UPDATE ON THE WORK OF THE
1. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) established its Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women in 1994 in order to renew its commitment to ensuring that the rights of women are fully respected and ensured in each member state. While the constitutions of each member state provide formal guarantees of equality, through its work the Commission had become increasingly aware of the persistence of discrimination based on gender in national legal systems and practices. Accordingly, the Special Rapporteurship was established with an initial mandate to analyze the extent to which member state law and practices which affect the rights of women comply with the broad obligations of equality and nondiscrimination contained in the American Convention on Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Since that initial study and the resulting report, this
Rapporteurship has played a vital role in the Commission’s work to
protect the rights of women through the publication of thematic studies;
assisting in the development of new jurisprudence in this area within
the individual case system; and supporting the investigation of broader
issues affecting the rights of women in specific countries of the region
through on site visits and country reports.
The obligations of equality and nondiscrimination continue to
serve as the points of orientation for the selection of issues being
addressed by the Rapporteurship. Further,
the Commission and its Rapporteurship place special emphasis on the
problem of violence against women, itself a manifestation of
gender-based discrimination, as recognized in the Inter-American
Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence
Against Women (“Convention of Belém do Pará”).
4. The current work program of the Rapporteurship is designed to address a priority challenge for the rights of women throughout the Hemisphere: how to ensure women effective access to justice, particularly women who have been subjected to violence. The priority nature of this challenge has been amply demonstrated in the Rapporteurship’s thematic work, as well as through the Commission’s case system and country reporting. It is also underlined in the challenges identified as priorities by member states, experts and representatives of civil society. The Rapporteurship’s work program takes as its point of departure that prompt access to effective judicial protection and guarantees is the first line of defense for the protection of basic rights, and takes as its challenge that victims of violence and discrimination based on gender are often unable to obtain such access, leaving their rights unprotected. The fact that most cases of violence against women are left in impunity fuels the perpetuation of this grave violation.
The current Special Rapporteur, Marta Altolaguirre, a Guatemalan
jurist, Commission member and First Vice President of the IACHR in 2002,
was designated by the Commission in March of 2000.
The first Rapporteur, former Commission member Claudio Grossman,
a Chilean jurist, was named by the Commission in 1994, and served until
The priority given by the Commission and its Rapporteurship to
the protection of the rights of women also reflects the importance given
to this area by the member states of the OAS.
In particular, the Plan of Action adopted by the Heads of State
and Government during the Third Summit of the Americas recognizes the
importance of women’s empowerment, and of their full and equal
participation in development, in the political life of their countries,
and in decision-making at all levels.
To this end, the Plan of Action endorses the Inter-American
Program on the Promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equality
and other regional initiatives aimed at implementing the commitments set
forth in the Beijing Declaration and its Platform for Action.
While enhancing the protection of the rights of women is an
agreed upon priority within the hemisphere, the capacity of the
Rapporteurship to discharge its role in this regard is subject to
serious budgetary constraints. To
carry out her mandate, the Special Rapporteur receives support from the
Executive Secretariat. Over
the past year, with the support of the Executive Secretariat, the
Rapporteurship has been seeking external funding to enable it to amplify
its resources and capacity for action.
In 2003 the Rapporteurship hopes to receive financial support
that more adequately corresponds to the depth and seriousness of the
challenges faced in the Hemisphere in this area, and the commitment the
OAS has articulated to meeting those.
II. PRINCIPAL ACTIVITIES OF THE RAPPORTEURSHIP IN 2002
On-site visit to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
On February 12 and 13, 2002, Special Rapporteur Marta
Altolaguirre carried out the Rapporteurship’s first on site visit, to
examine the situation of violence against women in Ciudad Juárez,
Estado de Chihuahua, Mexico.
In particular, according to the State’s own information, over
250 women and girls had been killed since 1993, and approximately 250
others were listed as missing persons.
The visit was undertaken pursuant to expressions of concern by
hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, and following the invitation
of the Government of President Vicente Fox.
The Rapporteur held numerous meetings in Ciudad Juárez and
Mexico City with representatives of the State and civil society, as well
as with the family members of some of the victims.
In expressing her initial reflections at the close of the visit,
the Rapporteur indicated that, notwithstanding certain measures that had
been taken to address the killings, the State’s response continued to
be seriously deficient. Indeed,
as various State representatives acknowledged, the measures adopted did
not correspond with the magnitude of the problem.
Both the State and non-state sectors indicated that the
administration of justice had been ineffective in clarifying the crimes,
thereby creating a climate of impunity and fear.
The Rapporteur highlighted that this impunity, in turn,
contributed significantly to the perpetuation of violence against women
in Ciudad Juárez.
On December 13, 2002, the report prepared by the Special
Rapporteur presenting her findings and recommendations on the situation
in Ciudad Juárez was approved by the Commission.
That report was prepared on the basis of the information gathered
during the on-site visit, as well as subsequent follow-up activities.
These activities included hearings before the Commission’s 114º
(March 2002) and 116º (October 2002) regular period of sessions, as
well as informational reports presented by the State in December of 2002
and January of 2003. In
accordance with Article 58 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure,
this initial version of the report was transmitted to the State for its
observations. The final
version of the report, reflecting those observations to the extent
deemed pertinent, was approved by the Commission in February of 2003 for
inclusion in the present annual report.
The Commission and its Special Rapporteur continue to follow-up
on this situation, and on the measures taken to comply with the
recommendations issued in the report.
In this regard, the Commission has convened a hearing for its 117º
regular period of sessions to address the situation in Ciudad Juárez.
Further, the Commission continues to process several individual
petitions opened in connection with killings included in the scope of
the report, and the Commission and Special Rapporteur continue to
monitor the precautionary measures issued to protect the personal
integrity of a key advocate for women subjected to violence in Ciudad Juárez,
Esther Chávez, as well as the measures granted to protect the wives and
attorney of two men accused in connection with certain killings in
B. The Rapporteurship goes on-line
In the fall of 2002, with the assistance of the Executive
Secretariat, the Rapporteurship was able to create a space in the
Commission’s web page specifically dedicated to the work of the
Rapporteurship and the Commission in the area of women’s rights.
It contains information on the Rapporteurship’s mandate,
activities and initiatives, the Rapporteurship’s reports, and provides
a list and links to all the IACHR case reports and chapters of country
reports that specifically deal with the rights of women.
The dissemination of information about the norms of the system
that protect the rights of women, as well the reports that show how
these norms have been applied in concrete situations and cases, is
crucial in promoting women’s access to effective remedies.
In this regard, the Rapporteurship is pleased to note that the
Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH) posts news about its
activities and those of the IACHR concerning the rights of women in its
C. The individual petition system and recent jurisprudence of the IACHR in relation to the rights of women
The work of the Commission and its Rapporteurship on the Rights
of Women play complementary roles.
In this sense, one of the objectives of the Rapporteurship is to
serve as a resource for the full Commission in targeting issues, and
providing data, information on jurisprudential developments and other
source material. A closely
related purpose is to serve as a means to raise awareness within civil
society of the mechanisms the regional system offers to enhance the
protection of these rights, including the individual petition system. In this regard, the Rapporteurship’s promotional activities
have a direct bearing on its protection activities, and those of the
Commission as a whole.
The Commission is currently processing a substantial number of
individual petitions that deal with alleged human rights violations with
gender-specific causes and consequences.
The Commission’s work in this area has involved convoking
hearings on such pending petitions, as well as on broader issues
affecting the rights of women in the hemisphere.
With respect to these broader issues, with the assistance of the
Special Rapporteurship, during its 114º regular period of sessions
(March, 2002), the Commission convened hearings on: the status of women
in the law; violence against women; and the situation in Ciudad Juárez.
During its 116º regular period of sessions (October, 2002), the
Commission convened hearings addressing: the status of the right of
women to be free from discrimination, and the situation in Ciudad Juárez.
Such hearings provide a very valuable opportunity for the
exchange of information with representatives of civil society.
Further with respect to discrimination, in 2002 the Commission
published a friendly settlement report on the petition of Mónica
Carabantes Galleguillos v. Chile, which involved the expulsion of a
pregnant secondary student from a publicly subsidized private school on
the basis of her pregnancy.
When her family challenged the expulsion through the courts, the
school’s action was upheld through the level of Supreme Court review.
The settlement involved the adoption of legislation concerning
the access of pregnant students to education, the recognition by the
State of the violations claimed, and a scholarship for the victim’s
The Commission is currently facilitating negotiations
aimed at concluding a friendly settlement between the parties in the
case of María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez v. Peru,
which addresses claims of sterilization absent full informed consent and
related violations. Returning
to the issue of violence more specifically, the Commission has admitted
and continues to process other cases dealing with claims of violence
with gender specific causes and consequences, including Zoilamérica
Narváez Murillo v. Nicaragua
and MZ v. Bolivia.
The Rapporteurship continues to serve the Commission as a
resource in relation to the processing of individual petitions
concerning the rights of women, as well as with respect to requests for
precautionary measures and other related activities.
A review of the Commission’s jurisprudence with respect to
human rights violations with gender specific causes and consequences
confirms a common denominator: the inability of most victims to obtain
prompt access to effective judicial protection and guarantees.
The individual petition system provides a mechanism to
investigate and evaluate deficiencies in the State’s response to these
kinds of violations and to make specific recommendations designed to
remedy the violations concerned, thereby bringing the response at the
national level into greater conformity with what is required under
D. Activities of cooperation and promotion
From February 28 to March 1, 2002, the Rapporteurship
participated in the first joint meeting of the special rapporteurs on
the rights of women, with Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Special
Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences
(UNSRVAW), and Angela Melo, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of
Women of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
This constructive meeting and the joint declaration issued by the
Rapporteurs on March 8, 2002 denouncing the persistence of
discrimination and violence against women were reported on in last
year’s update report, which included the text of that declaration.
The UNSRVAW and the Rapporteurship then collaborated on the
issuance of a joint press release, also released on March 8, 2002,
expressing grave concern for the situation of women and girls affected
by widespread gender-based violence in Colombia.
The release reviews some of the forms of violence in question,
and exhorts the State to intensify its efforts to combat such violence
including through the application of due diligence to ensure that the
perpetrators are held to account, and increased training for the
authorities concerning the causes and consequences of such violence and
their responsibilities under the law.
The Rapporteurship greatly values these opportunities for
collaboration with the UNSRVAW, and the Rapporteur of the African system
in the pursuit of goals of mutual interest, and looks forward to future
such opportunities. The
opportune exchange of information, and the chance to share priorities
and strategies is an important tool in the quest to prioritize the
protection of the rights of women at all levels.
The Commission and its Special Rapporteur maintain regular
contact with the Commission of Women of the OAS (“CIM”), which in
the past has included participation in such activities as CIM meetings
of Delegates, and various expert and working meetings dating back to the
drafting of the Convention of Belém
do Pará. On
February 5, 2002, the Commission and its Rapporteurship were represented
in a meeting of experts convened by the CIM to discuss the formulation
of recommendations to the Fourth Meeting of Ministers of Justice (REMJA
IV), as part of the process to implement the Inter-American Program on
the Promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equity and Equality.
The recommendations, which were subsequently submitted to that
Meeting by the CIM, had the objective of assisting the Ministers in
incorporating a gender perspective in the formulation of policies in the
area of administration of justice, including with respect to women’s
access to justice and their status within the justice system.
In September of 2002, the Commission and its Rapporteurship were
invited by the CIM to participate in an OAS General Secretariat working
group to assist the CIM in initiatives against trafficking in women and
The Commission and its Rapporteurship have also enjoyed periodic
interaction with and support from the Inter-American Institute of Human
Rights (IIDH) based in San José, Costa Rica, particularly with respect
to training and promotional activities. In this regard, on May 15, 2002, the Commission and its
Rapporteurship participated in the panel presentation “Los derechos reproductivos en el contexto del sistema interamericano de
derechos humanos,” as part of the Seminar-Workshop “La
Promoción y la Protección de los Derechos Reproductivos a través del
Trabajo de las Instituciones Nacionales de Derechos Humanos para América
Latina, el Caribe y Canadá,” organized in San José by the IIDH
with the UNHCR and the UNFPA. In
October of 2002, the Special Rapporteur participated in an in-depth
consultation with other rapporteurs of the inter-American and UN systems
and representatives of civil society designed seek new mechanisms to
exchange information relevant to the respective mandates.
As mentioned above, pursuant to this consultation, the IIDH is
posting information about the work of the Rapporteurship on its
Within the context of the OAS more generally, the Commission and
its Rapporteurship made a presentation during the May 22, 2002 panel “The
Role of Law in Incorporating the Perspective of Gender: The Experience
of the Inter-American Human Rights System” before the General
Secretariat of the Organization. This
was organized in Washington D.C. by the OAS, the CIM and CIDA as part of
the conference initiating the gender mainstreaming project of the OAS.
On August 22, 2002, the Special Rapporteur presented her paper
“Mecanismos del sistema interamericano de derechos humanos para la
protección de los derechos de la mujer,” during the conference
“Los derechos humanos y la Globalización: Avances y retrocesos,”
organized by the Comisión Andina de Juristas in Lima, Peru.
Subsequently, on November 4, 2002, the Comisión and its
Rapporteurship were represented in the panel discussion “Género y
Acceso a la Justicia en Perú: Un Diálogo de Aprendizaje.” This
was a “distance-learning dialogue” organized by the World Bank, with
video-conference participation from Washington, D.C., Lima, Peru and
As we look toward the next phase of the Rapporteurship’s
activities, the focus is on the challenges women face in obtaining
access to justice – with a particular focus on violence against women
and impunity. The question
of women’s access to justice has had tremendous relevance for the work
of the Rapporteurship in a number of its initiatives, most recently with
respect to its work on the situation of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
The experience of women with respect to the administration of
justice has to be analyzed from a variety of perspectives.
For example, it is essential to consider the extent to which
women do or do not participate as decision-makers involved in
administering justice, and to identify the obstacles that impede their
full participation. It is
equally important to analyze the response women receive as users of the
justice system, and to identify the barriers women may face as litigants
and victims of crime.
Within its coming activities, the Rapporteurship will be working
toward: identifying and sharing best practices in the region with
respect to women’s access to justice; analyzing the current challenges
that confront the countries of the region in this area; formulating
recommendations designed to strengthen the best practices and overcome
the obstacles; amplifying awareness in the region of the guarantees and
mechanisms the inter-American human rights system offers for the
protection of the rights of women; and monitoring, and providing any
technical assistance requested by member States in the implementation of
such recommendations in national law and practice.
The capacity of the Rapporteurship to fully tackle this crucial
issue is naturally dependent on funding.
The Rapporteurship, with the support of the Executive
Secretariat, is currently pursuing external funding to provide the
resources necessary to fully develop this next set of activities.
32. The foregoing update provided a brief review of the work done and current concerns being addressed by the Commission and its Rapporteurship in seeking to ensure greater respect for the rights of women. On balance, initiatives at the local, national and regional levels aimed at confronting human rights violations with gender specific causes and consequences have succeeded in establishing some key minimum standards, particularly with respect to discrimination and violence against women. Within the region, for example, we have seen the adoption of new or improved legislation, programs and policies to combat violence against women. The priority challenge that continues to confront us is the gap between these standards and the lived experience of the women of the Americas.
In this regard, the Special Rapporteur again emphasizes the
problem of impunity and its role in encouraging the persistence of human
rights violations that have gender-specific causes and consequences.
Impunity in such cases undermines the very system of guarantees,
and creates a climate conducive to the repetition of violations.
The key commitment with respect to which the Special Rapporteur
exhorts the member States to redouble their efforts is to apply due
diligence in the investigation, prosecution and punishment of acts of
discrimination and violence against women.
In connection with this obligation, it is crucial that States
provide victims with prompt access to effective justice.
More specifically, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women serves
to: raise awareness of the need for further action to ensure that
women are able to fully exercise their basic rights; issue specific
recommendations aimed at enhancing member State compliance with
their priority obligations of equality and nondiscrimination;
promote the mechanisms – for example, the filing of individual
complaints of violations – that the inter-American human rights
system provides to protect the rights of women; conduct specialized
studies and prepare reports in this area; and assist the Commission
in responding to petitions and other reports of violations of these
rights in the region.
Additional information on the Commission and its
Rapporteurship, including the initial Report on the Situation of
Women in the Americas, may be found at www.cidh.org
under the heading “rapporteurships.”
33/02, Petition 12.046, Mónica Carabantes Galleguillos (Chile),
adopted March 12, 2002.
Report Nº 66/00 – admissibility, Case 12.191, María Mamérita
Mestanza Chávez (Peru), Annual
Report of the IACHR 2000.
Report 118/01 - admissibility, Case 12.230, Zoilamérica Narváez
Murillo (Nicaragua), Annual
Report of the IACHR 2001.
73/01 – admissibility, Case 12.350, MZ (Bolivia), Annual
Report of the IACHR 2001.
Update on the Work of the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women, Annual
Report of the IACHR 2001.