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Jordan is a party to international human rights treaties protecting women and girls from gender-based violence and discrimination.133 In 1975, Jordan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which requires governments to ensure the rights to life and security of all individuals in their jurisdiction, without distinction of any kind, including gender.134 In 1992, Jordan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), specifically assuming the obligation to protect women from discrimination and gender-based violence perpetrated by both state and private actors.

By definition “honor” crimes are committed by private actors. Nonetheless, states parties to CEDAW are still bound to protect women’s lives and physical security. General Recommendation 19, adopted by the CEDAW Committee in 1992, reinforces this principle, noting that “states may also be responsible for private acts if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights, or to investigate and punish acts of violence.”135

Official involvement in the forcible infliction of virginity exams violates guarantees of freedom from discrimination found in CEDAW and the ICCPR.136 Such exams also violate provisions of the ICCPR and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ensuring the right to bodily integrity.137 When conducted against the will of the girl or woman and with no medical justification, the examinations are themselves a form of sexual abuse. They are degrading and intimidating, both as a physical violation and for the threatened consequence of loss of family honor.138

In the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted in 1993, the U.N. General Assembly affirmed states’ obligation to protect women from violence. The declaration explicitly 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” and emphasizes that the declaration applies regardless of whether acts of violence are perpetuated by the state or by private actors.139

International law addresses situations in which custom and tradition interfere with the treatment of women as citizens and human beings with the same rights as men. Under CEDAW, the government of Jordan has an obligation 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.”140

Furthermore, international human rights law guarantees women the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters relating to their sexuality free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.141 International protections for the right of women to sexual autonomy can also be found in the principal of bodily integrity enumerated in ICCPR provisions on liberty and security of person.142 Therefore, when a woman is severely punished for pre-marital sex, her right to make free decisions regarding her body is violated.

133 These include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified July 1992; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified May 1975; Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified May 1991; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified May 1975; Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified November 1991.

134 ICCPR, articles 2, 6, and 9.

135 Committee on the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW Committee), General Recommendation 19, Violence against women, (Eleventh session, 1992), Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI\GEN\1\Rev.1 at 84 (1994), (contained in document A/47/38), para. 9.

136 See Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, article 2 and ICCPR, articles 3 and 26. See also Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 7.

137 ICCPR, article 7. article 16 of the Convention against Torture requires states parties to prevent cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or punishment when committed by or with the acquiescence of a public official. The Convention against Torture further obliges states to take specific steps—education, monitoring, complaint procedures, investigations—to prevent such treatment.

138 See Human Rights Watch, “We Want to Live As Humans”: Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2002), pp. 21-24.

139 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, February 23, 1994 G.A. res. 48/104, 48 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 217, U.N. Doc. A/48/49 (1993), article 4. This declaration is a non-binding resolution that establishes an international standard.

140 CEDAW, article 5(a).

141 United Nations, Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (New York: United Nations Publications, 1995), U.N. Doc. A/CONF.177/20, October 17, 1995, para. 96.

142 ICCPR, article 9. This right, although traditionally applied to conditions of arrest or detention, has been expanded over time to cover non-custodial situations. For example, CEDAW’s Recommendation No. 19 defined sex discrimination to include gender-based violence, regardless of where it takes place, which impairs or nullifies women’s rights and freedoms under international law. The committee stated, “These rights and freedoms include, inter alia . . . the right to liberty and security of person.”

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