International Women's Day: IACHR Calls on States to Guarantee Principle of Enhanced Due Diligence and Right to Access to Justice During COVID-19 Pandemic

March, 8, 2021

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Washington, DC - On International Women's Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on States to guarantee women's access to justice, due process, and judicial protection during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring continuity in service provision, the adoption of alternative response and reporting mechanisms, and the administration of justice with a gender perspective.

The IACHR emphasizes that, despite the fact that the various inter-American and international human rights instruments, especially the Convention of Belém Do Pará, establish that women of all ages have the right to live a life free of violence and discrimination, it has observed with concern how physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women has escalated during the pandemic. According to public information sources and monitoring by international organizations specializing in this field, at least 1,400 women are reported to have been murdered in the region during lockdown measures to contain the pandemic.

To counteract this violence, the IACHR has issued a series of recommendations in its thematic reports, including Violence and Discrimination Against Women and Girls, press releases, and resolutions such as Resolution 1 and Resolution 4 of 2020. In these instruments, the IACHR underlines that it is States' duty to ensure access to justice and enhanced due diligence. In this regard, they must prevent, provide protection from, investigate, sanction, and provide redress for all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination, with support from competent, impartial authorities with training in this area, including on gender identity and specialized care for victims.

However, in press release 284/20, the IACHR discussed how judicial operators often do not comply with inter-American standards as they reinforce gender stereotypes and refuse to acknowledge sexual and gender-based violence as a violation of physical and psychological integrity. Furthermore, in the context of the pandemic, the IACHR noted with concern how jurisdictional and prosecutorial activities have been suspended, which has had direct consequences on the protection of the human rights of women and girls.

Furthermore, it received information that some States in the region have adopted alternative reporting mechanisms for cases of gender-based violence, including the use of instant messaging services and social media platforms. The IACHR expressed its appreciation for these initiatives and called on States to continue implementing alternative reporting mechanisms. However, it noted the importance of taking into account the ongoing digital divide in the region and the linguistic, communicational, and cultural needs of women of all ages, while also considering how these intersect with the identities of groups in particularly vulnerable predicaments, such as indigenous and tribal women, women of African descent, and people with disabilities.

The IACHR also urged States to establish specialist institutions to address gender-based violence and strengthen the comprehensive protection of women victims of violence by guaranteeing shelters and refuges, along with other discrimination-free practices to assist lesbian, bisexual, trans, and intersex individuals, in accordance with the principle of equality and the right to gender identity found in the jurisprudence of the IA Court.

Likewise, the IACHR urged States to include the gender perspective in pandemic-response measures, which may obstruct women's access to justice. This entails analyzing the direct and indirect impacts such measures from an intersectional perspective, taking into account historic and structural factors of vulnerability such as age, ethnic-racial origin, migration status, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and bodily diversity.

Finally, the IACHR called again on States to urgently adopt legislation, public policies, programs, and judicial protection mechanisms that include a gender perspective and an intersectional approach to prevent, respond to, and remedy acts of violence and discrimination against women; and to redouble their efforts to create a cultural shift toward nondiscrimination while strengthening the judicial remedies available to provide adequate redress for victims.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 052/21