Press Release

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the IACHR calls on justice sector actors to strictly observe the Inter-American standards on sexual and gender-based violence

November 25, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on the justice sector actors to strictly observe international standards on sexual and gender-based violence. 

The IACHR reiterates its concern about the progressive increase in violence in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this sense, the Commission highlights the crucial role of prior control and direct application of International Law on Women's Rights by those who play roles of judicial nature, as well as prosecutors or ombudsperson roles, among others, who must strictly follow international standards in the framework of the control of conventionality that they carry out.

The Commission has closely monitored developments that would represent setbacks to gender equality and women's rights. In particular, the IACHR has observed an increase in the rates of femicide; domestic violence against women; sexual violence against girls and adolescents; violence in public spaces, including rape and street harassment; digital gender-based violence; and the forced disappearance of women and girls.

In this context, the Commission has noted the scarcity of updated and disaggregated data that allows States to watch and identify trends related to the occurrence of sexual and gender-based violence in the States of the region. The result is the concealment and under-reporting of the various forms of gender-based violence against women, the stigmatization of women who have suffered it, and their re-victimization.

The Commission recalls that the absence of consolidated, updated, and duly disaggregated data prevents a comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon of sexual and gender-based violence against women,  and renders invisible additional vulnerability factors such as ethno-racial origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability status, and contributes to the perpetuation of impunity for these crimes in a context of deep-rooted gender-based discriminatory stereotypes and structural discrimination against women. 

Likewise, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IACHR has received information on changes in functioning or provision of judicial services, including judicial offices; prosecutors’ offices; and offices of the ombudsperson. Also, in the context of the pandemic, some survivors of sexual and gender-based violence would be facing challenges in accessing judicial services, including procedural delays; limited reporting channels, as well as ineffective protection measures against their aggressors. Additionally, the IACHR has received information about the relativization of acts of sexual violence in courts, as well as the inadequate treatment of survivors of these acts. This leads to the re-victimization of survivors, reinforces stigmatization, and perpetuates impunity.

In this sense, the IACHR reiterates the essential role of justice actors in the defense of human rights, in their capacity as guarantors of the right to access to justice. In this sense, services for women, girls and adolescents who are victims of sexual or gender-based violence must comply with the principles of availability, continuity, accessibility, acceptability and quality. In this regard, the IACHR reinforces the provisions of its Resolution 1/20, which establishes that States must reformulate traditional response mechanisms, adopting alternative communication channels and strengthening community networks to expand the reporting channels and protection orders in the context of the pandemic. 

The IACHR has observed in the region the existence of systematic impunity in relation to sexual and gender-based violence. Despite the fact that many States in the region have adopted legal frameworks in line with the inter-American standards and with the obligations derived from the Convention of Belém do Pará, justice actors often fail to comply with them, reinforcing anachronistic and sexist stereotypes, ignoring, in particular, the understanding of sexual and gender violence as a violation of the right to physical and psychological integrity. 

In this sense, the IACHR has emphasized that the lack of due diligence to investigate, prosecute, and punish acts of violence against women, girls, and adolescents from a gender perspective is not only a violation of States obligation of States to guarantee this right, but also constitutes in itself a form of discrimination in access to justice.

With a view to decisively eradicating discriminatory gender stereotypes and guaranteeing effective access to justice, the IACHR emphasizes that States must organize their entire State structure for the prevention, investigation, punishment, and reparation of gender-based violence, from a comprehensive approach involving all State sectors, including the areas of health, education, and justice. 

In particular, through their judiciary, States must carry out the control of conventionality with aiming to realize the obligation to guarantee human rights in the domestic sphere, through the promoting the conformity of national norms and practices with the inter-American instruments in force, including the Inter-American Convention and the Belém do Pará Convention.

Finally, States should institutionalize training models in gender competencies for public officials from all sectors, including persons who play roles of judicial nature, as well as prosecutors, ombudsperson or in litigation. These trainings should include the causes and consequences of gender-based violence, including an interseccional approach to the particular forms of discrimination that result from the intersections of ethnic-racial origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, and economic status, among other factors.

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. 284/20