Legal Landscape

In collaboration with Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Initiative on Violence Against Women, Everywoman Everywhere has conducted extensive research on the international legal landscape. Below is an overview.

The Current Legal Landscape: An Overview

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) forms the most basic foundation for combating VAW. Not legally binding.

International Treaties

CEDAW, or The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, aims at broad gender equality. No specific language on violence against women.

CEDAW Recommendation 12 and 19 recommend that CEDAW be read as if it covered violence against women. General recommendations are not legally binding.

The Rome Statute. The UN reports, “The Rome Statute provides the broadest statutory recognition of gender-based violence as a crime under international criminal law to date.” Under the statute, if VAW is widespread or systematic, and directed toward civilian populations, it qualifies as a crime against humanity. If it happens during war, it is considered a war crime. The Statute is limited to individuals, and not States.

UN Security Council Resolutions

Security Council Resolutions on Peace, Security, and Women 1325, 1820, 1888, and 1889. These resolutions address women’s role in peace-building, and include language on sexual violence in conflict. Specific to violence against women in conflict.

International Policy Instruments

1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted by the General Assembly, ensures that the secondary victimization of women does not occur because of laws insensitive to gender considerations, enforcement practices or other interventions. It is a policy instrument, Declarations are not legally binding.

Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 calls on Governments to: Enact and reinforce penal, civil, labor and administrative sanctions in domestic legislation to punish and redress the wrongs done to victims. It also calls on them to adopt, implement and review legislation to ensure its effectiveness in eliminating violence against women, emphasizing the prevention of violence and the prosecution of offenders. Not legally binding.

Regional Legal and Policy Instruments

Regional treaties and protocols are limited to the countries that ratify them. While technically countries from many nations may accede to the regional treaties, there are inherent political problems with this approach.

Istanbul Convention. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, is an international human rights instrument which sets and calls for the implementation in Europe of legally binding standards to prevent violence against women and domestic violence, protect its victims and punish the perpetrators. At this point, only a few States have ratified the Convention, but more than 30 European nations are in that process.

Belém Convention. The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women otherwise known as the Convention of Belém do Pará is the first Convention directed solely at eliminating violence against women.

Maputo Protocol. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (The Maputo Protocol) addresses violence against women within many of its provisions, and establishes obligations related to legal reform. Of the 53 member countries in the African Union, the heads of states of 46 countries signed the protocol, and As of July 2010, 28 of those countries had ratified and deposited the protocol. However, the African Charter Court on Human and People’s Rights has never issued a judgment on the merits in a VAW case.

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