Press Release

IACHR Welcomes Progress and Urges States to Ensure Favorable Conditions for the Exercise of Women's Rights

March 8, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - In the context of International Women’s Day, March 8th, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes progress made in the region in regards to the respect and guarantee of the rights of women.  The IACHR also highlights situations of concern requiring urgent action from States to fully protect the rights of women, adolescents and girls in various areas.

Zika Virus

The IACHR has received alarming information concerning the spread of the Zika virus and its specific impact on women, particularly women of reproductive age. The Commission joins the call of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stressing the importance that all women’s sexual and reproductive rights are fully guaranteed for an effective response to this public health crisis. In this regard, the IACHR urges States to adopt specific preventive and emergency measures to ensure that all women receive the necessary information, support and services, free from any kind of discrimination, to make independent and free decisions regarding their reproductive health and family life in this context. These measures are particularly important in the case of girls and adolescents, and women with low incomes and living in rural areas, women from different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and diverse gender identities, and women living with disabilities.

Sexual Violence and Reproductive Rights

The Commission also emphasizes the importance that States take into consideration as major issues affecting the rights of women today the severe problem of sexual violence, barriers to access to a quality sex education and to family planning methods, and restrictive laws preventing access to reproductive health services that are critical to women who must make decisions in the framework of a public health emergency of this magnitude. The IACHR also notes the importance of States to provide spaces for affected and concerned women to participate and influence the elaboration of policies to tackle this crisis.

This Commission also highlights the urgent nature of the information it has received on the problem of sexual violence and incest, and how this particularly affects adolescent women and girls in the region. This problem severely impacts their life, physical integrity and personal development, their reproductive health, and it frequently results in unintended and high-risk pregnancies, increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, and negatively impacts their right to education. Also, according to information received by the Commission, sexual violence and incest tend to be invisible, joined by low reporting rates due to the associated stigma, fear, frequent closeness of the aggressor with the victim, the obstacles to access to justice of girls, and the lack of adequate services for victims.

The IACHR is also concerned regarding the inadequacy of legal proceedings to not re-victimize girls and adolescent women and the small number of cases that are effectively investigated and sanctioned by the justice administration systems. In several countries of the region, it has confirmed a pattern of systematic impunity in the proceedings and prosecution of these crimes. The Commission reiterates that access to justice is a fundamental component of the rights of all women, adolescents and girls in the Americas, and the need to adopt correlative preventive measures to promote the non-repetition of these events.

Progress in Guatemala

On the other hand, this Commission welcomes the decision of the Guatemalan Court for High Risk Crimes “A” in which former members of the army responsible for crimes against humanity during the internal armed conflict, in the case known as "Sepur Zarco," have been condemned as perpetrators of acts of murder, enforced disappearance, and sexual slavery. The Commission views the decision positively, as it is the first to condemn crimes of sexual slavery which took place during the armed conflict in Guatemala, and represents a momentous achievement in the pursuit of justice for women victims of sexual violence during armed conflicts and the eradication impunity.

Progress in Canada

The Commission also strongly supports the decision of the Canadian government to create a national action plan and to open a national investigation on the issue of indigenous women and girls missing and murdered in Canada, specifically in British Columbia in recent years. As noted in its report Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia, Canada, the Commission recalls that the initiatives, programs and policies relating to indigenous women must be responsive to their needs and concerns, and in this sense the State of Canada should take steps to promote active participation of indigenous women in the design and implementation of such initiatives, programs and policies.

The IACHR calls upon all States in the region to investigate and punish in a diligent manner violence against women, adolescents and girls that took place in the past and is presently occurring, in times of conflict and peace, as a critical factor for the total eradication of this serious human rights problem.

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 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. 031/16