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UN rights chief calls for action to tackle ‘plague’ of violence against women

UN rights chief calls for action to tackle ‘plague’ of violence against women

Louise Arbour
Progress has been made already this year in protecting human rights worldwide, such as the recent adoption of a convention against enforced disappearances and other legislation, the top United Nations rights officer said today, but she stressed that more must be done in other areas, particularly to curb the “plague” of violence against women.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour also told a press briefing in New York that Tuesday’s decision by the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor to name a Sudanese minister and a militia commander as the first suspects for war crimes in Darfur would help deal with the issue of impunity although this was still a major concern.

She voiced optimism about progress in the work of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. “I think in the general landscape of human rights normative work this year, we’ve seen lots of progress,” she said, citing the adoption of the treaty against enforced disappearances and other initiatives, including on torture and the protection of indigenous peoples.

But she said gender-based attacks remain a cause for grave concern. “The continuing plague of violence against women…continues to be a very serious issue in times of war, in times of peace, in times of transition to peace and I think we need to be much more proactive,” Ms. Arbour said, adding she hoped this issue would be highlighted again next week on 8 March, which is International Women’s Day.

“The second thematic issue…that I think should trouble all of us is the question of impunity,” she added.

Ms. Arbour also said she sensed a “renewed interest and momentum” this year by the international community in looking toward abolishing the death penalty, adding she hoped there is now public interest in looking at this.

Turning to country-specific issues, earlier this year she travelled to Nepal, where the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has a large presence and is working toward helping the peace process. Ms. Arbour also visited Bolivia to sign an agreement on opening an office there.

Responding to a reporter’s question on the failure earlier this month of the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to obtain visas to get into Darfur, Ms. Arbour said she would not characterize the reasons put forward by the Government for refusing entry, but strongly disagreed with the decision.

“My understanding is that they had objected to a member of the high-level mission and to a staff member and, assuming that my information on that is correct, I think it’s entirely unacceptable that United Nations staff not be granted access in the discharge of their professional responsibilities,” she said.

“The mission was launched by the Human Rights Council in late December, there were interminable discussions…about the proposed dates for the visit and the need of course for visas, so frankly I think an allegation that they were not given sufficient time is not credible,” she said, highlighting however that the mission was not aborted but travelled elsewhere in the region and will soon report to the Council.

Earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed his disappointed that the team could not get into Sudan.