International human rights law addresses violence against women and girls directly, establishing a duty on the part of the state to prevent sexual and domestic violence and to effectively prosecute and punish those who perpetrate it. Authoritative interpretations of international human rights law furthermore suggest that all women have the right to decide independently in matters related to abortion, without interference from the state or others.
Children enjoy special protections under international law. The child is recognized as an active subject of rights, who must be allowed to exercise her rights independent in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child261and who must be heard in all matters that affect them.262 At the same time, international law acknowledges the potential vulnerability of the child and provides special guarantees to protect the best interests of the child263 and to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.264
This report indicates that Mexico falls short of its international obligations in all of these aspects. All human rights treaties to which Mexico is a party, including CEDAW, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará), and the American Convention on Human Rights, are directly applicable in Mexico, and take precedence over state laws.265
International human rights law applicable in Mexico establishes violence against womenincluding sexual violenceas a form of discrimination266 and as a human rights violation in its own right.267 For girls under eighteen, the Convention on the Rights of the Child furthermore establishes an obligation on the part of state parties to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence including sexual abuse as well as from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.268
International law and authoritative interpretations of the law also recognize that violence prevents women and girls from exercising their human rights and that violence against women is closely related to violence against children in the home.269 This connection was highlighted in 2003 by Susana Villarán, then-special rapporteur on womens rights for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in her report on the violence in Ciudad Juárez in Mexico:
Violence against women is, first and foremost, a human rights problem. It has been accorded priority in the region as such, with the conviction that its eradication is essential to ensure that women may fully and equally participate in all spheres of national life. Violence against women is a problem that affects men, women and children; it distorts family life and the fabric of society, with consequences that cross generations. Studies have documented that having been exposed to violence within the family during youth is a risk factor for perpetrating such violence as an adult. It is a human security problem, a social problem and a public health problem.270
In light of this, and as a party to central human rights treaties on womens human rights, Mexico has an obligation to take all appropriate legal, administrative, and social measures as may be needed to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women,271 to provide adequate protection against family violence and abuse, rape, sexual assault and other gender-based violence,272 and to protect children from all forms of violence.273 In addition, all persons under Mexican jurisdiction have the right to prompt judicial protection and relevant remedies for violations of their human and constitutional rights.274
The CEDAW Committee,275 which monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),276 has repeatedly expressed its concern with Mexicos failure to prosecute and punish cases of violence against women. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors the implementation of the CRC, has made a similar statement with regard to the serious problem of physical and sexual abuse of children both within and outside the family in Mexico.277
In 1998, the CEDAW committee recommended that state laws on violence against women be adjusted to conform with national laws.278 The Committee also recommended a number of actions to ensure accountability for violence against women, including legal action, training judicial, law enforcement and health personnel, awareness-raising, and strengthening victims services. 279 In 2002, the committee repeated its pleas in this regard, expressing great concern at the violence against women in Mexico, including domestic violence, which continues to go unpunished in several states.280 Specifically, the committee requested that Mexico take steps to ensure that women victims of such violence can obtain reparation and immediate protection and to train health-care workers, police officers and staff of special prosecutors offices in human rights and dealing with violence against women.281
In 2003, two CEDAW experts visited Mexico to conduct an inquiry into the abduction, rape, and murder of women in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. The committee experts concluded that the situation in Ciudad Juárez constituted a clear violation of the CEDAW convention, 282 and noted that they had been notified of similar patterns of violence elsewhere in Mexico.283
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the entity which until recently was the main overseeing body monitoring the implementation of the Convention of Belém do Pará,284 referred to the prevailing impunity for violence against women in Mexico in a 1998 report, and recommended that Mexico adopt such urgent and effective measures of a juridical, educational and cultural nature as required to put an end to domestic violence against women, a serious problem that affects Mexican society.285
These measures were still lacking in 2003, when the special rapporteur on womens rights for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report based on her investigation of the Mexican governments response to the violence against women in Ciudad Juárez.286 In her report, the special rapporteur noted that there remains a significant tendency on the part of some officials to either blame the victim for placing herself in a situation of danger, or to seek solutions that emphasize requiring the victim to defend her own rights.287 The special rapporteur further lamented the general impunity for domestic and sexual violence and its contribution to continuing violations of womens human rights:
[Domestic and sexual] violence has its roots in concepts of the inferiority and subordination of women. When the perpetrators are not held to account the impunity confirms that such violence and discrimination is acceptable, thereby fueling its perpetuation. [T]he Commission has emphasized that the failure to effectively prosecute and punish indicates that the State in effect condones it. It creates a climate that is conducive to domestic violence because society sees no will on the part of the State to take effective action against it.288
In 1999, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that physical and sexual abuse [against children]within and outside the familyis a serious problem in [Mexico] and recommended, inter alia that law enforcement be strengthened with respect to such crimes, [and] that adequate procedures and mechanisms to deal effectively with complaints of child abuse should be reinforced in order to provide children with prompt access to justice.289
Human Rights Watchs research for this report indicates that, in many states, the legal framework to prevent and punish violence against women and girls continues to be nonexistent or seriously deficient, and certainly below minimum international standards.
Where abortions are legal, they must be safe: public health systems should train and equip health service providers and take other measures to ensure that such abortions are not only safe but accessible.
Authoritative interpretations of international law recognize that obtaining a safe and legal abortion is vitally important to womens effective enjoyment and exercise of their human rights, in particular rights to equality, life, health, physical integrity, and the right to decide on the number and spacing of children.291 These interpretations sustain the conclusion that decisions about abortion belong to a pregnant woman alone, whether she was raped or not, without interference by the state or others. Any restrictions on abortion that unreasonably interfere with a womans exercise of her full range of human rights should be rejected.
The 1994 ICPD Programme of Action292 was the first international consensus document to put forward the idea that abortion services, where legal, need to meet certain standards. The ICPD Programme of Action states [i]n circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe.293 Since 1994, U.N. treaty bodies have consistently linked a pregnant womans right to decide about abortion without interference with her right to nondiscrimination and to equal enjoyment of other human rights. Treaty bodies have been particularly emphatic that abortion should be legal, safe, and available for rape victims, and have recommended that Mexico amend its laws to facilitate access to abortion.
U.N. treaty bodies have expressed particular concern with legislation that restricts access to legal and safe abortion after rape and incest. It is noteworthy that Mexican state laws do not allow for abortion after incest, in a prima facie contravention of international law as interpreted by these treaty bodies.
Moreover, international human rights law protects the right to noninterference with ones privacy and family,294 as well as the right of women to decide on the number and spacing of their children without discrimination.295 These rights can only be fully implemented where women have the right to make decisions about when or if to carry a pregnancy to term without interference from the state. In the case of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, abortion is the only way for a woman or girl to exercise this right.
The CEDAW Committee has often recommended that states parties review legislation prohibiting abortion to meet their obligation to eliminate discrimination against women,296 as set out in detail in its General Recommendation No. 24 on women and health: When possible, legislation criminalizing abortion could be amended to remove punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion.297
In its concluding remarks on Colombia the CEDAW Committee has expressed the view that restrictive abortion laws are contrary to the rights to nondiscrimination, health and life:
The Committee notes with great concern that abortion, which is the second cause of maternal deaths in Colombia, is punishable as an illegal act. No exceptions are made to that prohibition, including where the mothers life is in danger or to safeguard her physical or mental health or in cases where the mother has been raped. The Committee believes that legal provisions on abortion constitute a violation of the rights of women to health and life and of article 12 of the Convention [the right to health care without discrimination].298
In 1998, moreover, the CEDAW Committee recommended to Mexico that all states of Mexico should review their legislation so that, where necessary, women are granted access to rapid and easy abortion.299
The Human Rights Committee has likewise noted with concern the relationship between restrictive abortion laws, clandestine abortions, and threats to womens lives, and has recommended the review or amendment of punitive and restrictive abortion laws.300 In 2004, the Committee recommended the review of Colombian laws restricting abortion after rape and incest:
[The Committee] is especially concerned that women who have been victims of rape or incest or whose lives are in danger as a result of their pregnancy may be prosecuted for resorting to such measures (art. 6) [the right to life]. The State party should ensure that the legislation applicable to abortion is revised so that no criminal offences are involved in the cases described above.301
In the case of Chile, where abortion has been illegal in all circumstances since 1986, the Committee noted that clandestine abortions can be a threat to womens lives, a statement that is relevant for Mexico where many rape victimsdespite their right to a legal abortionstill see themselves forced to undergo clandestine and sometimes unsafe operations:
The criminalization of all abortions, without exception, raises serious issues, especially in the light of unrefuted reports that many women undergo illegal abortions that pose a threat to their lives. The State party is under a duty to take measures to ensure the right to life of all persons, including pregnant women whose pregnancies are terminated. . The Committee recommends that the law be amended so as to introduce exceptions to the general prohibition of all abortions.302
In the case of Peru, the Committee went further to note that the penal code provisions of that countrywhich subject women to criminal penalties even when the pregnancy is the result of rape--are incompatible with the rights to equal enjoyment of other rights protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), life, and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as protected by the ICCPR:
It is a matter of concern that abortion continues to be subject to criminal penalties, even when pregnancy is the result of rape. Clandestine abortion continues to be the main cause of maternal mortality in Peru. The Committee once again states that these provisions are incompatible with articles 3 [equal enjoyment of rights], 6 [right to life], and 7 [right to freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment] of the Covenant and recommends that the legislation be amended to establish exceptions to the prohibition and punishment of abortion.303
In its 2001 concluding observations on Guatemalaa country with stricter restrictions on abortion than those in Mexicothe Human Rights Committee noted that the State has the duty to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the right to life (art. 6) of pregnant women who decide to interrupt their pregnancy by providing the necessary information and resources to guarantee their rights and amending the legislation to provide for exceptions for the general prohibition of all abortions except where the mothers life is in danger.304
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has in its 2003 General Comment on adolescent health and development placed particular emphasis on the physical and mental health risks related to early pregnancy, and has urged States parties to provide adequate services, including abortion services where they are not against the law:
Adolescent girls should have access to information on the harm that early pregnancy can cause, and those who become pregnant should have access to health services that are sensitive to their rights and particular needs. States parties should take measures to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality in adolescent girls, particularly caused by early pregnancy and unsafe abortion practices, and to support adolescent parents. Young mothers, especially where support is lacking, may be prone to depression and anxiety, compromising their ability to care for their child. The Committee urges States parties (a) to develop and implement programmes that provide access to sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion services where abortion is not against the law.305
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has also, in concluding observations on specific countries, expressed concern with the illegality of abortion for underage rape victims. In 2001, the Committee noted with regard to Palau: The Committee notes that abortion is illegal except on medical grounds and expresses concern regarding the best interests of child victims of rape and/or incest in this regard. The Committee recommends that the State party review its legislation concerning abortion, with a view to guaranteeing the best interest of child victims of rape and incest.306
In addition to a general concern with restrictive abortion laws, the U.N. Human Rights Committee has expressed its concern with obstacles to abortion where it is legal. These statements have referred to situations similar to those exposed in this report, and therefore are relevant for Mexico.
In 2000, for example, the Committee noted with regard to Argentina: The Committee is concerned that the criminalization of abortion deters medical professionals from providing this procedure without judicial order, even when they are permitted to do so by law.307 In its General Comment on the right to equal enjoyment of civil and political rights, the Human Rights Committee also requested that governments provide information in their periodic reports about access to safe abortion for women who have become pregnant as a result of rape, as relevant to its evaluation of the implementation of this right.308
The right to information, certainly as it relates to the right to health, includes both the negative obligation for a state to refrain from interference with the provision of information by private parties and a positive responsibility to provide complete and accurate information necessary for the protection and promotion of reproductive health and rights, including information about abortion.309 Human rights law further recognizes the right to nondiscrimination in access to information and health services, as in all other services.310 Women stand to suffer disproportionately when information concerning safe and legal abortion is withheld.
The American Convention on Human Rights mandates judicial protection for human and constitutional rightswhich in Mexico include the right to abortion after rape or incestand stipulates that state parties to the Convention will ensure a prompt and adequately enforced judicial remedy for violations of such rights.311 Where rape and incest victims have limited access to legal abortion after rape, this right has arguably been infringed.
 CRC, article 5.
 CRC, article 12(1).
 CRC, article 3(1).
 CRC, article 34.
 See discussion of Mexicos federal system of government above at footnote 12 and 13 and accompanying text.
 CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 19: Violence Against Women, para. 1, in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendation Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, May 12, 2004, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.7. Mexico ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on March 23, 1981.
 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará), adopted on June 9, 1994, and entered into force on March 5, 1995. The Convention of Belém do Pará was ratified by Mexico on November 12, 1998. Article 3 of the convention reads: Every woman has the right to be free from violence in both the public and private spheres.
 CRC, articles 19 and 34.
 Convention of Belém do Pará, article 5. See also CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 19: Violence Against Women, in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendation Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, May 12, 2004, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.7; and Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child : Ethiopia, CRC/C/15/Add.144, February 21, 2001, paras. 46 and 47.
 Special Rapporteur on womens rights of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, The Situation of the Rights of Women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico: the Right to be Free from Violence and Discrimination, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.117, Doc. 44, March 7, 2003, para. 122.
 Convention of Belém do Pará, article 7.c.
 CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 19: Violence Against Women, para. 24(b).
 CRC, article 19.
 ACHR, article 25.
 The implementation of the main human rights treaties under the United Nations human rights system is supervised by committeescalled treaty monitoring bodiesmade up of independent experts selected from the states parties to the respective treaties. The treaty monitoring bodies include the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on Migrant Workers. These committees receive periodic reports from states parties which they review in dialogue with the states. After such reviews, the committees issue conclusions and recommendationsgenerally called concluding remarksregarding the fulfillment of the rights protected by the conventions they monitor in that specific country. The growing body of concluding remarks issued by the committees provides an important guide for the committees thinking on the concrete status and scope of the rights protected under the United Nations system. The committees also sometimes issue conceptual guidelines on the implementation of a specific human rightcalled general comments or general recommendations. These general comments or recommendations provide yet another source on the evolving authoritative interpretation of the human rights in question.
 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 34/180 of December 18, 1979 and entered into force on September 3, 1981. CEDAW was ratified by Mexico on March 23, 1981.
 Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Mexico, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.112, November 10, 1999, para. 25.
 Ibid., para. 411.
 Ibid., paras. 412-413.
 CEDAW Committee, Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and exceptional sessions, U.N. Doc. A/57/38, Part 3, para. 431.
 Ibid. para. 432.
 CEDAW Committee, Report on Mexico produced by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and reply from the Government of Mexico, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/2005/OP.8/MEXICO, January 27, 2005, para 53
 Ibid., para 47.
 In 2004, an inter-governmental body was set up within the OAS system to monitor the implementation of this convention. Mexico was instrumental in setting up this mechanism. Agencia Mexicana de Noticias, Destaca Mexico en la OEA al combatir la violencia contra la mujer [Mexico stands out at the OAS in combating violence against women], NOTIMEX, October 27, 2004. At the time of writing, this body had yet to comment substantively on the issue.
 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Mexico, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.100, Doc. 7 rev. 1, September 24, 1998, para. 756.
 Special rapporteur on womens rights of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, The Situation of the Rights of Women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico: the Right to be Free from Violence and Discrimination, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.117, Doc. 44, March 7, 2003.
 Ibid., para. 125.
 Ibid., paras. 128-129.
 Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Mexico, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.112, November 10, 1999, para. 25.
 Report of the Special Rapporteur, Paul Hunt, U.N. E/CN.4/2004/49, February 16, 2004, para. 30.
 For a broader review of international human rights law and abortion, see Human Rights Watch, International Human Rights Law and Abortion in Latin America, A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, July 2005 [online] http://hrw.org/backgrounder/wrd/wrd0106/wrd0106.pdf (retrieved January 31, 2006); Human Rights Watch, Decisions Denied: Womens Access to Contraceptives and Abortion in Argentina, A Human Rights Watch Report Vol. 17, No. 1(B), June 2005 [online] http://hrw.org/reports/2005/argentina0605/argentina0605.pdf (retrieved January 31, 2006); and Center for Reproductive Rights and Policy (CRLP, now Center for Reproductive Rights, CRR) and University of Toronto International Programme on Reproductive and Sexual Health Law, Bringing Rights to Bear: An Analysis of the Work of UN Treaty Monitoring Bodies on Reproductive and Sexual Rights (New York: CRLP, 2002), in particular pp. 145-158, [online] http://www.reproductiverights.org/pdf/pub_bo_tmb_full.pdf (retrieved March 3, 2005).
 Referring to the outcome document from the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994.
 ICPD Program of Action, para. 8.25.
 ICCPR, article 17.
 CEDAW, article 16(1)(e). This article reads: States Parties shall . . . ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women . . . (e) The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights.
 See e.g. CEDAW Committee, Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, U.N. Doc. A/54/38/Rev.1, Part II, July 9, 1999, para. 229 (noting with regard to Chile: The Committee recommends that the Government consider review of the laws relating to abortion with a view to their amendment, in particular to provide safe abortion and to permit termination of pregnancy for therapeutic reasons or because of the health, including the mental health, of the woman); and CEDAW Committee Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, U.N. Doc. A/53/38/Rev.1, February, 1998, para. 349 (noting with regard to the Dominican Republic: The Committee invites the Government to review legislation in the area of womens reproductive and sexual health, in particular with regard to abortion, in order to give full compliance to articles 10 [education] and 12 [health] of the Convention.) See also CEDAW Committee, Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, U.N. Doc. A/54/38/Rev.1, Part I, July 9, 1999, para. 393, quoted above at footnote 298 and accompanying text.
 CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 24, Women and Health (Article 12), U.N. Doc. No. A/54/38/Rev.1 (1999), para. 31(c): 31. States parties should also in particular: (c) Prioritize the prevention of unwanted pregnancy through family planning and sex education and reduce maternal mortality rates through safe motherhood services and prenatal assistance. When possible, legislation criminalizing abortion could be amended to remove punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion.
 CEDAW Committee, Report of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, U.N. Doc. A/54/38/Rev.1, July 9, 1999, para. 393.
 CEDAW Committee, Report of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, U.N. Doc. A/53/38/Rev.1, part I, February 6, 1998, para. 426
 See Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Colombia, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/80/COL, May 26, 2004, para. 13; Human Rights Committee, Concluding Comment of the Human Rights Committee: Peru, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/70/PER, November, 15, 2000, para. 20; Human Rights Committee, Concluding comment of the Human Rights Committee: Venezuela, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/71/VEN, 2001, para. 19; Human Rights Committee, Concluding comment of the Human Rights Committee: Chile, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/79/Add.104, 1999, para. 15; Human Rights Committee, Concluding comment of the Human Rights Committee: Costa Rica, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/79/Add.107, 1999, para. 11; and Human Rights Committee, Concluding comment of the Human Rights Committee: Guatemala, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/72/GTM, 1999, para. 19.
 Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Colombia, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/80/COL, May 26, 2004, para. 13.
 Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Chile, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/79/Add.104, March 3, 1999, para. 15.
 Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Peru, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/70/PER, November 15, 2000, para. 20.
 Human Rights Committee, Concluding comment of the Human Rights Committee: Guatemala, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/72/GTM, 2001, para. 19.
 Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 4: Adolescent Health and Development in the Context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 2003, para. 27.
 Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding comment of the Committee of the Rights of the Child: Palau, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.149, 2001, paras. 46-47.
 Human Rights Committee, Concluding observation of the Human Rights Committee: Argentina, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO.70/ARG (2000), para. 14.
 Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 28: Equality of rights between men and women (article 3), U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.10, March 29, 2000, para. 11.
 Article 19, The Right to Know: Human Rights and Access to Reproductive Health Information (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), pp. 39 and 61-72.
 See International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, article 2(2) as well as Committee on Economic Social, and Cultural Rights, General Comment 14, paras. 12(b), and 18-19.
 ACHR, article 25.