Domestic Violence Awareness Month, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Your Agency 

Dear IAOHRA Members,  

At this year’s annual conference, IAOHRA members committed to take one action to utilize international human rights in collaboration with state and local governments.  We write to share suggestions for ways that your agency can fulfill this commitment by addressing violence against women using a human rights framework.   

Local governments are on the front lines of addressing domestic violence.  Indeed, state and local agencies and city and county governments are already recognizing freedom from domestic violence as a human right.  Because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we are excited to share information on the relevance of the human rights framework to your work and offer a few suggestions for how you can use human rights in your jurisdiction. 

Freedom from Violence as a Human Right

The human rights framework provides guidance to governments in order to ensure equality for men and women on an equal basis, which include taking steps to eliminate violence against women.  A number of human rights agreements call specifically for proactive measures that promote gender equality and protect against gender discrimination in all its forms, including measures aimed at identifying, eliminating and preventing gender-motivated violence.  The core human rights standards can be found in The U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (known as the treaty for the Rights of Women or CEDAW).   

UN experts and regional human rights bodies have also made specific recommendations on ways the United States can address domestic violence, including improving enforcement of protection orders, holding dialogues with vulnerable communities, conducting education and awareness raising to condemn violence against women and improving training for law enforcement.  These recommendations can be found here:  Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Decision by the Inter-American Commission in the Jessica Lenahan (Gonzalez) case 

By recognizing freedom from domestic violence as a fundamental right, you can emphasize the need for proactive steps to eliminate harm before it occurs and underscore that violence against women negatively impacts many areas of life, including education, health and work, and implicates women’s ability to exercise other fundamental rights and freedoms.  You will also join local governments in a number of cities and counties that have recognized the role of state and local governments in securing this human right.  

State and Local Governments, Violence Against Women and Human Rights

Last month, the Seattle Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution recognizing the protection against violence as a human right and a basis for the federal government to pass the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Through the resolution, the Commission expressed support for VAWA and emphasized the Senate’s obligations to (enact laws that do not discriminate and to respect and ensure the right to be protected against violence.  The Commission cites a number of international agreements and standards and provides just one example of ways that you can encourage policymakers to make legislative choices that protect and vindicate human rights.  (The Text of the Resolution is in the Appendix).  

By passing this resolution, the Seattle Human Rights Commission joined a number of U.S. cities and counties that have recognized freedom from domestic violence as a fundamental human right, including: 

·         Miami-Dade County.  In July, the County’s Board of Commissioners passed a resolution declaring freedom from domestic violence as a fundamental human right.  The resolution notes the important role that local agencies and officials play in addressing domestic violence and calls upon local agencies to incorporate human rights standards on domestic violence into their policies and practices.  You can find the resolution here.

·         Baltimore, MD and Cincinnati, OH.  Cities have also taken action to address violence against women through human rights.  In 2011, Cincinnati’s City Council passed a resolution encouraging the City to raise awareness of domestic violence as a human rights issue and declaring that state and local governments have a responsibility to secure this right.  Earlier this year, Baltimore’s City Council passed a similar resolution recognizing this fundamental human right and calling on state and local governments to secure this right.  Links to these resolutions are here and here. 

These resolutions demonstrate a local commitment to addressing violence against women and also highlight that local actors are joining leaders in the U.S. and worldwide by recognizing this human rights issue.  

Ways Your Agency Can Promote and Protect the Right to Be Free From Violence

In addition to passing resolutions like the Seattle Human Rights’ Commission’s and working with policymakers in your jurisdiction to recognize the right to be free from violence, IAOHRA members can promote and protect this right in a number of ways.  

Specifically, you can:

•   write op-eds on local concerns regarding domestic violence and the importance of steps to prevent and eliminate violence, guided by human rights standards;

•   convene or participate in hearings, roundtables, or panels on domestic violence to explain the application of the human rights framework to local or state government efforts to protect community members from domestic violence;

•   conduct trainings with other government agencies or with community partners on using human rights principles in their work around domestic violence; and/or

•   conduct educational outreach with local schools, colleges, and universities to educate youth on how human rights principles can be applied locally to domestic violence prevention.

 

Domestic Violence Month and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25th provide a great opportunity to bring human rights into your work.  

We would love to hear about any actions you are taking to incorporate human rights and are available to answer any questions you may have. You can contact us with updates or questions at iaohraoutreach@law.columbia.edu.

 

Risa E. Kaufman                                             Shawn Martel Moore                

Executive Director                                          President            

Columbia Law School                                      International Association of  Official Human Rights 

Human Rights Institute                                   Agencies  

 

JoAnn Kamuf Ward

Associate Director

Human Rights in the US Project

Columbia Law School

Human Rights Institute

 

 

APPENDIX: SEATTLE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION RESOLUTION

 

Resolution #12-03: Support for House Passage of Senate VAWA bill 

Whereas, all Seattle residents are born free and equal in dignity and rights; and 

Whereas, the Seattle Human Rights Commission is committed to protecting and advocating for justice, human rights, and the equal treatment of all people who live and work in Seattle; and 

Whereas, the protection against violence is a fundamental human right, 

Whereas, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has stalled in Congress; and 

Whereas, the Senate version of VAWA includes important protections for groups particularly affected by violence against women, as Native Americans, immigrants and refugees, and LGBTQ communities while the House version of VAWA does not; and 

Whereas, the Senate version of VAWA more fully embodies the core human rights of equality, safety, liberty, integrity and dignity which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Declaration on Human Rights among others;

Whereas, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has urged the U.S. to reassess its laws and policies protecting domestic violence survivors and punishing abusers; and 

Whereas, in 2011 the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (ICHR) already required the United States to comply with its international duty to prevent violence against women in the case of Jessica Lenahan (Gonzáles) v. the United States, through the enactment of legislation and policy reforms that do not discriminate and provide for equal protection before the law to victims of domestic violence and their children, under Article II of the American Declaration on Human Rights; and 

Whereas, the Commission supports the Seattle Women’s Commission’s call for the U.S. House to pass the Senate version of VAWA and the Commission co-sponsored a public rally with the Seattle Women’s Commission to support the Senate version of VAWA on June 27, 2012; 

Therefore be it resolved, that the Seattle Human Rights Commission hereby declares its support for the U.S. Senate version of VAWA and calls upon the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Senate version this year, in compliance with its international obligations to enact legislation that does not discriminate and to respect and ensure the right to be protected against violence.

 

Adopted by the Seattle Human Rights Commission on September 6, 2012