Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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UN: Call to use Special Procedures of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

A letter from the Quick Response Desk of the Special Procedures Branch at OHCHR, Geneva.
The Quick Response Desk processes all allegations of human rights violations sent to the Special Procedures (Special Rapporteurs, Working Groups etc) of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

The letter below is to inform you that to date cases received concerning violations of womens rights are less than those received for men. They have noticed that the percentage of urgent appeals and letters of allegations concerning violations of womens human rights sent by the special procedures to concerned Governments is significantly lower than the number of communications sent concerning violations of men's rights.

Gender disaggregated data have been monitored over the last 10 months. An in-house discussion with the staff assisting the various mandates was held and as an outcome of this discussion some issues and practical steps were identified. It is believed that there is a need to inform and reach out to broader sources of information and expertise (women's organisations, official and professional women -women lawyers, judges, police, prison officers, etc.-, national government offices) who are more likely to provide information on a wider range of violations affecting women. The Quick Response desk would be very grateful to receive relevant information, from you or your partners, which could contribute to a more effective and gender sensitive monitoring of women's human rights violations by special procedures.
Geneva 2004

We take this opportunity to thank you for your continuous cooperation and precious assistance in the work of the Special Procedures (Special Rapporteurs/Working Groups/Special Representatives of the Secretary General/Independent Experts). In view of this positive collaboration we would ask your further support.

As you may know, communications Special Procedures send to Governments are an important part of their work. Special procedures send hundreds of cases, in the form of letters of allegations and urgent appeals, to Governments every year. Communications, together with the Governments’ replies, are then made public in the reports that the different Special Procedures submit to the Commission on Human Rights. As you are aware, communications are based on the information received from you and your network of sources. Both your work and that of your partners is of crucial importance to protect the rights of people.

Gender disaggregated data on communications in the first months of 2004 indicate that only 10% of the individuals covered by urgent appeals and allegation letters are women and in several cases the sex of the victim(s) is not specified in the information we receive.

In view of these figures and sure that we share common views on the importance to report and seek redress for human rights violations affecting women as well as men, we would like to share with you the following considerations and suggestions.

In the attempt to understand these figures and address the issue, we identified some reasons that could explain the striking difference in communications concerning men and those concerning women.
  • The sex of the victim(s) is often overlooked in the information received.
  • Women’s human rights violations tend to happen more in the so called “private” sphere, less “visible” and considered by some to be more difficult to conceptualize in a human rights framework.
  • Human rights violations occurring in the private sphere tend to be unreported, which in turn triggers the vicious cycle of impunity and re-victimization.
  • Some human rights violations affecting women are mistakenly thought not to be relevant to the special procedures.
  • Human rights organizations might have limited contact with women’s organizations.

In light of these considerations, with a view to improving the communications’ gender sensitivity, the following suggestions have been identified:

  1. Always indicate the sex of individuals.
  2. Try to report on less “traditional” cases of human rights violations which might happen in less “public” contexts such as in communities and homes and might affect women in particular.
  3. Locate broader sources of information, such as women’s community based organizations and grass-root organisations, disseminate among them information on special procedures and how these are relevant for human rights violations affecting women.
  4. Explore the possibility of reporting cases of legislation (in force or to be adopted) and policies that might affect the enjoyment of women’s human rights.
  5. When violations are committed by private individuals or groups (rather than government officials), information is needed which might indicate that the Government failed to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish, and ensure compensation for the violations.

  6. For example, we would welcome information on:

  • Whether or not there is a law which addresses the violation at stake.
  • Any defects in existing laws such as inadequate remedies or definitions of rights.
  • The refusal or failure by authorities to register or investigate the case and other similar cases.
  • The failure by the authorities to prosecute case and other similar cases.
  • Patterns of gender discrimination in the prosecution or sentencing of cases.
  • Statistics and other data concerning the prevalence of the type of violation described in the submission.

These are just some considerations and suggestions that we would like to share with you and your network of partners.

We will continue monitoring gender disaggregated data on communications of special procedures and will inform you on further developments in this area.

Please note that your views and suggestions on the above are welcome and we hope to open up a constructive dialogue on this.

For any further clarification, please do not hesitate to contact us through our urgent-action e-mail address.

Once again we would like to thank you for your valuable work and cooperation with the special procedures.

Best Regards

The Quick Response Desk

Special Procedures Branch