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View the documentThe Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women
View the documentConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
View the documentThe Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women
View the documentU.N. Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

The Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women

In 1994, the Commission on Human Rights appointed a Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women with a mandate to: seek and receive information on violence against women, its causes and consequences; and recommend measures to eliminate such violence and its causes and remedy its consequences. The Special Rapporteur, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, reports annually to the Commission. The legal framework for her mandate includes the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Women's Convention. The Special Rapporteur has structured her reporting and analysis according to the three general categories of violence set out in the 1993 Declaration: violence in the family; violence in the community; and violence perpetrated or condoned by the State.

The Special Rapporteur has carried out in-depth analysis of the relationship between gender and the causes and effects of violence against women. Her initial report (1995) surveyed prevalent forms of violence in the three categories outlined by the 1993 Declaration. In her second report (1996), she focused on violence against women in the family. In addition to the forms of violence in the family cited in the Declaration, she addressed forced prostitution by male partners or parents, violence against domestic workers, sex selective abortions and female infanticide. This report included a survey of national legislation on domestic violence and model legislation. Her third report (1997) dealt with violence against women in the community in the form of rape, sexual harassment, trafficking and forced prostitution, violence against women migrant workers and religious extremism. It also addressed the need for Governments to take action related to the consequences of violence for women's reproductive health, as well as the need to examine the impact of new communications technology. Her fourth report (1998) focused on violence by the State in the form of custodial violence, violence against women in armed conflict, and violence against refugee and internally displaced women.

The Rapporteur's mandate includes the "causes and consequences" of violence. Analysis of the causes and consequences of violence against women and of the relationship between violence and gender discrimination is necessary in order to identify effective preventive and remedial measures. The Special Rapporteur has characterized impunity - the failure of governments to ensure accountability for violence against women - as the greatest cause of that violence. Other leading causes of violence against women identified by the Special Rapporteur are:

> historically unequal power relations between men and women, as manifested in economic discrimination and women's subordination in the family; attitudes towards female sexuality which encourage or demand the control of women's sexuality;

> cultural ideologies which justify the subordination of women, including stereotyped gender roles, beliefs which legitimize certain violent practices as expressions of religion, culture or tradition, and negative stereotypes of women in the media;

> doctrines of privacy which deter action to eliminate violence against women in the family; and

> social patterns of conflict resolution.

Among the consequences highlighted by the Special Rapporteur are:

> fear of violence which deters women's full participation in society;

> death; physical and mental ill-health, including injuries, exposure to HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases, depression, stress-related illnesses, and chronic disabilities as a consequence of injuries;

> the negative effects on children of exposure to violence against women in the family; the denial of women's sexual health;

> material costs to society related to the provision of health care and other services; and

> human resource costs related to the loss of women's full participation in society and the development process.

With regard to violence by private (non-governmental) groups and individuals, the Special Rapporteur has explained that States may be held responsible for such violence under international law if: (a) the private acts are covered by the provisions of a treaty (such as the Women's Convention, which prohibits discrimination by private as well as public actors); or (b) the State is in complicity with those who commit the abuses; or (c) the State denies women the equal protection of the law by failing to enforce criminal law in cases of violence against women on an equal basis with cases of other violent crimes; or (d) the State fails to exercise due diligence (reasonable care) to prevent violations, investigate violations which do occur, impose appropriate punishment, and ensure the victim adequate compensation.

In visits to countries at the invitation of the Government, the Special Rapporteur has focused on specific forms of violence: military sexual slavery; trafficking and forced prostitution; rape by non-governmental individuals; domestic violence; and violence against women in situations of armed conflict. These country visits have facilitated more detaile analysis of the application of international law to specific forms of violence within a specific national context, and more detailed assessments of the causal factors and the effectiveness of specific preventive and remedial measures.

The Special Rapporteur's recommendations have centered on:

> the role of the criminal justice system, including the definitions of crimes and evidentiary and other rules of criminal procedure, measures to protect women against reprisals, sentencing for crimes of violence against women, and training for the police, the judiciary and prosecutors;

> services and reparations for victims, including shelters, health care, legal assistance, vocational training and civil remedies;

> the role of non-governmental groups, including the need for governments to cooperate with women's groups in providing services, developing laws and policies on violence against women, and monitoring;

> data collection and research on violence against women;

> the creation of effective institutional arrangements at the national and local levels, including all-women police stations and centres which provide health and social services in addition to receiving complaints from women; and

> the need for educational programmes to instill values which will prevent violence against women.

The Special Rapporteur has repeatedly stressed the importance of measures to ensure women's economic independence and to modify cultural beliefs which promote women's subordination.