Commemorating IWD 2015 in the Euro-Med: Zero Impunity for Violence Against Women!

Economic & Social Rights, Egypt, Factsheet, Impunity/Accountability, International Women's Day (IWD), Israel / OPT, Libya, Morocco / Western Sahara, Shrinking Space for Civil Society, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Violence against Women, Women’s rights and gender justice

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In anticipation of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, the EMHRN exhorts governments across the Euromed to seize this opportunity to renew their commitment to zero impunity for violence against women, with a particular focus on women’s rights defenders. The CSW session starts on March 9th and marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The EMHRN is extremely concerned by the increase in reports on violence against women, including women’s rights defenders in the south and east Mediterranean region. We have documented numerous incidents of rape, sexual violence and sexual harassment all across the region (link to regional VAW report). Harrowing cases of abduction, selling and killing of women also give reason for deep concern. Violence is used as a conscious political and social strategy to dissuade women from participating in public life and undermines the creation of just and equal societies. The EMHRN deplores the lack of specific legislation for protection of women against violence and denounces the laws adopted by some governments justifying violence  The level of violence against women in Europe, although on a different scale, is also an issue of great concern.

EMHRN recalls the recent case of Egyptian female activist Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh who was shot dead on 24 January in Cairo as riot police were trying to break-up a small, peaceful demonstration she was taking part in. Lawyer and activist Azza Soliman, who witnessed the incident was subsequently judicially harassed when she tried to deposit her testimony at the prosecutor’s office. These recent examples serve as illustrations of the violence and harassment that contributes to dissuading women from participating in public life, as did the wave of mob violence, gang rape and sexual assaults of women participating in popular manifestations both during and following the 25 January 2011 Egyptian revolution. So far, impunity for these crimes largely prevails as no one has been convicted neither for the murder of Shaimaa Al-Sabaggh nor for the many instances of rape and sexual assault on women during demonstrations over the past four years.

In another recent case in Turkey, 20-year old student Özgecan Aslan was found killed and burnt in a riverbed in the city of Mersin in Turkey after having been allegedly kidnapped and attempted raped by a bus driver. This comes against a backdrop of a sharp increase in violence against women in Turkey over the past decade, as stated by local women’s rights organisations, who recount about 300 women killed at the hands of men and more than 100 raped, this past year alone in Turkey.

The conflict in Syria has seen the gradual instrumentalisation of women as a weapon of war and terror as well as their increased use as bargaining chips in prisoners swap. The Syrian government and various armed groups operating in the country continue to arbitrarily detain women, including female activists, in appalling and dehumanising conditions. Women held in governmental detention facilities are packed into overcrowded dark cells regardless of their age or health condition, deprived of right to fair trial and subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment. In areas controlled by the so-called Islamic State group, women’s basic freedoms have been dramatically undermined through the imposition of a strict interpretation of Islamic Shariaa. In this context, women have been stoned in public, amongst other atrocities aimed at insinuating fear in society.

In Libya, the human rights lawyer, Salwa Bugaighis was shot dead in her home on 26 June 2014.

More recently, Intissar El Hassairi was found murdered in the trunk of her car on 24 February 2015. Intissar El Hassairi was the founder of the TANWIR Movement for Peace and Culture in Libya.

In Palestine, 293 women were indiscriminately killed during the war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, and thousands more were injured.  Women also continue to suffer under the double discrimination and violence of the occupying power and the patriarchal values and norms within their own society. Furthermore, 2014 saw the imprisoning of the youngest female Palestinian, 14-year old Malak Al-Khatib, who was sentenced to two months in prison for allegedly trying to attack Israeli soldiers in her village of Beiteen.

Everywhere in the south and east Mediterranean region legislation largely remains discriminatory towards women as well as permissive towards violence such as rape, marital rape, forced and early marriage, domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment and female genital mutilation. In Tunisia, a promising comprehensive law on combatting violence against women is currently stalled due to opposition from the Islamic Enahda party. Similarly, in Morocco, a law on violence against women was submitted to the Cabinet in November 2013 but its adoption postponed by a commission appointed by the prime minister to analyse the text. In general, legislation across the region fails to properly protect women, and where legislation is in place, lack of implementation and a widespread culture of impunity prevent women from having access to justice.

In Europe, the situation of violence against women is still considered the most widespread violation of women’s rights. A year ago, in March 2014, the European Union (EU) Fundamental Rights Agency published the outcomes of its survey on violence against women in the EU. The survey shows, that one in three women aged 15 or over has experienced physical and/or sexual violence; one in five women has experienced stalking and one in two women has been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment. Furthermore, 5% of women aged 15 or over reported having been raped. The rise in conservatism and the enduring negative effects of the economic crisis on women’s employment and access to services also continues to undermine gender equality and expose women to the risk of violence.

In light of the above, the EMHRN urges States, governments, provisional governments and bodies in the Euro-Mediterranean region as well as the EU to:

  • Renew their commitment to the Beijing Platform of Action on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, particularly the strategic objectives and actions on combatting violence against women, by taking concrete action to fight impunity and promote accountability for violence against women
  • Renew their commitment to UNSCR 1325 on women and armed conflict on the occasion of its 15th anniversary, by taking action to address sexual violence in conflicts and increase women’s participation in peace processes and political institutions
  • Make use of the opportunity of the 20th anniversary of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership to take action to fight impunity and ensure accountability for violence against women in the Euro-Med region
  • To ensure that the revised European Neighborhood Policy of the EU includes initiatives and instruments to combat violence and impunity for violence against women in the EUs partnership with its southern and eastern neighbors
  • Ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence with no delay

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