Human Rights Council Holds Panel Discussion on Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities

OHCHR

Hears the Presentation of Thematic Reports, Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy

The Human Rights Council this morning held a panel discussion on violence against women and girls with disabilities. It also heard the presentation of thematic reports and concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said estimates indicated that there were 700 million women and girls with disabilities in the world today. According to UN Women, the average prevalence rate of disability in the female population was 19.2 per cent, compared to 12 per cent for males, representing about one in five women. Global data on gender-based violence against women with disabilities was limited, which in itself spoke to this invisible crisis and suggested higher risks for women with impairments. According to We Decide, a United Nations Population Fund-led initiative, between 40 and 68 per cent of young women with disabilities experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. There was a need to tackle social and environmental barriers that hindered their full, effective and equal participation and inclusion in all areas of life.

Jarrod Clyne, Human Rights Advisor for the International Disability Alliance, said women and girls with disabilities were subjected to violence both within and outside the home, and by laws, policies and practices of the State which denied them legal capacity, the right to bodily integrity and autonomy, and permitted and sometimes targeted women and girls with disabilities for forced sterilisation, forced abortion, forced contraception, and other forms of involuntary treatment, including institutionalisation.

Ana Peláez Narváez, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said the prevalence of disability was higher among women than among men (19.2 per cent versus 12 per cent). Contributing factors included the lower economic and social status of women and girls, gender-based violence, and harmful and discriminatory practices on the basis of gender. Forms of violence suffered by women and girls with disabilities, such as forced or involuntary pregnancy or sterilisation, among others, could amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Gulmira Kazakunova, Chair of the Union of People with Disabilities “Ravenstvo” (Equality), said that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed by Kyrgyzstan in 2011, ratified in 2019, but no plans to implement it had been adopted and approved. The 2008 law “On the rights and guarantees of persons with disabilities” did not provide implementation mechanisms to ensure that these rights were guaranteed. There were significant obstacles to the implementation of the Convention and the national laws in Kyrgyzstan, such as lack of shelters, inaction of the police, traditional stigmatisation, low State capacity, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maulani Rotinsulu, Chairperson of the Indonesian Association of Women with Disabilities, expressed deep concerns about the pandemic and the increasing violence occurring in that context, particularly, against women with disabilities. The lack of studies that could shed light on gender-based violence against women with disabilities was also a source of worry. She stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic had directly affected all types of disabilities: physical, intellectual, mental, sensory disabilities.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers noted that despite the best efforts of countries, women and girls with disabilities continued to suffer disproportionately from violence and abuse, facing unique and pervasive barriers to the realisation of their human rights. The COVID-19 pandemic had led to a significant worsening of the situation as victims were often confined in the same households as their abusers. The double risks affecting those at the intersection between gender and disability were rarely reflected in disaggregated data, and rarely addressed by national measures; speakers asked about best practices in this regard.

Speaking were Yvonne Dausab, Minister of Justice of Namibia, Finland on behalf of a group of countries, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, Australia on behalf of a group of countries, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Canada, Israel, Fiji, Monaco, United Nations Children’s Fund, Sovereign Order of Malta, France, United Nations Population Fund, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Poland, United Kingdom, Turkey, New Zealand, Burkina Faso, Qatar, Bangladesh, and Bahrain on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The following national human rights institutions and civil society organizations also took the floor: Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Save the Children International, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Edmund Rice International Limited, and Sikh Human Rights Group.

The Council then concluded the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

Speakers stated that increased digitisation and data collection could undermine the right to privacy, if it was not properly regulated, providing examples of national laws and policies to ensure the protection of the right to privacy in this regard. Instances of cybercrime had risen exponentially in parallel to the increase in the use of information and communications technologies during the pandemic. Children’s privacy was of utmost importance to States, as speakers noted how their Governments aimed at protecting this right in every relevant regulation – it was important, however, to bridge the digital divide between nations to make this possible.

Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, in his concluding remarks, said that the time constraints imposed by the Council did not allow him to respond to the meaningful questions posed by some speakers. It was unfortunate that the Council was clinging to procedures that were not fit to purpose. The introduction by the Presidency was nothing more than diplomatic fluff — a foolish attempt to cover up a mistake by the Bureau which had decided to cancel his interactive dialogues even though he had submitted his reports.

Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Human Rights Council, in concluding remarks, said that by following the advice provided, the Special Rapporteur might have avoided the delayed production of his country visit reports. Reiterating the deep regret of the Bureau, and indeed the Council as a whole, at the extensive delays associated with the submission of the six country visit reports considered at this meeting, Ms. Khan noted that the delays threatened the sterling reputation of the Special Procedure mandate holder system. This was unacceptable and must not recur.

Speaking in the discussion on the right to privacy were Malawi, Bahamas, and Cuba.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Australian Human Rights Commission; Sikh Human Rights Group; the Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights – RFSL; Friends World Committee for Consultation; Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit – COC Nederland; Advocates for Human Rights; International Commission of Jurists; CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Alliance Defending Freedom; Geo Expertise Association; and China NGO Network for International Exchanges.

The Council then heard a presentation of reports of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights under item 3.

Peggy Hicks, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented reports on the implementation of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy; the implementation and enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights; the analytical report of the High Commissioner on human rights in the administration of justice; the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women; the Voluntary Fund for Participation in the Universal Periodic Review; the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance in the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review; the quadrennial report on conscientious objection to military service; the report on good practices for establishing national normative frameworks that foster access to information held by public entities; the High Commissioner’s report on the effects of artificial intelligence on the enjoyment of the right to privacy; and the summary report of the High Commissioner on the one-day intersessional meeting with a dialogue on cooperation in strengthening capacities for the prevention of genocide.

Speaking in right of reply at the end of the meeting was the United Kingdom.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will next meet at 3 p.m. to hold separate interactive dialogues under agenda item 4 on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, and on the High Commissioner’s report on the situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Panel Discussion on Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities

Opening Statement

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that estimates indicated that there were 700 million women and girls with disabilities in the world today. According to UN Women, the average prevalence rate of disability in the female population was 19.2 per cent, compared to 12 per cent for males, representing about one in five women. Global data on gender-based violence against women with disabilities was limited, which in itself spoke to this invisible crisis and suggested higher risks for women with impairments. According to We Decide, a United Nations Population Fund-led initiative, between 40 and 68 per cent of young women with disabilities experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. There was a need to tackle social and environmental barriers that hindered their full, effective and equal participation and inclusion in all areas of life. This was an essential prerequisite for the realisation of their rights, including the right to live free of violence.

Women and girls with disabilities should be at the centre of designing, developing and implementing laws, policies and services for the prevention of and the response to the violence that they faced. Isolation was another important factor that increased the vulnerability of women and girls with disabilities, including to violence, which affected them throughout their life cycle, in their homes or in institutions, both online or offline. Institutions, such as long-term care homes, orphanages, and psychiatric institutions, may also expose women and girls with disabilities to particular risks due to their seclusion. The COVID-19 lockdowns had exacerbated the risk factors of violence and abuse against women and girls. However, the Office of the High Commissioner had also received reports on countries’ efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on women with disabilities. Sustainable Development Goal 5 could not be achieved without ending violence against women and girls with disabilities in all their diversity.

Statement by the Moderator of the Panel

JARROD CLYNE, Human Rights Advisor for the International Disability Alliance, said women and girls with disabilities were subjected to violence both within and outside the home, and by laws, policies and practices of the State which denied them legal capacity, and the right to bodily integrity and autonomy, and permitted and sometimes targeted women and girls with disabilities for forced sterilisation, forced abortion, forced contraception, and other forms of involuntary treatment, including institutionalisation. Seeking remedies and accessing justice was often out of reach for women and girls with disabilities, as was their participation in violence prevention and protection programmes. Violence against women and girls with disabilities remained an emergency situation today; it was a cause and consequence of the violation of their rights and their continued marginalisation. This panel was a timely opportunity to discuss the wide-ranging violations experienced by women and girls with disabilities, and reflect on States’ progress in implementing their obligations, and considering good practices in integrating a disability-rights perspective in gender-based violence prevention programmes.

Statements by the Panellists

ANA PELÁEZ NARVÁEZ, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said the prevalence of disability was higher among women than among men (19.2 per cent versus 12 per cent). Contributing factors included the lower economic and social status of women and girls, gender-based violence, and harmful and discriminatory practices on the basis of gender. Forms of violence suffered by women and girls with disabilities could amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment: forced or involuntary pregnancy or sterilisation; medical procedures and interventions without free and informed consent; and invasive and irreversible surgical practices, such as psychosurgery or female genital mutilation. The isolation or confinement, and the separation of sons and daughters from their mothers with disabilities were a clear violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls with disabilities. The lack of accessibility and inclusiveness prevented women and girls with disabilities from accessing events where women’s rights were defended, such as the Generation Equality Forum.

GULMIRA KAZAKUNOVA, Chair of the Union of People with Disabilities “Ravenstvo” (Equality), said that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed by Kyrgyzstan in 2011 and ratified in 2019, but no plans to implement it had been adopted and approved. The 2008 law “On the rights and guarantees of persons with disabilities” did not provide implementation mechanisms to ensure that these rights were guaranteed. A 2019 United Nations Development Programme study had found that the majority of respondents believed that a woman with a disability should marry a man with a disability, while a man with a disability should marry an able-bodied woman. Women were “ashamed” to talk about domestic violence due to the conservative nature of Kyrgyz society, while the 2017 law “On Prevention and Protection from Domestic Violence” did not specify the category of persons with disabilities. There were significant obstacles to the implementation of the Convention and the national laws such as lack of shelters, inaction of the police, traditional stigmatisation, low State capacity, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

MAULANI ROTINSULU, Chairperson of the Indonesian Association of Women with Disabilities, expressed deep concerns about the pandemic and the increasing violence occurring in that context, particularly against women with disabilities. The lack of studies that could shed light on gender-based violence against women with disabilities was also a source of worry. She stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic had directly affected all types of disabilities: physical, intellectual, mental, and sensory disabilities. Lack of access and lack of opportunities in all aspects of life, as well as a lack of reasonable accommodation impeded most persons with disabilities’ ability to take an active part in society. The most vulnerable group to gender-based violence was women on the autism spectrum and those with hearing, vision, psychosocial, or intellectual disorders. Their conditions were compounded by the fact that victims were unlikely to report the offense to authorities because of their limited mobility and communication ability. This could lead to repeated, and long-lasting abuse.

Discussion

Speakers noted that despite the best efforts of countries, women and girls with disabilities continued to suffer disproportionately from violence and abuse, facing unique and pervasive barriers to the realisation of their human rights. The COVID-19 pandemic had led to a significant worsening of the situation as victims were often confined in the same households as their abusers. The double risks affecting those at the intersection between gender and disability were rarely reflected in disaggregated data, and rarely addressed by national measures; speakers asked about best practices in this regard. Despite often being left out of decision-making processes, women were also often the main caregivers for persons with disabilities in many societies. Speakers saluted the diverse roles they took on around the world. Speakers called for the facilitation of the meaningful involvement of women and girls with disabilities throughout the cycle of responses to gender-based violence from prevention to protection of victims, to ensuring access to justice, providing remedy and reparations, and combatting impunity.

Speakers expressed their deep concern about widespread violence against girls with disabilities, manifested, inter alia, in abandonment, neglect, exploitation, coercion, institutionalisation, and forced medical interventions. Emphasising that women with disability were up to 10 times more likely to experience sexual violence, they recalled that the Istanbul Convention was open to ratification. They stressed the importance of access to justice and called for the integration of the rights of women with disabilities in emergency response measures. These women were particularly vulnerable to sexual and reproductive violence; the Council should call for comprehensive sexuality education in the resolution on violence against women with disabilities. Could the panellists share good practices of how States involved persons with disabilities and relevant civil society organizations in the development and implementation of policies and programmes, thus ensuring community participation?

Concluding Remarks

JARROD CLYNE, Human Rights Advisor for the International Disability Alliance, noted that the importance of addressing stereotypes and disaggregating data, as well as the right to be heard and participate in decision-making were key themes addressed during the discussion. The question of how organizations and persons with disabilities could be more included was often brought up, while a wide variety of national measures were presented. The importance of accountability and reparation for victims was also noted. Mr. Clyne invited the panel members to address the wide variety of issues and questions discussed during the dialogue.

ANA PELÁEZ NARVÁEZ, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, noted that there remained a great deal to be done. She shared good practices from her experience: the Office of the High Commissioner had carried out in Guatemala in September 2019 a training session delivered to all staff working for the Government and civil society on how to include the perspective of disability to general policies aimed at women. An organization of women with disabilities in France had created a direct telephone line for women with disabilities affected by violence. Normative legislation prohibiting coercive sterilisation of persons with disabilities in Spain at the end of last year was another good example. Overall, there had not been enough progress. Working directly with women and girls with disabilities via their own organizations was essential, as they often could not participate in these sessions – which was why it was so important that this session was accessible, thanks to Canada. Without inclusion, women and girls with disabilities would be left behind.

GULMIRA KAZAKUNOVA, Chair of the Union of People with Disabilities “Ravenstvo” (Equality), expressing gratefulness for her participation, said while the Government of Kyrgyzstan was professing its commitment to rights, mechanisms for the effective implementation of these rights were lacking. There had also been positive steps: for the first time in 2019, a survey had been compiled in Kyrgyzstan about disabilities; the Union had created shelters for women with disabilities who were victims of violence; a hotline had been put in place; and a summer camp for girls with disabilities had been created. It was unfortunate that these initiatives were not supported by the State. It was crucial to incorporate the needs of women with disabilities in policies, Ms. Kazakunova stressed.

MAULANI ROTINSULU, Chairperson of the Indonesian Association of Women with Disabilities, urged the elimination of sexual violence and the consideration of all forms of discrimination faced by women. She pointed out the challenges that Indonesian civil society faced when it tried to convince parliament to allocate resources to address gender-based violence. In the context of the pandemic, it was urgent for the Government to develop an inclusive protocol on this matter. Furthermore, the State should collect data on cases of gender-based violence and also seek to build capacity within families, so they may be better equipped to deal with this matter.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy

The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy started on Friday, 2 July, and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers stated that increased digitisation and data collection could undermine the right to privacy, if they were not properly regulated, providing examples of national laws and policies to ensure the protection of the right to privacy in this regard. Instances of cybercrime had risen exponentially in parallel to the increase in the use of information and communication technologies during the pandemic. Children’s privacy was of utmost importance to States, as speakers noted how their Governments aimed at protecting this right in every relevant regulation – it was important, however, to bridge the digital divide between nations to make this possible. Artificial intelligence was driving a silent revolution, with governments and companies using it in many areas of life, including policing. While promising to enable better decisions, it could lead to real harm and threaten human rights. Speakers called for urgent action, including a moratorium on the use of facial recognition in certain cases.

The report on artificial intelligence was welcomed by speakers as a good first step on this issue. The private sector profited from the extraction of data – it would thus be difficult to ensure companies would comply with any regulation that sought to protect the right to privacy. No artificial intelligence could fully replace human judgement, especially when it came to judicial procedures. Gender-based breaches of privacy were discriminatory but unfortunately still common around the world. The Special Rapporteur’s acknowledgement of the importance of non-heteronormative gender and sexual orientation in affecting how privacy was experienced was welcomed by speakers, who noted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals and activists suffered disproportionately from invasions of privacy. The inclusion of children of incarcerated parents in his report was also welcomed, as speakers noted that their rights were often disregarded. How could States best ensure that reporting by the media protected the privacy of these children?

Concluding Remarks

JOSEPH CANNATACI, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, stated that his findings were based on evidence, and were respectful of cultures and traditions but put human rights above all else. The time constraints imposed by the Council did not allow him to respond to the meaningful questions posed by some speakers. It was unfortunate that the Council was clinging to procedures that were not fit to purpose. The introduction by the Presidency was nothing more than diplomatic fluff — a foolish attempt to cover up a mistake by the Bureau which had decided to cancel his interactive dialogues even though he had submitted his reports. Mr. Cannataci said the Council was losing itself in procedural wrangling as different factions of the Council sought to score points. He added that the focus on substance had been lost, as an inadequate amount of time had been allocated for the presentation of the report. The interactive dialogue was neither interactive nor a dialogue; delegations were not listening to him nor to each other. In that regard, the Special Rapporteur underscored that the intervention by the Russian Federation was typical of actions that brought that country and the Council into disrepute. Considering that each of the reports he had presented had been updated, why did the Presidency not curtail or discipline the Russian Federation for making statements that were false?

NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, noted that all other Special Procedures mandate holders, relied on and continued to rely on, the consolidated and well-established working methods which enabled them to deal with rapidly evolving matters and to present their reports in a reasonable time after their visits took place. By following the advice provided, the Special Rapporteur might have avoided the delayed production of his country visit reports. Reiterating the deep regret of the Bureau, and indeed the Council as a whole, at the extensive delays associated with the submission of the six country visit reports considered at this meeting, Ms. Khan noted that the delays threatened the sterling reputation of the Special Procedure mandate holder system. This was unacceptable and must not recur.

Presentation of Thematic Reports

Reports

The Council has before it the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights under item 3 on the administration of justice (A/HRC/47/75) as well as the report on international cooperation (A/HRC/47/47) in the field of human rights.

The Council also had before it four notes of the Secretariat relating to the following four reports on the quadrennial report on conscientious objection to military service (A/HRC/47/41); good practices for establishing national normative frameworks that foster access to information held by public entities (A/HRC/47/48); the effects of artificial intelligence on the enjoyment of the right to privacy (A/HRC/47/60); and summary report of the High Commissioner on the one-day intersessional meeting with a dialogue on cooperation in strengthening capacities for the prevention of genocide (A/HRC/47/61).

The Council also had before it a report of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women on the activities of the United Nations Trust Fund in support of actions to eliminate violence against women (A/HRC/47/20), and a report about the Operations of the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance in the Implementation of the Universal Periodic Review (A/HRC/47/19).

Presentation of the Reports

PEGGY HICKS, Director of Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, addressing the implementation of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, said that the Office had increased performance in monitoring and accountability mechanisms, and had adopted its first United Nations Human Rights Disability Rights Strategy. It had also met requirements related to the institutional set up indicator, as it had created a focal point network of some 50 people at headquarters and in the field. Turning to the High Commissioner’s report on the implementation and enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, she said it highlighted that realising the pledge to leave no one behind must be grounded in the fulfilment of human rights obligations as pathways to lasting peace and sustainable development.

Drawing attention to the analytical report of the High Commissioner on human rights in the administration of justice, she said it considered how prison overcrowding had exacerbated health risks during the pandemic, by exposing the inability of many prison systems to provide people deprived of liberty with the necessities they needed to survive, including water, personal hygiene facilities, food and medicine. Introducing the report on the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, she pointed out that the Fund had responded immediately to the human rights crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with an approach designed by the voices of the UN Trust Fund’s 2020 portfolio of 150 grantee civil society and women’s rights organizations. The report on the Voluntary Fund for Participation in the Universal Periodic Review noted that the Fund had continued to ensure the full participation of States, especially from developing or least developed States and small island developing States, providing travel assistance to delegates from 10 States.

The Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance in the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review had focussed on assisting, inter alia, implementation of key Universal Periodic Review recommendations and strengthening of parliamentary capacities for implementation. In addition, the Council had before it four notes of the Secretariat relating to the following four reports: the quadrennial report on conscientious objection to military service; the report on good practices for establishing national normative frameworks that fostered access to information held by public entities; the High Commissioner’s report on the effects of artificial intelligence on the enjoyment of the right to privacy; and the summary report of the High Commissioner on the one-day intersessional meeting with a dialogue on cooperation in strengthening capacities for the prevention of genocide.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/07/le-conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-se-penche-sur-le-probleme-de

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