|Women's Rights are Human Rights - A review of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR, 2000, 36 p.)|
|FROM THE FIELD|
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the area designated as Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (OPT), plays an integral role in a wider international effort aimed at the social and economic development of the OPT through the strengthening of Palestinian institutional capacities in various sectors. As part of its programme, which is due to be completed by end 2000, OHCHR established an office in Gaza in November 1996.
The programme focuses on institution building in the area of the rule of law in the OPT, through a strategy incorporating the three mutually dependent and reinforcing elements of law, policy and institutions. This involves:
· establishing a legal framework consistent with human rights standards, through the provision of support and advisory services on legislative development and drafting to Palestinian institutions and organizations conducting legal research and analysis
· developing an official human rights policy, by supporting the elaboration of a National Plan of Action on Human Rights
· strengthening national structures to protect and promote human rights, with a special focus on the administration of justice (through advisory services and training for police, prison officers, judges, prosecutors and lawyers), on the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights and on local NGOs.
All three components of OHCHR's technical cooperation programme integrate women's human rights and present opportunities to focus on gender issues.
1. Establishing a legal framework
OHCHR supports local institutions and nongovernmental organizations in conducting legal research and consultations in sixteen legislative-developmental areas, including: basic law, prisons, the judiciary, police and firearms, public assemblies, criminal law and procedure, personal status, press and publications, associations, social welfare, sources of legislation and juvenile justice - most of which have gender dimensions. In addition, OHCHR has supported a Gaza-based NGO, Mashraqiyat, to research and consult on future legislation on personal status and family law, with a view to making recommendations based on international standards on the human rights of women. This activity has also drawn on expertise from other Arab countries in addressing Shari´a law. The results of Mashraqiyat's work include formal recommendations presented to the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Legislative Council.
2. Developing an official human rights policy
The Palestinian National Plan of Action on Human Rights (NPAHR) will cover six sectors related to national developmental priorities. This is an opening for OHCHR to help promote economic, social and cultural rights, as well as women-in-development (WID) and gender-and-development (GAD) values in an unprecedentedly integrated way at the policy level. The current NPAHR framework that OHCHR provided as part of its technical assistance to the coordinating Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation incorporates women's human rights standards for each sector.
OHCHR's technical assistance has resulted in a consultative process to develop the NPAHR, which ensures consideration of WID/GAD values in each sector. The National Union of Palestinian Women, women's NGOs and representatives of the National Programme for Palestinian Children, as well as the National Strategy for the Advancement of Palestinian Women are active participants in each Sectoral Working Group which is responsible for formulating the six sectoral plans.
3. Strengthening national structures
OHCHR provides assistance to the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Palestinian Police Force, the prison service, the judiciary, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights, and human rights nongovernmental organizations. All training curricula and programmes for law enforcement and security forces, prison staff and judges, prosecutors and lawyers, include sessions on the human rights of women in the administration of justice.
A major aspect of the OHCHR programme is training of the Palestinian Police Force (PPF), including a key component on women and policing, which includes a focus on women as law-enforcement professionals, as victims of crime and abuse and as offenders. Issues such as gender balance in the PPF and equality of opportunity for women police, effective response by law enforcement officials to instances of violence against women, including domestic violence, and the social and cultural challenges associated with these issues are regularly discussed. OHCHR often includes as resource persons in its training programmes members of local organizations dealing with women's issues, in order to facilitate communication and cooperation with the law enforcement agencies.
OHCHR has provided direct support to two NGOs for the development of women's rights units: the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), based in Jerusalem. These two projects seek to ensure the integration of women's rights (as well as gender) issues into the work of these two well-established general human rights NGOs.
The PCHR Women Unit provides direct legal services to Palestinian women and women's groups, including representing women in Shari´a courts in cases of separation, divorce, child visitation, and maintenance; conducting legal initiatives to promote women's rights and equal opportunities; organizing education and information campaigns to promote understanding of laws and rights affecting women and to encourage the participation of women in the policy and legal development processes; and integrating women's rights issues in the work of PCHR. As part of the project, the Unit produced a number of publications for the general public explaining current legislation affecting women, on issues including marriage, divorce and inheritance. OHCHR assistance to PCHR was completed in 1998, and the Women Unit is now operating as part of the PCHR structure and supported from PCHR general funds.
The LAW Women Unit, which was established with OHCHR support, will focus on the promotion of the human rights of women through activities such as legal aid, counseling and representation; research studies and policy development; and education and technical assistance for communities and individuals. The Unit is initially concentrating on labour issues with a view to developing recommendations for policy and legislation.
Other activities of the field office
In 1998-99, OHCHR was an active participant in the UNIFEM-initiated UN Interagency Gender Task Force, which meets to coordinate gender-related work among UN developmental programmes, to identify gaps, and to provide assistance in mainstreaming WID/GAD into UN programmes in Palestine. OHCHR has benefited from this coordination by way of information sharing, including special reports such as the regional directory of gender trainers and an Arabic glossary of WID/GAD terms. OHCHR has had input into these consultations, for example by coordinating with other UN agencies on programme activities and experience, and promoting the NPAHR.
In early 1999, OHCHR participated in the UNIFEM Facilitation Initiative, whose activities include a survey of the WID/GAD programmes and experience of UN operations locally, and the provision of training opportunities as needs arise. As part of that Initiative, OHCHR participated in local training by UNIFEM's regional office in Incorporating Gender in Development Projects (May 1999). OHCHR and UNICEF have also consulted on common areas of interest, including the UNICEF experience in developing the National Programme for Palestinian Children.
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory