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 rampant levels of gender-based violence and 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.
Much of our advocacy work in 1995 focused on networking with women's human rights organizations to ensure that women's human rights were given priority attention at the Fourth World Conference on Women. We also released the Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women's Human Rights, a compilation of five years of work with women's rights and human rights groups investigating abuses of women's rights around the world. Covering abuses such as rape in war, abuses against women in custody, domestic violence, and relating to women's reproductive and sexual lives, the report sets forth a conceptual framework for integrating women's human rights into international human rights practice. It also applies this approach to specific violations of women's rights in a score of countries around the world, and crafts national and international remedies for pervasive women's rights abuse. The report was released in September at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Women's Human Rights Developments
The Russian government, and particularly its law enforcement agencies, also have denied women their right to equal protection of the law by failing to investigate and prosecute violence against women. In particular, law enforcement agencies and police have been largely indifferent to domestic violence and sexual assault. Local law enforcement officials scoff at reports of violence by domestic partners and refuse to intervene in what they identify as "family matters." In some instances, police themselves have mistreated and harassed women who report such crimes as a way to intimidate them and stop them from filing complaints.
The assumption that political and economic change would improve the protection of human rights generally in Russia has generally proven to be true in some aspects, such as people's ability to exercise their freedom of association or speech. But women's human rights, far from being better protected in a rapidly changing Russia, are frequently being abridged and denied.
Since the release of Neither Jobs Nor Justice, Russian officials have failed to end their participation in the widespread employment discrimination that has contributed to the impoverishment of female-headed households. They have, however, turned their attention in unprecedented ways to violence against women, by recognizing publicly the significant dimensions of the problem and taking initial steps to respond to it. In June 1995, the Russian government released the first-ever official figures on domestic violence, revealing that 14,500 women died at the hands of their husbands in 1993 and that another 56,400 women were disabled or seriously injured consequent to domestic violence. Some members of Russia's lower house of parliament repeatedly revised draft legislation on domestic violence (first introduced in 1994), but until October, they refused to make public the draft law and to seek the input of women's organizations. Parliamentary officials have since indicated their interest in cooperating with NGOs.
In virtually every prison that we visited, state prison authorities were allowing male officers to hold contact positions over female prisoners with no clear definition of sexual misconduct, no clear rules and procedures with respect to it, and no meaningful training in how to avoid it. Prison officials also were failing to equip female prisoners to deal with the potential abuse in the cross-gender guarding situation. They rarely, if ever, informed female prisoners of the risk of sexual misconduct in custody. Nor did they advise them of the mechanisms available_to the extent that any existed_to report and remedy such practices.
Two prison systems that we investigated, in Georgia and the District of Columbia, had taken initial steps to address this problem. But most states were failing to address adequately custodial sexual misconduct and had yet to train officers to avoid such misconduct or to put in place administrative measures and, where appropriate, to apply criminal sanctions to prohibit and punish this abuse. Moreover, the federal government was failing to meet its international obligations to ensure that custodial sexual violence was not only prohibited but also remedied by states. In fact, the United States government had allowed custodial sexual misconduct at the state level to fall into a kind of legal and political vacuum where in large measure neither international, nor federal, nor state law was seen to apply.
Nonetheless, as of late 1995, 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 were often sent out to perform these tasks, they constituted a large proportion of 1995 rape victims. Kenyan police officers continued to be unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute rape claims effectively. Lack of housing continued to impede the assignment of any women police officers to the camps.
However, despite the new government's pledge to prioritize the problem of violence against women, the Women's Rights Project found in its report titled Violence against Women in South Africa that an enormous gap existed between policy and practice. The legacy of state violence that underpinned the apartheid state had resulted in extremely high levels of violence throughout society, including against women. South African women's organizations underscored the pervasive nature of this abuse: approximately one in every three South African women has been raped, and perhaps as many as one in six South African women is being abused by her partner.
South African women victims of violence frequently experienced indifference or hostile treatment from police officers when they attempted to report rape or domestic abuse. Ignorance of the laws protecting women was common in many police stations and among court clerks. Within the courts, the testimony of rape survivors was often discounted or rapists given lenient sentences. The apartheid policies of the past continued to affect victims of domestic violence and rape. Lingering state racism and sexism prejudiced black women in particular in their interactions with police and judicial authorities. In the rural areas, where black women have the least education and work under the worst conditions, access to redress against perpetrators of violence was even more restricted than for white, "colored," or Indian women. In the townships, inaction by the police led to a dangerous reliance on young "comrades" to mete out vigilante "justice" against alleged perpetrators of violence, including violence against women, further undermining the rule of law.
The South African government had given less attention to violence against women than it had, for example, to the more overt political violence during the transition period and under the new government. Despite a number of encouraging initiatives, as of this writing, there was no coordinated national strategy to address the problems in the criminal justice, law enforcement, health, and welfare systems in a systematic fashion. Moreover, the current government had not firmly committed itself to providing funds for training of police and judicial officers and improved services to women victims of violence.
Over 250,000 women work in Mexico's maquiladora plants. Most have only a primary school education and minimal formal work experience. As such they view the maquila work as perhaps the only viable income available to them. Work in other likely sectors, such as domestic service or in stores, often involves worse conditions than those prevalent in the maquiladoras. Consequently, the women are particularly vulnerable to (and reluctant to denounce) the discrimination and difficult working conditions they face in these factories.
We found that rather than address the abuse of women workers, the Mexican government had failed not only to enforce international and domestic prohibitions against sex discrimination but also to ensure women effective protection from such discrimination when it occurred in the workplace. Although workplace discrimination was legally prohibited, the Mexican government provided no means by which women who were denied jobs because they were pregnant could contest this abuse. Mexico's existing conciliation and arbitration boards heard cases only where a labor relationship had been established. Furthermore, the head of one conciliation and arbitration board in Tijuana told Human Rights Watch that " . . . the owner is right to try to avoid the cost [of hiring a pregnant worker]."
There were many problems with the proposed bill. For example, although the fines on procurers and brothel owners had increased dramatically, the potential prison sentences were shorter. Further, while the bill imposed penalties on convicted prostitutes, clients who hired prostitutes over eighteen years old were not subject to any such penalties. Since most prostitutes are women and most clients are men, this factor constituted discrimination on the basis of sex.
More important, Thai police still largely failed to enforce existing laws against trafficking. Police conducted occasional brothel raids, but did little to punish traffickers and continued to detain and summarily deport trafficking victims as illegal immigrants. Even though the Thai government had taken steps to improve conditions in the Immigration Detention Center, conditions in the local jails_where trafficking victims often were detained pending deportation_remained abysmal. Local organizations reported that once the women and girls were detained in these facilities, they were extremely hard to contact and, therefore, stood at greater risk of custodial abuse. The nongovernmental organizations themselves found that Thai government cooperation with their efforts was difficult to obtain and that some activists had been harassed by the government for their anti-trafficking work.
In five northern states that we visited, we found that girls are customarily forced by their families into marriage, frequently before puberty, despite the girls' express objections or attempts to run away. Many child brides are compelled to engage in sexual relations as soon as they are married and, as a consequence, they become pregnant and give birth before they are physically mature. This can not only increase their risk of death in childbirth, but also cause serious medical complications due to early pregnancy, including obstetric or vesico-vaginal fistula (an abnormal communication between the bladder and the vagina that causes fluids to pass uncontrolled from one to the other). Girls suffering from these complications smell from the constant leakage of urine, and many are abandoned by their husbands and families. The Nigerian government has taken few steps to eradicate these abuses, failing to pass laws setting a minimum age of marriage or protecting individuals' right to consent to marriage.
In early 1995, Turkey's women's minister, Onay Alpago, proposed to parliament new laws to eradicate statutory sex discrimination. The draft laws proposed to eliminate legal provisions establishing the husband as the head of the family household, allow women to retain their family names after marriage, provide equal property rights in cases of divorce, treat men and women equally in cases of adultery, and put in place new protections for victims of domestic violence. The proposed legislation was being reviewed by a parliamentary commission at this writing, although early passage seemed unlikely.
Finally, the torture and inhuman treatment of women in custody continued in Turkey. On August 14, 1995, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey reported that twenty-four-year-old Leman Celikaslan had been raped repeatedly while in police custody in Ankara. Celikaslan was detained by police July 21, 1995 in a raid on the house where she was staying as a guest and was held in Ankara Central Closed Prison. Following her detention by Anti-Terror Police, she was taken to a wood, stripped, and sexually abused. She alleges that later three Anti-Terror police raped her in her cell. To our knowledge, the Turkish government had made no effort to prevent the ongoing torture and ill treatment of women in detention. In no instance of which we are aware were police investigated or punished for their participation in forced virginity exams or in sexual assault of women in custody.
Just a year later, in August 1995, after a concerted campaign by local and international women's rights activists, the National Assembly of Botswana amended the Citizenship Act to eliminate its discriminatory provisions. The amendment granted citizenship to children, born in or outside of Botswana, whose mother or father is a citizen of Botswana. However, it did not apply to persons born prior to the adoption of the amendment, although it permitted expedited naturalization of minor children who were not Botswana citizens but had a parent who was a Botswana citizen. The amendment also revised the act to grant foreign wives and husbands of Botswana citizens the same naturalization requirements.
The Role of the International Community
The United Nations
The growing importance of human rights as a key element in global policy-making with respect to women reflected the mounting influence of an increasingly organized and effective international women's human rights movement. Women activists from around the world went to the Beijing conference_as both governmental and nongovernmental delegates_to affirm the importance of women's human rights and to demand that governments integrate women's rights in the U.N.'s system-wide activity, refrain from abusing the human rights of women, and ensure not only that such abuse be prohibited, but also that when it occurs, it be denounced and remedied.
However, the potential of nongovernmental delegates in particular freely and safely to participate in the Beijing conference was compromised to some degree by the host Chinese government, a number of other government delegations, and the inaction of the United Nations. The Chinese government, while attempting to use the official U.N. conference to boost its international image and deflect attention from its worsening human rights record, undermined the nongovernmental forum. Serious problems complicated the accreditation process for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs that were critical of China's policies, abortion rights groups, and others were initially denied accreditation. Following strong protests which resulted in the reversal of some accreditation decisions, the Chinese government denied and delayed entry visas to numerous accredited participants, lowering the number of NGO representatives that attended the conference. The NGO site was moved by the Chinese government to Huairou, some sixty kilometers away from the official U.N. conference site in Beijing. The move severely hampered the NGOs' ability to meet government delegations, to coordinate their own work between the NGO and official conferences, and to influence the content of the Platform for Action. The Chinese government largely reneged on promises to provide adequate transportation between Huairou and the official conference site in Beijing, simultaneous translation, and even adequate space for workshops.
At the NGO Forum in Huairou and at off-site locations, Chinese security agents followed participants, harassed them, confiscated their materials, disrupted their workshops, and intimidated them. In hotels off the forum site, some participants were forbidden to have meetings or press interviews in their rooms, were watched by hotel security, and in some cases, found that their belongings had been searched. A number of international journalists also encountered difficulties obtaining visas and receiving clearance to bring in electronic equipment. Once in Beijing, they were relegated to certain hotels and subjected to Chinese security surveillance.
In addition, prior to and during the conference, the Chinese government heightened repression within the country and detained some Chinese political activists, largely to prevent them from meeting conference participants. Chinese security officials also acted to maintain "public order" by executing sixteen common criminals in Beijing to create a "secure environment" for the U.N. gathering.
Both the United Nations Conference Secretariat and Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's representatives failed adequately to address these problems. Prior to the conference, the U.N. failed to act to ensure NGO participation until pushed to do so by NGOs and some governments. At first, the U.N. Conference Secretariat denied numerous NGOs accreditation for the Women's Conference without granting them the opportunity to appeal the decision. This was of particular concern because the secretariat's decisions appeared to exclude organizations based on their political agendas and not on their failure to conform to the technical criteria for accreditation. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the U.N. not succumb to pressure from abusive governments to restrict NGO participation in the conference. Ultimately, governments at the March Commission on the Status of Women meeting allowed NGOs denied accreditation to appeal the Secretariat's initial decision, and ECOSOC voted to accept many of these groups. Nonetheless, in the weeks immediately prior to the conference, the U.N. failed to prevent China from excluding many NGO delegates via the visa denials and delays described above.
After the Chinese government suddenly relocated the NGO Forum to Huairou, the U.N. was late stepping in to mediate with the Chinese government. Again, only after NGOs demanded that the U.N. support their call for an NGO Forum site that would provide both the necessary facilities and permit access to the official conference did the secretary-general's envoy, Ismat Kittani, go to China to meet with officials. Prior to the NGO outcry, the U.N. made excuses for China's failure to offer a site with adequate facilities for the gathering of 35,000 activists.
Then in Huairou at the NGO Forum itself, when NGO participants were faced with varying levels of China-sponsored or China-tolerated intimidation and interference that prevented them from participating fully and openly in the NGO Forum, the U.N. refused to intervene to ensure the inviolability of the NGO process. Instead, the U.N. offered the disingenuous excuse that the NGO Forum was not a U.N. conference and therefore the U.N. had no responsibility for what happened there. This stance contradicted its constructive, public intervention when China changed the NGO Forum site from Beijing to Huairou in March. Where the U.N. had an opportunity both to go beyond rhetoric in its support for NGOs and to demand respect for the conference participants' fundamental human rights of freedom of association and expression, it utterly failed.
Despite these obstacles, nongovernmental participants worked closely with government delegates to produce a Platform for Action that identified the economic, social and political problems facing women and recommended government action for improving women's status over the next decade. During debates over the platform, a number of governments strongly resisted the growing international consensus that in order to advance women's status, governments must protect and promote their human rights. Several official delegations_most notably the Holy See, Iran, Sudan, Guatemala, and Malta_made concerted efforts to modify or abridge women's human rights in light of religion, culture, or national law. These delegations promoted the concept that women have a "special" role in society and the family as an excuse to deny women their equality, civil liberties, and the right to be free from violence.
Ultimately, the Platform for Action did reaffirm the universality and indivisibility of human rights, asserted that these rights extend to women's reproductive and sexual lives, and reiterated that culture, religion, and national law cannot be used to justify the denial of women's fundamental rights. The platform, however, made no clear commitment to the provision of adequate funding for the implementation of these protections. Moreover, it neither guaranteed equal inheritance rights for girls nor extended international protection to internally displaced women.
Although the conference gathered NGOs and governments together to craft rights-based ways of improving women's status, it also highlighted the intense resistance of many governments to women's equality and the full realization of their human rights, particularly within family structures and as concerns women's sexual and reproductive lives. The conference starkly demonstrated the ongoing need to identify and end abuses against women worldwide. While the governments ultimately made commitments in principle to advance this goal, what remained to be seen was whether they would do so in practice.
This lack of progress in U.S. policy was not due to lack of information: the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994 demonstrated improved reporting on violations of women's human rights. Although some problems remained, the 1994 report was more comprehensive both with regard to the types of abuses discussed and the countries in which gender-related abuses were documented.
In the months prior to the Women's Conference, the Clinton administration played a key role in promoting full NGO participation in the conference and its preparatory processes. Human Rights Watch pressed the Clinton administration to demonstrate a similar level of support for the goal of advancing human rights at the conference itself and with respect to the host country. Once the First Lady announced her plans to attend the conference, we urged her to move beyond the role of observer, to be a strong public leader on women's human rights, and to speak out publicly against human rights abuses in China in order to minimize any public relations pay-off enjoyed by the Chinese government consequent to her visit. The U.S. sent a strong delegation to the conference_including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Carol Browner and Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Timothy Wirth_and chose U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission Geraldine Ferraro to negotiate for strong protection of women's human rights.
In Beijing, the U.S. pledged to establish a White House inter-agency council on women to implement the Platform for Action; to launch a $1.6 billion initiative to fight crimes of violence against women in the U.S.; to combat threats to American women's health and security; to maintain its commitment to reproductive health rights; to improve working conditions for women in the U.S.; to promote access to financial credit for American women; to use Agency for International Development (AID) programs to increase women's political participation and the enforcement of women's legal rights worldwide; and, finally, to speak out publicly in defense of human rights.
Important as many of these initiatives may prove to be, they fell short of providing the concrete steps needed to ensure that U.S. policies, at home and abroad, promoted respect for women's human rights. The U.S. made no pledge to integrate women's rights concerns into its aid and trade relationships with abusive governments, offered no financial support for improving the international mechanisms that are supposed to protect women's rights, and underestimated the need for guaranteeing international human rights protection to women in the U.S. itself. Although the commitments did place high priority on ratification of CEDAW, the Clinton administration made a similar pledge at the U.N. Human Rights Conference in Vienna in 1993, yet in 1995 the U.S. remained the sole industrialized nation that had failed to ratify the treaty. This problem was made that much more acute_and the administration's active support for ratification made that much more necessary_by the fact that the treaty was being vigorously opposed by extreme conservatives in the U.S. Congress.
Several of the U.S. commitments, at least as presented in Beijing, were too preliminary to connote any substantial progress on promoting women's human rights within the United States. For example, to our knowledge the campaign to improve conditions for women in the workplace initially consisted only of Labor Department efforts to solicit pledges from employers to change their policies and practices. Moreover, while other commitments such as the $1.6 billion in federal resources were more developed, they could be blocked by Congress, which was divided on whether to fund or cut support for the important Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
As important as domestic initiatives to combat violence against women was the protection provided by international standards. Such protection was denied to American women as a result not only of the U.S. failure to ratify CEDAW, but also because of its compromised ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which effectively denied U.S. citizens the ability to assert the rights protected by the covenant in U.S. courts (see United States section).
The only other concrete measure offered by the U.S. in Beijing to promote women's human rights at the international level was a women's legal rights initiative by AID. The goal of this initiative_attacking obstacles to the full realization of women's rights through education and support for local NGOs_was essential, but funding was not guaranteed. Moreover, for this program to be effective, it must be backed up by the thorough integration of concern for women's legal rights into AID's own programs. As the case of Russia indicated (see below), AID itself still failed fully to promote women's equal rights as an integral component of its economic and political development programs.
The administration was less than diligent in monitoring and reporting on women's human rights violations in the United States. For example, in its first appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, pursuant to it obligations under the ICCPR, the administration stated that the problem of sexual abuse of women in prison was "addressed through staff training and through criminal statutes prohibiting such activity." The U.S. failed altogether to inform the committee of ongoing sexual abuse of women in a number of state prisons across the country, abuse that the Justice Department was itself investigating in several states.
In January 1995, the Clinton administration reported to the Senate Appropriations Committee on efforts by the Thai government to control sex trafficking. The administration's report concluded that, although there was no systematic involvement of the Thai government in the trafficking of Burmese women and girls, criminal trafficking networks flourished thanks to police corruption, the direct participation of individual police officers in trafficking networks, and Thailand's failure to enforce its laws. According to the State Department report, Thai government efforts to combat trafficking had been limited to creating a special police unit and introducing legislation to increase penalties for traffickers. In February 1995, Rep. Louise Slaughter, with fifty-five co-sponsors, introduced a resolution urging the State Department to consider the Thai government's efforts to hold police and immigration officials accountable for abuses against Burmese women and girls when distributing military aid to the Thai government.
The U.S. directed millions of dollars to Russia in 1995 for economic aid, military conversion, and programs designed to develop democratic institutions. With some important exceptions, U.S. support for Russian public and private sector initiatives failed to raise women's human rights concerns. AID had worked to ensure women's participation in training for professionals and had implemented guidelines to overcome obstacles that might keep women from benefiting from U.S. technical assistance. Yet many other AID programs that contributed to the introduction of market-based reforms and the restructuring of certain sectors of the economy_including energy and defense_failed to ensure that women did not suffer discrimination as reforms were implemented. Nor had they required U.S. and Russian partners to prohibit sex discrimination in their workplaces. AID had also directed insufficient attention to the longstanding problem of gender bias in the legal system in its programs to promote human rights, judicial independence, and reform of criminal laws.
In Haiti, respect for human rights improved markedly after the U.S.-led international intervention restored President Aristide to office. Nonetheless, more effort was needed to assure accountability for past abuses and to deter future abuse. The U.S. strongly condemned rampant abuse, including the rape of women as a tool of political repression under the Cédras regime. Yet, despite two promises_in May and September 1995_to provide assistance to the National Commission for Truth and Justice, a body established by President Aristide to investigate and prosecute human rights violations, the U.S. had not delivered this support as of this writing. At the same time, the U.S.-sponsored training of interim police cadets had incorporated women's rights, to the extent that recruits were shown how to gather forensic evidence to support a rape allegation.
In 1994 concerns over the executive branch's inconsistent record on protecting and promoting women's human rights led Congress to call for the appointment of a State Department senior advisor who would work to ensure the full integration of women's human rights into U.S. foreign policy. In November 1994, a senior coordinator for international women's issues was appointed to the office of the under secretary for global affairs, Tim Wirth. Unfortunately, a State Department decision to expand this post's mandate beyond women's human rights to a broad range of "women's" issues undercut its effectiveness. The result was that, as demonstrated by the above examples of Thailand, Russia, and Haiti, the U.S.'s willingness to raise women's human rights concerns did not translate into consistent action to protect and promote rights as an integral component of U.S. foreign policy. The senior coordinator's role could include coordinating the work of the Human Rights Bureau with other State Department bureaus as well as federal agencies outside the State Department to ensure that information on women's human rights is factored into political decision-making. For this to be effective, however, the coordinator would require greater institutional support within the State Department and a clearer focus on human rights.
Members of the U.S. Congress, who played a key role in the struggle to advance women's rights in both foreign and domestic policy, harshly criticized the Chinese government for its interference with NGO participation in the Women's Conference in Beijing. Congress directed U.S. delegates publicly to support NGOs subjected to harassment or restrictions on their activities and to protest actions by the Chinese government aimed at punishing Chinese citizens who sought to express their views or meet with delegates during the conference. At a March press conference, the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues called for a fair and open accreditation process for nongovernmental organizations seeking to participate in the conference, thus turning the spotlight on the importance of NGO participation at a moment when it was under siege by repressive governments.
In 1995, the bipartisan Congressional Working Group on International Women's Human Rights denounced violations of women's human rights in four countries: Botswana, Mexico, Uzbekistan and Bahrain. The working group, formed in April 1994, 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 May 1995 the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) adopted guidelines to assist asylum officers in adjudicating the claims of female asylum seekers_one year after numerous organizations, including Human Rights Watch, proposed such guidelines in order to remedy procedural and substantive obstacles to asylum claims of women victims of gender-related persecution. The guidelines represent a critical step toward making the asylum process less hostile to female applicants fleeing human rights violations and recognizing, as a matter of law, that women are targeted for gender-related abuses that may amount to persecution. The value of the guidelines, however, could only be fully realized if the INS followed up at the highest levels with clear and consistent support for incorporating them into consideration of asylum claims.
Unfortunately, a lack of just such leadership in implementing the guidelines came to light in August when the INS challenged an immigration judge's decision to grant asylum to a woman who feared persecution on gender-related grounds; the INS appealed a decision that relied on its own guidelines. Following significant public outcry, the INS withdrew its appeal. Several months earlier, and prior to the adoption of the guidelines, another immigration judge denied asylum to a woman who claimed gender-related persecution resulting from her opposition to female genital mutilation (FGM), her own forced circumcision as a teen, and her fears for her daughters. In denying the claim, the judge opined that the claimant could choose to acquiesce to the practice of FGM, that not all cultures view FGM as harmful and that her dispute was with tribal custom, and thus that her anticipated harm was both highly subjective and not a matter for state intervention. In order to minimize such inconsistent application of the law and to ensure that female asylum seekers could receive a fair hearing, the INS message to those responsible for resolving women's asylum claims would need to be much clearer in directing them to implement the agency's guidelines.
The Work of the Women's Rights Project
The Women's Rights Project worked in conjunction with Human Rights Watch/Asia and our U.N. representative to ensure the ability of women from around the world to participate in the Women's Conference and to push governments gathered at the conference to commit to end violations of women's human rights and to hold abusers accountable. Concerned that many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were being deliberately excluded from the conference and its preparatory processes, Human Rights Watch coordinated a January 1995 sign-on letter from twenty-five women's and human rights organizations to Secretary of State Warren Christopher urging the State Department to ensure the broadest possible NGO access to the Women's Conference. In a March letter to U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, we protested the U.N.'s role in allowing repressive governments to dictate which NGOs could participate in the conference. In May we called again on the secretary-general to guarantee full and meaningful NGO participation in the conference by ensuring that the Chinese government provided appropriate facilities for the NGO Forum. We also joined other women's and human rights organizations in a letter to Boutros-Ghali calling on the U.N. to ensure that China provideNGO participants with an appropriate site for the NGO Forum and with access to the official proceedings. At a March press conference called by the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues, the Women's Rights Project urged the U.S. and other governments to ensure an open accreditation process for NGOs seeking to participate in the U.N. conference.
In June we worked with a number of human rights advocates to call on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights José Ayala Lasso to make public statements supporting a platform for action at the Beijing conference that would stress the universality and indivisibility of women's fundamental human rights, challenge efforts to undermine women's right to equality and commit governments to implementing specific measures to improve the protection of women's rights.
The Women's Rights Project stressed two priority goals at the women's conference: governments must recognize their obligation to respect women's rights in order to advance women's status in all spheres_political, social and economic_and they must make concrete commitments to promote and protect those rights in practice. Prior to the March meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Women's Rights Project prepared a critique of the draft Platform for Action and distributed this to members of the U.S. and other government delegations. We also wrote to the U.S. State Department's senior coordinator for international women's issues and the director of its Global Conference Secretariat, urging the U.S. delegation to take a leading role in promoting women's human rights at the conference. We met with First Lady Hillary Clinton's staff to discuss priority women's human rights concerns and participated in two meetings with Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck to discuss the U.S. position on key human rights provisions in the Beijing draft Platform for Action.
Human Rights Watch also pressed European governments to promote meaningful NGO participation in the Women's Conference and to recognize the key role of eliminating women's human rights abuse in efforts to advance women's status. In May 1995, Human Rights Watch's Brussels office helped to secure European Parliament's adoption of a resolution that called on the Chinese government to guarantee freedom of speech to NGOs and press attending the conference; to refrain from excluding women because of their political views, national origin or sexual orientation; and to provide an NGO Forum site that would allow easy communication between the NGO and government meetings.
Following the conference, the Women's Rights Project briefed members and staff of the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues about the implications of the conference for women's human rights and the need for strong U.S. leadership in implementing government commitments made in Beijing. We also met with Amb. Geraldine Ferraro to press for follow-up to the commitments made in Beijing and wrote to Mrs. Clinton urging that women's human rights be more fully integrated into U.S. bilateral aid and trade relations.
Our first Global Report on Women's Human Rights, released in September in Beijing, reflected five years of research and advocacy on issues such as rape and violence against women during armed conflict, domestic violence, trafficking of women and girls into forced prostitution and marriage, and abuses against women workers in some twenty countries. It also offered concrete recommendations to governments, the United Nations and the regional human rights bodies for steps to halt gender-based violations and secure the full protection of women's human rights.
In order to press for the elimination of sex discrimination in Russia and to support efforts by local groups to invoke international human rights law to this end, we worked closely with our colleagues in Russia to publicize the findings of our report, Neither Jobs Nor Justice, then use the report in workshops and at conferences to share information and develop human rights advocacy skills. In August 1995, Human Rights Watch's Moscow representative participated in a preparatory conference to the Women's Conference in Beijing where Russian women prepared for the substantive debates over women's human rights and learned about the potential obstacles to NGO participation in the conference. In the U.S., project staff presented the findings of our report to AID and urged officials to promote respect for women's rights through their programs.
In Haiti, we continued to seek accountability for the use of rape as a tool of political repression under the military rule of Raoul Cédras, by pressing President Aristide to ensure that rape and other assaults on women were among those crimes investigated and prosecuted by his administration. In January 1995, we met with Robert Gelbard, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, to discuss the role of women in Haiti's interim police force, the incorporation of women's human rights into police training and the screening out of former police alleged to have committed rape.
In February 1995 the Women's Rights Project continued its monitoring of the use of rape by Peru's security forces with a letter to President Alberto Fujimori, calling on him to act on his promise to punish soldiers and police officers who commit rape. Evidence gathered by the project and local activists indicated that rape against women in detention continued unabated, uninvestigated and unprosecuted. The letter documented six cases of women detained by the security forces and raped, sometimes repeatedly, during their incarceration. To our knowledge, none of the women's claims had been investigated by the Peruvian authorities.
The Women's Rights Project also contributed to Human Rights Watch efforts to oppose passage of the Stop Turning Out Prisoners Act (STOP), legislation that would severely limit the ability of prisoners in the U.S. to seek redress for serious violations of human and civil rights. The project was particularly concerned that this legislation, approved by Congress in late 1995, would cut off some of the minimal remedies available to women victims of rape and sexual assault committed by prison guards and staff.
In March 1995 Human Rights Watch protested the death sentence passed on Flor Contemplacion, a Filipina domestic worker in Singapore, and urged President Ong Teng Cheong to commute her sentence. Contemplacion was sentenced to death in January 1993 for the murder of another Filipino domestic worker and her employer's four-year-old son. Human Rights Watch received information indicating that there were serious doubts about the fairness of her trial. Despite international outcry calling for a new trial to ensure Contemplacion's right to due process, the Singapore government executed her in March.
The Women's Rights Project continued its efforts to press member states of the United Nations to integrate women's human rights into the U.N.'s system-wide human rights activities. In February, we submitted a written statement to the U.N. Human Rights Commission supporting the work of the special rapporteur on violence against women and calling attention to specific instances of government-sponsored or -tolerated violence against women. The project has supplied the special rapporteur with extensive documentation of human rights abuses against women to assist her in preparing her first report on the extent, causes, and consequences of violence against women.
The project also continued its efforts to publicize the need for protection programs that can prevent rape and other abuse in refugee camps. We called on the UNHCR to put into place mechanisms to institute programs similar to those undertaken in Kenya in other refugee camps around the world. In 1995 project staff had met several times with the UNHCR, including individuals assessing the Women Victims of Violence program in the Kenyan refugee camps. We also raised the problem of women refugees' physical safety with U.N. High Commissioner Sadako Ogata in July at a U.S. Congressional briefing. In the U.S., we participated in a forum sponsored by the U.S.-based Women's Commission on Refugee Women and Children to strengthen the UNHCR Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women. In August, we presented our findings at a UNIFEM-sponsored conference in Ethiopia on the protection of refugee and internally displaced women in Africa.
In 1995 the Women's Rights Project increased its participation in training activities with colleagues from around the world. We began working with women's rights activists in 1994 to develop strategies for applying human rights documentation and advocacy methods to gender-specific human rights violations. Women's Rights Project staff participated in training workshops with the Center for Women's Global Leadership in New Jersey with women activists from around the world and with members of WiLDAF (Women in Law and Development in Africa) from fifteen African countries in Uganda. In 1995 we participated in Albania's first international forum on women's human rights, outlining and assessing methods for deterring domestic violence with human rights advocacy, and we presented women's rights case studies to a conference in Trinidad on how to document women's human rights abuses. Project staff also led several workshops at the NGO Forum in Huairou, China on using human rights advocacy to ensure government accountability for abuses against women. Finally, we began a joint effort with the Institute for Women, Law and Development to produce a training manual for women's human rights activists.