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Key international and regional laws, instruments and agreements

Last edited: December 30, 2011

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Key international and regional laws, instruments and agreements establishing state responsibilities for national police and armed forces on women’s rights and eliminating violence against women.

Law / instrument

Relevant provisions


Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 
(CEDAW - 1979)

  • Violence against women is a form of discrimination. (Article 1)

  • States parties are responsible for adopting appropriate legislation and other measures to prohibit all discrimination against women and establish legal protection of the equal rights of women – including (b) sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women; (c) to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination; (d) To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation; (e) To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise; and (g) To repeal all national penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women. (Article 2)

  • States parties are required to take measures to eliminate prejudices and stereotyped roles for men and women. (Article 5)

  • States parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women. (Article 6)

  • States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment, including measures to ensure women are not dismissed or sanctioned due to their marital status or during pregnancy, and provisions are made to protect women during pregnancy in jobs that may be harmful to them and encourage the provision of support for parents, including child-care. (Article 11)

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women,

General Recommendations


  • General Recommendation No.12 (1989) calls on States Parties to include in periodic reports to the Committee updates on laws and:

    • Other measures adopted to eradicate this violence;

    • The existence of support services for women who are the victims of aggression or abuses;

    • Statistical data on the incidence of violence of all kinds against women and on women who are the victims of violence.

  • General Recommendation 19 (1992) notes:

    • Gender-based violence... is discrimination within the meaning of article 1 of the Convention (Paragraph 7)

    • CEDAW applies to violence perpetrated by public authorities. Such acts of violence may breach that State's obligations under general international human rights law and under other conventions, in addition to breaching this Convention (Para 8) 

    • States may also be responsible for private acts if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights or to investigate and punish acts, and provide compensation. (Para 9)

    • Measures to suppress all forms of traffic includes equal protection of prostitutes, who are especially vulnerable to violence because their status, which may be unlawful, and tend to be marginalized. They need the equal protection of laws against rape and other forms of violence. It also requires specific protective and punitive measures during wars, armed conflicts and the occupation of territories. (Paras 15-16)

    • As part of appropriate protective and support services, gender-sensitive training of judicial and law enforcement officers and other public officials is essential for the effective implementation of the Convention. (Para 24b)

    • Specific preventive and punitive measures are necessary to overcome trafficking and sexual exploitation. (Para 24g)

    • States parties should ensure that services for victims of violence are accessible to rural women and that where necessary special services are provided to isolated communities. (Para 24o)

    • Measures that are necessary to overcome family violence should include criminal penalties where necessary and civil remedies in cases of domestic violence. (Para 24ri)

    •  States parties should report on the extent of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and on the preventive, punitive and remedial measures that have been taken. (Para 24s)

    • Effective legal measures, including penal sanctions, civil remedies and compensatory provisions to protect women against all kinds of violence, including inter alia violence and abuse in the family, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace. (Para 24ti)

    • States parties should report on all forms of gender-based violence, and such reports should include all available data on the incidence of each form of violence and on the effects of such violence on the women who are victims. (Para 24u)

    • The reports of States parties should include information on the legal, preventive and protective measures that have been taken to overcome violence against women, and on the effectiveness of such measures. (Para 24v)  

Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984)

  • Includes violence committed by or with the consent of state agents (e.g. security personnel) for the purposes of discrimination. (Article 1)

UN General Assembly, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993)

  • Calls upon States to ‘[t]ake measures to ensure that law enforcement officers and public officials responsible for implementing policies to prevent, investigate and punish violence against women receive training to sensitize them to the needs of women’. (Article 4-i)

Beijing Platform for Action (1995)

Commits governments to the following strategic objectives:

  • Provide gender-sensitive human rights education and training for the police, military, correction officers ... including those operating in areas of armed conflict or refugee areas - including to sensitize personnel to the nature of gender-based acts and threats of violence so fair treatment of female victims can be assured. (D1.n; E5.o; I2.I; section D.121)

  • Encourage, support and implement measures and programmes to increase knowledge of the causes, consequences and mechanisms of violence against women amongst law enforcement officers and police personnel and develop strategies to ensure that the re-victimization of women victims of violence does not occur because of gender-insensitive laws or judicial or enforcement practices. (D1.g)

  • Include information about international and regional instruments and standards in public information and human rights education and in adult education/training programmes, particularly for groups such as military, police and other law enforcement personnel to ensure that human rights are protected. (I3.d)

  • Adopt laws that punish police, security forces or any other agents of the state who engage in acts of violence against women in the course of performance of their duties, and take action to investigate and punish perpetrators. (D1.o).

  • Create or strengthen institutional mechanisms so that women and girls can report acts of violence against them in a safe and confidential environment, free from the fear of penalties or retaliation and file charges. (D1.l)

  • Ensure that women have the same right as men to be judges, advocates or other officers of the court, as well as police officers and prison and detention officers, among other things. (I2.m)

UN General Assembly Resolution 52/86 on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Measures to Eliminate Violence against Women (1998)

States are urged:

  • ‘… to empower the police to respond promptly to incidents of violence against women’

  • ‘to encourage women to join police forces, including at the operational level’

  • ‘to provide for or to encourage mandatory cross-cultural and gender-sensitivity training modules for police … that deal with the unacceptability of violence against women, its impact and consequences and that promote an adequate response to the issue of violence against women’ (Annex paras. 8 and 12)

UNSC Resolution 1325 (2000)

  • Stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts to maintain/promote peace and security.

  • Calls on the Secretary-General to ensure that civilian personnel of peacekeeping operations receive training on the protection, rights and the particular needs of women. (Art 6)

  • Calls on all actors involved in peace agreements to include measures that ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls, including related to police. (Art 8c)

  • Emphasizes State responsibility to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes including those relating to sexual violence against women and girls. (Art. 11)

  • Encourages consideration of the different needs of female and male ex-combatants and their dependants in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

  • Includes acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence as “Crimes Against Humanity” when committed in a widespread or systematic manner, whether or not in times of armed conflict. (Article 7g)

UNGA, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons especially Women and Children (2000/2004)

  • Calls for states to assist and protect victims of trafficking in persons, considering their age, gender and special needs.(Art.6-4)

  • States Parties shall ‘…provide or strengthen training for law enforcement, immigration and other relevant officials in the prevention of trafficking in persons’ and this training shall address ‘human rights and child- and gender-sensitive issues’. (Art. 10-2)

UNSC Resolution 1820 (2008)

  • Special measures taken to protect women and girls from sexual violence in armed conflict (e.g. enforcing appropriate military disciplinary measures and upholding command responsibility, training troops on the prohibition of all forms of sexual violence against civilians, debunking myths that fuel sexual violence, vetting armed and security forces for past actions of rape and other forms of sexual violence, and evacuation of women and children under threat of sexual violence to safety). (Art.3)

  • Calls on states to end impunity for sexual violence and ensure that all victims have equal protection under the law. (Art. 4)

  • Requests the development and implementation of appropriate training programs for all UN peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel to help better prevent, recognize and respond to sexual violence and other forms of violence against civilians. (Art. 6)

  • Requests the Secretary General to strengthen efforts to implement the policy of zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations and urges countries contributing peacekeeping troops to take preventative action on sexual exploitation and abuse, including pre-deployment and in-theatre awareness training. (Art. 7)

    • Urges countries contributing peacekeeping troops to increase personnel responsiveness to protect civilians, including women and children, and prevent sexual violence against women and girls. Including by deploying a higher percentage of women peacekeepers or police. (Art.8)

    • Requests that UN-assisted SSR and DDR initiatives consult with women and women-led organizations to develop effective mechanisms for protecting women from violence.

    • Urges women’s participation in discussions related to conflict prevention and resolution, the maintenance of peace and security, and post conflict peacebuilding, and encourages parties to facilitate women’s equal and full participation at decision-making levels. (Art. 12)

    • Development of peacekeeping guidelines and strategies to protect civilians, including women and girls, from all forms of sexual violence. (Art. 9)

    • Development of effective mechanisms for providing protection from sexual violence to women and girls in and around UN managed refugee and internally displaced persons camps, and in all disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes, and security sector reform efforts assisted by the UN. (Art.10)

UNSC Resolution 1888 (2009)


  • Demands that ‘all parties to armed conflict immediately take appropriate measures to protect civilians, including women and children, from all forms of sexual violence, including… vetting candidates for national armies and security forces to ensure the exclusion of those associated with ... sexual violence’. (Art. 3).

  • Urges States to undertake comprehensive legal and judicial reforms to ensure that survivors of sexual violence have access to justice, are treated with dignity throughout the justice process, are protected and receive redress for their suffering (Art. 6).

  • All parties to conflict to ensure that all reports of sexual violence committed by civilians or by military personnel are thoroughly investigated and alleged perpetrators brought to justice, and that civilian superiors and military commanders use their authority and powers to prevent sexual violence and address impunity (Art. 7)

  • Encourages States to increase capacities of law enforcement personnel with regard to sexual violence in armed conflict (Art.9)

  • Urges including sexual violence issues from the outset of peace processes, including in sector reform and during the vetting of armed and security forces. (Art. 17)

  • Deployment of  greater numbers of female military and police personnel to United Nations peacekeeping operations, and to provide all military and police personnel with adequate training to carry out their responsibilities. (Art. 19)

  • Provision of technical support to troop and police contributing countries, in order to include guidance for military and police personnel on addressing sexual violence in pre-deployment and induction training. (Art. 20)

  • Ongoing requests to strengthen efforts to implement the UN policy of zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse and urging of troop-contributing countries to take actions such as pre-deployment and in-theatre awareness training. (Art. 21)

UNSC 1889 on Women, Peace and Security  (2009)

  • Highlights state responsibility to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for all forms of violence committed against women and girls in armed conflicts, including rape and other sexual violence. (Art. 3)

  • Design of concrete strategies to support women and girl’s security needs, including through gender-responsive law enforcement. (Art. 10)

  • Consideration of the needs of women and girls associated with armed forces and armed groups and their children in the planning for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, ensuring their access to such programmed. (Art.13)

UNSC Resolution 1960 (2010)

  • Parties to armed conflict to make and implement specific and time-bound commitments to combat sexual violence, including, issuance of clear orders through chains of command prohibiting sexual violence and the prohibition of sexual violence in Codes of Conduct, military field manuals; and parties to make and implement specific commitments on timely investigation of alleged abuses in order to hold perpetrators accountable. (Art. 5)

  • Encourages Member States to deploy greater numbers of female police personnel to United Nations peacekeeping operations, and to provide all police and military personnel with adequate training on sexual and gender-based violence. (Art. 15)

  • Continued requests related to provision and deployment of guidance on addressing sexual violence for pre-deployment and inductive training of military and police personnel, and in developing situation-specific procedures to address sexual violence at the field level and to ensure provision of technical support to troop and police contributing countries so guidance is included for military and police personnel on addressing sexual violence in pre-deployment and induction training. (Art. 16)


Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Belém do Pará) (1994)

  • The States Parties condemn all forms of violence against women and agree to pursue policies to prevent, punish and eradicate such violence and undertake to:

    • Refrain from engaging in any act or practice of violence against women and to ensure that authorities, officials, personnel, agents and institutions act according to this obligation.

    • Apply due diligence to prevent, investigate and impose penalties for violence against women. (Chapter 3. Article 7)

Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of  Women in Africa (2003)

  • Adoption and implementation of appropriate measures to ensure the protection of every woman’s right to respect for her dignity and protection of women from all forms of violence, particularly sexual and verbal violence. (Art. 3)

  • States Parties to enact and enforce laws to prohibit all forms of violence against women including unwanted or forced sex whether in private or public; punish perpetrators of violence against women and implement programmes for the rehabilitation of survivors; and establish mechanisms and accessible services for effective information, rehabilitation and reparation for victims. (Art. 4.2a,e,f)

  • Appropriate measures are taken to ensure that law enforcement organs at all levels are equipped to effectively interpret and enforce gender equality rights and that women are represented equally in law enforcement organs. (Art. 8)

  • Appropriate measures are taken to ensure that no child, especially girls under 18 years of age, take a direct part in hostilities and that no child is recruited as a soldier. (Art. 11)

  • Measures taken to ensure the right of pregnant or nursing women or women in detention by providing them with an environment which is suitable to their condition and the right to be treated with dignity. (Art 24)

Revised Pacific Platform for Action on Advancement of Women and Gender Equality 2005 to 2015: a Regional Chapter (2004)


  • Recognition and enhancement of women’s inclusion in early warning systems, conflict prevention peace processes and negotiations and post conflict reconstruction.

  • Use of regional and international organizations to conduct gender sensitivity training for peacekeepers. (Section IV. Peace & Security)

  • Seminars for lawmakers, the Police and the Judiciary attitudes towards sexual and family violence. (Platform Action 2.3)

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Resolution on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Women and Girls Victims of Sexual Violence, (2007) 

  • Urges States Parties to ensure that police and military forces … receive adequate training on the principles of international humanitarian law, women’s rights and the children’s rights. (Art.2)

Comprehensive approach to the EU

implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 (2008)

  • Commits the EU, in supporting SSR, to ‘…ensure that the reform processes account for the specific security needs of both women and men, boys and girls, and promote women’s inclusion in the staff of the institutions concerned (such as the police).’ This includes specific attention to the investments needed to receive victims of sexual and gender-based violence and investigate these crimes. (Art. 35)

Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (2011)

  • Ensure that State authorities, officials, agents, institutions and other actors acting on behalf of the State act in conformity with this obligation. (Art. 5)

  • States shall take the necessary measures to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish and provide reparation for acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention that are perpetrated by non-State actors. (Art. 5)

  • Provide or strengthen training for the relevant professionals dealing with victims or perpetrators of all acts of violence covered by this Convention, on prevention and detection of such violence, equality between women and men, the needs and rights of victims, as well as on how to prevent secondary victimization. Training should include coordinated multi-agency co-operation to allow for a comprehensive and appropriate handling of referrals in cases of violence covered by this Convention. (Art.15. 1-2)

  • Legislative or other measures should be taken to protect all victims from any further acts of violence. This should ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms to provide for effective cooperation between relevant state agencies, including the judiciary, public prosecutors, law enforcement agencies,…in protecting and supporting victims and witnesses of all forms of violence, including by referring to general and specialist support services. (Art. 18)

  • Ensure that the responsible law enforcement agencies respond to all forms of violence promptly and appropriately by offering adequate and immediate protection to victims. Measures should also be taken to ensure law enforcement agencies engage promptly and appropriately in the prevention and protection against all forms of violence, including through preventive operational measures and the collection of evidence. (Art. 50)

  • Ensure that an assessment of the lethality risk, the seriousness of the situation and the risk of repeated violence is carried out by all relevant authorities to manage risk and if necessary to provide coordinated safety and support. Ensure the assessment considers, at all stages of the investigation and application of protective measures, possession of or access to firearms by perpetrators of violence. (Art. 51)

  • Ensure that competent authorities are granted the power to order, in situations of immediate danger, a perpetrator of domestic violence to vacate the victim or person at risk’s residence for a sufficient period of time and to prohibit the perpetrator from entering the residence of or contacting the victim/person at risk. Measures taken pursuant to this article shall give priority to the safety of victims or persons at risk. (Art. 52)

  • Ensure that appropriate restraining or protection orders are available to victims, which are:   

    • available for immediate protection and without undue financial or administrative burdens for the victim;

    • issued for a specified period or until modified or discharged;

    • where necessary, issued on an ex-parte basis which has immediate effect;

    • available irrespective of, or in addition to, other legal proceedings;

    • allowed to be introduced in subsequent legal proceedings.

  • Ensure that breaches of restraining or protection orders shall be subject to effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal or other legal sanctions. (Art. 53)

  • Taking measures to protect the rights and interests of victims, including their needs as witnesses, at all stages of investigations and judicial proceedings, in particular by:

    • providing for their and families and witnesses protection from intimidation, retaliation and repeat victimization;

    • ensuring victims are informed, at least in cases where the victims and the family might be in danger, when the perpetrator escapes or is released temporarily or definitively;

    • informing them of their rights and the services at their disposal and the follow-up given to their complaint, the charges, the general progress of the investigation or proceedings, and their role therein, as well as the outcome of their case;

    • enabling victims to be heard, to supply evidence and have their views, needs and concerns presented, directly or through an intermediary, and considered;

    • ensuring that measures may be adopted to protect the privacy and the image of the victim;

    • ensuring that contact between victims and perpetrators within court and law enforcement agency premises is avoided where possible. (Art. 56)

Adapted from sources above and: Bastick, Hug and Takeshita for DCAF. 2011. International and Regional Laws and Instruments related to Security Sector Reform and Gender; Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. 2009. Security System Reform: What Have We Learned? Results and trends from the publication and dissemination of the OECD/DAC Handbook on Security System Reform.


Key Tools  

Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice  (United Nations General Assembly, 2009). This document requires UN member states to implement strategies and measures based on ten pillars: criminal law; criminal procedure; police; sentencing and correction; victim support and assistance; health and social services; training; research and evaluation; crime prevention measures and international cooperation. It sets out clear lists of provisions that should be included in national criminal laws and procedures to ensure their effectiveness in eliminating all forms of violence against women. It resulted in a 2010 ECOSOC Resolution “Strengthening crime prevention and criminal justice responses to violence against women”. Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

Respect, Protect and Fulfill: Legislating for Women’s Rights in the Context of HIV/AIDS – Volume One: Sexual and Domestic Violence (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 2009). This guide is a resource for advocates and policy-makers working on developing or reforming HIV-related legislation. The guide, developed for programming in sub-Saharan Africa, comprises two volumes which provide information on international human rights law with illustrative examples from various jurisdictions as the foundation for a legal framework to respect, protect and promote women’s rights in the context of HIV and AIDS. Volume 1 includes 2 modules, addressing rape and sexual assault, and domestic violence, respectively and can be used by any country in Africa or other regions. Available in English; 109 pages.