... continued

 3.       Monitoring, on site observations, special and follow up reports


          While it routinely monitors the status of human rights in each member state through communications received from governmental, intergovernmental and nongovernmental sources, on-site visits provide an opportunity for the Commission to examine a situation through direct observation, interviews and documentation.  Such visits are conducted pursuant to the consent of the State concerned, which is bound to furnish the Commission with the necessary facilities for carrying out its mission.  Most on site visits and subsequent reports are of a general nature.  They may, however, be issue-specific, such as the recent series of visits focussing on prison conditions.  The special report generally prepared and published pursuant to such a visit allows the Commission to address situations that may not be readily susceptible to the petition process.


          This procedure was used, for example, in addressing the systematic use of rape by members of the security forces and paramilitary groups during the de facto regime in Haiti. [21] The victims were unwilling to request individualized investigations of their cases due to fear of reprisals.  During a 1994 visit, the Commission interviewed a substantial number of victims in confidence, as well as a few doctors who had treated them.  Groups assisting the victims provided the Commission with additional information.  The Commission looked to the inter-American and UN definitions of torture in defining that this sexual violence was not only a violation of the right to physical integrity, but also a form of torture.  The practice had been utilized to inflict physical and mental pain and suffering in order to punish or intimidate women deemed unsympathetic to the regime.  The Commission described this kind of sexual violence as a brutal expression of discrimination.  Moreover, as this practice was "widespread, open and routine" during the de facto regime, the Commission determined that it represented a "weapon of terror" that was a "crime against humanity under customary international law."


          The Commission is developing a practice of regularly analyzing gender-specific human rights problems in its special reports on particular member states.  For example, in its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Ecuador, [22] and its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Brazil, [23] both released in 1997, as well as in the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in México, to be released in 1998, the Commission included a chapter focussing on gender-specific human rights issues.  Common themes addressed in the reports include the status of women in national law and society, gender-discrimination in the sphere of labor and the economy, the ability of women to fully and equally participate in public service, political life and decision making, and the problem of violence against women.  Having noted certain advances realized at the national level, the respective examinations provided the basis for the Commission to address recommendations designed to assist each State in enhancing compliance with their inter-American human rights obligations.  The recommendations focus on modifying or abolishing legal provisions which discriminate or have the effect of discriminating against women, addressing practices and structural barriers which impede the full incorporation of women in national life, and allocating appropriate resources to pursue such objectives. 


          4.       Thematic reporting and the competence to make recommendations


          The Commission may also adopt thematic approaches to human rights issues of a broader scale.  In the past few years the Commission has appointed special rapporteurs whose mandates address: women's rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, prisons, displaced persons, migrant workers and, recently, freedom of expression.  Pursuant to extensive preparatory efforts, the Commission has submitted a proposed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for adoption by the OAS General Assembly in June of 1998. [24]   The other rapporteurships will produce reports of different kinds accompanied by corresponding recommendations, beginning with the present example.


          As has been noted, the Commission has the competence to make recommendations to member states for the adoption of progressive measures in favor of human rights through each of the foregoing mechanisms, as well as to issue free-standing recommendations, as it regularly does in its Annual Report.  In its Report for 1996, for example, the Commission recommended that member states take additional concrete measures to combat gender-based discrimination.  More specifically, the Commission recommended that the few States that have yet to do so to ratify the Convention of Belém do Pará; that member states fully incorporate gender perspective and analysis into the development and implementation of public policy; and that they amplify initiatives designed to increase the number of qualified women serving in elected and appointed office, and augment the role of women in decision making in the public sphere.




          The appointment of Special Rapporteur Dean Grossman was prompted by the convergence of a number of factors.  The Commission had become increasingly aware of the range of ways in which discriminatory legislation and practices at the national level prevent women from freely and fully exercising the rights to which they are entitled.  This initiative followed upon the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993), which called for integrated system-wide approaches to addressing the status and human rights of women.  It coincided with the final stages of the drafting of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, a treaty which recognizes the integral link between discrimination and gender violence.  It also looked forward to the developments of the Summit of the Americas, where the States of the region expressed a priority commitment to advancing the status of women in society, and to the Fourth World Conference on Women's Rights (Beijing, 1995.)


          A.      The Design and Implementation of the Project


          A month after the appointment of the Special Rapporteur, the Commission informed the member states of the initiative and requested some very initial information, including the text of relevant legislation.  Brief submissions and/or copies of legislation were received from Argentina, The Bahamas, Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela.


          In developing the project, and considering its implementation, Special Rapporteur Dean Grossman determined that a specialized questionnaire should be developed to assist in collecting the necessary data for analysis.  Soon after his appointment, he began a process of consultation with various experts in the field of women's rights on the design of the project, and the development of a data collection instrument to gather the information from both governmental and nongovernmental sources.


          The data collection process sought to identify discriminatory legislation or practices with respect to each of the basic human rights recognized and protected within the inter-American system.  This linkage between a woman's right to be free from discrimination and her ability to enjoy other substantive rights and freedoms derived both from the structure of the guarantees of the system and from the system-wide recognition that a woman's status affects her ability to participate in national life and development. 


          B.       First Meeting of Experts


          The Special Rapporteur convened a First Meeting of Experts to assist him in designing the project and questionnaire in San José, Costa Rica on May 15 and 16, 1995.  The meeting was organized and co-sponsored with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.  Eleven experts from throughout the hemisphere advised the Rapporteur on issues to be taken into account in his study, and worked with him to complete an initial draft of questions for inclusion in a questionnaire on women's rights.  The experts considered various options for organizing the questions, finally recommending a structure relying on that of the American Convention and Declaration.  They also considered how the information gathering process could be broadened to be as inclusive as possible, recommending that an effort be made to seek out governmental and nongovernmental perspectives and information.


          C.      Conference on "Women, Human Rights and the Inter-American System: An Agenda for Action;" Second Meeting of Experts


          On March 29, 1996, the IACHR, the CIM, the IIDH, the Washington College of Law of American University and the Pan-American Health Organization co-sponsored a conference entitled "Women, Human Rights and the Inter-American System: An Agenda for Action" held on March 29, 1996.  The conference consisted of panel discussions (1) identifying problems and prospects within the region in preventing, punishing and eradicating of violence against women; (2) analyzing approaches to discrimination against women at the national and regional levels; and (3) suggesting and appraising follow up strategies to the Beijing Conference. 


          Participants represented countries throughout the region, and included experts from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, as well as government experts and noted academics.  They offered insights into advances realized and remaining challenges, and described initiatives being designed and implemented in their respective institutions.  Working on the basis of national and regional perspectives, participants provided an energetic exchange of ideas about the evolving role of the inter-American system in the area of women's rights. More concretely, they identified and discussed strategies for government, and for organs and agencies of the system to respond more effectively to the barriers which continue to impede the ability of women to freely and fully enjoy their rights.  In this regard, a number of participants indicated that the Commission's appointment of a special rapporteur provided an important focal point for encouraging the much-needed development of its work in this sphere. The co-sponsorship of the event provided an important opportunity for collaboration and dialogue among regional actors.


          A second Meeting of Experts was held on March 30, 1996, at the American University in Washington, D.C.  The group of 12 experts, approximately half of whom had attended the first meeting, offered the Special Rapporteur additional suggestions on the implementation of the project, proposed additional possibilities for collaboration, and reviewed the draft questions developed during the May, 1995 meeting in order to refine the questionnaire.  The experts reviewed each set of proposed questions with the aim of ensuring focus and clarify in the responses.  They offered specific suggestions to enhance the collection of statistical data.  The experts also provided suggestions on concrete steps to be taken to disseminate the questionnaire and to ensure valid responses. 


          D.      The information-gathering process


          Shortly after the second meeting, Dean Grossman finalized the content of the project questionnaire and presented it to the Commission for review during its 92nd period of sessions.  The questionnaire (see Annex) was organized by listing the rights established by the American Convention and the American Declaration.  With respect to each right identified, a series of questions was formulated to serve as a basis to analyze the compatibility of the legislation and practices of the countries of the hemisphere with respect to the rights of women.  In certain cases, the questions sought data for informational purposes, in order to analyze the context in which the theme of women's rights arises.  Where information and statistical data were requested, respondents were requested, to the extent possible, to provide those disaggregated by region, ethnic group and social class.  Additionally, it was requested that data be provided to cover the current situation dating back to 1990.


          The Commission Secretariat began mailing the questionnaire to the member states in July of 1996, with responses requested within six months.  A further opportunity to disseminate the questionnaire presented itself from July 22-26, 1996, when the Special Rapporteur was represented at a regional workshop sponsored by the gender programs division of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights to train approximately 30 representatives of the prominent regional network organization CLADEM. [25]   In the spring of 1997, the Secretariat mailed the questionnaire to over 100 nongovernmental organizations throughout the hemisphere.  Finally, in October of 1997, the Secretariat reiterated its request for information to those Governments that had not yet responded.


          E.       Third Meeting of Experts


          The Special Rapporteur convened a Third Meeting of Experts on November 7, 1997 in Washington D.C.  Approximately two dozen experts from countries throughout the hemisphere participated.  The participants first provided observations on the information gathering process, and the responses to the questionnaire received as of the meeting.  They noted that the quality and scope of the information provided was not consistent, and expressed concern with the lack of specificity of certain responses.  They noted that the questions asked tended toward responses not necessarily taking into account the specific concrete challenges faced by women.  They also indicated that it would be useful to establish mechanisms to identify the source of certain statistical information offered, and to verify the information provided generally.  They observed, in particular, the importance of involving representatives of civil society in information gathering exercises of this nature.  They recognized the difficulty in any fact-gathering exercise of this nature of identifying and defining how discriminatory practices and structures impede the advancement of women.


          The experts observed that the responses pointed out the need for legislative reform, and for the adoption of positive actions and policies aimed at advancing the ability of women to fully exercise their rights.  They offered specific examples and observations on information provided with respect to juridical capacity, as well as with respect to the right to life and physical integrity.


          Finally, the participants discussed future possibilities for the work of the Special Rapporteur on women's rights.  Participants were unanimous in supporting that the Commission continues to devote special attention to this area of its mandate.  They suggested that, in the future, given the Commission's limited human and material resources, it may wish to identify a priority theme or themes around which to adopt a more specific focus.  The experts indicated that, given its status as a priority objective, the eradication of violence

against women would be a constructive focus.  



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[21] . See, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, OEA/Ser.L/V/

II.88, Doc. 10 rev., Feb. 9, 1995, pp. 39-46.

[22] . OEA/Ser.L/V/II.96, Doc. 10 rev. 1, April 24, 1997.

[23] . OEA/Ser.L/V/II.97, Doc. 29 rev. 1, Sept. 29, 1997.

[24] . See, "Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," in Annual Report of the IACHR 1996, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.95, Doc. 7 rev., Mar. 14, 1997, pp. 627-45.

[25] . The workshop proceedings, to which the questionnaire was attached as an annex, were published in Protección Internacional de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (IIDH and CLADEM eds. 1997).