THE WOMEN'S RIGHTS PROJECT
The Women's Rights Project of Human Rights Watch was established in 1990 to work in conjunction with Human Rights Watch's regional divisions to monitor violence against women and discrimination on the basis of sex that is either committed or tolerated by governments. The project grew out of Human Rights Watch's recognition of the epidemic proportions of violence and gender discrimination around the world and of the past failure of human rights organizations, and the international community, to hold governments accountable for abuses of women's basic human rights. The project monitors the performance of specific countries in securing and protecting women's human rights, highlights individual cases of international significance, and serves as a link between women's rights and human rights communities at both national and international levels.
Human Rights Developments
This section does not evaluate progress in women's human rights throughout the world, but describes developments in countries most closely monitored by the Project in 1994: Thailand, Turkey, Haiti, Botswana, Former Yugoslavia, and Kenya.
In December 1993, the Women's Rights Project and Human Rights Watch/Asia released A Modern Form of Slavery: Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Thai Brothels. The report documented the active participation of Thai police and immigration officials in every stage of trafficking operations. Those operations continued largely unchanged throughout 1994. To date, not a single police officer has been criminally punished for complicity in trafficking or forced prostitution. Burmese women and girls interviewed for the report also alleged that Burmese border guards frequently accept bribes to allow traffickers to pass unhindered with their victims.
In addition to official involvement in forced prostitution, the report also criticized Thai police raids that generally result in the discriminatory arrest of women and girls, while owners, pimps, clients and police collaborators go free. Burmese women and girls who are thus "rescued" through police raids are routinely detained as illegal immigrants rather than protected as trafficking victims. Most are held in immigration detention centers and penal reform institutions under appalling conditions that fail to comply with international standards and Thai law, and that violate the detainees' due process rights. There have also been credible reports that immigration detention officials have, with impunity, themselves sexually and physically abused Burmese women and girls in custody, and tested them for the AIDS virus without their informed consent.
A Modern Form of Slavery generated intense international criticism of the Thai government's failure to control in any meaningful way the problem of trafficking and forced prostitution. In response, the Thai government is undertaking several steps of questionable use. First, the police have stepped up raids on brothels. According to a press report, the Thai Interior Ministry announced to the Thai Cabinet that the police had conducted nearly 3,000 raids on brothels and arrested over 3,400 people on prostitution charges between February and April 1994. All of those arrested were reportedly sent to occupational training centers, suggesting that women and girls, rather than the mostly male intermediaries, continue to be the primary target of the official crackdown on the illegal sex industry.
Second, in July 1994, Thailand's Cabinet of Ministers approved draft legislation to reform the anti-prostitution law to increase prison sentences and fines against convicted recruiters, brothel owners and managers, pimps and those who detain women for prostitution. The new law, which is currently being deliberated in Parliament, would also provide for the first time criminal penalties against clients, with the severity of the sentence varying according to the age of the victim. However, as women's rights activists in Thailand have repeatedly noted, the problem is not with the letter of the law, but rather with lack of enforcement.
The failure of the Thai police to respond effectively to forced prostitution was again highlighted on July 16, 1994 by the death of a fifteen-year-old girl in the Hat Yai police station in Songkhla province. The girl committed suicide after allegedly escaping from a brothel to seek help from the police. A Thai Interior Ministry committee that investigated her death concluded that the Hat Yai police had been derelict in their protection duties.
Following widespread media coverage of the suicide, the Thai government established a special police unit in August 1994 to eradicate prostitution of anyone under eighteen years old. The potential effectiveness of this unit remains to be seen, given the unwillingness and inability of the police to discipline their own thus far.
In June 1994, the Women's Rights Project released a report on the Turkish government's use of forced gynecological exams to control women's virginity. The report, "A Matter of Power: State Control of Women's Virginity in Turkey," revealed how police agents force Turkish female political detainees and common criminal suspects to undergo gynecological examinations for the purpose of determining the status of their hymens. State officials, who place no similar emphasis on male virginity, have also subjected female hospital patients, state dormitory residents and women applying for government jobs to such exams. They also perform virginity exams instigated by private individuals.
Despite pledges to address this problem, the Turkish government has, to our knowledge, taken no steps to end its involvement in forced virginity exams. On the contrary, we receive reports that this practice is continuing.
In July 1994, Human Rights Watch/Americas and the Women's Rights Project, together with the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees (NCHR), released Rape in Haiti: A Weapon of Terror. The report documents the use of rape and physical assault, with impunity, as political weapons against women by Haitian soldiers, police and their armed civilian auxiliaries (known as attachés). These agents of the Cédras regime committed rape to punish and intimidate women believed to support then-exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and to punish them for their actual or imputed political beliefs and the activities of their male relatives.
The greatest number of rapes documented by Human Rights Watch and NCHR were attributable to attachés, followed by police and soldiers. To a lesser extent, zenglendos (bands of armed thugs) also attacked women, sometimes in random acts of violence, but usually with the tacit protection of the military and police. Regardless of who the assailants were, they almost always plundered and robbed the victim's home and assaulted other family members, in addition to raping and assaulting women.
In an August 1993 incident, a group of attachés, armed police and armed soldiers broke into the home of a Port-au-Prince woman, looking for her father-in-law, a known Aristide supporter. In addition to attempting to rape the woman, the intruders shot and killed her twenty-three-month-old daughter, and sexually molested her cousin.
In another case, in 1992, a woman was raped by a policeman when a group of soldiers and police broke down the door to her house searching for her husband, a member of the National Front for Change and Democracy. The armed men accused the husband of distributing pro-Aristide materials, destroyed the house probing for corroborating evidence, and accused the family of being lavalas (a reference to the broad-based popular movement that elected Aristide). When the husband returned during this incident, they took him to a local police station where he was brutally beaten, tortured, and interrogated before being released without charge the next morning.
Agents of the de facto military regime also harassed and intimidated women's rights organizations. All women's rights groups that we interviewed reported a dramatic drop in membership, which they attributed to fear of reprisal for being associated with any popular organization. Their fear was not without basis. The headquarters of one women's rights group in Port-au-Prince was burned down. The leader of another such organization received a call threatening rape from a man who identified himself as aligned with the military authorities.
The military regime's response to increasing allegations of rape was virtual silence. It neither publicly denounced rape committed by its agents nor punished those responsible. The absence of official accountability left women with little hope of legal redress and deepened their reluctance to report sexual and physical abuse. To our knowledge, the Haitian criminal justice system, then under the de facto control of the military, has not investigated a single incidence of rape by state agents.
In September, the Women's Rights Project and Human Rights Watch/Africa released "Second Class Citizens: Discrimination Against Women Under Botswana's Citizenship Act." The report condemned the Botswana government_often cited as one of the most successful democracies in Africa_for discriminating against women in its Citizenship Act. It further accused the Botswana government of undermining the rule of law and independence of the judiciary by continuing to enforce this law in defiance of a ruling by the country's highest court that a part of it is unconstitutional on grounds of sex discrimination.
Ruling in the 1992 landmark case Attorney General v. Unity Dow, a judge on the Court of Appeal, Botswana's highest court, wrote: "The language of [section 4 of the Citizenship Act] is extremely clear and the effect is incontrovertible, namely that whilst the offspring of a Botswana man acquires his citizenship if the child is born in wedlock, such an offspring of a Botswana woman similarly born does not acquire such citizenship. A more discriminatory provision can hardly be found."
Despite Unity Dow's court victory, the Botswana government has denied her application for Botswana passports for her children by Nathan Dow, her American husband. Nor has the Botswana government made any other effort to implement the court's decision or to amend the discriminatory sections of the Citizenship Act.
By denying citizenship to children of Botswana women married to foreign men, the Citizenship Act also potentially violates the right of women in this category to travel freely abroad because they can do so only by leaving their children behind. The act may also interfere with Botswana women's, but not Botswana men's, right to freedom of marriage, since the resultant complications may dissuade women from marrying the man of their choice, should he be a foreigner.
Despite worldwide outrage over and condemnation of the rape and sexual mistreatment of women in the former Yugoslavia, Human Rights Watch continues to receive reports of violent rape and other forms of sexual assault inflicted upon civilian women by soldiers. A recent case reported by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki shows that rapists still abuse with impunity and, sometimes, with the consent of their military officers. L.D., a sixty-seven-year-old Muslim man and his Serbian wife, were forced to live in the basement of a house occupied by a Serbian military police officer. One night during the summer of 1994, three young men entered the basement, after passing through the upstairs entrance to the house, and forced L.D. to watch as they raped his wife. After thirty minutes, the officer living upstairs came and told them to stop. The young men then spent an hour drinking with the officer. L.D. and his wife reported the rape to the police, but the prosecutor's office later dropped the charges saying they had no basis.
The Women's Rights Project worked to ensure that the U.N.'s international tribunal to prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia would deal with sexual assault fully and fairly. To this end, we urged that the prosecutor's office hire individuals with experience trying sex crimes; that forced pregnancy be prosecuted as a war crime; and that adequate resources be allocated for the protection and support of survivors of sexual assault who will supply evidence.
In 1994, the Women's Rights Project conducted a follow-up mission to the refugee camps in Kenya's North East Province, to assess changes in the security situation of Somali refugee women, after the release of our 1993 report Seeking Refuge, Finding Terror. It had documented the Kenyan government's indifference to cases of sexual abuse, notably rape, against Somali refugee women in the Kenyan camps. It had further revealed that from January through August 1993, 192 rapes were reported to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which administers the Kenyan camps. The report had also found that refugee girls and women were frequently attacked at night by unknown armed bandits, or when they went to the outskirts of the camp to herd goats or collect firewood. These bandits increasingly joined forces with former Somali military men, or fighters from the various warring factions who launched raids across the Kenya-Somali border.
To a lesser extent, refugee women also reported attacks by Kenyan police officers posted in the area who were responsible for seven of the reported rape cases. The UNHCR estimated that registered cases amounted to only one-tenth the number of actual rapes occurring in the camps, at the hands of either bandits, warring parties or local police.
The Kenyan government's initial response to the report was to accuse Somali refugee women of fabricating the rape claims to "attract sympathy and give the government negative publicity." However, relief officials, including the UNHCR, launched a donor drive to seek international funding to address the situation. In 1994, the UNHCR received funding from the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan and the European Economic Community (now the European Union). The money was spent both on prevention measures and on creating services for women once they had been attacked.
In a follow-up mission to the Kenyan camps in September, the Women's Rights Project found that the monthly incidence of rape among the Somali women living there had decreased from double-digit numbers to a handful. The Kenyan government had significantly increased both the number of police and security patrols in and around the camps. The UNHCR had adopted many of the recommendations contained in our 1993 report by improving the design of the refugee camps to promote greater physical safety and by increasing the number of staff in the camps to deal specifically with rape victims. In addition, a local nongovernmental organization, the women's lawyer organization FIDA, had placed one staff member in the camps to assist women in seeking legal redress where possible.
The September 1994 mission also found, however, that although the number of night-time attacks had decreased, women continued to be vulnerable when they left the camp to fetch firewood or to herd goats. Since young girls are often sent out to perform these tasks, they constitute a large proportion of the recent rape victims. As of late 1994 Kenyan police officers continued to be unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute rape claims effectively, including some by alleged police assailants.
During 1994, the Women's Rights Project conducted five missions, in Russia, Brazil, Japan, Nigeria and the United States. Reports on these missions are forthcoming in 1995.
In March, we documented state discrimination against women in Russia. Our investigation revealed that women in Russia face widespread employment discrimination; public sector employers have fired women workers in disproportionate numbers and refuse to employ women because of their sex. When women challenge such discrimination, they either are ignored by their employers and by state agencies responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws, or are told outright that priority should be given to men seeking jobs.
Russian law enforcement agencies and police have also denied women equal protection of the law by refusing to investigate or to prosecute violence against women, particularly domestic violence and rape. In some instances, police discouraged women from filing charges of rape and have even harassed women who do file charges in an attempt to have the complaint withdrawn.
As part of our ongoing efforts to document trafficking in women and girls, the Women's Rights Project did research in Brazil and Japan. In April, together with Human Rights Watch/Asia, we began to investigate abuses against Southeast Asian women in the Japanese sex industry.
In June, we gathered information on the trafficking in Brazil, focusing on the Amazon and Northeast regions. Our research there found that the Brazilian government has largely turned a blind eye to the exploitation of prostitution, including large-scale prostitution of girls and female adolescents. Furthermore, members of the Brazilian police forces have been implicated in abuses against women and girls forced into prostitution, particularly in the goldmining areas of the Amazon.
In July and October/November, the Women's Rights Project and Human Rights Watch/Africa sent teams to research abuses against widows and discriminatory inheritance laws in southern Nigeria, and abuses against child brides in the north. Finally, in conjunction with the Prison Project, we conducted a year-long investigation of violence against women incarcerated in state prisons in the United States.
This year's work on women's human rights at the international level built on the momentum created by the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights. At that historic meeting, member states of the United Nations pledged to integrate women's rights into all U.N. human rights activities. The Women's Rights Project sought to ensure that governments lived up to that pledge. Thus, at the meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in February 1994, the Women's Rights Project urged the commission to end the international community's lamentable tradition of indifference and inaction regarding the fundamental rights of women and to take steps to protect women against violence and other forms of human rights violations.
To this end, we joined our colleagues in the international movement for women's rights in calling for the appointment of a U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women. At the same time, we emphasized the need for all special rapporteurs and working groups of the commission to report systematically on human rights violations affecting women.
In April 1994, the Human Rights Commission appointed the first Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy. She has begun to gather information on violence against women, including its causes and consequences; to name countries where women's rights abuses occur; to recommend steps to end such abuse, and to push the U.N. to act on her recommendations.
In July, the Women's Rights Project joined representatives of nongovernmental organizations from around the world in a meeting with the special rapporteur to discuss the nature and extent of her mandate. The meeting explored ways that women's rights advocates can support the efforts of the special rapporteur to identify and characterize abuse of women's human rights and to recommend measures designed to eliminate violence against women and its causes.
At the regional level, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights this year appointed a special rapporteur, Claudio Grossman, to assess member states' observance of human rights norms that protect the individual rights and freedoms of women. This special rapporteur will examine domestic laws that are blatantly discriminatory as well as those that are applied in ways that inhibit women's full and equal enjoyment of their human rights.
Aside from creating these offices, the international community also sought in 1994 to integrate women's human rights into a series of other U.N. conferences and preparatory meetings. At the International Conference on Population and Development, governments adopted a program of action that underscored the importance of women's equality to population programs. The gathered nations also affirmed a loosely-defined concept of "reproductive rights," and roundly condemned the use of violence, coercion or discrimination in family planning programs.
Similarly, women's human rights have been a priority focus of regional preparations for the U.N.'s Fourth World Conference on Women, to be held in China in September 1995. The Latin American and Caribbean governments drafted a regional platform of action that supported increased efforts to monitor and combat violence against women committed by both state and private actors, and to improve the level of women's political participation. The Women's Rights Project urged the U.S. official delegation to call for the reform of national laws that codify rape and other sexual assault as crimes against "honor" rather than violations of bodily integrity.
European and North American governments focused on the need to strengthen respect for women's human rights in the context of the profound economic and political changes occurring in Europe. The project urged the U.S. and other governments to stress that women's human rights are universal, indivisible and inalienable.
The Clinton administration made many welcome public statements in support of women's human rights in 1994. It demonstrated a willingness to respond to reports of abuses against women, and to Congressional and public advocacy on behalf of women's human rights. However, the administration was generally slow to act on its own initiative to take tough action to stigmatize individual governments that committed or condoned violations of women's human rights, until such abuses against women were placed squarely in the public spotlight by others.
The administration's general reluctance to take the lead to hold abusive governments to account is disappointing, given the improved reporting on violations of women's human rights in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993. Although some problems remained, the 1993 report was more comprehensive both with regard to the types of abuses discussed and the countries in which gender-related abuses were documented.
U.S. policy toward abuse against women in Haiti is a case where the administration was initially dismissive of allegations of abuse against women, only to shift its position following public pressure. Throughout early 1994, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince chose to ignore or discount reports of human rights abuse, including politically motivated rape. Rather than vigorously and publicly denouncing these serious abuses, U.S. officials at the embassy in Port-au-Prince instead challenged the veracity of the reports and sent out a cable in April dismissing the increase in claims of rape as a "sudden epidemic" and "suspicious." One U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officer in Port-au-Prince commented that "...[rape] must be true in some cases, but women have a tendency to blame the worst person they can think of to justify why it happened."
After the release in July of our report, "Rape in Haiti," William L. Swing, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, acknowledged that the embassy had made "factual errors" in its prior human rights reporting. Expressing "sorrow at the dramatic increase in rape as another form of political violence," he said that the embassy had stepped up human rights monitoring in the outlying areas of Haiti, and had begun roundtable discussions with local human rights groups.
That same month, Congress added its voice on behalf of women in Haiti. In the House of Representatives, Cong. Carrie P. Meek sponsored a resolution condemning the rape of Haitian women and girls by the military and their allies as a form of political persecution, and underscored the need to provide refugees with fair asylum hearings, consistent with international standards.
Another issue where public pressure was needed to move the administration to action was sex trafficking and forced prostitution, particularly in Thailand. Following widespread press coverage of this problem, the State Department, to its credit, quickly developed a more active policy to combat trafficking in women and girls. According to Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck, the U.S. is raising this issue in bilateral dialogues with senior Thai officials; screening the human rights records of candidates for U.S.-sponsored military and police training; supporting AIDS awareness programs in Thai brothels by the Peace Corps; and promoting AIDS awareness and alternative employment programs through the Peace Corps.
However, as 1994 ended, the U.S. government still lacked clear vetting procedures to ensure that weapons and equipment provided or sold by the U.S. to the Thai police were kept out of the hands of police officials who may be complicit in trafficking and forced prostitution.
The executive branch response has largely addressed prevention of trafficking and forced prostitution. The State Department should also emphasize the need to hold Thai police and immigration officials accountable for abuses against Burmese women and girls. Representative Louise Slaughter and sixty other members of Congress introduced a resolution that highlighted this recommendation. So did the Congressional Working Group on Women's Human Rights, in a May 1994 letter to the Thai Prime Minister. The Senate Appropriations Committee has also directed the Clinton administration to submit a report on efforts taken by the Thai government to control sex trafficking.
Congress also took the lead in vigorously responding to sexual abuse elsewhere. In October 1993, appalled by reports of rape and sexual abuse against Somali refugee women in Kenya, members of Congress pressed the U.S. State Department to take remedial action. The following month, the State Department Refugee Bureau responded with an allocation of $250,000 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for a special program to assist the survivors of sexual violence in Kenyan camps. This program, enhanced Kenyan police presence in the camps, and has significantly reduced the number of rapes reported during the first nine months of 1994. Unfortunately, the Kenyan government's record of impunity for alleged rapists has continued. The U.S. could and should use the leverage created by its security relationship with Kenya government to press for the rigorous and thorough investigation and prosecutive of alleged rapists.
The Clinton administration also began to address women's rights violations in Turkey during 1994. In an August visit to Turkey, Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck arranged to meet with Turkish opponents of virginity exams to discuss ways to combat torture and ill-treatment in that country's prisons. This was a welcome effort that should be continued. Two months earlier, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had noted persistent reports of human rights abuses in Turkey, including forced virginity exams by police, and had called on the administration to pursue these reports with the Turkish government.
The place where the administration mounted the most spirited defense of women's human rights was at September's International Conference on Population and Development, which drew intense international attention. The U.S. delegation to the conference strongly promoted the idea that women's empowerment is central to the goal of population control. It also condemned the use of violence, coercion and discrimination in family planning programs, and advocated the right of women to information regarding contraception and to contraceptive technology.
Concerns regarding the executive branch's inconsistent record on women's human rights led Congress to call for the appointment of a State Department senior advisor who would seek to ensure the full integration of women's human rights into U.S. foreign policy. In November, the State Department designated Gracia Hillman, formerly with the League of Women Voters, as coordinator for international women's affairs to the Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs, Timothy Wirth.
While the appointment is important, it is unfortunate that the State Department seems very likely to expand the mandate of the coordinator beyond women's human rights to include population and other issues, contrary to Congressional advice. The Global Affairs office is responsible for population, refugees, environment, terrorism, and a host of other global issues, including human rights. In the administration's first two years, Under Secretary Wirth focused almost exclusively on areas other than human rights, while largely failing to integrate women's human rights into U.S. foreign policy. To dilute the new coordinator's responsibilities_by including areas already concerned by other Global Affairs staff_represents, effectively, a retreat from Secretary of State Warren Christopher's pledge at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights to make women's human rights "a moral imperative."
Aside from working with the administration, members of Congress also championed human rights by writing directly to foreign heads of state. In November 1993, prompted by the Women's Rights Project, members of the House of Representatives wrote to then-Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa of Japan, urging him to ensure justice for the "comfort women" who were forced into prostitution in Japanese military brothels during World War II. Among other things, members of Congress urged Japan to extend official apologies and to pay compensation to the victims. This July, the Japanese government announced plans to commit about $1 billion for an "exchange program for peace and friendship" to compensate for war crimes. However, advocates for the victims have faulted the plan for failing to acknowledge squarely the Japanese government's responsibility to the individual women.
In early 1994, members of Congress joined together to form the bipartisan Congressional Working Group on International Women's Human Rights. Co-chaired by Sen. Patty Murray and Reps. Jan Meyers and Joe Moakley, the working group sends urgent letters in support of women who are at imminent risk of abuse, or who require international support in their search for justice for past abuse. In the first ten months of 1994, the working group wrote to the governments of Peru, Bangladesh, Kenya, Mauritius, and Thailand to protest state-sponsored or state-tolerated violence and intimidation against women, and to call for immediate investigations.
Unfortunately, the credibility of the U.S. as an advocate for women's human rights around the world suffered a setback during the closing days of the 103rd Congress. Due to opposition from most Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the full Senate failed to deliberate U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As a result, the U.S. in October entered the Europe and North America regional preparatory meeting for next year's Fourth World Conference on Women as the only industrialized nation that had not committed itself to the internationally recognized standards of sexual equality enumerated in CEDAW.
The Work of the
Women's Rights Project
As in previous years, our advocacy work in 1994 addressed those specific violations of women's fundamental rights that we have documented. In addition, we have also sought to strengthen U.S., regional and international mechanisms for ensuring full accountability for women's human rights more generally.
The Women's Rights Project continued to work with U.S. policymakers to ensure that the U.N.'s international tribunal to prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia would deal with sexual assault fully and fairly.
In meetings with senior State Department officials, we pressed the U.S. to endorse the appointment of prosecutors with experience trying sex crimes to the chief prosecutor's office. We further urged the U.N. to allocate funds to the unit established by the tribunal to provide protection, counseling and support to victims and witnesses of war crimes, including sexual assault. The Women's Rights Project and other groups have also advocated the prosecution of forced impregnation as a war crime. During the summer of 1994, U.S. officials indicated that forced impregnation was "highly likely" to be prosecuted as inhuman treatment. If this happened, it would be a significant precedent in the history of international law.
In early 1994, the judges of the international tribunal promulgated rules of evidence for trying war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. Human Rights Watch submitted comments on the rules, and the Women's Rights Project suggested amendments to the rule of evidence concerning sexual assault cases. We urged the judges to adopt specific standards regarding the admissibility of irrelevant and prejudicial evidence. Our proposed revision, adopted in part, aimed to protect against the introduction of sex stereotypes intended to impugn the credibility of the victim, and to maintain the integrity of the proceedings.
In March, the Women's Rights Project appeared before the House Subcommittee on International Security, International Organizations and Human Rights in a hearing that was largely inspired by our report A Modern Form of Slavery: The Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Thai Brothels. The project made specific recommendations to the U.S. and Thai governments for ending abuses against Burmese trafficking victims in Thailand.
Together with Human Rights Watch/Asia, we also ensured that trafficking for prostitution purposes was integrated into Congressional concerns about human rights in Burma more generally. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate adopted separate resolutions marking the fifth anniversary of the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma's pro-democracy movement. Both resolutions condemned sex trafficking as one of many human rights abuses occurring in Burma.
The growing importance of trade and investment over bilateral aid has led the project to seek ways to integrate women's human rights into U.S. policy regarding these issues. Thus, after learning that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) had received requests for financing from several corporations for investment in Kuwait, we wrote to the president of OPIC to request that it investigate human rights abuses against Asian domestic workers there. We further advocated that OPIC work with the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait to press Kuwaiti authorities to end such abuse. Specifically, we called on OPIC to urge the Kuwaiti government to (1) amend the private sector labor law to include domestic servants within its protections; (2) stop and punish employers who confiscate their employees' passports; (3) devote more resources and support to the government office established to investigate and respond to problems associated with foreign workers; and (4) monitor the practices of agencies recruiting foreign workers. In response, the OPIC president stated in October that her agency's support of investment and future loans in Kuwait would be predicated on continued progress in protecting worker rights, including extending protections to domestic workers. OPIC took the further initiative of encouraging U.S. State Department officials to meet with Kuwaiti representatives, resulting in assurances from the Kuwaiti government that it would permit, among other things, a visit by the International Labor Organization in November 1994.
The Women's Rights Project also worked through several channels to publicize and ensure accountability for forced virginity examinations in Turkey. In early 1995, the U.S. Agency for International Development will be supporting a two-week training for doctors in Turkey on recognizing the signs of torture and ill-treatment. We called for the training to address directly the use of forced virginity exams as a form of ill-treatment and harassment. The training should instruct Turkish doctors in the strongest terms that, instead of accepting involuntary virginity exams as a routine practice, they should not perform them at all. Additionally, the project received an agreement in principle from U.S. State Department officials to denounce forced virginity exams when reporting on human rights generally in Turkey.
The problem of forced virginity control is also part of our overall effort to make women's human rights a foreign policy priority for European governments. We distributed our report to country representatives at the European Parliament and to members of the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which has long denounced torture and ill-treatment in Turkish prisons but has never taken up the problem of forced virginity exams.
Human Rights Watch's representative in Brussels met with members of the torture prevention committee to urge them to include women's human rights, in particular forced virginity exams, in their work on human rights in Turkey. In August 1994, Human Rights Watch wrote to European Commission President Jacques Delors, calling on the European Union to condemn the practice as a human rights abuse. The president's deputy head of office responded in October that the E.U. will urge Turkish officials to take measures to ensure the respect of women's rights and dignity.
The Council of Europe was particularly responsive to human rights violations in Russia. In the fall of 1994, the council considered the Russian Federation's application for membership. Human Rights Watch submitted to the council documentation on ongoing human rights violations in Russia, including state discrimination against women and its failure to investigate crimes of violence against women. We recommended that the council attach human rights conditions to Russia's membership in order to ensure greater compliance with international human rights standards. A council group of experts concluded in October that Russia's unresolved human rights problems rendered it unfit for membership at that time.
In September, the Women's Rights Project contributed the results of our rape investigation in Haiti to a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Coordinated by the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinic and Sommerville Legal Services, the petition called on the commission to investigate thoroughly allegations of gender-based abuse in Haiti, and to recognize rape by government agents as a common form of torture there.
Regarding the future role of the U.S. in Haiti, the Women's Rights Project has maintained that any U.S.-sponsored training for the new Haitian police must include women's human rights. We have further pressed Clinton administration officials to urge the Aristide government to include women in the new police force.
Besides country-specific advocacy initiatives, the Women's Rights Project continued to integrate women's human rights into work on human rights more generally. In April, the Project testified in April before the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee on U.S. foreign policy on women's human rights. We commended the State Depart-ment's improved efforts to document violations of women's rights, but criticized the U.S. government's frequent reluctance to press for accountability through bilateral and multilateral policy.
In part because of this record, we worked closely with members of both the House and Senate to seek the appointment of a senior advisor on women's human rights within the State Department. The State Department Authorization Bill for 1994 and 1995, as well as the Senate's 1995 Foreign Appropriations Bill, provide for such an appointee. As noted above, the State Department has named Gracia Hillman as coordinator for international women's affairs, but with an overly broad mandate that we believe is likely to hamper her ability to serve as a strong and consistent internal advocate for women's human rights in particular.
In September, the project submitted written testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). While we criticized some of the ways in which the administration proposed to limit U.S. obligations under this treaty, we concluded that the U.S. should nonetheless ratify expeditiously.
The documentary work of the Women's Rights Project has revealed that many women become refugees in order to escape gender-based persecution. Often these women are subject to further persecution as female refugees. Yet, current U.S. refugee law does not explicitly recognize gender-related persecution. Thus, women seeking asylum in the United States due to their well-founded fear of such persecution may be presumptively denied safe haven because the basis of their claims is not acknowledged by U.S. law.
Among other efforts to ensure that women refugees receive fair review of their asylum claims, we participated in the preparation of Guidelines for Women's Asylum Claims that were submitted to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in April 1994. The proposed guidelines explain how sex-specific forms of violence such as rape may constitute persecution, and how women may be targeted for persecution because of their gender. The INS has expressed its strong interest in the guidelines as well as in training asylum officers to improve their ability to consider women's claims fully and fairly.
Finally, the Women's Rights Project has sought to ameliorate the negative impact of gender violence and sex discrimination on women's ability to participate in economic and social spheres. We worked with the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues on a March 1994 Congressional letter to the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. In the letter, members of Congress urged the chairman to support as a central goal of any U.S. foreign aid reform effort "the economic, political, and social empowerment of women, rooted in respect for their fundamental human rights."
Human Rights Watch wrote separately to the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Brian Atwood, to suggest ways in which U.S. bilateral assistance can better advance U.S. human rights policy. Among other things, Human Rights Watch urged him to endorse broadening the definition of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights under U.S. law to include systematic official discrimination on the basis of sex.
In conjunction with a coalition of U.S. organizations concerned with worker rights, the Women's Rights Project called for reform of the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The GSP framework allows designated developing countries to export certain products to the U.S. on a duty-free basis, provided they take steps to protect five specific internationally recognized worker rights. The project has advocated the amendment of GSP legislation to include sex discrimination in the workplace as one of the violations of worker rights that GSP beneficiary countries must seek to eliminate. Although the GSP reform bill, sponsored by Rep. George Brown, failed to pass in 1994, we will continue this effort during the next Congress.