V. International Legal Standards
Iraq is a state party to major international human rights treaties protecting the rights of women and girls, and these treaties remain in force even in situations of armed conflict or occupation.72 Iraq, like the United States and other members of the CPA, is also a state party to the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of
International law requires states to address persistent violations of human rights and take measures to prevent their occurrence. With respect to violations of bodily integrity, states have a duty to prosecute abuse, whether an agent of the state or a private citizen commits the violation.73 When states routinely fail to respond to evidence of sexual violence and abuse or abduction of women and girls, they send the message that such attacks can be committed with impunity.74 In so doing, states fail to take the minimum steps necessary to protect the right of women and girls to physical integrity.
International human rights law increasingly recognizes women’s right to sexual autonomy, including the right to be free from nonconsensual sexual relations. The right to sexual autonomy for women is reflected in a number of international declarations and conference documents.75 Sexual autonomy is closely linked to the rights to physical security and bodily integrity. When a woman or girl is subjected to sexual violence with no realistic possibility for redress, her right to make free decisions regarding her sexual relations is violated.
In 1992, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee enumerated a wide range of obligations for states related to ending sexual violence, including ensuring appropriate treatment for victims in the justice system, counseling and support services, and medical and psychological assistance to victims.76
CEDAW also recognizes that many women’s rights abuses emanate from society and culture, and compels governments to take appropriate measures to correct these abuses. CEDAW requires governments to “modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.”77
The Convention on the Rights of the Child also sets forth standards for the protection of girls from sexual violence and exploitation. State parties must undertake to protect children “from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,” and in particular take all appropriate measures to prevent “
Under international humanitarian law, the CPA, as the occupying power, has a duty to restore and maintain public order and safety and to respect the fundamental rights of the territory’s inhabitants.80 The Fourth Geneva Convention places special emphasis on the requirement that “women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.”81
In addition to these general provisions, the occupying power must act to ensure the effective administration of justice. In most criminal matters this should be done through the implementation of preexisting penal laws, unless such laws “constitute a threat to
72 Iraq became a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on January 25, 1971; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on January 25, 1971, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on August 13, 1986; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on June 15, 1994.
73 Article 2 of the ICCPR requires governments to provide an effective remedy for abuses and to ensure the rights to life and security of the person of all individuals in their jurisdiction, without distinction of any kind including sex.
74 See Human Rights Watch, “’We’ll Kill You If You Cry’: Sexual Violence in the Sierra Leone Conflict,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 15, no. 1(A), January 2003; Human Rights Watch, Scared at School: Sexual Violence Against Girls in South African School (Human Rights Watch: New York), 2001; Human Rights Watch, Suffering in Silence: The Links Between Human Rights Abuses and HIV Transmission to Girls in Zambia (Human Rights Watch: New York), 2002; and Human Rights Watch, “South Africa: Violence Against Women and the Medico-Legal System,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 9, no. 4(A), August 1997.
75 At the U.N. International Conference on Population and Development held in October 1994 in Cairo, Egypt, and the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women held in September 1995 in Beijing, China, governments explicitly endorsed women's sexual autonomy. In the 1994 Cairo Programme of Action on Population and Development, delegates from governments around the world pledged to eliminate all practices that discriminate against women and to assist women to “establish and realize their rights, including those that relate to reproductive and sexual health.” In the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, delegates from governments around the world recognized that women’s human rights include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality free of coercion, discrimination and violence. See United Nations, Programme of Action of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (New York: United Nations Publications, 1994), A/CONF.171/13, 18 October 1994, para. 4.4(c); and United Nations, Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (New York: United Nations Publications, 1995), A/CONF.177/20, 17 October 1995, para. 223.
76 Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, “Violence Against Women,” General Recommendation no. 19 (eleventh session, 1992), U.N. Document CEDAW/C/1992/L.1/Add.15.
77 CEDAW, art. 5(a).
78 Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. res. 44/25, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force Sept. 2, 1990, article 34.
79 CRC article 39.
80 See Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, article 43, and Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949, articles 29 and 47.
81 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949, art. 27.
82 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949, art. 64.