You are on page 1of 36


human rights



an international forum for debating human rights




Fall 2003 Series 2 Number 10 $5.00






















V E R Y O N E E Q U A L I T YWhat
A C H Iwomen’s
E V E M E N T advocates
M O V E M E Nhave gained
T ENG from
AGE IN D I V I using

E N T L E G I T I M A C Y Rthe
I G Hhuman
T S E V Erights
R Y O Nframework—and
E E Q U A L I T Y A C Hhow the
T Mof
O Vthe

S I B I L I T Y W O M E N Ehuman
MPOWE R M E Nmovement
C Y gained
R I G H T S from
E V E Rtheir
Y O N efforts


human rights dialogue
Series 2 Number 10 • Fall 2003

EDITOR: Elizabeth A. Cole

MANAGING EDITOR: Morgan Stoffregen
CONSULTING EDITOR: Erin Mahoney about
TEXT EDITORS: Bill Harris, Lydia Tomitova
DESIGN: Mim Adkins
Human Rights Dialogue
INTERNS: Blair Miller, Sergio Mukherjee Published semiannually, Human Rights Dialogue aims to
promote global dialogue and learning about human rights
Lydia Alpízar, Sheila Dauer, Surita Sandosham concepts and action. By featuring essays by people with
FOUNDING EDITOR: Joanne Bauer firsthand experience in implementing human rights in par-
ticular contexts, each issue of Dialogue maps out the
claims being made within a specific domain of human
H U M A N R I G H T S I N I T I AT I V E rights and the strategies by which those claims are pursued.
In so doing, the publication aims to clarify the significant
Peter R. Baehr and ongoing evolution taking place within the human
Carlos Basombrío rights movement to make the human rights framework
Ann Blyberg
more relevant and effective in addressing the social, eco-
Catharin E. Dalpino
Clarence J. Dias nomic, and political challenges of the twenty-first century.
Peter H. Juviler Series One of Dialogue (1993–1998) examined the
Benedict Kingsbury arguments on all sides of the Asian values debate. In Series
Stephen P. Marks Two (2000–present), Dialogue addresses the problem of
Chidi Anselm Odinkalu
Dimitrina Petrova
“the human rights box”—that is, the constraints created by
D. J. Ravindran a set of historical and structural circumstances that have
Edwin Rekosh enabled the human rights framework to gain currency
Loretta J. Ross among elites while limiting its advance among the most
Mohammed El Sayed Said
vulnerable. The essays aim to locate these barriers and
William F. Schulz
demonstrate how they can be overcome.
Founded in 1914 by Andrew Carnegie, the Carnegie
CARNEGIE COUNCIL ON ETHICS Council is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organ-
AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS ization dedicated to research and education at the inter-
PRESIDENT: Joel H. Rosenthal section of ethics and international affairs. The essays
VICE PRESIDENT FOR FINANCE AND ADMINISTRATION: published within Human Rights Dialogue reflect the
Eva Becker
opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of the
Carnegie Council.
CIRCULATION: Deborah Carroll

Copyright © 2003 Carnegie Council on Ethics

and International Affairs, a publicly supported
organization of the type described under section
509(a)(1) and 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) of the International PAST ISSUES OF HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE
Revenue Code.
• Globalization
Please direct requests for permission to
reprint or otherwise reproduce articles to Morgan • Public Security
Stoffregen at Current and • Peace Work
past issues of Human Rights Dialogue are available • Health Rights
in downloadable format on our Web site at
• Humanitarian Intervention Downloading for class-
room or event use also requires permission. • Women’s Human Rights
Bulk orders of Human Rights Dialogue for • Human Rights Litigation
classroom or event use are available at a discount. • Workplace Codes of Conduct
For more information, contact Deborah Carroll at Cover photo courtesy of
• Human Rights Legitimacy UN PHOTO 157413/
• Asian Values Series William Graham
Editorial and Business Offices:
170 East 64th St., New York, NY 10021-7496
tel: (212) 838-4120
fax: (212) 752-2432

ISBN: 0-87641-052-2
this issue




In an interview with Dialogue, Christopher Harper discusses how violence against women in
South Africa has been justified under the banners of culture, religion, and the resistance move-
ment—and how he is working to change that.


According to Lisa W. Karanja, women’s activists have documented the linkage between domes-
tic violence and women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS—and they hold the Ugandan government


Carrie Cuthbert and her colleagues write that battered mothers facing a family court system that
lacks accountability have found hope in the human rights framework. The hard part is getting the
courts themselves to change.


It is high time, Carin Benninger-Budel and Lucinda O’Hanlon argue, for the UN Committee
against Torture to address violence against women in its work. Alda Facio explains how women
in Latin America helped put this issue on the map.


In her fight against female genital mutilation among refugees, June Munala finds that securing
the involvement of everyone in the camp community is essential. More importantly, writes Anne
Gathumbi-Masheti, advocates must not hesitate to use the law.


Thanks to the dedication of women’s rights activists, Rhonda Copelon writes, the new
International Criminal Court recognizes rape as a war crime.


In the face of Nigeria’s expansion of religious laws, as Ayesha Imam explains in an interview
with Dialogue, it is important to work within the court system to strengthen respect for women’s
rights. Uché U. Ewelukwa and Albaqir A. Mukhtar argue that this might not be the best course.


Lydia Alpízar explains how women’s organizations are responding to the systematic killings of
women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Charlotte Bunch notes that their efforts have opened doors
for the human rights movement to address other important issues.


Women’s rights advocates in Turkey, Leylâ Pervizat writes, are combating the pervasive belief
that so-called honor killings do not rise to the level of human rights abuses. Zehra F. Arat notes
that the state’s double standard is part of the problem.


LaShawn R. Jefferson describes how the women’s rights movement put violence against women
on the international human rights agenda.


In the last fifteen years, the engagement of human rights activists

in the problem of violence against women has increased exponentially.

T he 1993 World Development Report estimated that

worldwide, “violence against women is as serious a cause of
human rights is a development that underlies this issue of
Dialogue. Six contributors challenge the public/private split
death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as as an explicit part of their strategy to combat violence against
cancer, and a greater cause of ill-health than traffic accidents women. Leylâ Pervizat fights the widespread perception in
and malaria combined.” As defined in the Declaration on the Turkey that “honor killing” is not a human rights abuse like
Elimination of Violence against Women, violence against extrajudicial killing but rather a personal matter in which
women is a prevalent harm to the basic rights, freedoms, men have the right to defend and redeem their masculine
health, and welfare of women. It occurs in many settings and honor. In her response to Pervizat, Zehra F. Arat points out
at many hands, including those of relatives, acquaintances, the double standard that the state applies to violence when it
employers, and the state. Yet until at least the early 1990s, involves women and their sexuality. Pervizat finds the relega-
most forms of violence directed specifically against women tion of honor killings to the less-urgent sphere of “women’s
were met with silence not only by the state but also by much problems” to be common among Turkey’s mainstream human
of the human rights community. rights defenders, an obstacle also facing Lydia Alpízar in the
In the last fifteen years, however, the engagement of struggle that she and other women’s rights activists are wag-
human rights activists in the problem of violence against ing against the systematic killings of women in Ciudad
women has increased exponentially. Why and how this change Juárez, Mexico, which have continued unchecked since at
has occurred is an important piece of the history of the least 1993. Alpízar’s struggle is to get both mainstream
women’s and human rights movements, with major implica- Mexican human rights organizations and regional human
tions for both. Dialogue readers may recall an earlier issue on rights bodies to take violence against women at the hands of
women’s rights (Summer 2000), which included articles on vio- private actors as seriously as they take violence carried out by
lence. In the current issue, activists from around the world dis- the state. Charlotte Bunch responds to Alpízar’s essay, point-
cuss how women’s rights activists are using human rights ing out how the bridging of the public/private divide in
instruments to combat violence against women and, in turn, Mexico has opened doors for the human rights movement to
how the human rights movement is being enlarged and address other important issues, such as nonstate actors and
enriched by their approach. the integration of civil, political, economic, and social rights.
A striking theme in the testimonies gathered here is the Christopher Harper discusses his successes working with men
use of classical human rights tools in activists’ work to com- to change the belief that human rights apply to everything
bat violence against women. This general tendency to use except what they do in their own homes. And Lisa W. Karanja
human rights is significant: contributors to earlier issues of documents the deeply entrenched belief in marital privacy
Dialogue frequently expressed reluctance to refer to human that has prevented the Ugandan government from taking into
rights in their work, generally because of arguments that the account domestic abuse and rape as violations that contribute
concept of human rights is a foreign import and the belief that to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
references to human rights would either be ineffective or lead Cultural institutions, particularly religion, are often cited
to a backlash. for their role in violence against women. The frequency with
A crucial advance in the campaign against violence which women, the family, and the home are seen to overlap
against women came from the insight of feminists like with culture—indeed, to be the main vessels for the mainte-
Australian National University legal scholar Hilary nance and continuation of cultural and religious traditions—
Charlesworth, who pointed out in 1984 that women’s experi- is striking. Activists must challenge the defense of keeping this
ences are rendered nearly invisible in international law and tra- sector separate from what many view as the encroachment of
ditional understandings of human rights because both origi- western-inspired concepts of rights.
nally operated on the assumption that the public and private Ayesha Imam’s description of her fight to strengthen
domains are sharply differentiated. Not only was the beating, women’s rights through the Sharia courts in northern Nigeria
rape, or mutilation of a woman in her home at the hands of is a retort to those who claim that religious traditions are
relatives viewed as a private matter, but the abuses themselves inevitably a source of women’s oppression. She locates the
were unacknowledged to the point that statistics on many problem in Sharia’s implementation, not in Sharia itself,
forms of abuse remain difficult to collect. pointing out that Sharia court decisions have yielded improve-
The inclusion of the private sphere within the purview of ments for women in personal and family law in Nigeria,

4 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

despite Sharia’s politicization and the prob-
lematic implementation of Sharia penal codes
in twelve Nigerian states. In their responses,
however, Uché U. Ewelukwa and Albaqir A.
Mukhtar express their reservations about
reliance on Sharia, citing gender-discriminato-
ry principles beyond the level of implementa-
tion (Mukhtar) and the greater likelihood of
achieving judicial reform through recourse to
Nigerian constitutional law and international
human rights legal obligations (Ewelukwa). In
Turkey, Pervizat finds that traditional concep-
tions of masculinity, not Islam, are used as jus-
tifications for honor killing. Harper and his
organization counter the argument that
women’s rights are an imperialist concept hos-
tile to South African culture by demonstrat- Ugandan women engaged in an informal education session on HIV/AIDS.
ing that many native beliefs contain the core
concepts of equal regard for the right of all humans, men and of human rights violations: their appeal to a system based on
women, to live free of violence, which underpin human rights. the indivisibility of rights and government accountability won
And June Munala, working to eradicate female genital muti- the hearts and minds of survivors, who now see themselves as
lation (FGM) among refugees in Kenya, uses a combined bearers of human rights instead of only as victims.
approach: she finds that both appealing to a range of human Despite the slowness of the human rights movement to
rights, especially the right to health, while mobilizing a wide address violence against women, four essays report on success-
range of actors, including, significantly, Muslim and tradi- es in the effort to mainstream gender into the major interna-
tional community leaders, to oppose the practice is the most tional human rights institutions. Rhonda Copelon explains how
effective method to overcome it. In response, however, Anne women’s rights activists forced a sea change in international law
Gathumbi-Masheti insists on prioritizing a legal approach that resulted in the codification of rape as a war crime in the
that criminalizes the practice. Even Gathumbi-Masheti, International Criminal Court. Carin Benninger-Budel and
though, acknowledges the positive potential of culture in her Lucinda O’Hanlon of the Geneva-based World Organization
suggestion that implementing an alternative coming-of-age Against Torture detail their efforts to show how many types of
ritual for girls can help to eradicate FGM by satisfying a cul- violence against women should rightly be considered forms of
Photo courtesy of Freedom from Hunger / April Watson

tural need in a nonviolent way. torture. They argue that taking advantage of the strengths of
Finally, an important theme that emerges in this issue of the most developed human rights conventions can bring vio-
Dialogue is the complexity of issues involved in violence against lence against women off the periphery and into the mainstream.
women and the concomitant need to draw on both first- and In her response to their essay, Alda Facio describes how women
second-generation rights. Alpízar shows compellingly the rele- living under Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s began to
vance of economic and social factors to the Juárez murders: the make connections between the state’s torture of political pris-
victims are all young, poor, uprooted, and marginalized female oners and the domestic violence that women endured. And
maquiladora workers in a city where economic exploitation, LaShawn R. Jefferson describes how women’s rights activists
human trafficking, and drug-related crime are rampant. Their began to use human rights tools, such as nondiscrimination,
economic deprivation makes it easier to ignore these women’s due diligence, and the rights to life and health, to push violence
deaths, just as impunity under these conditions has apparently against women into the purview of mainstream human rights,
emboldened killers. And Carrie Cuthbert and her colleagues in challenging the traditional conception of human rights abuses
the U.S. state of Massachusetts have achieved a partial victory as state-perpetrated only and thereby expanding the legitimacy
in their efforts to cast the situation of battered mothers in terms of the human rights movement. hrd

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 5


Lydia Alpízar is a feminist human rights ac- Charlotte Bunch gers is the policy director for the Women’s
tivist. She is one of the founders of Elige Youth is the founder and ex- Rights Network and has spent the last seven
Network for Reproductive and Sexual Rights ecutive director of the years working on efforts to reform the court
and of the Latin American and Caribbean Center for Women’s system. Lundy Bancroft is a batterer interven-
Youth Network for Reproductive and Sexual Global Leadership. tion specialist and coauthor of The Batterer as
Rights. In addition to her involvement in the She has been an ac- Parent. Cynthia J. Mesh is a research
campaign “Stop Impunity: No More Murders tivist, author, and or- analyst at the Office of Women, Family, and
of Women,” she is also working with a newly ganizer in women’s Community Programs at Brigham and
established organization called Artemisa Inter- and human rights Women’s Hospital and an MPH student at
disciplinary Group on Gender, Sexuality and movements for over the Harvard School of Public Health.
Human Rights. three decades. In
1999, she was selected by President Clinton as
Zehra F. Arat is a recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Uché U. Ewelukwa
a professor of poli- Human Rights, and in 2002, Women’s Enews teaches at the Uni-
tical science and honored her as one of the “21 Leaders for the versity of Arkansas
women’s studies at 21st Century.” School of Law and is
Purchase College of currently a 2003–04
the State University of Rhonda Copelon is Carnegie Council fel-
New York. Her re- a professor of law low. She has received
search focuses on hu- and director of many awards for her
man rights, women’s the International work, including, in
rights, and democra- Women’s Human 1993, an Irving R.
cy. Currently she is Rights Law Clinic of Kaufman Public Ser-
serving on the editorial boards of the Interna- the City University of vice Fellowship to establish a new human rights
tional Feminist Journal of Politics and a book New York. The Clinic organization in Nigeria. More recently, she was
series on human rights by Georgetown Univer- has had a profound granted a fellowship from the Albert Einstein
sity Press. Her current research agenda in- impact on the recog- Institution for a study of nonviolent sanctions
cludes a book project that examines the nition of women’s in Nigeria, focusing on the 1994 oil workers’
changes in human rights policies and politics human rights in the international, regional, strike.
in Turkey since the establishment of the Re- and U.S. contexts, particularly in establishing
public in 1923. rape and other gender crimes as war crimes Alda Facio is a
and crimes against humanity. She is also a feminist lawyer,
Carin Benninger- founding board member of and legal advisor scholar, and activist
Budel is a human to the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, with decades of
rights lawyer from now Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. experience in both
the Netherlands and grassroots move-
has been working at ments and more for-
the World Organisa- mal legal and UN
tion Against Torture contexts. She is a
(OMCT), based in founder and first di-
Geneva, Switzerland, rector of the Wo-
since 1996. She has men’s Caucus for Gender Justice at the Inter-
been the program national Criminal Court and is currently direc-
manager of OMCT’s Violence Against tor of the Women, Gender and Justice Pro-
Women Programme for the past four years. gram at the United Nations Latin American
Her work involves laying out strategies for fu- Institute for Crime Prevention.
ture action, researching the phenomenon of vi-
olence against women around the world, and Anne Gathumbi-
writing alternative country reports for the UN Carrie Cuthbert is cofounder and former Masheti is a women’s
treaty-monitoring bodies. She first became in- codirector of the Women’s Rights Network rights activist and the
terested in human rights law during her and the Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project. coordinator of the
studies and internships at the United Nations Kim Y. Slote, a human rights lawyer and con- Coalition on Violence
where she studied indigenous women. sultant, is cofounder and former codirector of Against Women (CO- the Women’s Rights Network and the Battered VAW) in Kenya. She is
Mothers’ Testimony Project. Jay G. Silver- a lawyer and a com-
man is assistant professor of Society, Human munity development
Visit Human Rights Dialogue at practitioner with ten
Development and Health and director of Vio- lence Prevention Programs at the Harvard years of experience in
School of Public Health. Monica Ghosh Drig- both the development and human rights sectors

6 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue


in Kenya. At COVAW, she has spearheaded out- low between college and graduate school, Lucinda O’Hanlon
reach, advocacy, and lobbying for policy and le- and received her M.A. from the Johns Hop- is a human rights
gal reform as well as legal aid programs. kins University School of Advanced Interna- lawyer from the
tional Studies. United States. She
Christopher Harper, is the program offi-
an ordained minister Lisa W. Karanja re- cer for the Violence
in the Anglican cently completed a Against Women
Church, is a counseling year as the Orville Programme at the
psychologist at Masi- Schell fellow in the World Organisation
manyane Women’s Women’s Rights Divi- Against Torture
Support Centre in East sion at Human Rights (OMCT), where she
London, South Africa. Watch. Prior to that, has worked since November 2002. She writes
He is also coordinator she practiced criminal urgent appeals as well as researches and
of the Masimanyane litigation as a Barris- writes alternative country reports on violence
Men’s Project, which ter-at-Law in London against women for UN treaty-monitoring
aims at providing a space for men to unlearn and commercial liti- bodies.
patterns of gender-based violence and trans- gation as an Advocate of the High Court of
form their lives. In 2001–02 he was a Carnegie Kenya. She has been extensively involved with Leylâ Pervizat is a
Council fellow, during which time he re- numerous women’s rights groups in the East feminist researcher
searched perceptions of the legitimacy of African region in the areas of violence against and woman’s human
women’s human rights in South Africa. women, women’s property rights, and girls’ ed- rights defender based ucation. in Turkey. She has
manyane been working and
Albaqir A. Mukhtar writing on the issue
Ayesha Imam, is the regional cam- of honor killings
founding director paign coordinator since 1996, and has
of BAOBAB for for the Middle East lobbied on this issue
Women’s Human & North Africa at before international
Rights in Nigeria, Amnesty Interna- human rights mechanisms. She is currently
won the 2002 tional’s International writing a book on the topic, which will be re-
John Humphrey Hu- Secretariat Office in leased in 2004.
man Rights Award, London. His aca-
together with demic and teaching
BAOBAB, for work in experience has fo-
protecting women’s cused on linguistics and Islamic and Middle
rights under the new Sharia criminal law acts Eastern studies, and his current research in- A SPECIAL THANKS
in Nigeria. She is also a core group member of terests include education, ethical philosophy,
the international network Women Living Un- identity, and Islam and human rights. He has
der Muslim Laws, for which she coordinated published two books, both in Arabic: Catego-
to all of the donors who
research in eight countries in Africa and the rization of Muslims’ Responses to Human
Middle East on the ways in which different sys- Rights, and Betting on Knowledge: Human generously responded to our
tems of laws and social practices combine to Rights Education in the Middle East and
structure women’s lives in Muslim countries North Africa. recent appeal for support.
and communities.
June Munala is an
Your continuing contributions
LaShawn R. Jef- assistant protection
ferson is the exec- officer with the
utive director of United Nations allow us to reach out to
the Women’s High Commission-
Rights Division of er for Refugees, readers all over the world.
Human Rights where she works
Watch, which she primarily with the
joined in 1993. In Sexual and Gender-
her ten years with Based Violence
the Women’s program. She is
Human Rights Dialogue
Rights Division, particularly interested in issues of gender
she has worked on a range of international and international law. She worked for sever-
women’s human rights issues in a variety of al years with the Office of the Attorney
countries. She was a Thomas J. Watson fel- General in Kenya.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 7

Rights for All in the
An Interview with
New South Africa Christopher Harper

A lthough the end of apartheid in

South Africa was hailed as a victory for
human rights, the country is home to one
of the world’s highest levels of violent
crime. Recent reports suggest that women
are disproportionately likely to bear
the brunt of such violence. Human
Rights Dialogue talked with Christopher
Harper, a counseling psychologist at
Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre, a
nongovernmental organization in East
London, South Africa, that addresses gen-
A women’s support center in the Eastern Cape province.
der-based violence against women and
girls from a human rights perspective.
clearly continue to impact individual public education and training, advocacy
Dialogue: What kind of violence are and communal life. and lobbying linked to research, as well
women in South Africa facing today? But at the same time, violence as a program of working with men. Our
Harper: Violence against women has against women is not merely a post- efforts involve everything from crisis
been described as the most extreme apartheid occurrence. It was always part intervention and long-term counseling to
expression of the gender inequality that of South Africa’s social fabric in all cul- human rights and democracy training for
underscores social relations in South tures and racial groupings; it was just communities.
Africa. This violence exists in numerous kept quiet. During apartheid, violence
forms, and it has been estimated that against women in the black community Dialogue: Tell us more about the men’s
one in four South African women are was often placed on the back burner as program.
victims of gender-based violence. the focus was on the struggle for free- Harper: Our Men’s Project is not just a
The major issues that we at dom. Violence in the white community program for perpetrators but one that
Masimanyane address include domestic was also silenced—especially incest and encourages nonviolent men to become
violence, rape, sexual abuse, HIV/AIDS, marital rape—because the white commu- active in the struggle for gender equality
and child abuse. nity had to have an image of “decency” and the eradication of violence against
and “civilization.” This has led to debate women and girls. The project emphasizes
Dialogue: Has apartheid played a role in as to whether there has been an increase the need for men to work alongside
this violence? in violence since 1994 or whether people women in order to change the value sys-
Harper: Yes, definitely. The legitimiza- are just talking about it more now. tems that oppress women and children
tion of violence under apartheid, as a and dehumanize men themselves.
means both of enforcing apartheid and Dialogue: How is Masimanyane address- So, since the start of the project,
as a form of resistance, has contributed ing these issues of violence? the focus has been on public education
to these high levels of violence. Harper: When Masimanyane was estab- and training programs, which aim to
Apartheid diminished people’s percep- lished, the initial focus of the center was give men an understanding of the real-
tions both of the value of their own lives to provide support services to women and ities of women’s lives. We have con-
and of others’ lives, and did not foster a girls who are victims of domestic and sex- ducted this training in rural and urban
culture of respect or human rights at all. ual violence. However, we soon recog- settings with teachers, prison officials,
The means for quelling conflict was vio- nized that if we were to address the issue trade unionists, representatives from
lence, and that approach can be seen as of violence against women in a more civil society and community organiza-
almost an adopted culture in this coun- effective, holistic way, a political, gender, tions, and members of the clergy.
try now. Apartheid’s effects on the and human rights perspective needed to Recently, we have seen an exponen-
nature of family life and the socioeco- be used. So we extended our programs to tial increase in the number of organiza-
nomic conditions people live under include community outreach programs, tions running men’s programs. But the

8 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

principles underlying the work with men deeply distorted after years of colonial- say, “Well, this is exactly what the human
throughout the country are not similar ism and apartheid. Violence is seen as a rights framework is all about—respect
and at times they have been very dis- way to reestablish themselves in a posi- and dignity for other people.”
parate. These principles range from the tion of power in their homes. We have But what disturbs me is how few
pro-feminist perspective to those based heard this often from men who have had other men working in the field of
on traditional patriarchal views of mas- to leave home to find work elsewhere, addressing violence against women use
culinity. The difficulty with the pro- especially in the mines. When they have the human rights discourse. We find
grams based on a traditional view of returned home they have found that people talking about the need to end vio-
masculinity is that they fail to make the their wives have taken on the primary lence, but they are not addressing it in a
links between women’s continued expe- parent role and this has been very diffi- larger social context—they don’t speak
rience of violence and discrimination in cult for many men to deal with. about the patriarchal system or about
the country and wider social, economic, women’s economic and social positions.
and political concerns. Dialogue: What about the argument that They just say that we need to end the
human rights concepts interfere with cul- violence. I think they find using a human
Dialogue: How is violence against women ture—do you come across this? rights framework difficult. When male
perceived in South African society? Harper: When I was a Carnegie Council fel- activists that are organizing to end vio-
Harper: While certain incidences of vio- low three years ago, I researched the legiti- lence against women say things like, “It’s
lence may cause the country to experience macy of women’s human rights in the a man’s place to be head of the home”—
a monetary sense of outrage, women’s Eastern Cape, and it struck me that the and when these activists believe this—
experiences of violence are generally met only time people brought up the problem of you can see that it is difficult for them to
with silence. Although people recognize human rights hindering indigenous culture use a human rights framework that chal-
the importance and value of human was when they were asked about women’s lenges them on those sorts of issues.
rights, cultural and religious objections rights. The men who were not supportive of
are frequently raised to the question of women’s rights viewed culture as static. Dialogue: Have you seen progress from
women’s rights. This clearly contributes They talked about women’s human rights Masimanyane’s human rights work?
to a public/private divide that makes it as though they were scared of losing their Harper: I think we’ve had a major impact
difficult to address issues believed to be perceived authority. But whether or not this on people’s lives. Our work has provided
personal or domestic matters only. Many is an issue of cultural legitimacy is uncer- the opportunity for women to improve
people have told us, “Human rights are tain, as equal numbers of men spoke about their own lives by leaving abusive envi-
fine for other issues, but don’t
talk to me about things that Many people have told us, “Human rights
happen in my own house.”
are fine for other issues, but don’t talk to me
Dialogue: Does the postcolo-
nial context have anything to
about things that happen in my own house.”
do with this?
Harper: Yes, without a doubt. There is a the value that their culture places on ronments, and to find support and a voice
movement today to redefine what African women’s lives and said that traditional where they were denied one before. We
culture and values mean and to search for mechanisms were in place to ensure that have also played important roles in the
an authentic, precolonial African culture. sanctions were enforced against any man formation of legislation to improve
Sometimes, however, when people talk of who was violent toward his wife. Similar women’s lives and hold the government
“going back” to traditional cultural val- sanctions were in place against rape. accountable for their actions. And in our
ues, they fail to recognize the impact of work with men, we’ve been able to wit-
changes in the landscape of people’s lives. Dialogue: How do you go about changing ness men working alongside women in
This also affects the meaning of cultural these perceptions? local communities to end violence against
practices. For example, the bride price Harper: At our workshops, when people women. They are engaging with other
practice known as lobola was once about bring up the idea that human rights are an men in their communities, challenging
establishing kinship, but it has come to be imperialist and western concept, we try to them to stop their violence. hrd
seen by many as the act of purchasing a discuss South Africa’s history of
wife. Many men use this as a justification apartheid and the importance of human For a different perspective on the efficacy of
for their violence. So it is important to rights concepts in the struggle for equali- human rights language in Africa, see “Why
show people what the original meaning ty for all South Africans. We also try to More Africans Don’t Use Human Rights
of a custom was and how that meaning relate human rights to African traditions Language” by Chidi Anselm Odinkalu in the
has gotten distorted in systems that pro- and concepts, such as ubuntu, which human rights box issue of Human Rights
tect men’s positions. implies the idea of respect and dignity for Dialogue, available online at
Also, some people believe that men’s others. We ask people to define the core
roles and views of themselves became values of their culture and we use those to prmTemplateID/8/prmID/602.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 9

Domestic Violence Lisa W. Karanja

and HIV Infection in Uganda

J acqueline is a thirty-two-year-old have a cent. He at least pays the rent.” escape from abusive marriages. State
Ugandan woman who tested HIV-posi- Ugandan women confront a male- prosecutors told us that few domestic
tive after her husband died of AIDS. dominated power structure that upholds violence cases are actually prosecuted. In
Before he died, he routinely raped and and entrenches male authority in the addition, women we spoke with said gov-
beat her, and refused to use a condom home. In 2002-03, as a researcher for a ernment officials often address domestic
during sex. Her four children are infected Human Rights Watch report on the corre- violence charges by attempting to recon-
with HIV, as is her co-wife. The similar lation between domestic violence and cile the parties and pressuring the women
experiences of many Ugandan women women’s vulnerability to HIV infection, I to return to their abusive husbands.
illustrate the ways in which domestic vio- talked with many women who viewed Human Rights Watch is working
lence can play a critical role in rendering domestic violence as a natural by-product with several local women’s and human
women vulnerable to HIV
infection. As a result of vio-
lence or a fear of violence,
Social, cultural, and legal forms of discrimination
Ugandan women are unable compound women's vulnerability to HIV.
to protect themselves from
infection and to access HIV/AIDS servic- of marriage. Customs such as the pay- rights groups in Uganda to hold the gov-
es. Although Uganda has ratified inter- ment of “bride price,” whereby men ernment accountable for its failure to pre-
national and regional human rights essentially purchase their wives’ sexual vent and remedy domestic violence, estab-
treaties providing for women’s rights to favors and reproductive capacity, under- lish relevant medical protocols, and
protection against violence and women’s score men’s entitlement to dictate the modify and transform harmful traditional
rights to health, the unchecked domestic terms of sex. Practices such as widow practices. International human rights law
violence and the lack of access for inheritance by a man of his brother’s has been a useful advocacy tool. By sys-
women to HIV/AIDS services are clear widow can expose women to unprotected tematically failing to enact and enforce
indications that the government is failing and unwanted sex with HIV-positive part- criminal laws and address violence
to meet its responsibilities. ners. When women in polygynous mar- against women in the home, the govern-
In addition to women’s greater riages are coerced into unprotected sex, ment in effect condones and endorses it.
physiological susceptibility, social, cul- they are exposed to a higher risk of HIV When government agents such as the
tural, and legal forms of discrimination transmission as a result of the man having police pay inadequate attention to domes-
compound their vulnerability to HIV. unprotected sex with multiple partners. tic violence compared to other forms of
Domestic violence, already a leading The Ugandan government has failed violence, we argue that this violates provi-
cause of female injury, deprives women to enact laws for the effective prosecution sions upholding the right to equal protec-
of bodily integrity by eliminating their and punishment of acts of violence tion under the law and provides proof of
ability to consent to sex, negotiate safer against women. Inequitable divorce laws tacit state complicity.
sex, and determine the number and make it difficult for women to terminate Despite oversight by UN committees
spacing of their children. In many cases, their marriages legally. The government of Ugandan state implementation of
the threat of abandonment or eviction has yet to criminalize marital rape. Draft international treaties such as the
constrains economically dependent legislation to regulate domestic relations International Covenant on Civil and
women to remain in abusive relation- and sexual offenses has been pending Political Rights, the International
ships, thereby exacerbating their vulner- since at least the early 1990s, despite vig- Covenant on Economic, Social and
ability to HIV infection. One HIV-posi- orous lobbying by many of our local Cultural Rights, and the Convention
tive woman said, “He used to force me NGO partners. Moreover, none of the on the Elimination of All Forms
to have sex with him. He would beat and pending legislation adequately addresses of Discrimination against Women
slap me when I refused. . . . The very first domestic violence––nor will it as long as (CEDAW), Ugandan NGOs assert that
time I asked my husband to use a con- the government upholds the notion of the government efforts to improve the socioe-
dom because I didn’t want to give birth inviolability of marital privacy and fails conomic status of women have been min-
he said no. He raped me and I got preg- to address discriminatory marriage and imal. They argue that despite the govern-
nant. I’m still with him because I don’t property laws that impede women’s ment’s gender-progressive reputation and

10 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

a rhetorical commitment to women’s and multilateral donors is contributing to the country.
rights, many changes are cosmetic and do extensively to HIV/AIDS initiatives, our The correlation between domestic
not impact women on the ground. The interviews with Ugandan health officials violence and women’s vulnerability to
abdication of state responsibility has left revealed that the impressive decline in HIV infection adds considerable impetus
many of the NGOs working with Human overall HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in to the need for all governments to address
Rights Watch in Uganda as the only Uganda is leveling off. These health offi- seriously and meaningfully domestic vio-
providers of any recourse to battered cials also acknowledged the dangers of lence against women. Otherwise, in a
women in the form of legal education and complacency. The failure to address the continent devastated by HIV/AIDS, any
representation, shelters for abused very serious underlying and contributing strategy to combat the pandemic will be
women, and care and support for women issue of domestic violence may compro- compromised. Programs that attempt to
living with HIV/AIDS. mise Uganda’s continued success in the prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by
Uganda is blessed with a developed fight against HIV/AIDS. encouraging abstinence from sex, fidelity,
and vibrant network of NGOs working Uganda also provides an important and consistent condom use are a start,
on women’s rights and a coherent and case study for the region. The fact that but they do not address women’s unequal
well-established HIV/AIDS movement. domestic violence is not addressed in a decision-making power and status within
NGOs such as Raising Voices are country widely considered a success story their intimate relationships. Human
addressing domestic violence at the com- in the fight against HIV/AIDS holds grim rights law, which clearly establishes state
munity level with programs that specifi- implications for African women. If responsibility to protect women from
cally aim at male participation and women are unable to protect themselves battery, is a useful tool for holding gov-
include strategies such as the enhance- in a country where national adult preva- ernments accountable. The words of one
ment of the police response to domestic lence rates declined from 18.5 percent in victim describe it best: “After testing he
violence. In addition to providing us with 1995 to 8.3 percent at the end of 1999, would force me to have sex without a
our initial access to domestic violence what are the chances in countries such as condom. I don’t know why he was
survivors and women living with Kenya, which, until recently, had no opposed to condoms after testing and yet
HIV/AIDS, Ugandan NGOs collaborate coherent government strategy to tackle he had used them for birth control
with us on advocacy through press releas- HIV/AIDS, and where AIDS has reduced [before testing]. He said, ‘Why bother,
es and radio broadcasting. A particularly the average life expectancy from sixty-five we’re already victims.’. . . There should
notable outcome expressed by our NGO to forty-six years? With Uganda included be a law to stop husbands forcing wives
partners has been their increased aware- among fourteen countries slated to receive to have sex. I would use the law.” hrd
ness of the intersection between the work five years of AIDS program support from
of rights-based and HIV/AIDS NGOs. the United States and a grant from the Read how activists in South Africa are using
Domestic violence leading to a Global Fund worth over U.S. $36 million human rights tools to address the HIV/AIDS
heightened risk of HIV transmission is a to support the ongoing fight against crisis in their country, as discussed in Nathan
widespread phenomenon, and research HIV/AIDS, this is a pivotal time for Geffen’s article, “Applying Human Rights to
similar to that reported here could have addressing the links between domestic the HIV/AIDS Crisis,” in the health issue of
been conducted in any one of a number violence and women’s vulnerability to Human Rights Dialogue, available online at
of countries. Yet this is a critical time for HIV––a topic unfortunately not men-
Uganda: while a wide range of bilateral tioned during President Bush’s recent trip mTemplateID/8/prmID/646.
Photos courtesy of Human Rights Watch / Janet Walsh (left);
Freedom from Hunger / April Watson (right)

Left: Domestic violence often impedes Ugandan women from seeking HIV/AIDS information, treatment, and counseling such as that available in this clinic
in Kampala. Right: Facilitating a discussion about HIV/AIDS and dispelling myths about how it is passed.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 11

Battered Mothers vs. U.S. Family Courts
Carrie Cuthbert, Kim Y. Slote,
Jay G. Silverman, Monica Ghosh Driggers,
Lundy Bancroft, and Cynthia J. Mesh

M any battered mothers in the U.S.

state of Massachusetts have found the
and probation officers often consider
domestic violence irrelevant to their rul-
tice issues and has a set of internationally
agreed-upon principles and laws to back it
family court system to be an obstacle, ings, and family courts are ordering up. A human rights approach specifically
rather than an aid, in their search for shared legal custody even when there is stands out because of its emphasis on gov-
lasting safety from their abusers. One a history of domestic violence. ernment accountability; recognition of
survivor noted that “unless there are Compounding these problems, there the equal importance and inextricability
major changes [in the family court are few accountability mechanisms in the of economic, social, cultural, civil, and
process], I will never believe that a
woman and [her] children will be pro-
tected.” Research has illustrated that
A battered mother may choose
batterers often escalate their partner to remain with the batterer rather than
abuse after their victims leave them, and
custody and visitation arrangements are face a family court system that denies
reported to provide a context for abu-
sive men to continue to control and vic-
justice to her and her children.
timize women and their children.
Moreover, a 1989 report on gender bias Massachusetts family court system. political rights; overarching framework
commissioned by the Massachusetts Massachusetts’s family court judges are for addressing multiple oppressions on
Supreme Judicial Court found that, in appointed for life without being subject the basis of, for example, gender, race,
child custody cases, family court judges to a meaningful review process. There ethnicity, and socioeconomic status; con-
are few effective and accessible com- nection with the global women’s move-
plaint procedures, and appeals are costly ment; and grounding in international law.
and often decided on narrow legal Particularly because it identifies the gov-
grounds. As a result, many battered ernment, and not just individual perpetra-
mothers have lost trust in the family tors, as a locus of accountability, we felt
court system. The implications are dire: that a human rights approach to domestic
a battered mother may choose to remain violence would enable us to effect greater
with the batterer rather than face a fam- long-term social change. In 1999, after
ily court system that may deny justice to two years of conducting human rights
her and her children. training for battered women’s advocates,
In 1995, inspired in part by the we launched the Battered Mothers’
“women’s rights are human rights” Testimony Project (BMTP) in order to
vision that united women throughout document and apply a human rights
the world at the UN Fourth World analysis to the Massachusetts family
Conference on Women in Beijing, we court system.
founded the Women’s Rights Network at By using human rights, we hoped to
the Wellesley Centers for Women to raise awareness of the issues and help
reframe and address domestic violence prompt reform of family court policies
(that is, partner abuse) as a human and practices in child custody cases
Photo by Steven Sunshine 2003

rights issue in the United States. involving partner and/or child abuse.
We chose to use a human rights Our key strategies included holding a
framework instead of the crisis interven- popular human rights tribunal in which
tion, criminal justice, and civil rights five battered mothers testified publicly
strategies currently emphasized by U.S. about their experiences and called for
In Massachusetts, an alarming trend: battered battered women’s movements because the family court reform; engaging in com-
women are losing custody battles to allegedly human rights framework, more than any munity organizing and education to
abusive fathers. other, covers a broad range of social jus- build a grassroots foundation for human

12 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

rights–driven activism on the issues; and other issues as violations of women’s and rights to violence and discrimination
publishing a human rights report aimed children’s economic human rights, and against women, implying, among other
at the public at large, the advocacy and show how they were linked with the things, that women’s reported experi-
policy communities, the family court other violations we identified. ences do not rise to the level of human
system, and survivors. Human rights also played a key role rights abuses. Finally, there appears to be
Our human rights report, Battered in building the foundation for a grass- a widespread belief among judges in the
Mothers Speak Out, used definitions of roots movement for family court reform global superiority of the U.S. legal system
violence against women and children in Massachusetts. After reading and dis- as well as in the inapplicability of inter-
found in key UN instruments to show cussing educational materials about national law to the United States. For
how women’s reports of domestic vio- human rights, survivors and advocates example, the chief justice of the Family
lence, child abuse by ex-partners, and involved in our project found that the & Probate Courts in Massachusetts was
treatment by the family court system are basic concepts resonated deeply with quoted in a local newspaper as saying
human rights concerns. We cited, for them. One woman reflected that looking that framing these problems as human
example, the Declaration on the at domestic violence from a human rights violations “may work well for sys-
Elimination of Violence against Women, rights perspective is important because tems in Third World countries, but not
which defines violence against women as “the loss of rights is the same as viola- for a court in the United States.”
a human rights violation and delineates tions in other contexts, like war and Although the need for government
governments’ obligations to end and racial oppression.” The human rights accountability and reform could not be
prevent it, and the Convention on the framework not only helped to define greater in domestic violence and child
Rights of the Child, which requires gov- these women’s experiences but also vali- custody cases, our use of human rights as
ernments to protect and promote the dated the gravity of what they and their an advocacy tool has not yet produced
human rights of children, including pro- children have endured. any tangible momentum for change from
tecting them from abuse by a parent. We Furthermore, the human rights within the family court system. Bridging
also used human rights standards of emphasis on government accountability the gap between using human rights to
government accountability for interper-
sonal violence contained in human Doing human rights work in the
rights instruments—especially the “due
diligence” standard—to spotlight the United States presents formidable
state’s role in domestic violence and
child custody cases, and to provide a challenges, largely because of what we
basis for demanding reform. see as an overall lack of human rights
The human rights framework proved
a powerful tool for illuminating the literacy in this countr y.
problems battered mothers and their
children face in the Massachusetts family has offered women hope that things in spark grassroots advocacy efforts and
courts. In our report, we identified six Massachusetts could change: “Referring using it to effect policy change, then, may
intersecting categories of violations: fail- to human rights, as defined by the UN, be our toughest long-term challenge.
ure to protect battered women and chil- becomes a means of identifying the Despite––or perhaps because of––these
dren from abuse; discrimination and bias responsibilities of government agencies obstacles, it is critical that U.S. activists
against battered women; degrading treat- and authorities,” said one advocate. continue to use human rights to organize
ment of battered women; denial of due Because of these advantages, the human to end violence against women. With this
process to battered women; allowing the rights framework has been an important in mind, we plan to move ahead by assist-
batterer to continue his abuse through catalyst for prompting women to take on ing organizations across the United States
the family courts; and failure to respect leadership roles in the BMTP and speak in replicating the project and building a
the economic human rights of battered publicly about the issues. Perhaps most national response to the issues. hrd
women and children. The human rights importantly, survivors in our project have Battered Mothers Speak Out is
framework helped us to demonstrate the launched their own grassroots human available at
linkages and overlap between the viola- rights organization to advocate for fami-
tions, the economic issues battered ly court reform, the Massachusetts For more on the ways that activists are
mothers face after separation, and the Protective Parents Association. using human rights in the United States,
multiple forms of discrimination many Despite our successes, doing human see Loretta Ross’s article, “Beyond Civil
battered women experience. For rights work in the United States presents Rights: A New Vision for Social Justice in
instance, we were able to use human formidable challenges, largely because of the United States,” in the human rights box
rights laws and principles to categorize what we see as an overall lack of human issue of Human Rights Dialogue, available
women’s reports of economic hardship rights literacy in this country. Also, court online at
related to the high cost of family court officials in Massachusetts appear to have viewMedia.php/prmTemplateID/8/
litigation, child support, child care, and dismissed the applicability of human prmID/607.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 13

Expanding the Definition of Torture
Carin Benninger-Budel
and Lucinda O’Hanlon

H istorically, the popular understanding work toward integrating a gender per-

of torture has helped to maintain a gen- spective––“mainstreaming”––into the
cuting, and punishing violence against
women. There is no international legally
der-biased image of the torture victim: work of the United Nations human binding instrument specifically concern-
it is the male who pervades the political rights treaty-monitoring bodies. A spe- ing violence against women; thus, the
and public sphere and thus it is the male cial focus of our work is the Convention Convention against Torture has the pos-
who is likely to be targeted by state against Torture and its monitoring com- sibility of filling one aspect of this gap.
violence and repression. Such Furthermore, the jus cogens sta-
an image, however, neglects tus of the prohibition of tor-
women’s experiences as victims ture—which means that all
and survivors of torture. states are bound by this prohibi-
Until recently, women’s tion regardless of circumstances
human rights organizations or the treaties they have rati-
often did not pursue women’s fied—helps to give additional
issues within the framework of merit to the concept that vio-
the mainstream human rights lence against women is a funda-
treaties but instead concentrated mental violation of human
on CEDAW. While this tendency rights prohibited under interna-
is logical––CEDAW is an impor- tional law.
tant and effective instrument for Despite this potential useful-
ensuring specifically women’s ness, the Committee against
rights––it is equally important Torture has adopted a “tradi-
to draw on the strengths of other tional” reading of torture, which
human rights tools. is defined in Article 1 of the con-
By concentrating on other vention as an act of severe pain
human rights mechanisms, the and suffering intentionally
World Organisation Against inflicted by or with the consent
Torture (OMCT), a network of or acquiescence of a public offi-
worldwide human rights NGOs, cial for the purpose of obtaining

UN/DPI Photo / Artwork by Brazilian artist Octavio Roth © Octavio Roth

hopes to take women’s issues off information, a confession, or for
the periphery and into the main- any other reason based on dis-
stream, where they may receive crimination. As a result of its
more attention. OMCT is com- narrow reading of torture, the
mitted to addressing violence committee has made less
against women in our struggle progress on integrating a gender
against torture, summary execu- perspective into its work when
tions, forced disappearances, Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. compared with other human
and other forms of ill-treat- rights treaty-monitoring bodies.
ment. Our work did not specifically mittee. Our work also involves main- The major obstacle to bringing vio-
address gender issues until shortly after streaming the gender perspective into the lence against women within the consider-
the 1993 Vienna World Conference on work of the various UN Special ation of the committee is the traditional
Human Rights and the 1995 Fourth Rapporteurs, particularly the UN Special public/private divide. Much violence
World Conference on Women in Beijing, Rapporteur on Torture. against women takes place in the private
both of which highlighted the impor- As a powerful, well-respected treaty- sphere—domestic violence, rape, traf-
tance of recognizing women’s rights monitoring body, the Committee against ficking, violence in the name of honor,
within the ambit of human rights. Torture is an important mechanism for and female genital mutilation, for exam-
Inspired by these events, we formed a pressuring states to exercise due dili- ple. In the past, a strict judicial interpre-
program on violence against women to gence in preventing, investigating, prose- tation made states responsible only for

14 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

actions committed by state agents, and lence from the scope of Article 1. Torture. These reports contain alterna-
not those by private individuals. Today, It is also problematic that the tive information for each committee to
however, a developing corpus of interna- Committee against Torture seems to consider when examining a country’s
tional law has led to the recognition of receive little information on violence official report on its implementation of
state responsibility to address the acts of against women. Being based in Geneva, the relevant treaty, and are written in
private individuals. In particular, the OMCT is present at most committee consultation with members of the SOS-
Velásquez Rodriguez Case of the Inter- sessions—and we have not observed Torture network or other reliable nation-
American Court of Human Rights artic- many other organizations submitting al women’s human rights organisations.
ulated the standard of due diligence to specific information on violence against OMCT has played a part in the sig-
prevent and respond to violence commit- women. Lack of resources as well as the nificant evolution of how the gender-neu-
ted by nonstate actors (in that case, death
squads). Increasingly, women’s rights
activists have built on the Velásquez deci-
Women’s rights activists have built on the
sion to draw parallels between private Velásquez decision to draw parallels
violence and torture, and specifically to
bring certain grave forms of violence between private violence and torture.
against women within the definition of
torture where the state has failed to exer- committee’s general tendency not to tral human rights mechanisms tackle vio-
cise due diligence regarding such acts. address gender-specific violence may lence against women. While for years the
For example, recent work by prevent or discourage some organiza- Committee against Torture did not take
women’s rights activists has demonstrat- tions from doing so. gender-specific violence into considera-
ed how domestic violence in many cases In attempting to fill this void we tion, in 2001 it expressed concern with
conforms to the definition of torture in have adopted the gender mainstreaming respect to four countries in its Concluding
the convention. Domestic violence com- approach. Our core activities include Observations about violence against
monly involves severe pain or suffering, circulating urgent appeals, lobbying at women committed by private individuals,
and is purposeful and intentional behav- major human rights conferences, and, in specifically trafficking in women and
ior intended to bring about a desired collaboration with local NGOs, submit- domestic violence. OMCT had submitted
effect, such as punishment and/or con- ting reports to UN human rights treaty- alternative reports on violence against
trol of a woman’s sexuality. The state’s monitoring bodies. women concerning three of the four coun-
unwillingness to take all possible meas- Our urgent appeals are based on tries where these concerns were raised.
ures to prevent domestic violence and to information provided by the members of Nevertheless, these positive steps are far
protect women from such violence sug- OMCT’s SOS-Torture network, com- from the regular practice of the commit-
gests official consent or acquiescence to prised of human rights NGOs from tee and much remains to be done.
torture under Article 1 of the conven- around the world. We send these appeals Our work has also had a positive
tion. In obtaining asylum status for to bodies that have considerable influ- effect on the other traditional human
women fleeing privately inflicted violence ence in the field of protection and pro- rights NGOs with whom we work.
such as female genital mutilation, motion of human rights, including Typically, NGOs in the SOS-Torture
women’s rights activists have also suc- Special Rapporteurs of the United network had rarely addressed the issue
cessfully used at the national level Article Nations and of regional mechanisms. of gender-specific violence. Since
OMCT has started to issue urgent
A developing corpus of international law appeals on violence against women and
to remind the SOS-Torture network of
has led to the recognition of state this activity, there has been a perceptible
increase in the gender sensitivity of the
responsibility to address the acts information produced by the network.
of private individuals. OMCT hopes to contribute to the
eradication of violence against women,
including torture, by promoting the opti-
3 of the convention, which prohibits the Our lobbying efforts involve intervening mal use of all conventional and noncon-
extradition of a person to a country before the UN Commission on Human ventional regional and international
where he or she will likely be subjected to Rights and the UN Sub-Commission on mechanisms for the prevention of torture.
torture. Thus, while not all violence the Promotion and Protection of Human Mainstreaming gender across all UN
against women can be qualified as tor- Rights, as well as major human rights structures is central to this goal. In our
ture within the meaning of the conven- conferences. With respect to OMCT’s collaboration with local organizations,
tion, the mere fact that the perpetrator is work with the treaty-monitoring bodies, we highlight the gender mainstreaming
a private individual should not automat- we submit alternative reports with spe- approach in order to broaden the ranks of
ically lead to the exclusion of such vio- cific emphasis on the Committee against actors dedicated to this campaign. hrd

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 15

How the Seed Was Planted
Alda Facio Responds

In Latin America, women began fight- that women’s rights were also human the grounds that human rights diluted
ing for our human rights when we rights and that many of the atrocities that the feminist content of women’s rights.
organized against the dictatorial happened to us—though they happened It showed the importance of using the
regimes of the 1970s, which were char- in different places and were committed by principles, theory, and practice of
acterized by widespread disappear- different perpetrators—should also be human rights to defend ourselves from
ances, torture, and extrajudicial killings considered human rights violations. abuses that in those days were not con-
of those perceived by the state to be A very important step toward the sidered human rights violations per se.
“leftists.” Although we did not frame coalescence of this concept was the Although many women and feminist
our struggles from a women’s human creation, in 1989, of the Women’s Human NGOs were linking gender violence and
rights perspective during this stage, our Rights Project under the Commission women’s legal rights, neither of these
for the Defense of two subjects had been dealt with under a
We used the same human rights Human Rights in human rights framework.
Central America, a With these successes, an important
approach that was helping to free our Central American seed for international change was planted
nations from formal dictatorships to free NGO that coordi- that contributed to the acceptance, at the
nated many nation- international level, of domestic violence
women from dictatorships in their home. al human rights as a human rights violation. In December
NGOs. This Project 1992, during the regional preparations for
political use of motherhood initiated became involved in the defense of a Costa the 1993 World Conference on Human
our questioning of the arbitrary divi- Rican accused of killing her Belizean hus- Rights in Vienna, our satellite NGO
sion between private and public spheres. band and facing the death penalty. A dele- meeting, “La Nuestra,” was the first of
For example, the Asociación Madres gation from this program went to Belize many organized by women. With dele-
de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, instead of to defend her on the grounds that she had gates from all Latin American and
passively accepting their tragedy as moth- been a victim of domestic violence for Caribbean Spanish-speaking countries
ers of the disappeared, used the cultural seven years. In the words of María Suárez, and Haiti, the meeting approved 24 peti-
reverence for motherhood and their own the Project’s founder and director: tions linking women’s rights to human
“mother’s love” (two things considered to After talking with the groups of rights. These were later incorporated into
be private, natural, and nonpolitical) to women, with [the accused woman’s] the global petitions from women present-
bring to the political arena the demand church, with the human rights groups, ed to the Vienna conference.
for the reappearance of their children. with her lawyer, with the district attor- In the decade since the Vienna con-
Later, this blurring of the two spheres led ney and with her family; after studying ference, it is gratifying to see that a main-
feminists to assert that violence against the laws of Belize and Costa Rica, we stream organization like OMCT has
women in the domestic sphere should be recognized the limits of the human taken up the challenge of using the
considered a type of torture. “Madres” rights framework and of civil and crim- Convention against Torture to combat
taught us that what happened in the pri- inal law, since none of them considered violence against women, since this is one
vate sphere was also political. This made domestic violence a problem, much less important strategy when dealing with
us realize that we could use the same a crime or a human rights violation. issues that affect only or primarily
human rights approach that was helping In spite of this, the Commission’s women: the mainstreaming of gender
to free our nations from formal dictator- delegation decided to pursue a strategy into existing mechanisms, instruments,
ships to free women from dictatorships in linking human rights with violence and programs to broaden the under-
their homes. against women. This case never went to standing of torture so that it can apply to
But to achieve the acceptance of trial but received international atten- acts occurring in the privacy of the
women’s human rights by mainstream tion, since the defendant faced the death home. But we also need to develop new
activists, we needed to demonstrate the penalty if convicted, and it was the mechanisms, instruments, and programs
sexist bias in the interpretation of each beginning of our success: the prosecutor that include women’s needs explicitly.
human right, as well as in the methodolo- justified to the media the dismissal of And we need to understand violence
gy and principles. This proved a difficult the case on the grounds that the accused against women as a form of discrimina-
task because we did not want to diminish was a victim of human rights violations! tion, growing from the lack of equality
civil society’s recognition of human rights The success of this strategy prompt- between men and women, and therefore
as a useful framework for our people’s lib- ed women to reconsider their opposition as a women’s issue for which CEDAW,
eration. But we needed to demonstrate to linking women’s and human rights on too, can be a useful tool.

16 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

Combating FGM in
June Munala
Kenya’s Refugee Camps

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a

harmful traditional practice that is
toris. In our work through the Sexual and
Gender-Based Violence program of the
able for underpinning education efforts
and giving credibility to those working to
prevalent in a number of African coun- UN High Commissioner for Refugees eradicate a harmful practice, criminaliz-
tries. Eradicating this practice in refugee (UNHCR) to combat FGM, we target all ing those who practice FGM can inhibit
camps is particularly challenging communities that practice female cir- discussions on the issue and lead those
because of the diverse backgrounds and cumcision in the camps, irrespective of involved to go underground as they seek
cultures represented in the camps. the form of mutilation. alternative means of continuing the prac-
Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps, which People in the camps claim to practice tice. In light of this, we choose instead to
house about 132,000 people, were FGM for a variety of reasons: it is a reli- focus on changing people’s perceptions of
formed in 1991 as refugees fled the civil gious obligation and a tradition; it is the practice––particularly through
war in Somalia. While the majority of believed to ensure virginity until marriage; emphasizing people’s right to health
the refugees are Somalis, the camps also it gives sexual pleasure to men and within a larger human rights framework.
house Sudanese, Ethiopians, Eritreans, enhances their manhood; and it controls We find that using a human rights
the sexual desires approach is helpful because most of the
of women and refugees have already been exposed to
girls. Others feel human rights messages through the
that their daugh- UNHCR Protection Unit’s mass informa-
ters would not tion campaigns on human rights issues
be accepted by affecting the refugees. Because people are
society if they did aware of their basic rights and needs, it is
not undergo the therefore relatively easy to address FGM
process. As one in the context of human, women’s, and
refugee woman children’s rights. More significantly, a
told us, “The human rights perspective sets FGM in the
practice adds to a context of women’s social and economic
family’s honor powerlessness. Recognizing that civil,
and prestige in the political, social, economic, and cultural
community. Who rights are indivisible and interdependent
would not want to is a crucial starting point for addressing
bring honor to the range of underlying factors behind
her family?” the perpetuation of this practice.
Girls in a Dadaab refugee camp received uniforms as an incentive to
attend school.
The Sexual Although Kenyan national law—
and Gender-Based which has jurisdiction over all Dadaab
Ugandans, Burundians, and Congolese. Violence program at the Dadaab refugee refugees—bans the practice of FGM
The predominant type of FGM prac- camps began its work in 1993 with an under the 2002 Children’s Act, we discov-
ticed among the refugees (mostly within emphasis on preventing rape within the ered that relying too much on law can
the Somali community) is pharaonic cir- camps. By 2000 the program expanded its backfire. For instance, when the first case
cumcision—this involves the complete focus to other forms of violence, particu- against FGM was prosecuted in the camps
removal of the clitoris and consequent larly harmful cultural practices such as in August 2002, the refugees and local
closing up of the vaginal opening, leaving FGM. Our program represents a collabo- community held demonstrations claiming
a small passage for urine and menses. rative effort between local and interna- that their right to practice their culture
Photo by Anne Costello

Most of the girls circumcised are very tional NGOs and the host government, and religion was being violated. As some
young, between six and twelve. Other and is comprised of representatives from said, “Now the international community
members of the refugee community prac- various local and international organiza- and the government do not have any work
tice the sunna, which is a milder form of tions who have grassroots influence and to do. They are too idle, that is why they
the practice and involves the pricking, or understanding of the situation. want to engage in such petty activities.”
slight cutting off, of the tip of the cli- While laws preventing FGM are valu- Not only did the legal approach cause

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 17

resentment, it also led many people to sunna as a means of
find ways simply to avoid the law. For working toward a
example, during an exercise involving the total abandonment
resettlement of Somali Bantu refugees to of the whole prac-
the United States shortly after this case tice. This has slowly
was prosecuted, many took to circumcis- been accepted by
ing their daughters, some as young as one some sections of the
and a half, in the camps once they were community, particu-
informed that this is a criminal offense in larly those who are
the country of resettlement. strong adherents to
The strategy that has worked best as their culture.
a primary tactic is emphasizing the right Whether empha-
to health. When we focus on the health sizing the health or
implications of the operation, refugees religious aspects of
become more receptive, because they are FGM, our philoso-
able to relate this to the health problems phy has been to
that are commonly referred to at the involve all groups Women sewing at one of the vocational centers run by the organization
CARE in the Dadaab camps.
health centers in the camps, which are in society—moth-
run by a UNHCR partner organization. ers, girls, traditional birth attendants, empowers girls and women to under-
Many are aware of their right to attain men, health workers, religious leaders, stand and appreciate their bodies and
the highest standards of health and rec- and, in some cases, circumcisers them- value themselves, enabling them to make
ognize the health risks to which female selves. We lead small group meetings, informed decisions about their own
circumcision exposes women and girls. which are conducive to open and frank lives. Therefore, we support all initia-
When we explain that the chronic discussions since most of the participants tives to promote girls’ education.
infections, intermittent bleeding, and feel free to discuss these issues without The fight against FGM in a refugee
abscesses resulting from clitoridectomy fear of provoking the wrath of the com- situation is a unique aspect of UNHCR’s
and excision cause discomfort and munity. This strategy builds on the pre- work. Our Sexual and Gender-Based
extreme pain, residents of the camp sumption that by convincing a few people Violence program is, by its very exis-
begin to understand how this practice that this practice is harmful, it will be tence, somewhat subversive in that its
violates their daughters’ right to health. easier to reach out to the rest of the com- intent is to influence change in long-
First, sexual intercourse can take place munity. In our discussions with circum- standing cultural and societal norms that
only after gradual and painful dilation of cisers, for instance, we are aware of the perpetuate the disempowerment and
the opening, and in some cases cutting is need to provide alternative forms of oppression of females. We seek to
necessary before intercourse can take income. As one FGM practitioner told empower women and engage men in pro-

A human rights perspective sets FGM in the

context of women’s social and economic powerlessness.
place. In addition, FGM increases the us, “I commanded a lot of respect, more moting gender equity to reduce some of
risk of HIV transmission during inter- than even the religious leaders. But now these harmful traditional practices. This
course. It can also cause complications that you want me to stop this, what will is a sensitive and complex undertaking
during childbirth, when existing scar tis- happen to my status in the society? that has to be carefully planned, espe-
sue on excised women may tear. In many Where will I earn my little money for sur- cially when working with traditional cul-
cases, infibulated women have to be cut vival?” It is also important to work with tures such as those represented in the
to allow the baby to emerge; after giving men because they exert a lot of influence camps, among people who are trying to
Photo courtesy of UNHCR / Kennedy Osinde

birth, they are often reinfibulated to in the community. If we could change the retain the few cultural values they have
make them “tight” for their husbands. thinking of the majority of men in the left in a foreign land. hrd
While we emphasize that FGM vio- camps, this would be a crucial step
lates human rights standards, our cam- toward changing attitudes toward the For two different perspectives on combating
paign recognizes that those practicing practice in general. FGM, see “Ending Female Genital Mutilation
FGM believe in its importance, and that In the long run, however, we believe without Human Rights: Two Approaches” by
any changes in a community’s culture that the key to ending this harmful prac- Melron Nicol-Wilson and Nadia Wassef in
occur over a long period of time. In tice is to increase women’s empower- the women’s rights issue of Human Rights
this light, we have tried to engage the ment. The incidence of harmful prac- Dialogue, available online at www.carnegie
community to move away from the worst tices such as FGM decreases with higher
form of circumcision to the less severe rates of female literacy, since education /8/prmID/631.

18 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

Law: A Powerful Force
Anne Gathumbi-Masheti Responds

Contrary to cultural beliefs that FGM ing the boat, it is critical to be able to the community are to be expected, laws
brings honor to a woman or girl’s family, name the problem to the communities. serve as the much-needed “shock therapy
FGM is one of the most dehumanizing Besides describing FGM as a violation of treatment” that can awaken communities
acts of violence against women. It is the right to health, it is important to to the reality that such practices are a vio-
often performed on young girls who lack define it as a violation of the right to be lation of fundamental rights.
the capacity and means to contest such a free from gender discrimination, the It is interesting to note the response of
practice, which makes it even more right to life and to freedom from torture the refugee communities after the first
degrading. Looking at the excuses including the inherent dignity of the per- case was prosecuted in the Dadaab camps:
advanced to justify its performance on son, the right to liberty and security of they accused the government and the
innocent children, one cannot fail to the person, and the right to privacy. international community of engaging in
notice the systematic manner in which it “petty activities.” Their atti-
is used as a tool of power and control, Laws serve as the much-needed tude is that they should be left
from childhood through womanhood.
As June Munala explains, people
“shock therapy” treatment alone to continue violating
women’s and girls’ rights
advance various justifications to defend the for awakening communities. without interference from the
practice: “It is believed to ensure virginity outside. The fact that while in
until marriage; it gives sexual pleasure to Only by acknowledging that the subjec- the camps men expect protection from the
men and enhances their manhood; and it tion of women and girls to FGM is an government and the United Nations yet
controls the sexual desires of women and act of control and gender discrimination have a problem when that protection is
girls.” Such explanations clearly reveal that compromises the enjoyment of their extended to women and children points to
FGM as a practice that benefits men while fundamental rights and freedoms can a serious lack of appreciation of women’s
punishing women and girls. communities begin to recognize and deal rights as human rights. Continued prose-
While any effort to combat FGM is with FGM as a serious violation of cution can therefore provide a much-need-
commendable, my experience working human rights that requires redress. ed jurisprudential basis for the develop-
on this issue with COVAW, a Kenyan This is where the law is important, ment of the law in the area of FGM and
organization that works toward the elim- both as a regulatory mechanism and a can help to reinforce the message that
ination of all forms of violence against deterrent. Munala argues that empha- FGM is neither trivial nor petty.
women through promoting women’s sizing the law is not an effective strategy Another strategy that has proved
human rights, has shown that no single because it can be punitive and can drive helpful in combination with application
strategy is successful on its own. Munala the practice underground in the short of the law is the alternative rite of pas-
correctly argues that there has to be a term. In COVAW’s work, however, we sage. It is based on the premise that one
multidisciplinary approach to the prob- have found that repeated application of of the positive aspects of the ceremony
lem. But by focusing on the right to the law can, in the long run, gain of FGM is educating the girls about the
health as the most effective means for acceptability as a method for addressing reproductive changes occurring in their
eradicating FGM, she underemphasizes the problem. Legislating against FGM adolescence and how to cope with those
perhaps the most crucial component of helps to communicate the unacceptabil- changes. The alternative rite therefore
the struggle—the adoption of a strategy ity of the practice as well as to secure seeks to carry on the educative aspects of
well grounded within a women’s human women’s rights within a legal frame- the practice without resorting to remov-
rights framework. Those who choose to work and provide an option for redress. ing a part of the reproductive organs of
use the human rights framework must A case in point is that of two girls in the girls and women. It would be inter-
also be alive to the reality that the tradi- one community in Kenya who sought esting to see how such an approach with-
tional human rights framework has con- legal redress against their father for in the refugee camps would work as one
sistently failed to incorporate women’s attempting to subject them to FGM. of the strategies to combat FGM.
experiences. They obtained a perpetual injunction Given the complexity of the problem
Despite the sensitivity of the issue of that barred the father from ever subject- of FGM, Munala is right that adopting a
FGM, it is important that activists in ing them to the cut. Although the girls multidimensional strategy is key. But
this area define the principles or rules of were initially ostracized by the communi- above all else, those working to combat
engagement with the communities. ty, they have since been reintegrated into the practice must emphasize—without
Whereas some organizations, such as the family and their community, where hesitation—the fact that FGM is a viola-
UNHCR, opt for a more subtle they have continued their crusade against tion of women’s and girls’ rights and that
approach in order not to be seen as rock- FGM. While initial reactions of protest in these rights must be safeguarded.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 19

Achieving Women’s Full Citizenship
Rhonda Copelon

“I would like to once again prosecute

the Japanese military. They damaged
indiscretion, while official toleration of
privately inflicted gender violence was
Courageous and concerted actions of
women around the world forced a sea
my body and I cannot be productive ignored as a human rights issue. Rape change in international law, culminating
any more and I would like to have the was the fault of unchaste women or in the recognition of gender violence as a
Japanese government apologize and brushed under the rug, and thus raped human rights concern and in its codifica-
also pay reparations. I am an old women were consigned to invisibility, tion as among the gravest international
woman and I don’t know how long I isolation, and shame. crimes in the Rome Statute of the
will live but I will not give up until I These cultural attitudes and practices International Criminal Court (ICC). In
win my victory.” were reinforced by the evolution of the clas- the early l990s, Korean former “comfort
—Yuan Zhu-lin of China testifying before the sification of rape in the laws of war. In the women” broke fifty years of silence to
Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on 1907 Hague Convention, rape was delicate- expose Japan’s systemization of military
Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery ly coded as a “violation of family honor sexual slavery during the Second World
and rights,” simultaneously invoking male War. Soon thereafter, for example, sur-
Less than a decade ago, it was openly entitlement and female chastity. Rape was vivors, committed journalists, and femi-
questioned whether rape was a war thus explicitly cast as a moral offense, not a nist human rights advocates forced the
crime. Human rights and humanitarian crime of violence; the fault lay with the vic- story of the rape of women in the former
organizations largely ignored sexual vio- tims, not the perpetrators. The 1949 Yugoslavia into the media and into inter-
lence and the needs of its victims. The Geneva Conventions did not name rape, national consciousness; and Haitian
connection between sexual conquest of but subsumed it within other offenses. women, working underground, organized
women and war was considered natural Rape was specifically mentioned, along to document the rape of women under the
and inevitable, an essential engine of with “enforced prostitution and indecent illegal Cedras regime. A growing women’s
war, rewarding soldiers and readying assault,” as among the “outrages against human rights movement and reports by
them to fight again. The rape of women personal dignity” in the l977 Second human rights groups demanded recogni-
in prison was not considered torture but Geneva Protocol relating to noninterna- tion of the crime of rape and discredited
was usually noted as a lesser abuse and tional armed conflict. With rare exceptions, the notion that women wouldn’t talk
even excused in law as a mere personal impunity for rape was the rule of the day. about it. In a series of United Nations

Left: Photo courtesy of Lolas Kampanyera. Right: Daisil Kim-Gibson

The activism of former “comfort women” in the 1990s paved the way for official recognition of rape as a war crime. Left: Lola Fedencia, a survivor from the
Philippines. Right: Hwang Keum Ju, a survivor from Korea.

20 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

conferences and other forums, survivors withstood virulent opposition from the Significantly, the ICC treaty should
and activists from around the globe chal- Vatican, which has the privileges but not also affect domestic laws. It is not only
lenged the exclusion of gender violence the responsibilities of a state in the UN, the blueprint for the court; it reflects
and women’s human rights from the and some Arab states. Opponents cor- accepted minimal international norms
human rights agenda. rectly perceived that crimes against for the operation of a justice system
The turning point was the l993 humanity apply not only to rape in war worldwide. The principle of comple-
World Conference on Human Rights in but also to widespread or systemic sexu- mentarity encourages states to adopt its
Vienna, which prioritized violence al and gender crimes in everyday life. provisions as local law in order to retain
against women and gender mainstream- Thus, eleven Arab states sought explicit- the right to try national offenders. The
ing throughout the human rights system. ly to immunize rape, sexual slavery, and ICC thereby powerfully supports
Responding to women’s demands, the other sexual violence when committed in women’s domestic law reform efforts.
International Criminal Tribunal for the the family or as part of religion, tradi- But will the ICC help to transform
former Yugoslavia began to prosecute tion, or culture. In addition, the United the legal and cultural acceptance of sexu-
rape and sexual violence as war crimes States urged that slavery be confined to al violence? If the ICC survives the current
and crimes against humanity, including commercial exchange and sought more assault by the Bush administration and
as torture and enslavement, while the generally to immunize tolerance of these implements its gender-inclusive mandate,
International Criminal Tribunal for crimes from criminal responsibility. it is possible that it will make a global dif-
Rwanda prosecuted rape as genocide. Furthermore, after intense negotia- ference. If its norms become accepted as
These developments laid the foun- tions, “gender” was defined to include military and domestic law, sexual violence
dation for the gender provisions of the the social construction of male and will no longer be exempt from punish-
Rome Statute of the ICC, which creates female roles and identities, in opposition ment and hopefully will become less tol-
the world’s first permanent criminal to efforts to define gender biologically erated legally as well as culturally. The
court with jurisdiction over genocide, and thereby exclude persecution against survival of the court and of its norms is
war crimes, and crimes against humani- gender nonconformists, whether they be crucial to legitimating norms of gender
ty and provides for future jurisdiction single women or transgendered people. justice and shifting both blame and shame
over the crime of aggression. As a result Though some compromises were made, from victim to perpetrator. Most impor-
of the interventions and organizing of the fundamentalist positions were large- tantly, perhaps, the court will contribute
women’s human rights activists and ly rejected, leaving the final word to the to the process of empowering women to
allies, largely through the vehicle of the ICC judges in accordance with the prin- say “no” to the shame that society has
Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, the ciple against gender discrimination. demanded and will increase the possibili-
Rome Statute is a landmark in the strug- The Rome Statute also encompasses ty of reparations and participation in
gle for gender justice, codifying a broad groundbreaking structures and processes peacebuilding. All this requires commit-
range of sexual and gender crimes as to ensure that crimes will be prosecuted in ted and knowledgeable judicial personnel
well as structures and procedures neces- a nondiscriminatory, respectful manner as well as persistent monitoring and
sary to make gender justice a reality. that minimizes the potential for retrauma- engagement by NGOs at every level.
The Rome Statute names a broad tization and overcomes women’s reluc- Women’s myriad campaigns around
range of sexual and reproductive violence tance to participate. Court personnel at the world, including the continuing strug-
crimes—rape, sexual slavery including every level must reflect a fair or equal rep- gle for justice by the “comfort women,”
trafficking, forced pregnancy, enforced resentation of women and include experts make clear that women’s sexual autonomy
prostitution, enforced sterilization, and on violence against women. As a result, and gender-inclusive justice are critical
other serious sexual violence—as among seven women were elected to the first ICC components of women’s full citizenship.
the gravest crimes of war. These are also bench of eighteen judges. But formal justice alone will not eliminate
“crimes against humanity” when commit- Investigations and trials contain these crimes, nor ensure women’s empow-
ted as part of a widespread or systematic safeguards that protect the safety and erment, nor address the roots of mili-
attack on a civilian population, in times privacy of victims and enhance their role tarism. Rape and sexual violence are prod-
of peace as well as war, and by nonstate in the process. Evidentiary rules mini- ucts of long-standing male entitlement to
actors as well as officials. In addition, mize some of the worst traditional fea- control and abuse of the bodies and lives
crimes against humanity include persecu- tures of rape trials, including distrust of of women and perpetuate women’s eco-
tion based on gender. The Rome Statute’s women’s testimony and humiliation nomic, political, cultural, sexual, and psy-
overarching principle against gender dis- through cross-examination about con- chological subordination. Gender norms
crimination also protects against the ghet- sent or their sexual histories. In addi- and accountability must, therefore, be part
toization and trivialization of sexual and tion, the statute anticipates the active of a larger human rights mobilization for
gender crimes and encourages their pros- participation of victims before the court full equality, human rights, and empower-
ecution, where appropriate, as traditional and responds to the disconnect between ment of women as well as for peace, eco-
crimes such as genocide, torture, enslave- punishment of perpetrators and the nomic justice, and security. The Rome
ment, and inhuman treatment. needs of victims by recognizing a role Statute is a watershed and the ICC a frag-
The adoption of gender crimes for the court in ensuring reparations. ile, partial, yet crucial opportunity. hrd

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 21

Working within Nigeria’s Sharia Courts
An Interview with Ayesha Imam

U ntil 1999, Muslim laws in Nigeria

applied primarily to civil matters. Since
the end of military rule in 1999, twelve
of Nigeria’s thirty-six states have
extended Muslim, or Sharia, laws to
criminal matters. The implementation
of Sharia penal codes has raised a num-
ber of concerns among human rights
and women’s rights activists inside and
outside Nigeria who argue that these
laws adversely affect women. Human
Rights Dialogue spoke with Ayesha
Imam about the work of the Nigerian
organization BAOBAB for Women’s
Human Rights in protecting women’s
rights in Nigeria within the context of
Sharia law.

Dialogue: Could you tell us a bit about the

law, especially Sharia law, in Nigeria?
Imam: Nigeria has three operating legal
systems. The first is general law, a com-
bination of British colonial law and acts Northern Nigeria, where many states have extended the reach of religious law.
or decrees that have been passed by fed-
eral government or states or military of Sharia acts, which had the objective that stoning to death for adultery is
regimes since 1960. Next are customary of extending Muslim laws. In particular divine punishment. That’s not true: the
laws, a variety of different laws of differ- they passed Sharia criminal codes, which Qur’an does not mention stoning for
ent peoples that are not in their pristine created new offenses and mandated new adultery. Indeed, the Qur’an has a verse
forms but were changed during the colo- punishments for existing offenses. that refers to adulterous women and
nial process, often becoming less favor- Consequently, criminal law came to men marrying each other—clearly
able to women’s rights. The third system include punishments like stoning or impossible if they were dead!
is Muslim laws, referred to also as amputation, and the implementation of
Islamic laws, or Sharia laws. Until 1999, these laws clearly discriminates against Dialogue: How was the extension of
customary and Muslim laws had been women, although the legal texts are gen- Sharia law originally accepted in society?
restricted largely to family and personal der neutral. Imam: The immediate context that
status law—marriage, divorce, child cus- Consider adultery: of the four Sunni allowed for the extension of Sharia laws
tody, inheritance. In principle, Nigerians schools of Muslim laws, only among came predominantly as a result of the
had the choice of abiding by general, Maliki adherents—but not all of them— religious and ethnic resurgences in
customary, or Muslim laws. So there have is extramarital pregnancy in itself suffi- response to the failures of the independ-
always been parallel legal systems, with cient evidence of adultery. Hence, a ence and nationalist promises, and from
some confusion about which law takes minority opinion in Sharia laws is being a cynical disillusionment with both the
Photo by David France

precedence over what and when. enforced in Nigeria, and women are political arena and the existing judicial
being held to a different standard of evi- system as corrupt and self-serving.
Dialogue: How does this system affect dence in having to prove their innocence Nigerians also felt uncertainties and dif-
Nigerian women? instead of the state proving their guilt. ficulties related to the poverty and social
Imam: Starting in 1999, a number of In defense of this patent unfairness, problems caused or exacerbated by
states in Nigeria began passing a series Islamist conservatives have tried to argue World Bank structural adjustment pro-

22 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

grams. Identity politics—the use of eth- conservative or venal judges). The courts be less powerless in the face of the state
nicity or religion to mobilize some pop- have increasingly recognized women’s and the religious right.
ulations and exclude others—which was rights in Muslim family laws over the last
institutionalized during British colonial twenty to thirty years. We fear that this Dialogue: In your work with victims and
rule and continued to be reproduced in will be reversed in the current climate of their families, what discourse do you rely
postindependence Nigeria, thus took on religious right conservatism. on? We know you draw on religion, but
some qualitatively new features, includ- are you using a human rights framework
ing laws that were enacted specifically Dialogue: What are some examples of this as well?
because they were religious. positive trend within Sharia courts? Imam: Yes, we draw on religion a lot, but
Ironically, the new laws were not the Imam: There has been progress in many we refer to a point often contested by the
result of pressure from the religious areas of women’s rights. In inheritance, religious right: Muslim laws are social
right but came from the new governor of especially of land, women’s entitlements constructions. These laws are not divine-
Zamfara State, who was faced with a had often been ignored by their families ly revealed; very often, patriarchal inter-
small and recently created state with lit- but are upheld in Sharia courts. Sharia pretations have resulted in laws or prac-
tle infrastructure, few natural resources, courts have also been upholding rights tices that are biased against women, and
and few formally educated people. He of women to choose husbands and for that matter, against the poor. We
needed some way to make himself popu- divorce independently, of girls to refuse remind people of Qur’anic verses like
lar—and that was to claim to undertake forced early marriages, of widows and “Women and men are protecting friends
“Sharianization.” The governors of divorcées to have custody of their chil- one of the other” (9:71). We point out
eleven other states (most but not all dren and their children’s property. that women—50 percent of the Muslim
Muslim-majority states) either followed community—must also participate in the
suit or were pushed into passing similar Dialogue: Why do you feel it is important construction of Muslim laws.
acts for fear of being seen as “anti- to work within the Sharia courts rather We also assert the right to invoke
Sharia.” than criticizing them from the outside? international human rights law and
Imam: If we only criticize from the out- national Nigerian law to protect rights.
Dialogue: In your work, do you have side, it doesn’t do anything for the victim Although international human rights
problems with vigilante groups and their of the charge. If we go to court and win language grew from European intellec-
influence on the Sharia courts? an appeal, it demonstrates that the victim tual history, Muslim nations and states
Imam: Yes, the hizbah, vigilante groups should never have been charged. We have did help to craft it. This is particularly
of the religious right. These are the to critique both externally and internally. true of international reproductive and
“muscle” elements that enforce the new We must establish that even when abuses sexual rights and women’s rights more
laws. Hizbah are generally made up of are perpetrated in the name of Islam, generally. We insist on being able to
young men who have no jobs, no they can and must be challenged. reclaim and contribute to international
prospects, and not very much education. However, if we simply pressure for human rights discourse rather than
Clearly they enjoy power and authority
by becoming part of the hizbah and Patriarchal understandings have
monitoring people and imposing their
views of morality and behavior on oth- resulted in laws or practices that are
ers. Police are not by and large the ones
initiating prosecutions; in many cases
biased against women, and for
the hizbah groups are forcing the police that matter, against the poor.
into it, and then packing the courts in
intimidating ways. pardons, that is ineffective politically. A allowing it to be seen as only western.
pardon says, “Yes, you committed the
Dialogue: Have these groups particularly offence but we are very kindly not punish- Dialogue: How are you trying to create a
targeted issues that involve women? ing you.” Furthermore, if a pardon seems culture of women’s rights awareness in
Imam: Yes, because women are easy tar- to be the result of external pressure, it Nigeria?
gets. As in most societies, the double may produce a backlash against the local Imam: BAOBAB trains volunteer out-
standard makes women more responsi- culture of respect for human rights. reach teams that jointly organize cam-
ble for morality than men, and they have If people don’t recognize rights at an paigns and community programs,
not been politically organized to effec- everyday level, then international rights develop legal literacy materials, and
tively defend their interests as women. treaties and covenants are dead letters. run paralegal trainings so people
We worry about this increasing mobi- People must say, “That’s our right and we become aware of women’s rights,
lization of identity politics and the closure are going to do something to get it.” whether in Muslim, secular, or custom-
of options in the legal system because the When we win appeals, it strengthens the ary laws or in international human
trend in Muslim family laws has been pos- hands of the local women’s and human rights conventions. We focus not simply
itive (although there are still too many rights activists and encourages victims to on the legal texts, but on ways in which

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 23

not been followed in issues of evidence
and representation. Currently, we are
not making appeals to international
human rights.

Dialogue: Why is that?

Imam: Well, at the moment there is no
need. In all the cases where we have won
appeals, we have not needed it. Not a
single case we have brought has been
lost; higher Sharia courts always
quashed the conviction. We have won
both on Muslim and Nigerian secular
laws, but usually on Muslim laws. But if
we need to use international human
rights law, we will.
However, human rights are not the
exclusive province of international
human rights law or international
human rights organizations. Human
Nigeria’s women: can Sharia law be implemented fairly? rights concepts exist in Muslim, cus-
tomary, and secular laws. When we
refer to human rights, we don’t always
people can actualize rights acknowl- women’s rights activists supporting her. have to refer specifically to internation-
edged in them. International campaigns are often al human rights conventions. We can
We also focus on critiquing law, helpful tools, but there is a right place refer to human rights found in religious
since the rights acknowledged in laws and time for them. In cases like this, or secular discourses. International
may not be sufficient to defend and pro- where victims have chosen representa- human rights law is quite insufficient in
mote human and women’s rights. We tion and have considerable local sup- many ways and still needs to be devel-
call it legal consciousness rather than port, international human rights organi- oped itself.
legal awareness so we can discuss how to zations need to support and strengthen Developing rights discourses—from
work toward changing laws where they the situation of the person whose rights the international treaties to the local
need to be changed. have been abused. level—and ensuring their fulfillment and
It should be noted that Amnesty enforceability is an area where all organ-
Dialogue: Your work seems very focused International’s International Secretariat izations and activists must work togeth-
on the local level. Do you see a role for in London and its USA offices have been er, respecting diversity while developing
international human rights organizations cooperating with us to stop these inaccu- solidarity and common understanding
in this struggle? rate petitions. They have stated publicly of principles, not just assuming it. That
Imam: I’m sure you are familiar with the that they did not initiate or endorse the would be true universalization. hrd
case of Amina Lawal, who has been sen- petitions, and they support the local
tenced to stoning for adultery—her case groups in Nigeria working on Ms. 1 Since this interview, the Katsina State Sharia
is now under appeal. There were, and Lawal’s behalf. Yet other international Court of Appeal, in acquitting Amina Lawal,
are, numerous international protests and groups, like Women Living Under has held that pregnancy outside marriage is not
letter-writing campaigns on Ms. Lawal’s Muslim Laws, have always worked in proof of adultery.
case that have been based on the inaccu- consultation with us. The principle has to 2 At the time of this interview, Lawal’s case was

rate information that her appeal failed. be effectiveness, reciprocity, and respect. still under appeal. On September 25, 2003, the
The senders of the petition refuse to rec- Katsina State Sharia Court of Appeal over-
Photo courtesy of DFA / AGWM Mali

ognize that inaccurate petitions, especial- Dialogue: Tell us a bit more about your turned her conviction.
ly those using inflammatory language, legal strategy in the Amina Lawal case—
can result in further overreaction and have you chosen to appeal to internation- For further insight into the difficulties faced
backlash from the religious right and vig- al human rights? by human rights activists in Nigeria’s fragile
ilantes in Nigeria. They might then take Imam: Amina’s appeal is couched first in democracy, see Ivana Vuco’s article,
direct action instead of waiting for a res- terms of Muslim laws, with the argu- “Taking the Reconciliatory Route,” in the
olution through the legal process. This is ment that due process has not been fol- peace work issue of Human Rights
a real and immediate physical as well as lowed in Muslim laws, and second, in Dialogue, available online at
psychological threat to Ms. Lawal and to terms of Nigerian secular law, saying, www.carnegiecouncil.
her lawyers, as well as the human and again, that constitutional rights have org/viewMedia.php/prmTemplateID/8/

24 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

Small Victories, but the War Rages On
Uché U. Ewelukwa Responds

I admire the work that Ayesha Imam, on international human rights law to pro- Nigeria is party to a host of interna-
BAOBAB, and other local women’s groups tect rights, it has chosen not to because it tional human rights instruments, includ-
in Nigeria are doing to ensure that Amina claims it has not needed to do so. ing the International Covenant on Civil
Lawal and other women who have death Experts in Sharia law readily acknowl- and Political Rights, the Convention
sentences hanging over their heads are edge that there is little scope for variation against Torture, and CEDAW. Where the
freed. Furthermore, I agree with Imam of interpretation in the application of provisions of international human rights
that local organizations must take the lead Nigeria’s Sharia law. The reason is obvi- treaties are incorporated into Nigerian
role in the struggle for women’s rights, ous: Nigerian courts follow the Maliki law, there may be no need to make argu-
despite the fact that international human interpretation, notwithstanding the variety ments based specifically on international
rights organizations can play a very useful of choices of interpretation within Sharia human rights norms. However, where
role. However, the fact that local groups law. The Sharia penal codes are an Nigeria has ratified a given human rights
play a lead role does not mean that their attempted codification of the Maliki instrument but these norms are not fully
strategies are immune to criticism. Local school of thought. It is generally expected reflected in existing law, there may be a
and international strategies should be that gaps and lack of clarity will be reme- need to draw directly from the interna-
scrutinized for their overall effectiveness in died by reference only to the Maliki school. tional human rights instruments.
improving the lot of all women and creat- The result, as Muhammed Tabiu of the In her discussion of international
ing a culture of respect for human rights. faculty of law at Bayero University, Kano, human rights law, Imam states that it is
Imam’s comment that “not a single noted at a recent conference, is that in deficient in many ways. Indeed, it is true
case we have brought has been lost; high- Nigeria “departures from the Maliki that it has been difficult to translate the
er Sharia courts always quashed the con- School to other interpretations are rare, normative prescriptions of international
viction” is well taken; women’s organiza- although not totally unknown.” He con- human rights instruments into practical
tions at the forefront of the struggle must cludes that although the door for admit- realities for African women, due to institu-
be congratulated. Yet the cases that have ting other interpretations of Sharia law is tional and enforcement problems in the
been won are by and large unhelpful to not totally closed, “the provisions that human rights regime, as well as the sec-
the vast majority of women who still live require courts to adhere to the Maliki view ondary position allotted to social and eco-
under imminent threat of the Sharia legal are clearly a setback to any expectations nomic rights in the human rights regime.
system. The fact that the cases are rarely for reform being achieved through judicial However, international human rights
won on their own merits and convictions activism or reinterpretation.” norms are nevertheless powerful weapons
are frequently overturned only on techni- Given the remote possibility of more that local groups must use: they provide a
calities is not a cause for celebration. progressive interpretation of the new sound moral and legal basis upon which
Although the recent decision of the Sharia Sharia penal codes, women’s rights groups the international community can pressure
Court of Appeal of Katsina State to in Nigeria must consider challenging the states; they allow transnational, transcul-
quash Ms. Lawal’s death sentence is wel- constitutionality of some of the provisions tural, and transreligious moral judg-
come, it is important to note that the deci- of the Sharia penal legislation that are the ments, especially in egregious situations
sion had no connection to any legal root cause of the current crisis in northern where life and limb are seriously threat-
precedents and was limited to the specific Nigeria. That would be a better strategy ened; and they represent a rare positive
facts of Ms. Lawal’s case. The battle was than the current piecemeal attempt to and public expression of a state’s volun-
won, but the real war rages on. achieve justice for a handful of women. As tary undertaking of international respon-
Imam’s faith in progressive interpreta- long as these laws are in force, all Muslim sibility binding on all state officials.
tion of Sharia law is admirable, but I ques- women in northern Nigeria, particularly Strategies are not mutually exclusive,
tion the basis for her belief. Imam believes the poor and uneducated, will continue to nor do the courts provide the only stage for
that to defend the rights of women like live under an imminent sentence of death. the struggle for the realization of women’s
Ms. Lawal, organizations like hers should Women’s rights advocates must therefore rights. In addition to the community
work mainly within the Sharia framework take up legal cases and advance legal argu- enlightenment campaigns already being
rather than draw on international human ments that can help establish useful prece- carried out by women’s groups, social
rights instruments or the Nigerian dents with much wider application than is reform, training for judges, and basic edu-
Constitution. She believes that more pro- currently the case. It is also important for cation for girls to empower them and
gressive and liberal interpretations of them to acknowledge that some provisions strengthen their position in Nigerian socie-
Sharia law are possible and that human of the new Sharia legislation clearly vio- ty must all be advanced parallel to the wag-
rights concepts exist in Muslim laws. late the Nigerian Constitution and inter- ing of courtroom battles if violence against
Although BAOBAB asserts a right to call national human rights law. women in Nigeria is to be diminished.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 25

Working within Sharia Takes You Only So Far
Albaqir A. Mukhtar Responds

Using Sharia as the point of reference, well formulated in legal terms by all edges rights that are absent in Sharia, such
as Ayesha Imam suggests, allows her schools of jurisprudence, is that man is as universal equality between men and
organization to do two things: one, con- guardian over woman. This is based on women and between Muslims and non-
test its interpretation, and, two, criticize the Qur’anic verse Muslims. Given that these activists’
its implementation as inadequate. This Men are guardians over women respective governments are signatories to
is now the general trend among intellec- because God has preferred some of a number of human rights instruments,
tuals, lawyers, women’s and human them [men] over others [women], and appealing to international human rights
rights activists in northern Nigeria, and, because men support women from law can help to hold their governments
indeed, in many other Muslim countries their wealth, therefore the righteous of accountable for human rights violations
where Sharia law is enforced. women are devout and guard in their such as discrimination against women,
Indeed, this looks like the only husbands’ absence what God would which they cannot do under Sharia.
course of action open to Imam and her have them to guard, and those women Furthermore, activists’ steadfastness
colleagues, for they do not want to be whom you [men] fear to be disobedi- in using human rights discourse has
seen, for understandable reasons, as ent, admonish them first, then reject helped to influence the religious discourse
challenging Sharia, despite the fact that them in bed, and finally beat them. But to make accommodations for human
they may recognize problems with it. if they return to obedience do not seek rights. To give just one example, Sheikh
There is no doubt that the implementa- to harass them more (4:34). Abul Al-Mawdudi, the founder of the con-
tion of Sharia law in northern Nigeria This general rule is translated in whole- servative group Jama’ati Islami in
suffers from visible deficiencies, as sale discriminative provisions in both the Pakistan, authored a booklet titled
Imam says, and that the internal debates public and private spheres. Human Rights in Islam as a direct
In this light, response to the criticism that Pakistani
Sharia itself, even if perfectly implemented, it is ineffective human rights activists mounted against
discriminates against women and allows to work within
the framework
his movement. Although such develop-
ments do not wholly embrace the ideals of
for acts of violence against them. of Sharia to the international human rights movement,
combat violence they provide evidence that Islamists are
on Sharia between supporters and critics against women. Instead, one has to beginning to heed the human rights move-
like BAOBAB in northern Nigeria are appeal to a higher law. For some Muslim ment in the Islamic world and the interna-
based on these deficiencies rather than activists, this higher law must stem from tional framework upon which it is based.
the laws’ punitive aspects. The underpin- the universal aspects of Islam. The Re- By not focusing on either of these
ning assumption of this line of argument publican Brothers of Sudan, for example, approaches—appealing to the universal
is that it is primarily the deficient imple- hold that Sharia is the secondary—not aspects of Islam or to international
mentation of Sharia law, and not Sharia the primary—intent of Islam. Therefore human rights law—it appears that
itself, that discriminates against women. Sharia is mutable, and should be evolved Imam’s options are limited. Working
Although Imam’s argument is com- within the Qur’an toward the primary within Sharia can be effective only in
monly made, it does not address the real intent of Islam, which is complete equal- challenging a certain type of court
issue of the challenges of applying ity between men and women. case—those grossly mishandled by the
Sharia in the twenty-first century, or the For other activists—in fact, courts, not those in which adequate pro-
fact that Sharia does not guarantee the majority of local and regional human cedures were followed. These latter cases
democracy, freedom, and human rights. rights and women’s
It also does not open the way for rights organizations One has to appeal to a higher law. For
Nigerian Muslims to call for Sharia in the Muslim
reform, despite the fact that such calls world—this higher
some Muslim activists, this higher law must
are now voiced in many parts of the law is international stem from the universal aspects of Islam.
Muslim world. human rights law.
The real issue facing Muslims, Although these activists are criticized by can be challenged only by recourse to
whether in Nigeria or elsewhere, is that the religious establishment and conserva- international human rights instruments
Sharia itself, even if perfectly imple- tive forces in their communities as “secu- and the Federal Constitution of Nigeria.
mented, discriminates against women lar,” “westernized,” and “betrayers” of Challenging such cases within the
and allows for acts of violence against their culture and religion, they believe framework of Sharia is akin to institu-
them. The main rule of Sharia, which is that a human rights framework acknowl- tionalizing discrimination.

26 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

Impunity and Women’s Rights
in Ciudad Juárez Lydia Alpízar

marginalized women often carries no

political cost. The killings in Juárez are
the product of a complex set of dynam-
ics, and a number of characteristics of
the city explain why Juárez presents the
perfect environment for gender-based
violence. The impact of free trade poli-
cies and the ensuing population growth
have weakened the city’s social fabric.
Jobs in the maquiladoras are character-
ized by poor working conditions, low
salaries, and rampant labor rights viola-
tions. Juárez’s geographic location as a
border city makes it an important point
for the trafficking of immigrants and
drugs. In addition, judicial and govern-
ment institutions are often corrupt and
Not long after 15-year-old Liliana Holguin’s body was found, this is the new person to look for: María infiltrated by interests representing the
Elena Chávez Caldera, 15. She worked on the second shift of the ADC International maquiladora. drug trade. These factors add up to a
city with one of the highest levels of

S ince 1993, about 370 women have

been brutally killed, and several hun-
increased significantly in 1993. Since
then, the total number of murders has
criminality in Mexico, with little sense
of local identity or community.
Also, for many years the maquilado-
dreds more have disappeared, in the been increasing monthly. Despite the ras employed mostly women, which
U.S.–Mexico border city of Ciudad systematic nature of these killings, meant that women occupied the tradi-
Juárez, in the state of Chihuahua. To authorities did not begin investigating tional “masculine role” as breadwinners.
date, only one person—charged with until 1995, when they captured a man The changes in gender roles prompted
only one of the crimes— has been sen- whom they continue to call the “serial by women’s entry into the labor market
tenced. The victims are young women, killer” of the women. But the killings as maquiladora workers had an impact
generally under 29 years old. They are have continued, even spreading to near- on gender relations and thus on increas-
mostly poor, often workers in the
maquiladoras (assembly factories), and
live in the marginalized areas of the city.
Human rights have been central
Most of the victims suffer torture, in our efforts to highlight the
mutilation, and sexual violence before
being killed. Others are killed as a result responsibility of the Mexican state.
of domestic violence or disputes with
their partners. Drug trafficking and by cities: in 1999 disappearances were ing gender violence. Furthermore,
organized crime have also been related reported in the state capital, Chihuahua authorities do not demand and ensure
to the killings. Although different initia- City, four hours away from Juárez. By that foreign investors respect basic labor
tives have been carried out by local, 2003, several women had been killed in rights—as has been documented in sev-
Photo by Julián Cardona

state, national, and international that city, in much the same way as they eral cases brought to the International
women’s movements and families of the had been in Juárez. Labor Organization and the North
killed women, the murders and disap- Violence against women is legit- American Agreement on Labor
pearances continue. imized in Mexican society because, like Cooperation—thus allowing violations
The women’s killings in Ciudad other patriarchal societies, it devalues that discriminate against workers, par-
Juárez began in the late 1980s and women, and the loss in particular of ticularly women. In most cases, abuses

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 27

in the maquiladoras are not punished, government to act effectively to stop the impunity becomes the rule.
adding another dimension to the exist- murders and bring justice to the pending One of the challenges that women’s
ing culture of impunity. cases, as well as hold it accountable at the rights organizations face, however, is a
Women’s organizations and victims’ regional and international levels lack of technical expertise in working
families mobilized almost immediately The Stop Impunity campaign’s with international human rights bodies.
following the escalation of violence in adoption of a human rights framework In Latin America, very few women’s
the 1990s. The organization for which I has been very useful for pressuring gov- rights cases have been presented to the
formerly worked, Elige Youth Network ernment authorities, raising awareness, IACHR. As a result, only a handful of
for Reproductive and Sexual Rights, and mobilizing support. Human rights women’s organizations in the region have
became involved in 2000 because we have been central in our efforts to high- the expertise to present a claim before
were outraged by the record of impunity light the responsibility of the Mexican the Commission effectively. Thus, work-
and also by the fact that the victims were state as a whole, and to show that the ing in coordination and building
so young. Involved organizations, state’s inaction is a demonstration of alliances with organizations grounded in
together with the victims’ relatives, sexism and discrimination. Beyond the a more traditional interpretation of
began pressuring state-level authorities complexity of these cases and the con- human rights is necessary because they
to take concrete measures to stop the text itself, it is clear these people are are experienced in areas in which the
killings. Yet the response of local being killed because they are women. women’s movement is a newcomer. If the
authorities was to blame the victims’ The victims are underprivileged, they IACHR would take more cases related to
“questionable moral behavior” or dis- are not politically important for the women’s human rights, it would increase
miss them as “prostitutes.”
In 2001, as the killings escalated,
women’s rights organizations joined with
mainstream human rights organizations
and unions to launch the campaign “Stop
Impunity: No More Murders of
Women.” We wanted to unveil the exist-
ing discrimination in traditional human
rights work and emphasize women’s
empowerment. In Mexico, where the
transition to democracy is an ongoing
process and the human rights debate has
focused on civil and political rights,
women’s rights remain marginal on the
national agenda, in spite of such extreme
cases as the systematic murders in Juárez.
The campaign had one particular
target in mind: the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Pink crosses mark the site where women’s bodies were found in the dusty ground of a hill overlook-
the regional human rights body. In the ing a shantytown in Juárez.
area of women’s rights, the IACHR pro-
vides follow-up and advocates for the authorities, and their bodies are targets the legitimacy and recognition of these
enforcement of some very progressive not only for physical violence but for rights within the larger mainstream
instruments, particularly the 1994 Inter- sexual violence too. human rights community and society as
American Convention on the Prevention, Using a human rights framework a whole. Likewise, if mainstream human
Punishment and Eradication of Violence and incorporating a gender perspective rights organizations give greater priority
against Women (also known as the within our approach provides an under- to women’s rights within their own agen-
Convención de Belem do Pará); its track standing of the complexities of a social das in collaboration with the women’s
record of regional governments’ fulfill- problem such as gender violence. movement, it will also increase the legiti-
ment of its recommendations has been Applying the principle of the interde- macy of women’s rights as human rights.
quite good. In addition, we thought that pendence of human rights allows the So far, we believe that, together
the presentation of the killings as a para- claim that not only civil rights but also with the actions carried out by other
Photo by Kari Lydersen

digmatic case of gender violence could the rights to work, health, development, organizations, we have been successful
help pave the way for future cases of and a life free of violence are being vio- in putting this issue on the agenda of
women’s rights violations within this lated. Overall, the reality of these viola- both government and civil society.
regional Commission. Campaign strate- tions in the everyday lives of women Public outcries over the murders have
gists believed that the involvement of the contributes to an environment where been fierce—letter-writing campaigns,
Commission would pressure the Mexican gender violence is perpetuated and marches, rallies, and the production of

28 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

plays, documentaries, and books—yet government. However, this plan has no For more on the challenges that globaliza-
neither the federal nor state govern- assigned budget, and even though civil tion poses for human rights advocates, see
ment has made serious efforts to society would like to view this as a pos- the globalization issue of Human Rights
address the violence. A new “integrated itive step, we are waiting to see its Dialogue, available online at
security plan” for Juárez marks a new impact on violence against women in
attitude on the part of the Mexican Chihuahua. hrd prmTemplateID/8/prmID/951.

From Ciudad Juárez to the World

Charlotte Bunch Responds

Activists’ work in response to the rights attention on the most pervasive alization, economic inequality, sexuality,
killings of women in Ciudad Juárez forms of violence against women—those and culture that we see in Juárez makes
illustrates both the usefulness of apply- committed in the family and the work- finding solutions difficult. The effort to
ing a human rights framework to vio- place, by partners or acquaintances, and end these murders requires taking a vari-
lence against women and the difficulty of violations against women involved in the ety of approaches to the economic,
actually reducing the occurrence of such sex trade. This case raises all of these political, and social factors at work that
violence. The “Stop Impunity” campaign issues, and more. are both empowering and disempower-
has helped to raise public awareness and The Juárez killings reveal the inade- ing women, while still not allowing gov-
demonstrate the failure of the authori- quacy of distinguishing between a pub- ernments to hide behind the complexity
ties to exercise due diligence by not mak- lic and a private sphere for addressing of the problems. While such complexi-
ing a serious effort to protect women such violence. Feminists have contended ties and intersections are common to
from these violations as well as by not for years that the construction of the issues of violence against women univer-
effectively pursuing the violators, and “private” sphere has often been used to sally, each situation must be addressed in
thus failing to provide justice with mask the abuse of women, and these its distinct particularity and cultural
respect to the victims and their families. killings show how often the public/pri- context. Thus, issues of violence against
A human rights approach helps to frame vate line is blurred. The killings also women are both common and specif-
this as a question of impunity and illustrate the “intersection” of multiple ic––allowing for solidarity and strategy
accountability, and not just ineptitude. oppressions––that is, the way in which sharing while still requiring particular-
Bringing this case before the IACHR the abuse of women is shaped not only ized actions appropriate to the context.
would help women throughout the by gender but also by class, race, age, The attention brought to the killings
Americas who are seeking to implement and other factors. Because of their gen- of women in Juárez is important for the
the regional Convention on Violence der, class, and age, these marginalized human rights of women globally as well as
against Women as well as to apply other women’s lives are seen by society as dis- to all human rights. This case forces advo-
human rights instruments to such crimes posable, and therefore their deaths can cates to address complexities that are not
against women. The impact of high-level remain invisible and unresolved. entirely unique to Mexico and that are
human rights attention to this issue could How many more “Juarezes” around often avoided by human rights advo-
be similar to the breakthroughs in human the globe have not yet been exposed? cates––from issues of sexuality and non-
rights thinking that came with the Certainly the complex conditions state actors to the intersection of econom-
demand for government accountability described here—globalization and ic and gender variables. The very difficulty
for the desaparecidos (disappeared) dur- porous national borders, poor labor in this case of finding ways to bring human
ing the “dirty wars” in Latin America. standards, rapid movement of young rights accountability for violence against
Mexican activists’ efforts to direct women from “traditional” confines to women illustrates one of the greatest chal-
government and mainstream human rights “modern” exploitation that can bring lenges to this field. We are challenged to
attention to this case are being watched by sudden gender role changes, drug traf- understand the complexity of the issues as
women elsewhere. Lydia Alpízar’s obser- ficking, a culture of impunity exacerbat- well as to confront the depth of cultural
vation that “women’s rights remain mar- ed by rapidly changing social condi- acceptance of impunity for this violence.
ginal on the national agenda” of human tions—can be found in many countries. In addressing this issue, the human rights
rights is unfortunately true in most places. We need only look at the rise of sexual movement will discover that everyday
Further, when violence against women exploitation and trafficking combined impunity for violence against women feeds
does get addressed, it is usually in armed with unemployment, drugs, and crime in a culture of impunity for human rights vio-
conflict where the violator is from the the former Soviet states to know that lations in general––not only in Mexico but
enemy forces, or where state actors can be widespread murders and disappearances throughout the world. Countering this
clearly identified as the violators, such as of women are not uncommon. impunity can have a profoundly positive
in the case of abuse by guards in prisons. The connection of violence against impact on the effort to build cultures of
It has been more difficult to focus human women with other factors such as glob- respect for human rights everywhere.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 29

In the Name of Honor
Leylâ Pervizat

killings. Honor killings—one of the most

horrendous violations of women’s human
rights and a form of extrajudicial execu-
tion—target individuals who believe, or
are perceived to believe, in values and stan-
dards that are at odds with the social
norms of their society. Although they are a
most severe form of violence, honor
killings are not the only type of violence
faced by women in Turkey. Women are
also subject to abuses such as marital rape,
female genital mutilation, nose cutting,
bride price, forced marriages, polygamy,
and forced virginity testing. To make mat-
ters worse, the state fails to recognize its
duties and responsibilities in eradicating
these forms of violence, and legitimizes
them by deeming them “family problems”
or “domestic situations.”
Soon after Semse’s burial, our proj-
ect team of KA-MER, an independent
women’s organization in Diyarbakır,
held its first open meeting, inviting rep-
resentatives from the government, judi-
ciary, media, police force, health groups,
the community, and other NGOs to dis-
cuss ways of eradicating honor killings.
As a women’s rights activist and a femi-
nist researcher, I am working with KA-
MER to prevent honor killings in south-
eastern and eastern Turkey. We take a
broad approach by trying to address the
Advocates are working to incorporate a gender perspective into human rights work in Turkey. problem before the execution occurs, in
addition to dealing with killings after

“Y ou, women, stand side by side and

finish this practice. This is not the first
Mardin, Turkey. After spending seven
months in a coma, she died in June
they happen. We work both on the com-
munity level and with government offi-
cials to create awareness and eventually
one. It will not be the last one. Allah 2003. Her body was buried by a large to eradicate this practice.
will not forgive this; neither will the group of women activists in an unusual Unfortunately, Semse was stoned
Prophet. Our hearts are aching with religious ceremony. According to the before KA-MER heard about the danger
sadness.” These words were spoken to practices of Islam in Turkey, women are she was in and could intervene. Her case
me by a graveyard keeper as I was leav- not allowed to conduct the religious received worldwide public attention,
Photo by Rachel Wolf

ing the Diyarbakır Cemetery for the burial prayer—they may only stand on partly because stoning—as opposed
Destitute and without Family after visit- the sidelines and watch. However, in to shooting or stabbing—a woman or
ing the burial site of Semse Allak last this case, women performed the service man in the name of honor is very rare
June. Semse was stoned by male family for Semse, a first in our memory. in Turkey. Religious leaders’ attitude
members in late November of 2002 in Semse was a victim of so-called honor toward honor killings is very clear: they

30 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

denounce the practice. Similarly, activists are the status quo. Challenging the space where their masculinity is not
working on the issue have never cited parameters of these power dynamics is challenged and they do not feel forced to
imams, the Qur’an, or Islam as sources of complex since they are imbedded in kill in order to cleanse their honor. To
the problem in Turkey. This point was interpersonal relations, family, commu- do this, and in order to help create space
made clear to me when, during my visit in nity, and culture. In short, women lack for long-term change, we take advantage
Urfa, one of the most religious and con- autonomy—they suffer when they assert of some of the positive aspects of
servative cities in the country, I chal- their rights as individuals and go against Turkish culture that offer individual
lenged the concept of honor killings by established societal norms. Often men an excuse to avoid violence. These
arguing that the Qur’an does not permit women are seen as the battlegrounds for include special occasions and gatherings
women to be treated like this. A very reli- men’s struggles to assert and reclaim where nonviolent negotiations are
gious Muslim tribal leader responded, their masculinity. Honor killings are encouraged or where authority figures
“This is honor, what has that got to do seen as the lesser of two evils since, in can act as intermediaries, in which we
with the Qur’an? Men’s honor comes some instances, they are thought to pre- can make use of traditions of hospitality
before the Book.” Our exchange made me vent feuds that could destroy the stabili- toward guests or respect for elderly peo-
realize that invoking the Qur’an is not a ty of the whole society. Thus, people in ple’s recommendations as tools to pre-
useful way to denounce this violence. Semse’s village claimed that her death vent these crimes.
Instead, the concepts of masculinity, cul- was necessary to prevent endless violent However, when we talk with govern-
ture, and tradition, which are rooted in feuding between her family and that of ment officials, we use a human rights
the community, must be studied and uti- the man who supposedly dishonored her framework because it is an effective tool
lized to end honor killings. through extramarital sexual relations. for achieving official recognition that
One of the obstacles that women’s In order to prevent honor killings, it honor killings are a form of extrajudi-
human rights activists face in their work is crucial to redefine the concept of cial execution. One of our main goals is
is the fact that Turkey’s judiciary often honor within the community. From the to use the UN General Assembly resolu-
justifies honor killings on the grounds of moment a woman or girl transgresses a tion “Working Towards the Elimination
tradition, culture, and assault on a fami- norm—which she could do by losing her of Crimes Committed in the Name of
ly member’s manhood. While the Turkish virginity or by calling the radio station Honor,” of which Turkey is a cosponsor,
Penal Code does not have a specific clause and asking for a favorite song—until the within national courts to show that
relating to the concept of honor, courts moment she is murdered in the name of honor killings are not isolated incidents

People in Semse’s village claimed that her death

was necessar y to prevent endless, violent feuding.
often cite honor as a mitigating factor in honor, her family and the community and should be recognized as human
their judgments, stating that a challenge she lives in go through a decision-mak- rights violations. We also refer to the
to honor causes a heavy provocation to ing process in which they make judg- UN Commission on Human Rights reso-
the perpetrators of honor killings. ments about her moral standing. When lution on extrajudicial, arbitrary, and
Another obstacle is mainstream her name is out as a transgressor, her summary executions, which Turkey has
human rights activists in Turkey who male relatives cannot walk in the village also signed. We think that using these
downplay the significance of the crime. with heads high. To reclaim their man- human rights instruments offers an
For instance, a well-known human rights hood in the eyes of other men, they opportunity for women’s human rights
activist working against capital punish- cleanse their honor by stabbing or some- defenders to achieve official, government
ment once complained to me and other times stoning her. recognition of this issue as a human
activists that the recent media attention Because such a concept of honor is rights violation and to put violence
devoted to honor killings was “exagger- so imbedded in Turkish culture, and cul- against women on the same plane as
ating this women thing to the level of a tural variables are what we try to under- extrajudicial executions and torture.
human rights violation and therefore stand, use, and hopefully transform Semse’s horrendous death brought
diminishing the power of human rights.” when interfering in these cases, we do people to their feet not only in Turkey
For many such human rights activists, not use a human rights framework when but also around the world. In order to
honor killings do not belong on the same we intervene preventively at the local eradicate this atrocious crime in Turkey,
level as torture, lack of freedom of level. When talking to families, a cultur- activists must use all possible advocacy
expression, or extrajudicial executions. al discourse proves to be very effective. tools—changing society’s discourse by
Violence against women is legit- We believe that male family members are using some of its own terms of refer-
imized by the attitudes of state actors, also victims of the concept of masculin- ence, reforming the judiciary, and incor-
many mainstream human rights ity—they suffer throughout the deci- porating a gender perspective into the
activists, and Turkish society at large sion-making process. We try to give men human rights advocacy being conducted
because ultimately gender imbalances what I call cultural and psychological in Turkey. hrd

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 31

A Struggle on Two Fronts
Zehra F. Arat Responds

Leylâ Pervizat aptly describes honor maximum sentences for sexual assaults killings as capital punishment stems
killings as a custom with no religious vary according to the marital status and from defining human rights narrowly as
foundations. This ancient Mediter- virginity of the victim, and the police are individual rights against the state and
ranean practice is wrongly associated charged with protecting honor and addressing human rights violations only
with Islam, and consequently its persist- chastity against “public morality and if the perpetrator is a state official. This
ence in a secular state like Turkey is rules of modesty.” (Having such a duty, classical liberal understanding of human
deemed puzzling. Since the cases in however, does not prevent the police rights has been criticized by feminists for
Turkey are concentrated in the less- from abusing their power by sexually undermining women’s rights, which are
developed southeastern region, the assaulting women in custody or threat- most likely to be violated by private citi-
media and urban elite consider them a ening them with rape during interroga- zens within the “private” domain, as
symptom of residual traditionalism that tion sessions. At the same time, the well as by some human rights advocates
resists the state’s modernization efforts. obsession with honor and the classifica- for dismissing the interdependency of
Pervasive patriarchal norms and val- tion of women according to their mari- human rights.
ues lie at the core of this issue. Regardless tal or virginity status allow the police to The task ahead of women’s rights
of their constitutional equality and legal subject women in custody to the forced advocates, in Turkey and elsewhere,
position as equal citizens, culturally “virginity tests.”) seems to require a two-part struggle:
women are treated as dependents of, or Honor killings are an effort to con- first, to force the state to amend its laws
“minors” under the custody and protec- trol women’s sexual behavior and and take measures to change discrimina-
tion of, men. Thus, violations of women’s restrict their sexual freedom. However, tory cultural traits, as it is obliged to do
rights by men who are responsible for the control stemming from the desire to as a party to the international human
them and care for them are not seen as prevent women’s immodest behavior rights treaties; and second, to expand
violations or are not treated seriously. that could bring “shame” to the family, human rights education and engage
As extrajudicial executions, honor of which killing is the most extreme human rights activists in a dialogue
killings undermine the rule of law, both example, manifests itself in many addi- about the interdependency and indivisi-
by privatizing its legislating and enforce- tional ways: many girls and women are bility of human rights and the counter-
ment and by employing a subjective, subjected to confinement, intimidation, productive outcomes of “selective”
arbitrary definition of “the crime” com- and physical abuse that force them to endorsement of human rights.
mitted by women. Thus, they constitute live in perpetual terror. Such restrictions Recently, efforts by feminists and
offenses against the state, yet the state is violate a whole set of women’s rights in human rights activists, along with the
mute on this matter. In fact, the reduced addition to the right to life, ranging European Union’s membership criteria,
sentences often given to perpetrators of from freedom of movement to freedom forced Turkey to undertake legislative
honor killings implicitly condone the act from torture and the right to health. reforms that address some gender dis-
rather than serve as deterrents. CEDAW, ratified by Turkey in 1985, crepancies. Pursuing multiple strategies
The state also upholds the same val- obliges states to take the necessary with different audiences (for example,
ues about the importance of “preserving measures to abolish customs and prac- using human rights law with state offi-
honor” by introducing separate legal tices that discriminate against women. cials and a different approach with fam-
categories for assaults. The Turkish However, the Turkish state not only fails ilies of potential victims), KA-MER,
Penal Code defines crimes that involve to take measures against the custom and too, seems to have achieved some
sexual violence against women as practice of honor killings but reinforces results. Undeniably, fighting against dis-
“felonies against public decency and the same cultural norms of honor and criminatory cultural norms and prac-
family order,” while other forms of decency that support such killings tices by invoking other, more egalitarian
assault against the person are placed through its own legal and administrative cultural traits from the same culture
under “felonies against individuals.” apparatus. would be the most effective way of
Within this “family-oriented” frame- Pervizat brings to our attention the achieving a human rights–oriented cul-
work of the law, a rapist would be par- unfortunate fact that some human rights ture. Doing so, however, calls for the
doned if he agreed to marry his victim. activists, too, tend to ignore honor utmost care, especially when hierarchi-
Moreover, females’ virginity and the killings, or even treat the attention cal relationships are involved, because
honor of married women are upheld as directed to them as a distraction from the traditional authority revived and
public values and concerns in both the what is considered to be more serious reinforced to help women today may
penal code and the Law on Police Duty human rights issues, such as capital pun- once again be the source of their
and Authority, in which minimum and ishment. Ironically, not seeing honor renewed repression tomorrow.

32 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue

Refusing to Go Away: LaShawn R. Jefferson

Strategies of the Women’s Rights Movement

T he past decade has seen women’s

rights activists from every region of the
world mobilize to use the international
human rights system to raise awareness
about and remedy the staggering levels of
violence against women. Activists’ most
significant achievements include proving a
state’s failure to prevent or respond to
domestic violence to be a human rights
abuse; creating better fact-finding mecha-
nisms to document violence against
women; increasing the role of UN agen-
cies in adopting and promoting strategies
to combat gender-based violence; using
public tribunals to create a public record
of violence against women; improving
state response to violence against women
perpetrated by private actors; getting a
range of gender-based and sexual vio-
lence in armed conflict codified as a war The women‘s rights movement has come a long way.
crime and a crime against humanity; iden-
tifying harmful traditional practices, such and by so doing positioned itself to be a and advocacy on a wide variety of vio-
as female genital mutilation (FGM), as major leader in the field of advancing lence and discrimination against women.
violence against girls and women; defin- women’s human rights globally. The women’s rights movement put
ing and criminalizing at the national level The very first issue the newly formed violence against women on the interna-
the myriad forms of violence against Women’s Rights Project tackled was vio- tional human rights agenda by pushing,
women; raising overall public awareness lence against women in Brazil. Their fighting, cajoling, stigmatizing, strate-
that gender-based violence is a chronic report, Criminal Injustice: Violence gizing, coalition building, and simply
human rights abuse; and supporting the Against Women in Brazil, contains the being steadfast and refusing to go away.
efforts of more “mainstream” human findings of their investigation into wife- Women’s rights activists embraced
rights organizations to integrate women’s murder, domestic battery, and rape—a human rights instruments that had his-
human rights into their work. new and highly contested area for many torically been used by and large to
One such organization is the New traditional human rights organizations. defend men’s human rights and trans-
York–based Human Rights Watch Among other issues, the report focused formed them into tools to promote
Photo courtesy of UN Photo 156674 / John Isaac

(HRW). In 1990, HRW’s first executive generally on impunity for violence women’s human rights.
director, Aryeh Neier, championed the against women, and in particular on the Part of integrating violence against
creation of a special project on women’s issue of the honor defense to exculpate women into the mainstream human rights
rights and raised start-up funds for it husbands accused of killing their wives. movement required the creative use of the
from a group of private donors and foun- The report was the first by a mainstream classic human rights framework to define
dations. HRW was the first mainstream human rights organization to argue for the violence that women were experienc-
human rights organization to start a spe- state responsibility to combat violence ing and to chart a course for government
cial project devoted exclusively to defin- against women in the home. Over the accountability. Women’s rights activists
ing and documenting women’s human next thirteen years, the Women’s Rights interpreted existing human rights norms
rights abuses. By creating the Women’s Project (since 1997 the Women’s Rights and laws in ways to afford women greater
Rights Project, HRW recognized the need Division) evolved into a full-fledged, inte- protection from violence. They used exist-
to develop and improve its capacity and gral part of HRW, undertaking path- ing international human rights norms—
expertise on women’s human rights— breaking conceptualization, fact-finding, on, among other things, discrimination,

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 33

torture, due diligence, equality before the vented women from exercising reproductive human rights violation. Gender nondis-
law, bodily integrity, and the right to rights and health. The FWCW’s platform crimination is not a jus cogens norm under
health and life—to call attention to and for action identified violence against international human rights law.* This
craft remedies to eradicate the pandemic women as a pervasive threat to women’s shortcoming virtually ensures that women
of violence against women throughout lives—at every stage of their lives, from will forever remain the victims of gender-
the world. For example, women’s rights cradle to grave. Together, these fora estab- based violence. To begin to remedy this
activists used the Convention against lished recognition of gender-based violence failure would mean addressing more thor-
Torture to define rape in armed conflict as a chronic and debilitating plague on oughly the underlying human rights abus-
and custodial sexual violence. They used women’s lives and committed the UN to use es that so predictably render women at
equality before the law provisions to push its broad influence to urge governments to risk for violence: women’s legal, cultural,
for more vigorous investigation and pros- implement sophisticated, long-term strate- and social subordination to men; regula-
ecution of domestic violence. They used gies to end gender-based violence. tion of women’s sexual activity; unequal
provisions on government obligation to Though attempts to eradicate vio- access to educational opportunities;
eliminate harmful customary practices to lence against women have been made unequal and obstructed access to repro-
address FGM. more effective with the use of a human ductive health care information and serv-
One of the most important strate- rights framework, it is also the case that ices; and discriminatory access to work.
gies the women’s human rights move- activism on women’s human rights issues Other challenges include making
ment adopted was to question the legiti- generally—and on gender-based violence redress and accountability more accessi-
macy of the mainstream human rights in particular—has strengthened the ble to women victims of violence; ensur-
movement if women’s human rights were human rights movement more broadly. ing that more mainstream human
not fully integrated into it. Women’s First, the movement has greater legitima- rights organizations devote considerable
rights activists challenged the legitimacy cy and effectiveness now that it addresses resources and energies to work on a range
and effectiveness of a conceptualization a more representative range of human of women’s human rights issues; develop-
of human rights that emphasized vio- rights abuses that occur throughout the ing rigorous standards and recommenda-
lence by the state but overlooked vio- world. Second, the mobilization and coor- tions for prevention of violence against
lence by private actors. dination that women’s rights activism has women in the first instance; providing
Women’s rights activists mobilized at brought to the international human rights clearer guidance to governments on mini-
important world fora, such as the 1993 movement (on the International Criminal mum standards to prevent violence
Vienna World Conference on Human Court, the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, against women and to ensure protection
Rights (Vienna); the 1994 International the Protocol to the African Charter on against violence once it occurs; improv-
Conference on Population and Human and People’s Rights, the creation ing lasting accountability; and examining
Development (ICPD) in Cairo; and the of Special Rapporteurs, and so on) has ways to afford women greater protection
1995 UN Fourth World Conference on meant improved rights education and from gender-based violence through the
Women (FWCW) in Beijing, China, to capacity building for new and important protection of the rights articulated in
advance women’s rights, to push for better constituencies. Third, increasing expecta- the International Covenant on Economic,
and more durable protections against gen- tions for respect for women’s human Social and Cultural Rights.
der-based violence. To that end, Vienna rights at all levels of government creates The human rights framework has
was a watershed event. In a Global overall improved respect for many other been a particularly effective tool to com-
Campaign for Women’s Human Rights citizens who were historically abused by bat violence against women by defining
that was coordinated by the Center for the state and individuals. Last, increased the violence perpetuated against women
Women’s Global Leadership, over 200,000 government accountability for nonstate as a human rights abuse. No one should
people in 120 countries signed a petition actor abuses has provided a tremendous underestimate the enormity of this
aimed at the United Nations to get opportunity to the human rights move- accomplishment. Extracting violence
women’s rights on the agenda. In the initial ment to further adapt its strategies and against women from the cultural or pri-
agenda for Vienna, women appeared only use the human rights framework to iden- vate sphere and showing government
when listed as a vulnerable group. Women’s tify and remedy abuses perpetuated by responsibility on this issue was essential.
rights activists and NGOs transformed the corporate entities. Yet, absent a deepening of the human
conference into a staging ground for the As a global human rights movement, rights framework’s response to violence
emergence of a powerful message about the we have made meaningful advances against women, we may be stalled at
indivisibility of human rights. This mes- against gender-based violence, but, disap- having made significant advances in crit-
sage positioned women’s human rights pointingly, there are still significant hur- ical areas over the past decade but not
squarely at the core of the movement. Any dles ahead that risk diluting and under- creating the conditions whereby women
human rights movement that did not have mining any progress. The first and are less at risk for gender-based violence
the struggle for women’s rights at its core perhaps greatest challenge involves the in the first instance. hrd
was considered bankrupt and ineffective. failure of the human rights movement to
The ICPD program of action demonstrated respond more vigorously to sex-based dis- *For a brief definition of the implications of
the ways that violence against women pre- crimination as a chronic and debilitating the principle of jus cogens, see p. 14.

34 Fall 2003 human rights dialogue


and non-negociable rules. oil and mining-derived revenues is fre-

Restricting Lamentably, the abuse does not quently an unaccountable and nonpar-
Abortion Abroad stop there: among other restrictions, it ticipatory process. Thus the work of
In her article “Gagging Democracy,” prohibits organizations that adhere to Brima and the Campaign for Just Mining
Marianne Mollmann is right to consid- the rule from criticizing its content. in Sierra Leone to promote greater trans-
er the Global Gag Rule a human rights Thus, the Global Gag Rule also under- parency, accountability, and participa-
violation. As I have observed through mines the most elementary right of tion in diamond revenue distribution is
my experience working with the femi- expression and freedom of thought and vitally important; similar efforts should
nist group Flora Tristan in Peru, the thereby contributes to an atmosphere of be supported in every resource-depend-
Global Gag Rule sharply impacts our impunity. ent poor country. The World Bank,
societies and democracies, affecting not Susana Chavez which has played a key role in promoting
just the NGOs that receive financial Flora Tristan Women’s Center, Peru natural resource investment in develop-
assistance from the United States, but ing countries, should make participation
entire populations. and transparency requirements of its
The Global Gag Rule contaminates support for these sectors.
the essence of solidarity and interna- The Resource Curse The establishment of the
tional assistance because it forces the Abu Brima and Corene Crossin’s Kimberly Process was an important
receiving countries—particularly the insightful essays on conflict diamonds breakthrough for addressing the link
women within them—to pay an intoler- in the Spring 2003 issue of Human between diamond revenues and con-
able price in terms of autonomy, free- Rights Dialogue bring up, respectively, flict. Crossin is quite right, however, to
dom, and the rights to citizenship, two problems at the heart of current point out that Kimberly is voluntary,
health, life, and development. efforts to promote pro-poor, pro- meaning enforcement will depend large-
In Peru, it profoundly affects the human rights globalization: the need ly on the good faith of the diamond
development of our health and legislative for increased transparency and partici- industry and the countries involved. As
systems, as it impedes the very research pation in minerals-based economies, such, the long-term effectiveness of the
and advocacy that could serve to mod- and the dubious value of voluntary scheme is questionable. Unfortunately,
ernize them. In countries like Peru the “regulation” mechanisms. this situation is emblematic of the anti-
government has not traditionally been Like Sierra Leone, many of the regulatory ethic that currently pervades
very concerned about generating the world’s poorest countries depend on pri- globalization, in which voluntary rather
information and knowledge necessary for mary commodity exports—particularly than mandatory approaches are favored.
advocacy. Therefore, our achievements oil, natural gas, and minerals like gold Developed country governments, howev-
and knowledge to date about the effects and copper—to sustain their economies. er, could do much to change this by, for
and treatment of unsafe abortion and the Some economists argue that globaliza- example, adopting enforceable regula-
mechanisms and resources involved in tion has in fact intensified this natural tions requiring their corporations to dis-
reproductive and sexual decision-making resource dependence, as poor countries close information on revenues and on the
exist largely thanks to the efforts of the have been forced to drop barriers to for- human rights and environmental
women’s movement, the academic and eign investment in their resource sectors impacts of their foreign operations.
scientific community, health organiza- but rich countries have not reciprocated Kimberly is an important step, but until
tions, and international donors, rather by reducing barriers to poor countries’ there are stronger mechanisms for hold-
than the state. agricultural and manufactured exports. ing corporations and other global eco-
While we criticize our legislature for Resource dependence is problematic nomic actors accountable for their
its indifference with respect to these sub- from a poverty-reduction standpoint as actions, unaccountable corporate-driven
jects, on those occasions when the gov- modern oil and mining operations gener- globalization will continue to pose a sig-
ernment has listened to our recommen- ate little employment, thus creating few nificant threat to human rights.
dations, we have obtained positive opportunities for the poor to raise their Keith Slack
results in the form of reduction of death incomes. Additionally, the distribution of Oxfam America
and disease, particularly among women.
But despite these occasional victo-
ries, no one in the Third World can Do you have a response to “Violence Against Women”? Share it with thousands of other
ignore the fact that we live in weak Human Rights Dialogue readers. Send your comments to Morgan Stoffregen, Human Rights
democracies and have to continue to Initiative, Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, 170 East 64th Street, New York,
fight for freedom and personal autono- NY 10021-7496, USA, fax: (212) 752-2432, e-mail: We regret that we
my. The Global Gag Rule handicaps will not be able to print every response. Please limit your response to 300 words, and be sure to
vital actors in these societies such as include your name and contact information. We reserve the right to edit text as necessary.
NGOs by imposing disproportionate

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN human rights dialogue Fall 2003 35

in this issue
Programs that attempt to prevent the spread of
HIV/AIDS by encouraging abstinence from sex,
fidelity, and consistent condom use are a start, but next issue
they do not address women’s unequal decision-
Environmental Rights • Spring 2004
making power and status within their intimate rela-
tionships. Human rights law, which clearly estab-
Although both human rights protection and environ-
lishes state responsibility to protect women from
mental protection are relatively well-developed
battery, is a useful tool for holding governments
areas of public policy, recognition of the linkage
between the two has been slow to develop. As
Lisa W. Karanja, “Domestic Violence
activists, scholars, and policy practitioners have
and HIV Infection in Uganda”
increasingly encountered situations at the intersec-
tion of these two areas, calls for international envi-
The key to ending [female genital mutilation] is to
ronmental rights protection have intensified.
increase women’s empowerment. The incidence of
harmful practices such as
The next issue of Human Rights Dialogue will
FGM decreases with high-
explore the definition, status and relevance of the
er rates of female literacy,
concept of “environmental rights” in law and poli-
since education empow-
tics around the world, and the extent to which a
ers girls and women to
human rights lens is a helpful way to view envi-
understand and appreci-
ronmental issues.
ate their bodies and value
Visit our online version of Human
June Munala, “Combating FGM in
Rights Dialogue, featuring annotat-
Kenya’s Refugee Camps”
ed links, suggested further read-
ing, and a continuation of the
In our work with men, we’ve been able to witness
discussion of using the human
men working alongside women in local commu-
rights framework to address
nities to end violence against women. They are
violence against women. Online
engaging with other men in their communities,
challenging them to stop their violence.
Christopher Harper, “Rights for All in
the New South Africa” Photo by Anne Costello

Car ne gie Council on Nonprofit

Ethics and Inter national Affairs U.S. Postag e
170 East 64th Street
New York, NY 10021-7496
New York, NY
ADDRESS SERVICE Per mit # 04532