Press Release

IACHR Presents Report on Access to Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence: Education and Health

June 12, 2012

Washington, D.C., - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented today the report Access to Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence: Education and Health. The report analyzes the problem of sexual violence in the educational and health institutions in the Americas and the challenges in access to justice for victims of this violence.

As established in the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, or “Convention of Belém do Pará”, the States have the responsibility of acting to fight discrimination and violence against women in all spheres. Notwithstanding, the IACHR report indicates that sexual violence persists against women and girls in the spheres of education and health. The report also found under-reporting of the phenomenon and impunity in the majority of the cases. The report further indicates this type of violence is tolerated by the society given the framework of very hierarchical gender relations. The report identifies girls, indigenous women, women with disabilities and women affected by armed conflict as groups at particular risk to human rights violations.

In the case of education, sexual violence tends to be regarded as the natural order of things and as part of discipline and punishment. In the sphere of health, the problem of sexual violence committed by physicians and health-care professionals is virtually invisible. This is due to insufficient norms, procedures for filing complaints and disciplinary investigation in hospitals and health care centers. It is also attributable to inadequate statistics as well as to the meager information available on the rights of patients.

The IACHR emphatically reasserts its profound concern over the fact that sexual violence committed against women and girls in educational and health-care institutions still enjoys social acceptance and that the vast majority of these acts are never punished. Even today, this kind of violence in these settings prevents many women and girls across the Americas from fully exercising their rights to education and health.

In order to comply with their international human rights obligations, the States must adapt their legislation, public policies and practices and substantially improve their protection systems and the access to justice for victims of this phenomenon. The IACHR reminds the States their obligation to adopt measures in order to make compatible their norms and practices with the American Declaration, the Inter-American Convention, and other international instruments for the protection of human rights, and to comply with the Convention of Belém do Pará, which establishes the obligation for the States to protect women from violence in all its forms and in all spheres, in order to ensure that they can freely exercise their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.

The report contains urgent recommendations that seek to address sexual violence as an extreme form of discrimination and to ensure the basic guarantee of access to justice. The recommendations aim to improve the judicial response to acts of violence committed against women in educational institutions and health-care institutions. The Commission urges the States to overcome lingering cultural and legal obstacles to prevent and – failing that – to investigate and punish acts of sexual violence committed against women and girls in these settings. In addition, the IACHR calls on the States to create the conditions that enable women to use the justice systems to remedy the acts of violence they suffer and to be treated respectfully and decently by public officials. The Commission also calls upon the States to adopt public policies intended to put a stop to cultural patterns that regard sexual violence as the norm or that trivialize it.

This report was prepared with the financial support of the Government of Finland. Finland’s donation allowed the Commission to organize a working meeting with experts and to conduct an onsite visit as part of the research for the elaboration of this report, as well as to finance its translation and print reproduction.

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 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. 64/12