Leveraging Judicial Actions to Combat Sexual Violence

Leveraging Judicial Actions to Combat Sexual Violence

On the occasion of the 27th session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, IWRAW Asia Pacific, along with the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN in Vienna, the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN in Vienna and the Academic Council of United Nations System (ACUNS), organized a side event entitled ‘Leveraging Judicial Actions to Combat Sexual Violence against Women & Girls’.

The side event aimed to:

  • Highlight the critical importance of adopting the gender equality framework underlying the Convention on Elimination of Al l Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in measures to combat sexual violence by al l state institutions including the judiciary;
  • Underscore the importance of strong institutions, specifically the judiciary in centering victims and providing transformative remedies towards addressing the root causes of sexual violence;
  • Encourage Member States to strengthen institutional capacities to ensure gender sensitive adjudication towards combatting sexual violence.

IWRAW AP Programme Officer Umyra Ahmad was a panelist at this event and we are highlighting portions of her intervention.

At IWRAW AP, we have had the privilege of bearing witness to and supporting global and local activism on women’s rights for the last 25 years. Some of the progress we’ve seen includes:

  • The change in the treatment of gender-based violence against women (GBVAW) including sexual violence from an issue of relevant insignificance to a key human rights violation mandating institutional responses both at national and international levels, including through CEDAW.
  • Contributions of the CEDAW Committee and the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women have been critical to pushing forward this understanding at the international level.
  • States undertaking a range of measures, primarily through the criminal justice system, in pursuance of their international human rights obligations to combat sexual violence.
  • Adoption of human rights instruments, international resolutions and goals to address GBVAW and sexual violence.

However, the widespread impunity for sexual violence is a continuing challenge. This is precipitated in part due to gaps in gender mainstreaming within the criminal justice system. This needs to happen in line with the CEDAW General Recommendation 33 on women’s access to justice, the CCPCJ resolution adopted on 25 May 2015 on ‘Mainstreaming a gender perspective into crime prevention and criminal justice policies and programmes and into efforts to prevent and combat transnational organized crime’ and SDGs 5 and 16.

Some of the ongoing challenges we have identified include:

  • Gaps and weaknesses in national criminal justice responses and national legal systems to GBVAW. Laws and policies addressing GBVAW have not been socialized and implemented from a human rights based approach and gender equality approach that seeks to eradicate the root causes of GBVAW and ensure that the rights of victims and survivors are protected at all stages of the law.
  • Addressing this implementation gap requires a multi-stakeholder approach within which the judiciary plays a critical role, not only in applying and interpreting the laws to prosecute perpetrators, but also in strengthening the social environment to address GBVAW as a social justice issue.
  • Under the principle of due diligence, the judiciary is recognized as a body of the state which is bound by international human rights law to prevent and protect victims of GBV, prosecute GBV and provide effective remedies. The state also has an obligation to take necessary steps not only to raise awareness of judges on gender stereotypes as a form of discrimination, but also to push forward remedies that are aligned with a victim centered approach, and transformative in response to GBVAW as a whole.

Towards addressing this gap and recognizing the catalytic impact that individual judicial actions can have on the realization of women’s rights on the ground, IWRAW AP has launched a knowledge sharing and peer advocacy platform entitled ‘Judges for Gender Justice’.

  • The inaugural convening of this platform resulted in the adoption of the Bellagio Declaration on state obligation and role of the judiciary in ensuring access to justice for gender-based violence, including sexual violence in an effective, competent manner and with a gender perspective.
  • The Declaration underscores the importance of gender-sensitive adjudication that adheres to the norms of national and international human rights law as a key strategy to combat impunity for sexual violence.
  • It outlines specific recommendations addressing States in general and judicial officers in particular, on measures to ensure that their actions conform to international and national human rights standards concerning GBVAW and sexual violence.
  • Lastly, it highlights the significance of measures to strengthen institutional responses, including of the judiciary so that the justice system incorporates a victim centered and gender equality approach.

This is also the call we would like to make to the member states participating here. We call on member states to recognize the importance of strong judiciaries in addressing GBVAW. We also call on states to take measures to strengthen the institutional capacities of the judiciary in ensuring gender-based approaches in adjudication towards combating GBVAW and sexual violence.

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