12.15 Human Rights

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A number of countries in the Asia Pacific region and globally have failed to ratify or implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Moves towards the achievement of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) are slow in being achieved. This lack of achievement in gender equality severely impedes the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of Governments.”

(para 210, p. 89, BPFA)

Over recent years, globally and regionally, there has been a backlash against civil society actors, particularly women’s human rights NGOs, which has placed activists at risk in their own countries. There has also been a resurgence of conservative forces where women’s rights are denied in the name of culture, religion or other identity-based constructs.

Since 1995 the broader political, economic and social environment has increasingly circumscribed the positive construction and promotion of women’s human rights globally. As a result, human rights activism is increasingly being criminalised and human rights defenders are being persecuted. Women human rights defenders, because they break traditional prescriptions for women and because they are relentless in challenging undemocratic power systems, and are particularly vulnerable.

Gains noted in the Beijing+10 processes were that formal institutions had made some contributions in addressing the need to promote and protect women’s human rights. Many more countries in the Asia Pacific region had become parties to the Convention of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the cornerstone for achieving women’s rights. The Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted in July 1998 provides for the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court with jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity, in both international and non-international conflicts. However, there are still many countries in the Asia Pacific region that have not yet ratified CEDAW and a number of other countries have maintained substantive reservations to it. Governments have failed to adopt legislation, giving effect to the provisions of CEDAW in domestic settings. Accountability mechanisms to ensure implementation of such legislation is absent in many cases and the Optional Protocol to CEDAW is yet to be ratified by many countries.

Actions by governments and civil society have resulted in practices that infringe on governments obligations under international human rights law. Examples include trafficking for purposes of prostitution (in contravention of CEDAW) and lapses in the implementation of labour laws in export processing zones (in contravention of ILO agreements). Many women experience human rights violations as a result of the interaction of varying forms of oppression, e.g. race and gender combine to create discriminatory practices against indigenous women such as the refusal to recognise sacred women’s sites and land rights. The intersection of religion and gender is seen in discriminatory practices that restrict women’s inheritance rights.