Through its ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)22 in 1996, Pakistan assumed the obligation to protect women from sexual and other forms of gender-based violence perpetrated by state agents and private actors alike. As a party to CEDAW, Pakistan is obliged "to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women"23 including "any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women . . . on a basis of equality of men or women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms. . . ."24 The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Comittee), established under CEDAW, has noted that "[g]ender-based violence is a form of discrimination which seriously inhibits women's ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men."25 As part of its obligation to prevent violence against women as a step toward eliminating sex discrimination, the government is required to ensure that women victims of violence have access to an effective remedy for the violation of their rights.26 This duty to provide an effective remedy requires the government to show due diligence in investigating and prosecuting instances of violence against women.27 In such cases, the effective collection of medical evidence is an integral part of a proper investigation, which, in turn, is central to the successful implementation of penal sanctions against perpetrators of violence against women. Similarly, the ability of the police, prosecutors, and judges to evaluate and use medical evidence is critical to ensuring effective prosecutions of perpetrators of violence against women. Hence, pursuant to its legal obligations under CEDAW, the government of Pakistanmust provide an efficient and effective system of collection of medical evidence to facilitate the proper investigation and prosecution of cases of violence against women. Toward the same end, the state must ensure that the police, prosecutors, and judges are fully trained and prepared to interpret and utilize medical evidence in order to advance the prosecution of violence against women without prejudice to the accused.
In 1992 the CEDAW Committee adopted a general recommendation and comments on states' obligations under CEDAW that spelled out the facets of any potentially effective remedy to the problem of violence against women. The committee noted that states are obliged under CEDAW to take steps to provide the following:
(a) Effective legal measures, including penal sanctions, civil remedies and compensatory provisions to protect women against all kinds of violence, including inter alia violence and abuse in the family, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace;
(b) Preventive measures, including public information and education programmes to change attitudes concerning the roles and status of men and women;
(c) Protective measures, including refuges, counseling, rehabilitation and support services for women who are the victims of violence or who are at risk of violence.28
The duties enumerated by the CEDAW Committee extend beyond the criminal justice system and encompass preventive and protective measures, including "refuges, counseling, rehabilitation and support services."29 The U.N. Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power30 similarly provides that "[v]ictims should receive the necessary material, medical, psychological and social assistance through governmental, voluntary, community-based and indigenous means."31 In accordance with these recognized standards, the state should take affirmative measures to promote women's access to health care services, including psychological care. The state should alsoestablish immediately quality shelters for battered women that function not as de facto detention facilities but as refuges where women can find safety and shelter without compromising their personal autonomy and freedom of movement.
In its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted in December 1993, the United Nations reaffirmed the state's obligation of due diligence, especially as it applies to the protection of women from violence.32 The declaration denounces violence against women, including violence in the home, as "a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women."33 It provides that "states should condemn violence against women . . . [and] exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, and in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women."34 The declaration explicitly states that governments' obligation applies regardless of "whether those acts [of violence] are perpetuated by the State or by private persons."35
Furthermore, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Pakistan has not ratified but is a cornerstone of international human rights law, requires governments to ensure the rights to life and security of the person of all individuals in their jurisdiction, without distinction of any kind, including sex.36 The ICCPR would require Pakistan to not only refrain from, but also prevent private actors from committing, acts of violence against women.37