Oral Testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on GBV

November 20, 2013

Oral Testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on GBV

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Thank you Chairman McGovern and Chairman Wolf, and to the staff of the Commission for their hard work to hold this hearing and for the leadership of the Commission to help end gender based violence globally.

Amnesty International USA is pleased to testify at this important and timely hearing. Today I'd like to focus my testimony on the international human rights framework that exists to address gender based violence, and offer recommendations on concrete actions that the United States Government can take to help prevent and end the violence.

Our organization's campaigns to end gender based violence around the world have produced hundreds of reports documenting these human rights abuses; offered detailed recommendations for action by governments, non-state actors, and international organizations, and clearly illustrated the connection between this violence and other violations of human rights around the world. Amnesty International's two most recent reports focused on violations in Syria and Egypt.

Violence against women takes many forms, including rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and acid attacks to name a few. It's a global human rights crisis that exacerbates instability and insecurity around the world.

But is also an issue that affects individual women intimately. UN statistics show that one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. A shocking number and in my opinion a vast underestimation of the true number of women affected. I count myself among those women. As a survivor of gender-based violence myself, I know first-hand the effect this violence can and does have on women's lives and the lives of those around them.

Over the last 25 years, violence against women has increasingly been understood and accepted as a human rights issue. Whereas violence was previously dismissed as an unpreventable consequence of war, cultural norm, or simply a private matter, the international community has acknowledged that women and girls often are targets of abuse because of their gender – whether in conflict, where rape is often used as a weapon of war, in communities and schools, or in the home where violence occurs within the family. These crimes are now recognized as human rights abuses that cannot be justified by war, culture or tradition and which governments must prevent, prohibit and punish.

The rights of all women as human beings, around the world, were first and most fundamentally recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Adopted in 1948 by the UN General Assembly, the UDHR states in clear and simple terms rights that belong equally to all people in all nations, "without distinction of any kind such as race, color, sex, language...or any other status."

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (or CEDAW) is the first and only international treaty to comprehensively address women's rights within political, cultural, economic, social and family spheres. Other international instruments and resolutions address specific aspects of women's human rights including the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW) which sets forth ways in which governments should act to prevent violence; the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which was the first international treaty to identify crimes against women as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and in some instances, genocide, the Geneva Conventions which designate rape and other acts of sexual violence as war crimes, and grave breaches of the Conventions; the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; and finally UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent related resolutions which emphasize the responsibility of all states to put an end to impunity and violence and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes relating to sexual and other violence against women.