Women's Rights are Human Rights - November 2002

Denver Women's Commission
Women's Rights are Human Rights - November 2002

November 6, 2002
Prepared by Chaer Robert
for Colorado Women's News

Women's Rights are Human Rights

"Louise", in Kenya, has been beaten by her husband for years. She has five children. She went to the village chief, then to the police. They said that they would arrest her husband, but never did. Louise left home. Her husband pursued her, beat her and raped her. She found safety with a local women's organization. Now Amnesty International is asking for letters to the Kenyan Attorney General to make marital rape a crime and to investigate all allegations of violence against women and bring those responsible for crimes to justice.

Torture's best friend is secrecy. Amnesty International is best known for a single effective tactic. When someone is being tortured, they highlight the situation. Letters from their supporters flood the government involved in the oppression. As that government realizes they risk public outrage if they proceed with torture or death, they back down.

For years Amnesty International focused solely on human rights advocates being tortured by their government. Their call resonated with Americans used to political freedom and free speech.

The United Nations defines torture as " an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted upon a person " for a purpose such as obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation or coercion, "or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind." This could clearly be applied to many women's situations -- domestic violence, sexual abuse, "honor" killings, acid throwing, dowry burnings, female genital mutilation, etc. Amnesty International USA started a women's human rights network. Domestically, their first issue was sexual assault of incarcerated women by their guards. "Rape was not Part of my Sentence" was their first report.

Historically AI has targeted governments for their torture. But now AI also targets a government's complicity in individuals' torture of other individuals. AI is now examining governments that allow the torture of women because of the lack of laws or the lack of enforcement. Countries that allow no recourse for battered, sexually assaulted or mutilated women or "honor" killings are considered as sharing in the responsibility.

AI selects cases based on government violation of international treaties. Most often the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the document which provides the basis for action. But it can also be the 1979 Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. This treaty outline women's basic human rights -- to own and inherit property, to bodily integrity, to be free from sexual slavery, trafficking, domestic violence, torture, etc. It does not require or automatically create any law. Countries are required to periodically report to a 23 member UN CEDAW committee on progress to women's equality. Examples of progress credited to CEDAW include:

● In Colombia, courts ruled in 1992 that the absence of legal recourse available to a victim of domestic violence violated her human rights to life and personal security. The state now ensures protection for domestic violence victims.

●Pakistan introduced coeducation in primary schools after treaty ratification and saw sharp increases in female enrollment.

● In Tanzania, the Supreme Court invalidated a customary law that barred women from inheriting clan property.

Because they use UN treaties for their work, they see the value of the United States ratifying the CEDAW treaty. The US is one of only a handful of countries which has not, including Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia and Sudan. Currently, 170 countries have ratified it. The US criticized Iran for not complying with UN action. Yet we comfortably refused to ratified this U.N. treaty. Hopefully the U.S. Senate, which finally passed the treaty out of the International Relations Committee in July 2002, can find the 2/3rds approval it needs to add our voice to the world charge to end discrimination against women.

For more information visit www.womenstreaty.org for information on CEDAW or amnestyusa.org/women or call Amnesty International at 212-633-4292, or in Denver call Abby Erikson at 303-941-2215