International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: States Must Take Measures with a Gender Perspective to Prevent Torture

June 26, 2021

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Washington, D.C. – On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern about the disproportionate effect of torture and other forms of ill-treatment on women who are deprived of liberty. The IACHR therefore urges States to take measures with a gender perspective and a human rights approach to prevent and fight torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

The IACHR has found that the situation of prison inmates in the region is generally marked by extreme overcrowding, an abuse of pretrial detention, appalling conditions of detention, and the lack of a gender perspective and a well-differentiated approach in prison policies. Various mechanisms have also noted the prevalence of torture and ill-treatment in prisons across the Americas. These conditions are believed to entail increased risks for women—especially those who are exposed to greater discrimination based on their age, disabilities, ethnic groups, sexual orientation, gender identity, or various sexual characteristics—and other vulnerable persons.

In particular, the Inter-American Commission has observed that women face a higher risk of being subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Both the Inter-American Court and the IACHR have found that women in the custody of State authorities are more exposed to various forms of violence, harassment, and hostilities, including sexual abuse. Both institutions have stressed that sexual violence against women has a devastating physical, emotional, and psychological impact on women. They have stressed that the rape of a woman who is deprived of liberty by an officer of the State is particularly serious and reprehensible considering the victim's vulnerability and the abuse of power evidenced by the officer.

In particular, through all its mechanisms, the IACHR has been informed about various acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment perpetrated against women who are deprived of liberty in the region. The IACHR has also received reports that these acts include sexual abuse, kicks all over these women's bodies, partial suffocation using plastic bags, and threats of harming relatives as a form of intimidation. The IACHR also admits that, in line with comments made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences, Rashida Manjoo, and by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, ill-treatment is common in security operations within prisons. This ill-treatment can take various forms, including a disproportionate use of force, subjection to forced nudity, unnecessary or degrading searches, inadequate touching during inspections, and unnecessary surveillance.

In this context, the IACHR stresses that all acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are an attack on victims' human dignity and a rejection of the international principles held in various relevant regional and international instruments. The IACHR notes that preventing and fighting this kind of action against women who are deprived of liberty with a gender perspective implies considering the heightened risk of violence in all its forms faced by women, and also the specific risks faced by women who belong to groups who have historically suffered discrimination.

In this context, the IACHR calls on States to take, with the utmost diligence, concrete measures to prevent and fight torture against women who are deprived of liberty. In particular, the Commission urges States to develop investigation protocols, so cases of torture and other types of violence are adequately investigated and tried, with a gender perspective and differentiated approaches. The Commission further urges States to include inter-American standards in training sessions for authorities in charge of criminal prosecutions and of dealing with these matters in court.

Finally, on this International Day, the IACHR stresses its call and urges member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights; the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture; and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

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. 159/21