Violence against women-what next?
Palais des Nations, Salle XXI, 8 April 2003
Discurso de abertura em evento doNGO Committee on the Status of Women em reunião do alto comissariado de direitos humanos da ONU
We celebrate this year, as you all know, the tenth anniversary of the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights. Vienna was a watershed for women’s rights. States recognized explicitly that violence against women in all its forms is a fundamental human rights concern
Let me first express my appreciation to the NGO Committee on the Status of Women for co-organizing the event, and to my colleagues for their hard work in bringing you all here today. I would like to thank Ms. Najat Al-Hajjaji for kindly agreeing to chair the session. I should point out that at our first meeting when she was elected chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, the first thing we discussed was the priority we both give to women’s rights issues. Of course I would also like to thank Ms. Conchita Poncini, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women.
I will not try to introduce the panelists, as that is being done by Ms. Al-Hajjaji. Let me only mention the importance of having here Radhika Coomaraswamy, at the end of her nine-year term as Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on violence against women. We look forward to hearing from her, today and tomorrow, as hers has been a voice of conscience for us all and I hope she will continue to be one in her new function in Sri Lanka. I would like to point out that I believe our Office should be more involved in supporting peace negotiations, particularly with regard to the need to pay due attention to women’s rights in the context of such negotiations.
Allow me also to welcome Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, the newly appointed Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women. I had the opportunity to participate in the 47th session of the Commission as they worked to advance our common agenda. We are also honored to have among of us for this occasion the chairperson of CEDAW, Ms. Feride Acar, and an impressive line-up of human rights experts. I thank you all for your participation in this event.
We celebrate this year, as you all know, the tenth anniversary of the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights. Vienna was a watershed for women’s rights. States recognized explicitly that violence against women in all its forms is a fundamental human rights concern. That includes domestic abuse as much as rape, burning, mutilation, stoning, or the violence that women experience during conflicts. Women suffer from violence that is too often perpetrated in private. But Governments have a clear obligation, under human rights standards, to take all necessary measures to prevent such violence, to condemn it in unequivocal terms, to prosecute perpetrators and to provide protection and redress to the victims.
A few months after the Vienna Conference, the General Assembly adopted by consensus the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The General Assembly was united in declaring that “States should not invoke [as the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights just pointed out] any custom, tradition or religious consideration, to avoid their obligations with respect to [the] elimination” of violence against women. In Vienna, we had stressed the importance of working towards the eradication of conflicts between the rights of women and the harmful effects of certain traditional or customary practices, cultural prejudices and religious interpretations, including extreme ones. In Durban, States reiterated their commitment to combating racial and religious prejudice and intolerance while promoting the universal rights of women.
So I think we have an appropriate framework. Clear human rights standards exist. Yet, despite all the progress we have achieved in standard-setting, women continue to face gender-based violence. In many cases, legal and judicial systems still do not provide appropriate protection and remedies for women. I have said this in Islamabad and I have said it in Madrid, during my recent visits. For this is not a phenomenon of the North or the South, the East or the West. Violence against women takes place everywhere, and as much in Christian as in Muslim countries. I had personal experience of the work we did in Timor-Leste to address that issue, and women’s groups there could tell you how much we worked on it.
Our priority for the future should be to improve the implementation of the many legal reforms that have already taken place. All acts of violence against women – whether committed by the military, State officials, or relatives – and wherever they occur, must be strongly condemned and effectively prosecuted. Often the legal framework is available, but prosecutors or judges interpret it in lenient manners, or avoid taking the issue as seriously as it must. And this happens also in highly-developed countries, not only in poor ones.
There must be no impunity for gender-based violence. Let me be clear. What we are talking about is not a side-issue. It is not a special interest group of concern to only a few. What we are talking about are not only women’s rights but also the human rights of over one-half of this globe’s population. Their denial – for whatever reason – is wrong. It is a wrong, and one that we men must assume. Violence against women concerns not only women, but above all the rest of us. I told villagers in Angola during a recent visit that all men should be ashamed. Ashamed that women must denounce the violations they suffer and that they face such hurdles in doing so. This is not a message men always appreciate hearing. I remember one occasion in which my remarks in that sense drew and angry reception from men in the audience in a province of Timor-Leste. And yet, after years of efforts on awareness-raising, the situation changed and men acknowledged the problem. Denial of this human rights issue by men is wrong – there are some complicated dynamics at play there that we must be capable of addressing.
Greater efforts, resources and commitment are required to create fundamental changes in societal attitude if we are to truly eliminate violence against women. We must continue to work together to change our societies and eradicate this plague.
My office and I are prepared to do whatever we can to reach these goals. In the coming weeks I hope that I will have the privilege to welcome a senior advisor for gender issues to my office, and let me clarify that this will be in my immediate office, to strengthen our existing expertise. In various postings over the course of my career, I have seen, all too often, that the terrible violence that women face is part and parcel of many conflicts, and must be part of the solution. I have also seen that it can be stopped – that societies can enlarge their understanding of dignity and shrink the scope of fear. Gender-based violence breeds fear; protection of the human rights of women must eliminate it.
Najat, dear panelists, please accept my warmest wishes and my high hopes for your work on this critical issue. You know that you have my total support. Thank you.