Women and Justice: Keywords

International Case Law

L.M.R. v. Argentina Human Rights Committee (2007)

Sexual violence and rape

VDA, on behalf of her daughter LMR, filed a petition alleging violations of LMR’s rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The petition alleged violations of LMR’s right under article 2 (right to protection from state against violations of the rights within the ICCPR), article 3 (right to be free from discrimination), article 7 (to freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment), article 17 (freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence, or unlawful attacks on honor or reputation), and article 18 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion). At the time of the incident, LMR was 20 years old but had permanent mental disability with a mental age between 8 and 10 years old. When LMR’s mother brought her to hospital after LMR complained of pains, she discovered that LMR was raped by her uncle and was 14.5 weeks pregnant. Under section 82.6 of the Argentinean Criminal Code, abortion is legal if the pregnancy is the result of the rape of a mentally impaired woman. LMR filed a police complaint and scheduled an abortion, but the abortion was prevented by an injunction against the hospital. LMR appealed unsuccessfully to the Civil Court. The Supreme Court of Buenos Aires ruled the abortion could take place. However, under pressure from anti-abortion groups, the hospital refused to perform the abortion because her pregnancy was too far advanced. LMR eventually obtained an illegal abortion. Article 2 of the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR creates an obligation for state parties to protect individuals’ rights under the Covenant. The United Nations Human Rights Committee found that court hearings caused LMR’s abortion to be delayed to the point that she required an illegal abortion. The Committee found that although forcing LRM to endure a pregnancy that resulted from rape did not constitute torture under Article 7, it did cause physical and emotional suffering and therefore still constituted a violation of LRM’s rights under Article 7. Article 7 protects individuals from mental as well as physical suffering, and the Committee saw the violation as particularly serious given LRM’s status as a person with a disability. Further, the Committee found that because the decision of whether to proceed with an abortion should only have been made between the patient and her physician, LRM’s right to privacy under Article 17 was violated. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LRM’s abortion, this litigation process was so prolonged that LRM’s pregnancy had advanced to the stage that her physician would no longer perform the abortion. This fact, the Committee reasoned, amounted to a violation of Article 2, because LRM did not, in fact, have access to an effective remedy (the abortion) and was forced to obtain one illegally. This case contributed to a growing consensus in international law that restricting women’s access to an abortion may be considered torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 7 of the ICCPR. It also demonstrated that obstructing access to legal, elective medical procedures may violate the Covenant. Additionally, it indicated that the Court will analyze the right of a person with a disability under Article 7 in a way which heightens the recognized impact of the violation.

 

VDA, en nombre de su hija LMR, presentó una petición por violación de los derechos de LMR en virtud del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos (PIDCP). La petición alegaba violaciones del derecho de LMR en virtud del artículo 2 (derecho a la protección del Estado contra violaciones del derecho en virtud del PIDCP), artículo 3 (derecho a no ser discriminado), artículo 7 (a no ser sometido a torturas u otros actos crueles, inhumanos o trato degradante), el artículo 17 (libertad de interferencia arbitraria con la privacidad, familia, hogar o correspondencia, o ataques ilegales a honor o reputación), y el artículo 18 (derecho a la libertad de pensamiento, conciencia y religión). Al momento del incidente, LMR tenía 20 años de edad, pero tenía una discapacidad mental permanente que la hacía tener una edad mental entre 8 y 10 años. Cuando la madre de LMR la llevó al hospital después de que LMR se quejó de dolores, descubrió que LMR fue violada por su tío y tenía 14.5 semanas de embarazo. Bajo la sección 82.6 del Código Penal Argentino, el aborto es legal si el embarazo es el resultado de la violación de una mujer con discapacidad mental. LMR presentó una denuncia policial y programó un aborto, pero el aborto fue prevenido por una orden judicial contra el hospital. LMR apeló sin éxito al Tribunal Civil.

La Corte Suprema de Buenos Aires determinó que el aborto podría llevarse a cabo. Sin embargo, bajo la presión de los grupos contra el aborto, el hospital se negó a realizar el aborto porque el embarazo estaba muy avanzado. LMR finalmente obtuvo un aborto ilegal. El artículo 2 del Protocolo Facultativo del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos establece la obligación de los Estados parte de proteger los derechos de las personas en virtud del Pacto. El Comité de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas determinó que las audiencias judiciales causaron un retraso en el aborto de LMR hasta el punto de que ella requirió un aborto ilegal. El Comité determinó que aunque obligar a LRM a soportar un embarazo que resultó de una violación no constituía una tortura en virtud del Artículo 7, causaba sufrimiento físico y emocional y, por lo tanto, seguía constituyendo una violación de los derechos de LRM en virtud del Artículo 7. El Artículo 7 protege la salud mental de las personas además del sufrimiento físico, y el Comité consideró que la violación era particularmente grave dado el estado de LRM como persona con discapacidad. Además, el Comité determinó que debido a que la decisión de proceder o no con un aborto solo debería haberse realizado entre la paciente y su médico, se violó el derecho a la privacidad de LRM en virtud del Artículo 17. A pesar de que la Corte Suprema falló a favor del aborto de LRM, este proceso de litigio fue tan prolongado que el embarazo de LRM había avanzado a la etapa en que su médico ya no realizaría el aborto. Este hecho, razonó el Comité, equivalía a una violación del artículo 2, porque LRM no tenía, de hecho, acceso a un recurso efectivo (el aborto) y estaba obligada a obtener uno ilegalmente. Este caso contribuyó a un consenso cada vez mayor en el derecho internacional de que restringir el acceso de las mujeres a un aborto puede considerarse tortura o tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes en virtud del Artículo 7 del PIDCP. También demostró que obstruir el acceso a procedimientos médicos electivos y legales puede violar el Convenio. Además, el caso indicó que la Corte analizará el derecho de una persona con una discapacidad según el Artículo 7 de una manera que aumenta el impacto reconocido de la violación.



L.N.P. v. Argentina Human Rights Committee (2007)

Gender discrimination, Statutory rape or defilement

A 15-year-old girl, P, was allegedly sexually assaulted by three men. She immediately reported the attack to the police, but was kept waiting for hours at the police station and a medical center before being performed anal and vaginal palpations which caused her intense pain and despite complaining the sole anal nature of the attack. A social worker was sent to interview P's neighbors and relatives about her sexual history and morals during the investigation, leasing aside the three accused. The three accused were acquitted following a trial solely in Spanish despite the first language of P and several of the witnesses was Qom, and in which great reliance was placed on P's sexual history by the prosecution and the judge. P was not notified of her rights to participate in the trial nor of the outcome of the trial and she only became aware of the acquittal after two years and was unable to appeal. The Human Rights Committee found violations of Articles 2(3), 3, 7, 14(1), 17, 24, 26 of the Convention. The Committee found that the police, medical examiner and the court did not provide appropriate protections to P's age, discriminated against her in the emphasis that was placed on her sexual history, and denied her right of access to the courts when she was not informed of her legal rights. It also found that the events at the police station and the medical examination constituted inhumane or degrading treatment, and that the investigation had arbitrarily interfered with P's private life. The Committee called on the State to guarantee access for victims, including victims of sexual assault, to the courts in conditions of equality in the future. However the operative gender stereotypes, including that as a young women from a marginalized ethnic minority group, she was sexually promiscuous, which contributed towards the acquittal of the accused of the rape were unnamed, leaving the role of the stereotypes in discriminating against similar victims and their rights unaddressed.

 

Una niña de 15 años, P, presuntamente fue agredida sexualmente por tres hombres. Ella informó de inmediato del ataque a la policía, pero se mantuvo esperando durante horas en la estación de policía y en un centro médico antes de que se realizaran las palpaciones anales y vaginales, lo que le causó un dolor intenso, además ella especificó la naturaleza anal única del ataque. Se envió a una trabajadora social para entrevistar a los vecinos y familiares de P sobre su historial sexual y su moral durante la investigación, dejando a un lado a los tres acusados. Los tres acusados fueron absueltos después de un juicio únicamente en español a pesar del primer idioma de P y varios de los testigos era Qom, y en los que la fiscalía y el juez depositaron una gran confianza en la historia sexual de P. P no fue notificada de sus derechos a participar en el juicio ni del resultado del juicio y solo se enteró de la absolución después de dos años, cuando ya era muy tarde para apelar. El Comité de Derechos Humanos encontró violaciones de los artículos 2 (3), 3, 7, 14 (1), 17, 24, 26 de la Convención. El Comité determinó que la policía, el médico forense, y el tribunal no proporcionaron las protecciones adecuadas a la edad de P, la discriminaron por el énfasis que le pusieron en su historial sexual y negaron su derecho de acceso a los tribunales cuando no se le informó de sus derechos legales. También encontró que los eventos en la estación de policía y el examen médico constituían un trato inhumano y degradante, y que la investigación había interferido arbitrariamente en la vida privada de P. El Comité pidió al Estado que garantice el acceso de las víctimas, incluidas las víctimas de agresión sexual, a los tribunales en condiciones de igualdad en el futuro. Sin embargo, los estereotipos operativos de género, incluyendo que como mujeres jóvenes de un grupo minoritario étnico marginado, la tacharon como sexualmente promiscua, lo que contribuyó a la absolución de las acusadas de la violación no fue identificado, dejando el papel de los estereotipos en la discriminación contra víctimas similares y sus derechos no defendidos. 



Diene Kaba v. Canada Human Rights Committee (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Female infanticide and feticide, Forced and early marriage, Harmful traditional practices

Diene Kaba was severely beaten by her husband when she intervened to prevent the clitoral excision of her six-year-old daughter. Both mother and daughter fled Guinea and arrived in Canada where Kaba claimed refugee status for herself and her daughter on the grounds of membership of a particular social group as single women and victims of domestic violence, and in view of the serious risk of her daughter’s excision. The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) refused to grant refugee status for lack of credibility. Kaba then applied for an exemption to the permanent resident visa requirement on the basis of humanitarian and compassionate considerations, as well as a pre-removal risk assessment. The IRB rejected both applications and ordered her removal from Canada. Kaba included supporting documents in each application, including reports confirming the risk of excision in Guinea and a letter from her uncle in Guinea that attested to her husband’s threats to harm Kaba if he ever saw her again, or kill her if she did not return his daughter to him. Kaba’s husband had subsequently obtained a court order forcing Kaba’s brother and mother to do everything possible on pain of severe penalties to return his daughter to him in Guinea. The affidavits for the order show that Kaba’s daughter faced certain excision and forced marriage upon her return to Guinea. In her complaint to the Committee, Kaba cited violations of several articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including article 7 prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. The Committee held that there was no question that subjecting a woman to genital mutilation amounted to treatment prohibited under article 7 of the Covenant, and although Kaba’s daughter was fifteen at the time the Committee addressed the communication, the context and particular circumstances of her case demonstrated a real risk of genital mutilation upon her forced return to Guinea.



Zwaan-de Vries v. The Netherlands Human Rights Committee (1987)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

F.H. Zwaan-de Vries is a Netherlands national who worked for several years before becoming unemployed. Zwaan-de Vries qualified for unemployment benefits under the Unemployment Act until 1979, at which time she applied for continued support through the Unemployment Benefits Act (WWV). The Municipality of Amsterdam rejected her application in accordance with section 13 subsection 1 of WWV (the “breadwinner” clause) because she was a married woman. The WWV provision that required applicants to prove that they are the family’s “breadwinner” in order to qualify for benefits did not apply to married men. On appeal, the Municipality of Amsterdam affirmed the rejection, after which the author appealed to the Board of Appeal in Amsterdam. The Board of Appeals held that Zwaan-de Vries’ complaint was invalid, and the Central Board of Appeal affirmed this holding. In her complaint to the Committee, Zwaan-de Vries argued that the Netherlands violated article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under which all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In interpreting the scope of article 26, the Committee took into account the “ordinary meaning” of each element of the article in its context and in light of its object and purpose, noting that article 26 derives from the principle of equal protection of the law without discrimination as contained in article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, article 26 is concerned with the obligations imposed on States in regard to their legislation and its application. The Committee cited Hendrika Vos v. The Netherlands for the principle that differentiation based on reasonable and objective criteria does not amount to prohibited discrimination within the meaning of article 26. However, since the WWV required only women to prove their status as “breadwinner”, the differentiation was not reasonable. Therefore, the Netherlands violated article 26 of the Convention when it denied Zwaan de Vries a social security benefit on an equal footing with men.



Ato del Avellanal v. Peru Human Rights Committee (1988)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

In 1978, the court of first instance ruled in favor of Graciela Ato del Avellanal on a claim for overdue rent owed to her by tenants of two apartment buildings she owned in Lima. The Superior Court reversed the judgment in 1980 because article 168 of the Peruvian Civil Code stated that when a woman is married, only the husband is entitled to represent matrimonial property before the Courts; therefore, Avellanal did not herself have standing to sue. Avellanal appealed to the Peruvian Supreme Court, arguing that the Peruvian Magna Carta and the Peruvian Constitution guarantee equal rights to both men and women. After the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision, Avellanal interposed the recourse of amparo (an order to guarantee protection of the complainant’s constitutional rights), claiming a violation of article 2(2) of Peru’s Constitution, which the Supreme Court rejected. In her complaint to the Committee, Avellanal cited violations on the ground that Peru discriminated against her because she was a woman. With respect to the requirements set forth in article 14 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals, the Committee noted that the Superior Court reversed the lower court’s decision on the sole ground that Avellanal was a woman and did not have standing as such under Peruvian Civil Code article 168. The Committee also concluded that the facts before it disclosed a violation of article 3 of the Covenant which requires the State party to undertake “to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights,” and article 26 which provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to its protection.



K.L. v. Peru Human Rights Committee (2003)

Gender-based violence in general

HRC held that Peruvian government violated Article 7 (the right to be free from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment), Article 17 (the right to privacy) and Article 24 (special protection of the rights of a minor) when it denied 17 year-old the right to a legal therapeutic abortion.



Vos v. The Netherlands Human Rights Committee (1986)

Gender discrimination

The Committee held that differences of treatment based on reasonable and objective criteria do not amount to prohibited discrimination.



Dranichnikov v. Australia Human Rights Committee (2004)

Gender discrimination

HRC held sex discrimination claim inadmissible for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies because of High Court judgment in petitioner's favor.



Lovelace v. Canada Human Rights Committee (1981)

Gender discrimination

Sandra Lovelace was born and registered as a Maliseet Indian but lost her rights and status as such in accordance with section 12(1)(b) of Canada’s Indian Act after she married a non-Indian in 1970. Lovelace noted that the law did not equally adversely impact Canadian Indian men who marry non-Indian women, and therefore alleged that the law is gender discriminatory in violation of articles 2, 3, 23, 26, and 27 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Supreme Court of Canada rulings in The Attorney-General of Canada v. Jeanette Lavell and Richard Isaac v. Yvonne Bédard held that section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act is fully operative irrespective of any inconsistency with the Canadian Bill of Rights on account of sex discrimination. Although the Committee noted that the relevant provision of the Indian Act does not legally restrict the right to marry as guaranteed in article 23 of the Covenant, the Act does seriously disadvantage Canadian Indian women who want to marry a non-Indian man by limiting their family options to a domestic partnership. Lovelace raised specific issues in her complaint pertaining to her inability to continue living on the Tobique Reserve as a result of her marriage, which, according to the Committee, suggests a violation of article 27 of the Covenant which guarantees that ethnic, religious, of linguistic minorities shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess or practice their own religion, or to use their own language. The Committee considered the merits of the Indian Act in preserving the identity of the Maliseet tribe, but ultimately concluded that in light of the dissolution of Lovelace’s marriage to a non-Indian, there was no reasonable or necessary justification to deny Lovelace the right to return to the Tobique Reserve where she was born and raised. Canada’s refusal to allow Lovelace to do so was tantamount to a violation of her rights under article 27 of the Covenant.



S.W.M. Broeks v. The Netherlands Human Rights Committee (1987)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

S.W.M. Broeks, a married Netherlands national, worked as a nurse for several years before her employer dismissed her for reasons of disability. Broeks received benefits under the Netherlands social security system for five years before her unemployment payments were terminated under Netherlands law. Broeks contested the termination in domestic courts, but the Central Board of Appeal confirmed the decision of a lower municipal court not to continue unemployment payments to Broeks. In her complaint to the Committee, Broeks claimed that the Netherland’s Unemployment Benefits Act (WWV) made an unacceptable distinction on the grounds of sex and status, and discriminated against her as a woman in violation of article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under which all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to its protections. Broeks argued that because she was a married woman at the time of the dispute, the law excluded her from continued unemployment benefits. Under section 13 subsection 1 of the Unemployment Benefits Act (WWV), a married women, in order to receive WWV benefits, had to prove that she was a “breadwinner” – a condition that did not apply to married men. The Committee concluded that the differentiation that appears to be one of status is actually one of sex, placing married women at a disadvantage compared with married men, amounting to a violation of article 26 of the Covenant.