Press Release

20th Anniversary of Adoption of the Convention of Belém do Para June 9, 2014

June 9, 2014

Washington, D.C. - Washington, D.C . - On the 20th anniversary of the Convention of Belém do Pará, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights wishes to recognize the significant impact of this instrument in the development of gender equality standards in the inter-American system of human rights. It is a key tool to overcome the persistent challenges to the full exercise of women's rights in the hemisphere.

Applying the provisions of the Convention of Belém do Pará, the Commission and the Court have adopted a series of decisions and recommendations addressing paradigmatic issues affecting women in the Americas. These decisions have developed the content of the right of women to live free from violence and discrimination and the duty of States to act with due diligence to ensure effective access to justice when violations of these rights occur. These decisions have delved into specific challenges such as the different modalities of violence women may face; the multiple forms of discrimination a woman can suffer on the basis of her sex and other factors such as age, ethnicity and race; and challenges to gender equality in the family; among others. The adoption of the Convention of Belém do Pará and the creation by the IACHR of the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women opened a very important space at the Commission to develop standards related to women's rights issues in general.

The decisions of the inter-American human rights system in the area of gender equality have supported tangible advances in protection at the national level. The Commission's decision in the Maria da Penha Maia Fernandes case (2001) played a key role in the adoption of stronger legislation to combat domestic violence in Brazil and promoted a national dialogue on the need for integral strategies to address this pervasive and destructive human rights problem. The Commission's decision in the case of Maria Eugenia Morales de Sierra (2001) prompted important reforms in the provisions of the civil code of Guatemala concerning the rights and responsibilities of men and women in the area of family law. The friendly settlement facilitated by the Commission in the case of Maria Merciadri di Morini (2001) resulted in the issuance of a decree to ensure the effective implementation of legislation ensuring adequate opportunities for women's participation in political life in Argentina. In Mexico, the Cotton Field judgment (2009) of the Inter-American Court has given rise to new measures of investigation and prevention, and the decisions in the cases of the Gonzalez Pérez Sisters (2001), Inés Fernández Ortega (2010) and Valentina Rosendo Cantú (2010), lead to reforms restricting the scope of military jurisdiction over human rights violations.

The Convention of Belém do Pará has required and supported the adoption of legislation, public policies, programs and practices at the national level in different countries in the Americas. In 2011, the Commission documented and analyzed in its report “Legal Standards Related to Gender Equality and Women's Rights in the Inter-American System Human Rights System: Development and Application” judgments adopted by domestic tribunals in 17 countries in the Americas referring to provisions of the Convention of Belém do Pará to advance the rights of women.

Even though the adoption of the Convention of Belém do Pará has opened the door to the development of gender equality standards in the system, there is still a very steep path ahead when it comes to full compliance with the decisions of the Commission and the Court, and the full protection of women's rights in the hemisphere. According to figures released by the World Health Organization in 2013, violence against women is a problem of epidemic proportions requiring urgent action, with 35% of women worldwide having experienced physical and/or sexual violence. There is still a gap between the formal efforts employed by States to address these problems and the daily lives of women in our hemisphere. There is insufficient political will to prioritize the rights of women, and scarce public resources devoted to these issues. The institutional response to women's rights issues tends to be homogeneous, not recognizing the differences among women. Women still lack basic information to exercise their human rights, and suffer discrimination on the basis of multiple factors such as their sex, age, ethnicity, race, economic position and others. They face formidable barriers to exercise their rights to education, health and employment, to reach decision-making positions, and to defend their own human rights in secure conditions. They bear the brunt of the impunity for the violence they have suffered in the past and that which they suffer in the present.

All of these problems illustrate that the provisions of the Convention of Belém do Pará are still as relevant today as they were twenty years ago. The Commission takes advantage of this opportunity to encourage the universal ratification of the Convention of Belém do Pará, and the adoption by States of prompt measures to fully implement the standards adopted by the inter-American system interpreting the scope of the obligations contained in the Convention. This process should be undertaken by States in consultation and with the participation of the women who are affected by violence and discrimination, and the organizations that represent them.

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 matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 65/14