Press Release

IACHR Calls on States to Recognize and Protect the Work of Women Human Rights Defenders

November 29, 2017

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Washington, D.C. — On the occasion of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recognizes the essential role of women human rights defenders in the promotion and protection of human rights in the region. In this regard, the IACHR urges the States of the region to guarantee and support their right to defend rights, and adopt comprehensive, appropriate, and specialized protection measures that include a gender perspective so that women human rights defenders can freely carry out their work.

The IACHR observes with great concern that in recent years defending human rights in the Americas has become an extremely dangerous activity. Human rights defenders are regularly victims of criminalization, arbitrary detentions, killings, attacks, and threats, among other acts of violence. The information received by the IACHR demonstrates the seriousness of the situation in the region: in 2016 three quarters of all killings of human rights defenders in the world occurred in the Americas. Women human rights defenders face specific challenges in carrying out their defense of human rights, including the discrimination they are subject to because of gender stereotypes ascribed to their sex.

The IACHR notes that a context of structural violence and discrimination against women continues to exist in the region. In this context and while defying macho stereotypes that disapprove their participation in public life, women human rights defenders face a situation of particular vulnerability. They are exposed to misogynistic attitudes, threats of sexual aggression, gender-based defamation and questioning their “femininity” or sexuality. In this respect, the stigmatization and delegitimization have a different impact on women human rights defenders, given that many of these acts cause harm and violence to their gender condition. Additionally, in several occasions there is an intersection with racial discrimination when women defenders are indigenous or Afrodescendent.

“States must lay claim to and protect the right of all women to be valued, free of stereotyped patterns of behavior based on concepts of subordination or inferiority, and this includes women human rights defenders,” said Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Women.

It is also troubling that gender-based violence can be exacerbated by political, economic, or social crises, disturbances, humanitarian and natural emergencies, and situations involving degradation or destruction of natural resources. As the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) notes in its Recommendation No. 35, crimes against women human rights defenders are forms of gender-based violence against women.

The IACHR calls to mind that States should publicly and unequivocally recognize the essential role that women human rights defenders have in guaranteeing democracy and the rule of law in society, and should reflect that commitment at all levels of government, whether municipal, state, or national. States should also adopt the necessary measures so that women rights defenders are not stigmatized.

In addition, the IACHR reminds the States that they should adopt specialized protection measures that are adapted to the specific risk factors faced by human rights defenders in the region. “A gender perspective should be integrated into all protection-related legislation, policies, and actions—especially in terms of risk analysis and design and implementation of protection measures,” said the IACHR Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco.

The IACHR urges all States in the hemisphere to ratify and fully implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention of Belem do Pará, which obliges States to apply due diligence to prevent, investigate, penalize, and eradicate all acts of violence against women and to adopt legal measures to prevent any act of harassment, intimidation, or threat or any act that harms or endangers a woman’s life or integrity.

In October 2017, the IACHR and the OHCHR launched a more extensive cooperation plan to address one of the most pressing problems in the Americas: the need to protect human rights defenders. This joint action mechanism intensifies the work done on behalf of human rights defenders, building on their national, regional, and international capacities, drawing on their complementary strengths, and creating stronger connections among their staffs.

Finally, the IACHR urges the Member States that have not done so yet, to sign and ratify the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance and the Inter-American Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, so that indigenous and Afro-descendent women who are human rights defenders can enjoy the greater protection which these Conventions will provide 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 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. 192/17