 women victims of armed conflict, some of whom were combatants and some of whom were civilians. In addition to those victims, violence had an impact on other women in Colombia. Many suffered displacement, and many were victims of sexual violence. Some were tortured. The situation was so serious that it called for a visit from the Special Rapporteur. Her recommendations could make Colombia take the necessary actions to protect these women.
DAVID A. HARRIS, of the American Jewish Committee, expressed profound concern about the indescribably oppressive conditions endured by women living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. It was abundantly clear that the Taliban were perpetrating unprecedented, systematic and widespread gender discrimination against women. The Taliban edicts enforced on the lives of Afghan women denied them their most fundamental human rights, indeed they suffocated their very existence. Their lives were restricted to such an extent that those women were effectively reduced to being silent ghosts. Forced to wear a “burqua”, a loose veil to ensure that the body was covered from head to toe with only a small cloth screen for vision, the women of Afghanistan faced harsh and archaic punishment, such as public flogging, if they were seen to be wavering from the dress code. That physical restriction was symbolic of the attempt to destroy the individual identity of women.
REENA MARWAH, of the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, said human rights of women were based on the belief that all people should have equal access to resources and services which would help them accomplish their goals in life, prevent or alleviate problems, and realize their full potential as human beings. Yet these rights were often denied to the people who lacked economic, physical or social resources. It would not be wrong to claim that women comprised the largest group of the human race who were systematically denied their basic human rights. Denial of human rights especially to women meant wasting invaluable human resources. In doing so, the potential of half the human race was discounted. The right to education constituted a fundamental human right. Denial of this crucial right was tantamount to denial of other civil and political rights, like freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to political participation. Yet, there was a low priority attached to educating a girl in many societies. Even where education was free, there were other obstacles to attending schools. The Commission should help construct a world in which women enjoyed all rights which helped accomplish their goals.
MARIA TERESA BAIGES ARTIS, of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, said that violence against women was universal. It took different forms including killings, physical harm, sexual aggression, illegal detention, trafficking and torture, among other things. In 1980, the United Nations had denounced violence against women as a crime which was taking place in many parts of the world. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was approved in 1979, represented a historic event in the effort to protect the human rights of women and to eradicate violence against women. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1993, had been followed by the adoption of a protocol to the Convention. The protocol had still to be ratified by a number of States.
RAVINDER KAUL, of the Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation, said the problem of violence against women in parts of South and Central Asia was particularly accentuated by the dictates of religious extremists who coerced the women to wear veils and denied them the basic rights to education, employment and freedom of expression. The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women had reported that the Taliban in Afghanistan had taken the denial of human rights of women to new lows, laying down rule after rule denying women their basic human rights. She also drew attention to the forced marriages by which unmarried women were abducted, raped by and then forced to become the brides of members of the armed opposition in Jammu and Kashmir. Violence against women had been systematic and persistent during the past decade of terrorism by Islamist extremists in Kashmir. In a land where violence against women was once unheard of and rape was a rarity, these crimes had been increasing. The inhuman atrocities that womenfolk were being subjected to in Kashmir had become more gruesome in recent years. The terrorists there had also indulged in the practice of forcibly marrying the women who caught their fancy. Those who resisted met a gory end. An elderly woman who rebuffed the advances of some terrorists towards her two daughters was killed by the terrorists last August. There was an urgent need for taking stringent punitive measures at national levels against non-State actors responsible for violence against women. The international community and the United Nations bodies needed to adopt a consensual approach for evolving an effective deterrent against such forces of violence and terror.
KAUSAR TAQDEES GILANI, of the World Muslim Congress, said that violence against women was not limited to domestic violence but also included systematic use of rape against whole populations as was tragically seen over recent years in many areas, especially in Bosnia and Kashmir. That violence knew no boundary, because it also took place in the western countries. No country in the world was free from the virus of violence against women, and south Asia was no exception. The people of Kashmir had been waging a heroic freedom struggle against Indian occupation for the last five decades. The struggle had reached a crescendo over the last decade. The noble Kashmiris had experienced killings, torture and economic strangulation. In spited of that they had not given up the dream of freedom. It was the dishonouring and sexual harassment of their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters which was hurting them.
DEIRDRE McCONNEL, of Women Against Rape, said women and children were the victims of the worst human rights violations in areas of armed conflicts and ethnic wars. It was crystal clear that sexual violence, which was used to subjugate and destroy a people as a form of ethnic cleansing, was an abhorrent and heinous war crime. These persistent and gross abuses, flagrant denials of the human rights of women and their right to life itself, demanded an urgent response from international human rights bodies. On average, a Tamil woman was raped by members of the Sri Lankan security forces every two weeks. The real number was inevitably higher since many cases went unreported. Every two months, a Tamil woman was gang-raped and murdered by the Sri Lankan security forces. Personnel from the Special Task Force, the Sri Lankan Navy, Army and Police and Home Guards, had raped Tamil women. Senior personnel, such as captains, were known to have been involved in gang-rape and murders, and had been named by victims and witnesses, but none had ever been convicted nor punished. There was a case of a woman who was gang-raped and murdered by security forces in 1997 whose attackers inserted a grenade into her vagina and blew her body apart to destroy all evidence. Several NGOs had appealed to the President of Sri Lanka, who herself was Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, to investigate these atrocities against women, in a country which had produced the world's first woman Prime Minister. The Commission was urged to take meaningful action and to appoint a country rapporteur to Sri Lanka to look into the situation of the systematic rape of Tamil women.
SAMIRA KABIR, of the World Federation of Trade Unions, said she was hoping that all possible support would be extended to all those fighting for the cause of the Afghan women. While violence against certain segments of society, like ethnic and religious minorities, was rampant in Afghanistan, a striking aspect of Taliban rule was the distress that women had faced since the coming of the fundamentalists to power in 1992. The Taliban had deprived the women of Afghanistan from engaging in any productive activities to benefit Afghan society and economy. The combined capabilities and talents of the Afghan women had been placed in cold storage as a result of some twisted interpretation of the religion. The country could not evolve into a humane society when half of the population was in chains, devoid of the most basic rights and freedoms and having no say in the country's governance.
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