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International Instruments

International and regional instruments provide direction to states parties on how to meet their obligation to develop and implement legislation on violence against women and girls:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) in Article 3 states that “[e]veryone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Article 7 states that “[a]ll are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.” Article 8 declares that “[e]veryone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (ICCPR) in Article 2 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and obligates states parties to “…ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy.” Article 26 states:

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The ICCPR created the Human Rights Committee (Article 28), to which States parties must report upon request. The Committee has issued a number of General Comments on thematic issues. In General Comment 28, entitled Equality of rights between men and women, (Art. 3), the Committee declared that States parties are responsible for ensuring the equal enjoyment of rights without any discrimination. (Paragraph 4) It noted that states parties should ensure that traditional, historical, religious or cultural attitudes are not used to justify violations of women's right to equality before the law and to equal enjoyment of all Covenant rights. (Paragraph 5) General Comment 28 also provides recommendations and requirements for States parties, including:

State parties should provide information to enable the Committee to ascertain whether access to justice and the right to a fair trial, provided for in article 14, are enjoyed by women on equal terms to men. (Paragraph 18)

States parties must provide information to enable the Committee to assess the effect of any laws or practices that may interfere with women’s right to enjoy privacy and other rights protected by article 17 on the basis of equality with men. (Paragraph 20)

...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.

As stated in Article 2, states parties to CEDAW must eliminate this discrimination by adopting “…appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate…” and must agree to “establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination…”

  • The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (2000) allows individuals to bring complaints or inquiries to the independent experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, when there has been an alleged violation of CEDAW. For example, in A.T. v. Hungary, a victim of severe domestic violence brought a claim to the Committee alleging that Hungary failed to protect her. In 2005, the Committee found that although A.T. sought help from Hungarian civil and criminal courts and child protection authorities, the Hungarian government failed to provide her with any assistance or protection. The Committee found that Hungary had violated its obligations under the Convention, and made recommendations to Hungary that it act to protect the safety of A.T. and act more generally to effect the rights granted under the Convention.

The Optional Protocol in Article 8 also establishes an inquiry procedure that allows the Committee to initiate an investigation where it has received reliable information of grave or systematic violations by a State Party of rights established in the Convention. This was the basis for the 2005 Report on Mexico produced by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women under article 8 of the Optional Protocol of the Convention, and reply from the Government of Mexico, regarding the abduction, rape, and murder of women in the Ciudad Juárez area of Chihuahua, Mexico.

  • In General Recommendation 12, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that in their periodic reports to the Committee states should include information about existing laws that protect women against violence, other measures that have been implemented to eradicate violence against women, and information about support services for victims. States parties also were asked to send the Committee statistical data about violence against women.
  • In General Recommendation 19, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women interpreted the term “discrimination” used in CEDAW to include gender-based violence by stating in para. 6 that it is:

violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty. Gender-based violence may breach specific provisions of the Convention, regardless of whether those provisions expressly mention violence.

The Committee also rejected customary or religious justifications for gender-based violence in para. 11:

Traditional attitudes by which women are regarded as subordinate to men or as having stereotyped roles perpetuate widespread practices involving violence or coercion, such as family violence and abuse, forced marriage, dowry deaths, acid attacks and female circumcision. Such prejudices and practices may justify gender-based violence as a form of protection or control of women. The effect of such violence on the physical and mental integrity of women is to deprive them of the equal enjoyment, exercise and knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Committee recommended in para. 24(b) that “States parties should ensure that laws against family violence and abuse, rape, sexual assault and other gender-based violence give adequate protection to all women and respect their integrity and dignity…” It also noted in para. 24(t) that “States parties should take all legal and other measures that are necessary to provide effective protection of women against gender-based violence,” including legal, criminal, civil and compensatory measures, preventative measures such as public information campaigns, and protective measures such as shelters and support for victims and for those at risk of violence.

violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men