• Sheet of paper Report

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

November 20, 2013




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.

The ways in which women experience human rights abuses are unique. While human rights are often understood as the rights that everyone has by virtue of their humanity, the assumption that all humans have the same experiences and needs is particularly problematic for women.

Historically, states have assumed responsibility for human rights violations only when state agents or officials were the perpetrators, and certain forms of violence against women by state agents have been acknowledged as torture. However, women more often face abuses from non-state actors, such as their employers, partners, husbands, families, friends, and community members. It is critical to note that whether abuses against women are committed by state or non-state actors, in the public or private spheres, the state is obliged to condemn, prevent and punish all acts of violence against women and to take measures to empower women.

Human rights abuses against women are often complicated by further discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, caste, culture, or age. The type and prevalence of violence and discrimination that women experience are often determined by how their gender interacts with these and other factors.

Amnesty International USA urges the United States to take concrete policy steps to help end gender-based violence globally.

We see progress on two of our past recommendations to the Commission – the promulgation of both a U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally and a U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. But much work remains to be done.

Amnesty International has recommended four U.S. policy initiatives which will make a significant impact in the work to end gender-based violence globally. These are:

  • Passage of the Women, Peace and Security Act,
  • U.S. promotion of reform of laws and policies that discriminate against women and girls,
  • U.S. ratification of CEDAW and finally
  • Passage of the International Violence Against Women Act which makes ending violence against women and girls a top U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance priority. The Act would codify and implement the U.S Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. The Act provides a comprehensive framework which would support survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and prevent violence while ensuring that U.S. foreign aid is used in the most cost-effective and impactful way possible.

Amnesty's recent report on Egyptian women provides us with a poignant example of why this legislation is necessary.

Dalia Abdel Wahab, went to Tahrir Square in Cairo on January 25th to exercise her right to protest. Dalia's life was threatened as she was beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob of men. Like the many other women who have faced gender-based violence while peacefully protesting in Tahrir Square, her attackers have not been brought to justice.

A life free from violence is a fundamental human right. Yet nearly a billion women around the world will not have that freedom.

To affect real change in the lives of women globally, action is needed now, and the United States must continue to be a leader on this issue by passing legislation such as the International Violence Against Women Act.

Chairmen McGovern, Wolf, and members of the Commission, on behalf of Dalia, myself and the nearly one billion women around the world who have experienced gender-based violence; I thank you for holding this important hearing and urge you to take swift action.

Thank you.