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close this bookReproductive Health in refugee situations - An Inter-Agency Field Manual (United Nations Fund for Population Activities - United Nations High Commission for Refugee - World Health Organisation, 1999, 142 p.)
close this folderAppendix 2: Legal Considerations: Refugee Rights Related to Reproductive Health
View the documentReproductive Health Rights Based on International and Human Rights Instruments
View the documentPregnancy
View the documentSexual Violence
View the documentFurther Readings

Sexual Violence

Sexual violence against refugees is a global problem and constitutes a violation of human rights as enshrined in international declarations and treaties:

· The right to life, liberty and security of person

· The right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment

· Children's right to freedom from all forms of physical or mental violence

The Geneva Conventions and their Protocols, which are among the foundations of international humanitarian law, also apply to refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons in times of armed conflict. These laws offer protection to all civilians, particularly women and children, against various forms of sexual violence, including mutilation, forced prostitution, sexual abuse and rape.

Regional human rights laws applicable in Europe, the Americas and Africa similarly protect the rights to personal dignity and integrity and prohibit degrading treatment or punishment and violence against women.

National laws also usually protect against sexual violence. The government on whose territory the sexual attack occurred is responsible for taking diligent remedial measures, including conducting a thorough investigation into the crime, identifying and prosecuting those responsible, and protecting victims from reprisals. (Refer to UNHCR Guidelines on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence against Refugees, specifically Chapter 4, "Legal Aspects of Sexual Violence". These guidelines provide a clear and comprehensive analysis of the legal framework governing the prevention of sexual violence in the refugee context.)

Cairo Programme of Action of the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICED)

Although not legally binding, the Cairo ICED Programme of Action is an important step in recognising reproductive rights internationally. It represents the political consensus of 184 nations.

The ICED Programme provides for individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so. It also includes the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

Furthermore, it expresses the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law.

The Beijing Platform for Action of the 1995 World Conference on Women

Also not legally binding, it nonetheless represents international consensus in endorsing many of the commitments made in the ICED Programme of Action and specifies action to be taken by States, international bodies, donors, non-governmental organisations and others.