Image Attribution: Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos from Washington, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Pictured above is Dubravka Šimonović, the former Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (2015 – 2021).
“Femicide, or gender-related killings of women, constitutes the most extreme form of violence against women and the most violent manifestation of discrimination against women.” – United Nations, Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner
Human rights are not granted by any government nor state, but are inherent rights we have simply because we exist as human beings. They include the fundamental right to life. Human rights are universal and inalienable, meaning that all people are equally entitled to them and they should not be taken away without due process. A study conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (“UNODC”) revealed that the gender-related killings of women and girls remain a grave problem, with women making up eighty-two percent of victims killed by an intimate partner.
On March 4th, 1994, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights appointed a Special Rapporteur on violence against women, including its causes and consequences. This represented an important benchmark within the global women’s rights movement as the first independent human rights mechanism on the elimination of violence against women. The mandate was renewed in 2019.
One of the main initiatives of the Special Rapporteur was the femicide watch prevention initiative, which aimed to foster the creation of bodies to monitor and better inform governments’ responses to and prevention of femicide. The femicide watch initiative’s overall aim “is to contribute to the prevention of femicide…through the collection of comparable data at the national, regional and global levels and to contribute to the prevention of these killings through analyses of cases by national multidisciplinary bodies…” The Special Rapporteur recommended that participating states collect data using three broad categories: intimate-partner and family-related femicide; femicide based on the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator; and other femicides according to local context. In 2015, the Special Rapporteur issued a call for all states to establish a femicide watch and to publish on November 25th of each year the number of femicides committed annually.
The second main initiative implemented by the Special Rapporteur was the Platform of Independent Expert Mechanisms on the Elimination of Discrimination and Violence against Women (“EDVAW Platform”). It was established to promote collaboration and coordination between the United Nations and regional expert mechanisms on violence against women. On November 25, 2018, the EDVAW Platform issued a call for the “…intensification of international, regional and national efforts for the prevention of femicide and gender-based violence.” Its experts urged all stakeholders “to guarantee every woman and girl a life free from violence…”
In a 2021 report to the 76th session of the General Assembly, Dubravka Šimonović, the then Special Rapporteur, took stock of the progress made by the femicide watch initiative. They noted that significant progress has been made since the Special Rapporteur first issued her call towards the creation of different types of bodies that monitor femicide and violence against women. These various observatories have expanded institutional capacity to understand and prevent femicide. In 2016, the Georgian Office of the Public Defender set up a femicide watch which publishes yearly reports that analyze cases of gender-based murders, attempted murders, and suicides of women so that it can identify gaps in the victim protection mechanisms in place and make recommendations to relevant agencies. Also in 2016, the Argentinian Office of the National Ombudsman established a femicide observatory following an amendment to the Criminal Code of Argentina in 2012 that made femicide a separate category of aggravated homicide and following the first national femicide registry that was established by the Supreme Court in 2015. In addition to these, many other countries have made progress towards creating their own femicide prevention bodies.
Although progress has been made, the Special Rapporteur made recommendations on ways to further enhance data collection and reduce the instances of femicide. They noted that states should establish femicide watches or observatories and collect and publish comparable data each year, they should promote collaboration with civil society organizations and other entities collecting data and producing information on femicide, that data should be widely disseminated particularly among legislators and government officials, and states should gather data during the COVID-19 pandemic and conduct a comparison between femicide figures before and during the pandemic. The Special Rapporteur recommended that the United Nations system continue its work in developing a statistical framework and supporting the collection of data across countries with harmonized collection methodologies, and that it should focus on the establishment of national preventative bodies to recommend prevention strategies to be incorporated into laws and practices. Finally, they noted that states and United Nations bodies should strongly support and collaborate with the EDVAW Platform.
Author Biography: Amanda Bini is a senior moderator of the International Law Society’s International Law and Policy Brief (ILPB) and a J.D. candidate at The George Washington University Law School (GW). She has Bachelor of Science Degrees in Criminal Justice and Business Administration from Northeastern University. She is also a junior staff member of GW’s Federal Circuit Bar Journal.