22 March 2010
UN EXPERT ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
CONCLUDES VISIT TO EL SALVADOR
In conclusion of her three day follow-up visit to El Salvador, last visited by the mandate in 2004*, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, delivered the following statement:
“At the outset, I would like to express my deep appreciation for the full cooperation extended to me by the Government of El Salvador. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including State officials, representatives of civil society, representatives of United Nations agencies and international organizations. I am also particularly grateful to the victims and families of victims of violence that shared their personal experiences with me.
The objective of this visit, which comes six years after the visit conducted by this mandate in 2004, was to review progress made on the recommendations provided by my predecessor, assessing the current situation of violence against women and the State response to such violence.
While acknowledging that this Government has been in place for less than a year, El Salvador has come a long way in institution building and human rights protection since the end of the twelve year civil war in 1992. By acceding to numerous international human rights treaties, El Salvador has shown its commitment to place the human rights of individuals at the centre of its policies, laws and institutions. This position has been reiterated by numerous State officials during this mission.
In the area of violence against women, my discussions indicate the Government’s intention to fulfil its due diligence obligations in terms of both international and regional human rights frameworks. One indicator of this are the current national law reform proposals on violence against women, equal opportunities and promotion and protection of the rights of children and adolescents. With regard to international instruments, ongoing discussions on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Rome Treaty are another indicator of such willingness.
However, while I commend the Government on these initiatives, I am concerned at the significant challenges that continue to exist in the area of violence against women and girls. As noted in my predecessor’s report in 2005, “[…] the failure of authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for gender-based violence has contributed to an environment of impunity that has resulted in little confidence in the justice system. Impunity for crimes, the socio-economic disparities and the machista culture foster a generalized state of violence, subjecting women to a continuum of multiple violent acts, including murder, rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation”. My discussions with both State and non-State actors, as well as the testimonies I have heard, reflect the continuing accuracy of this reality in El Salvador today.
Of particular concern to me is the growing prevalence and forms of such violence, especially the alarming rise in the numbers of murders of women and girls and the brutality inflicted on their bodies, which is often accompanied by kidnapping and sexual assault. A recent study by ORMUSA indicates the number of femicides has increased from 378 in 2008 to 570 in 2009, this being the highest number of femicides in the last 11 years in the country. Some of my interlocutors have described this phenomenon as reflecting a “culture of hatred towards women” and an indicator of the failure of the criminal justice system. Other forms of violence that were identified and continue to be prevalent and pervasive are domestic violence, sexual abuse against women and children in the home and the community, violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly in the maquila sector and the domestic sphere, police-related violence and sexual commercial exploitation.
Another issue of concern relates to the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the women’s prison that I visited. While in 2004 the number of prisoners was 650, at the time of my visit there were 1344 female prisoners, including 24 pregnant women, and 25 boys and 25 girls. I am also concerned at the situation of women and girls in the domestic and maquila sectors, including those working in their homes for the maquilas without a contract, which were described by some interlocutors and direct testimonies as a modern form of "human slavery".
I applaud the focus on prevention and model-of-care approach articulated by many institutions. However, the issues of accountability and addressing impunity also form part of the due diligence obligations of the State. Action or non-action by the criminal justice sector reflects the commitment or the failure to fulfil, to respect and to protect the rights of all citizens. During this mission, I have received information that indicates weaknesses in investigation and prosecution as well as inappropriate sentencing. An example that illustrates this is reflected in several cases of abortion that have been prosecuted. One case brought to my notice by both the State and the non State sector concerns a woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison despite the evidentiary burden not having been satisfied.
As indicated in the 2005 report, “the criminalization of abortion is discriminatory primarily for poor women, as women of higher social standing are said to have access to other options for dealing with unwanted pregnancies. The majority of cases involving illegal abortions brought before the courts involve poor, under-educated young women who induced abortions by using unsafe methods in unsanitary environments, which contributes to health complications or deaths”. The interpretative conflict between the constitutional provisions and the Penal Code has led to the criminalization of abortion, which is having a direct impact on the current high rates of maternal mortality and adolescent pregnancies, and thus denies women and girls the right to control their bodies and their lives.
In light of the information I received during this mission, the recommendations in my predecessor’s report are still applicable and relevant. I support and reiterate the need to take action under these five broad categories: (a) create a gender-sensitive information and knowledge base, including through the creation of a statistical commission; (b) ensure the protection of women and girls through legislative, investigative and judicial reforms, including though the establishment of a specialized investigation and prosecution unit on femicides; (c) strengthen institutional infrastructure, including through the allocation of appropriate resources in order to enable sustainability and effectiveness; (d) initiate further training and awareness programmes; and (e) monitor and enforce international and regional human rights standards.
My findings will be discussed in a more comprehensive way in the report I will submit to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 14th session”.
Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the United Nations Human Rights Council for an initial period of three years. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is also a Professor at the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.