The States of the Americas Must Act to Combat Impunity Around Sexual Violence in Contexts of Conflict or Dictatorship

March 8, 2022

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Washington, D.C. — On International Women's Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged States to guarantee access to justice for survivors of sexual and reproductive violence that took place during periods of conflict or dictatorship. This should be implemented using a gender focus and strict due diligence, to reduce impunity, prevent violence from recurring, and advancing toward consolidating more democratic, egalitarian societies.

Sexual and reproductive violence against women does not only take place in extraordinary contexts such as armed conflict or dictatorships. Instead, it is the result of the worsening of a continuum of violence that derives from structural, historical discrimination that is rooted in a sexist, patriarchal culture that subordinates women using stereotypical notions of inferiority. This violence builds when other intersectional factors of vulnerability are present, and manifests itself in various forms, including rape, sexual torture, forced prostitution, forced pregnancies or abortions, forced sterilizations, forced marriage, and sexual and/or domestic slavery.

During conflicts and dictatorships, widespread or systematic practices of sexual violence have come to light against a broader backdrop of discrimination against women that is characterized by high rates of impunity and such practices being made invisible. In addition to constituting a gross human rights violation, in such cases, sexual violence may be considered a crime against humanity.

In response, States must investigate all serious acts against personal integrity, particularly cases in cases of severe human rights violations or systematic or widespread patterns of violence. They should also prosecute and punish those responsible for such crimes to prevent them from being repeated. On this point, one fundamental aspect of access to justice for survivors of sexual violence is States' commitment to comply with the duty of strict due diligence through prompt, serious, impartial investigations of the facts, and to prosecute and punish those responsible.

Due to the complexity of transitional contexts, the duty of due diligence requires that the context of systematic, widespread violence in which sexual violence occurs be taken into consideration. Doing so allows States to identify and dismantle the structures that facilitated such violations, rather than limiting themselves to punishing the perpetrators at hand. Likewise, as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated, in contexts of widespread violence against women, the gender implications of such acts must be investigated specifically and ex officio. To this end, gender perspective must be mainstreamed in the administration of justice.

On International Woman's Day, the IACHR urges States to investigate, prosecute, and punish sexual and reproductive violence against women in contexts of conflict or dictatorship as serious human rights violations, not merely as collateral damage or minor issues. Prioritizing investigations into sexual violence and making these proactive and specific exposes the discriminatory cultural patterns that give rise to such violence, while also making the scale and systematic nature of these events visible. It also leads to the collective reflection needed to bring about structural transformations. Guaranteeing access to justice and reparations with the intention of bringing about social transformation is key to avoiding the repetition of gender-based violence against women and moving toward democratic, egalitarian societies.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 049/22

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