English  |  Espa˝ol  |  Franšais  |    |    | 



May 2000



I.   Protecting the human rights of women

A.   Reaffirming basic principles and standards    
1.   Women's rights are human rights    
2.   Universality and indivisibility of all human rights    
3.   Equality and non-discrimination

B.   The human rights of women: some key issues    
1.   Reproductive health rights    
2.   Gender equality and property, land rights and inheritance
3.   Gender equality and the family    
4.   Trafficking in women and children

II.  Implementing the human rights of women since Beijing  

Steps forward  


1.   The Fourth World Conference on Women in l995 resulted in the Beijing Platform for Action, and was a landmark in the recognition of the human rights of women. Through their commitments,  Governments recognised that the human rights of women and of the girl child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights, must be promoted, protected and recognized at all stages of the life cycle, and must reflect the diversity of women in all its manifestations. The review of the Beijing Conference currently being undertaken provides an opportunity to evaluate what progress has been made since 1995 towards realising these commitments.

2.   The Beijing Conference reflected the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and explicitly reaffirmed that "the human rights of women and of the girl child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights".  It also underlined that equality is not just an issue for women, but also for men. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action has become a key document in the struggle for respect for the human rights of women and the girl child, and for the human rights of all.

3.   Since the Beijing Conference, United Nations treaty bodies and special mechanisms have implemented the standards which were affirmed in Vienna, and elaborated in Beijing, by providing authoritative interpretations of their content, and giving them practical application. This paper summarises these developments, which constitute key building blocks for the implementation of  the commitments made in Beijing, and are of central relevance to the five year review.

4.   OHCHR recommends that those involved in the five year review of Beijing maintain the integrity of those standards, and now focus on their implementation and the effective protection of those rights.  


A.   Reaffirming basic principles and standards

1.   Women's rights are human rights

5.   The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood". In 1993, the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights devoted particular attention to the question of gender inequality in the full enjoyment of human rights. That Conference clearly acknowledged that women's rights are human rights and that the human rights of women are an inalienable part of universal human rights and form an integral part of the human rights activities of the United Nations, including the promotion of all human rights instruments relating, directly or indirectly, to women.

6.   The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action reaffirmed that the human rights of women and the girl child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights and established a number of specific strategic objectives to ensure that women enjoy their full human rights. The Vienna Declaration also set as a priority for Governments and the United Nations the achievement of the full and equal enjoyment by women of all human rights, the full participation of women as both agents and beneficiaries of development, and the integration of human rights into the mainstream of United Nations system-wide action. It is clear that the practical realization of those objectives  present a very great challenge today and in the years ahead.

2.   Universality and indivisibility of all human rights

7.   The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action proclaimed that "all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated", which means that human rights must be the same everywhere and for everyone.  Moreover, although national and regional particularities and historical cultural and  religious backgrounds need to be considered, it is the duty and responsibility of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all,  regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.

8.   Human rights are also indivisible and interdependent, which means that civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights should be treated equally. Moreover, the interdependence of rights requires for the consideration, promotion and protection of all the rights at the same time and without giving priority to one over the other.  

3.   Equality and non-discrimination

9.   The international community has a duty to ensure the realization of equality among all human beings, men and women, as required by all international human rights instruments.  The principle of equality is inherent in the notion of human rights and should be a basis for their realization. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women requires in its article 1 not only that women should be accorded rights equal to those of men, and that is there should be no de jure discrimination, but also that women should be able to enjoy all their rights,  which requires that other-than-legal obstacles be identified and eliminated. However, eliminating de facto discrimination is a much more complex  and difficult task than enacting laws which recognize equal rights for all.

10.  Women are thus entitled to the enjoyment of all human rights, including those relating to economic development and resources, as part of their equal entitlement to all human rights. Lack of equal access to resources and opportunities represents a denial of rights, which creates obstacles to equality between men and women, and results in the perpetuation of women's economic inequality and poverty.  Women's equal treatment in economic and social life are therefore cornerstones for the full realization of these rights.

11.  The legal principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the core of human rights treaties and declarations, and provide the foundation for the enjoyment of human rights.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women elaborates this principle as it applies in all aspects of women's lives.

12.  It is clear that the term "equity", which is conditioned by subjective criteria, cannot become a substitute for the fundamental legal principle of equality.  Thus any language in the draft document for the five-year review of the Fourth World Conference on Women that would suggest replacement of the principle of equality by "equity" would undermine this principle, and should be avoided.

13.  It is also clear from the text of international human rights instruments that references to "dignity of women"  do not encompass and cannot be substituted for the principle of "the dignity and worth of the human person and the equal rights of men and women" enshrined in the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

14.  Human rights treaty bodies have provided authoritative interpretations of the principle of equality enshrined in the treaties.

15.  In March 2000, the Human Rights Committee gave its interpretation of article 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in  a comprehensive new General Comment regarding the equal rights of men and women..

16.  The Human Rights Committee confirmed that gender equality is an overarching principle that applies to the enjoyment of all rights:  civil, cultural, economic, political and social and that the right to gender equality is not merely a right to non-discrimination. Affirmative action is required.  States parties are under an obligation to take all necessary steps to enable every person to enjoy the rights provided for in the Covenant "on an equal basis and in their totality".  Such steps include "the removal of obstacles to the equal enjoyment of such rights, the education of the population and of state officials in human rights and the adjustment of domestic legislation so as to give effect to the undertaking set forth in the Covenant.  The State party must not only adopt measures of protection, but also positive measures in all areas so as to achieve the effective and equal empowerment of women.  States parties must provide information regarding the actual role of women in society so that the Committee may ascertain what measures, in addition to legislative provisions, have been or should be taken to give effect to these obligations."

17.  The far-reaching implications of the General Comment are evident in the requirement that States parties must prohibit discrimination on the ground of sex and "put an end to discriminatory actions both in the public and the private sector" (emphasis added).  In its concluding observations following the examination of State party reports, the Human Rights Committee has placed increasing emphasis on the need to adopt appropriate measures to combat discrimination by non-State actors. In her most recent  report to the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2000/3, paras. 54-57, 116),

18.  In the General Comment, the Committee stated that it was keenly aware that "inequality in the enjoyment of rights by women throughout the world is deeply embedded in tradition, history and culture, including religious attitudes".  Indeed, the subordinate role of women in some countries is illustrated by the tragic incidence of pre-natal sex selection and the abortion of female fetuses. Bearing in mind that women are particularly vulnerable in times of internal or international armed conflicts, States parties must take special measures to protect women from rape, abduction and other forms of gender based violence.

19.  The General Comment further discusses the application of the principle of equality to the problem of trafficking of women and children as well as forced prostitution; to freedom of movement; to access to justice; to the conduct of public affairs; to equality between boys and girls; regarding so-called "honor crimes"; to the dissemination of obscene and pornographic material portraying women as objects of violence; and to issues that affect reproductive health and equality within the family.

20.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child is increasingly asked to define and interpret article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires States parties  to "respect and ensure the rights set forth in the … Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, …". The Committee has examined the reports presented by States parties on their implementation of the Convention, and has dealt with the problems posed by and for States in which social structures and attitudes have a discriminatory impact, sometimes for girls and sometimes for boys, in the enjoyment of their human rights.

21.  Earlier this year, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discriminationadopted General Comment 25 on gender-related dimensions of racial discrimination. The Committee notes that racial discrimination does not always affect women and men equally or in the same way.  There are circumstances in which racial discrimination only or primarily affects women, or affects women in a different way, or to a different degree than men.  Such racial discrimination will often escape detection if there is no explicit recognition or acknowledgment of the different life experiences of women and men, in areas of both public and private life.

22.  Further, certain forms of racial discrimination may be directed towards women specifically because of their gender, and the consequences of racial discrimination may primarily or only affect women. Women may also be hindered by a lack of access to remedies and complaint mechanisms able to address racial discrimination because of gender related impediments, such as gender-bias in the legal system and discrimination against women in private spheres of life.  Recognizing that some forms of racial discrimination have a unique and specific impact on women, the Committee has determined that its future work will take into account gender factors or issues which may be interlinked with racial discrimination.  

B.   The human rights of women: some key issues

1.   Reproductive health rights

23.  The Programme of Action of the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) set out the context and content of reproductive rights.  "Reproductive rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other relevant United Nations consensus documents. These rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also includes the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence as expressed in human rights documents."

24.  The Beijing Conference incorporated much of the ICPD language on reproductive rights directly into the Platform for Action. The Platform states: "Good health is essential to leading a productive and fulfilling life, and the right of all women to control all aspects of their health, in particular their own fertility, is basic to their empowerment." Further: "The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence."

25.  In l999, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Womeninterpreted Article 12 of the Convention, which requires states to eliminate discrimination against women in access to health services throughout the life cycle, particularly in the areas of family planning, pregnancy and confinement and during the post-natal period.  The Committee affirmed that access to health care, including reproductive health, is a basic right under the Convention, stating, inter alia:

"States parties should implement a comprehensive national strategy to promote women's health throughout their lifespan. This will include interventions aimed at both the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting women, as well as responding to violence against women, and will ensure universal access for all women to a full range of high-quality and affordable health care, including sexual and reproductive health services.

"States parties should allocate adequate budgetary, human and administrative resources to ensure that women's health receives a share of the overall health budget comparable with that for men's health, taking into account their different health needs."

26.  The Human Rights Committee's General Comment 28 on equality is of particular relevance to women's reproductive health rights. It notes that "where there is a requirement for the husband's authorization to make a decision in regard to sterilization...or where States impose a legal duty upon doctors and other health personnel to report cases of women who have undergone abortion... Women's privacy may also be interfered with by private actors, such as employers who request a pregnancy test before hiring a woman".

27.  The Committee recommended that States parties,  when reporting on the right to life, should provide data on birth rates and on pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths of women. Gender-disaggregrated data should be provided on infant mortality rates.  Moreover, "States parties should give information on any measures taken by the State to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies, and to ensure that they do not have to undertake life-threatening clandestine abortions".

28.  To assess compliance with article 7 (prohibition of torture and ill-treatment) of the Covenant, as well as with article 24 (special protection of children), the Committee stated that it must receive information on national laws and practice with regard to domestic and other types of violence against women, including rape, on access to safe abortion to women who have become pregnant as a result of rape, and on measures to prevent forced abortion or forced sterilization.  "In States where the practice of genital mutilation exists, information on its extent and on measures to eliminate it should be provided".

29.  The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women has addressed policies and practices that impact women's reproductive rights and contribute to, cause or constitute violence against women.  In her l999 report to the Commission on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur stated that many forms of violence against women result in violations of women's reproductive rights because such violence often imperils their reproductive capacities and/or prevents them from exercising reproductive and sexual choices.  Similarly, many reproductive rights violations constitute violence against women per se; this is defined as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life".

30.  The Special Rapporteur stated that inadequate levels of knowledge about human sexuality and inappropriate or inadequate reproductive health information and services, culturally- imbedded discrimination against women and girls, and limits on women's control over their own sexual and reproductive lives, all contribute to violations of women's reproductive health.  The Special Rapporteur recommended that States ensure that respect for the individual rights of women is the foremost concern in the formulation and implementation of reproductive health and family planning programmes.

31.    The Committee on the Rights of the Child has raised in a systematic manner issues of reproductive and sexual rights of girls. It has formulated recommendations upon its examination of a large number of reports from States parties on their implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding matters such as:  legal ages for marriage that are seen to be too low, or lower for girls than for boys; legal age of consent for sexual relations that can be too low, or lower for girls than for boys, and can be linked to insufficient legal protection against sexual abuse and exploitation for girls deemed to be above the legal age of sexual consent; high rates of adolescent pregnancy and/or abortion; access to age-appropriate sex education through effective channels:  right of children to obtain medical advice and treatment without requiring parental consent, in accordance with their age and maturity; and greater vulnerability of girls to HIV/AIDS and to sexually transmitted diseases.

  2.   Gender equality and property, land rights, inheritance

32.    At its recent session in April 2000, the Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on women's equal ownership of, access to and control over land and their equal rights to own property and to adequate housing.  In that resolution the Commission inter alia affirmed that discrimination in law against women with respect to acquiring and securing land, property and housing, as well as financing for land, property and housing, constitutes a violation of women's human right to protection against discrimination. It urged Governments to comply fully with their international and regional obligations and commitments concerning land tenure and the equal rights of women to own property and to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing;  to design and revise laws to ensure that women are accorded full and equal rights to own land and other property, and the right to adequate housing, including through the right to inheritance; and to undertake administrative reforms and other necessary measure to give women the same right as men to credit, capital, appropriate technologies, access to markets and information.

33.    The Commission on Human Rights has also encouraged Governments to support the transformation of customs and traditions that discriminate against women. Such customs deny women security of tenure and equal ownership of, access to and control over land and equal rights to own property and to adequate housing, and to ensure the right of women to equal treatment in land and agrarian reform as well as in land resettlement schemes and in ownership of property and in adequate housing. Governments were urged to take other measures to increase land and housing availability to women living in poverty, particularly female heads of households. The Commission also recommended that Governments encourage financial lending institutions to ensure that their policies and practices do not discriminate against women; and, recommended that international institutions, regional, national and local housing financing institutions and other credit facilities promote the participation of women, take into account their views, and remove discriminatory policies and practices, giving special consideration to single women and households headed by women.

34.    In 1997, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted a General Comment (No. 7) on the right to adequate housing and forced evictions, noted inter alia that women are especially vulnerable, given the extent of statutory and other forms of discrimination which often apply in relation to property rights (including home ownership) or rights of access to property or accommodation, and their particular vulnerability to acts of violence and sexual abuse when they are rendered homeless.  The Committee stated that the non-discrimination provisions of the Covenant impose an additional obligation upon Governments to ensure that, where evictions do occur, appropriate measures are taken to ensure that no form of discrimination is involved.

35.    The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women reported to the 2000 session of the Commission on Human Rights on economic and social policy and its impact on violence against women. She noted that unequal ownership rights leave women dependent on men. In many countries there is no legal provision enabling women to own property. Under some traditional laws, women do not inherit land as it is assumed that a women will marry and then be provided for by her husband outside her community. Again, when her husband dies she will not inherit as the land falls back to the husband's family. Widows are often left without means to support themselves financially, or obtain necessary medical care. and may be made to leave their marital home. Where women receive property or funds, they may incur the anger of other family members, and suffer from (threats of) violence or even death. When women do not hold any land, they frequently are unable to obtain credit, even when women are legally able to do so, as land is required as collateral. Not being a full member of society in legal terms prevents female heads of household from being able to support their family. "Formal" housing might not be available or affordable and the family may be exposed to the vagaries of the informal housing sector. But married women are also affected by this situation, as they are dependent on their husbands in legal and economic terms. Where the husband does not allocate the resources equally, women are at a severe disadvantage and powerless. In cases of domestic violence, the inability to live life independently without a husband or father may prevent women from seeking safety.  

3.    Gender equality and the family

36. The Human Rights Committee affirms the principle of equality within the family, in its General Comment 28. The Committee notes that the right to marriage entails equality for men and women to enter marriage only with free and full consent. "Many factors may prevent women from being able to make the decision to marry freely.  One factor relates to the minimum age for marriage.  That age should be set by the State on the basis of equal criteria for men and women. These criteria should ensure women's capacity to make an informed and uncoerced decision."

37. The Committee pointed to a second factor. In some States, either by statutory or customary law,  consent to marriage is given by a guardian, who is generally male, instead of by the woman herself. The existence of social attitudes, which tend to marginalize women victims of rape and which put pressure on them to agree to marriage, are incompatible with a woman's right under article 23 of the Covenant. "A woman's free and full consent to marriage may also be undermined by laws which allow the rapist to have his criminal responsibility extinguished or mitigated if he marries the victim".  The Committee notes further that polygamy violates the dignity of women and should be abolished wherever it continues to exist.

38. For the Committee, equality during marriage implies that husband and wife should participate equally in responsibility and authority within the family.  States must also ensure equality in regard to the dissolution of marriage, which excludes the possibility of repudiation.

39. In l991, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted a General Comment on the right to adequate housing which stated inter alia that the right to adequate housing applies to everyone.  While the reference to "himself and his family" in article 11 of the Covenant reflected assumptions as to gender roles and economic activity patterns commonly accepted in 1966 when the Covenant was adopted, the Committee asserted that the phrase cannot be read today as implying any limitations upon the applicability of the right to individuals or to female-headed households or other such groups.  Thus, the concept of "family" must be understood in a wide sense.  Further, individuals, as well as families, are entitled to adequate housing regardless of age, economic status, group or other affiliation or status and other such factors.  In particular, enjoyment of this right must, in accordance with article 2 (2) of the Covenant, not be subject to any form of discrimination.

40. An important contribution to the definition of the family and gender equality has been made by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. As set forth in her first report on domestic violence, the Special Rapporteur calls for a broad understanding of family to include the multiplicity of family forms and provide protection for those within the family, irrespective of family form.

41. In her 1999 report to the Human Rights Commission, the Special Rapporteur stated that the State, through legal and moral regulation, plays an important role in family life, as well as an important role in determining the status, rights and remedies of individual family actors. Women's traditional familial roles are enshrined in secular and religious laws on, inter alia, sexuality, violence (including marital rape or the lack thereof), privacy, divorce, adultery, property, succession, employment, and child custody. Such laws validate and entrench the dominant ideology of the traditional family and the woman's position within it. "Familial ideology is often Janus faced. On the one hand, it offers private space for nurturing and intimacy. On the other hand, it is often the site of violence against women and social constructions of women's role in society that are dis-empowering."

42. Throughout the world, there exist divisions between the dominant, normative ideal of the family and the empirical realities of family forms. Whether the ideal is the nuclear family or a variation of the joint or extended family, such ideals in many cases are not wholly consistent with the realities of modern family forms. These family forms include, in increasingly large numbers, female-headed households in which women live alone or with their children because of choice (including sexual and employment choices), widowhood, abandonment, displacement or militarization. Despite such differences, however, the culturally-specific, ideologically dominant family form in any given society shapes both the norm and that which is defined as existing outside of the norm and, hence, classified as deviant. Thus, the dominant family structure - whether it is dominant in fact or merely in theory - serves as a basis against which relationships are judged. Further, it serves as the standard against which individual women are judged and, in many cases, demonized for failing to ascribe to moral and legal dictates with respect to family and sexuality. The extent to which such concepts apply to and have an impact upon women's lives is mediated by class, caste, race, ethnicity, access to resources and other ways in which women are marginalized.

43. The dominance of familial ideology both within and outside the walls of the family home entrenches women's roles as wives and mothers and impedes their access to non-traditional roles. Such ideology exposes women to violence both within and outside the home by perpetuating women's dependent status, particularly among poor and working class women, and by exposing those women who do not fit within or ascribe to traditional sex roles to gender-based hate crimes. Such demonization fuels and legitimates violence against women in the form of sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, honour killings and other forms of femicide.  Commentators argue that in order to ensure that women's human rights are protected in both public and private life, the acceptance of non-traditional family forms is necessary. It is essential to recognize the potential for, and work to prevent, violence against women and the oppression of women within all family forms.

44. The Special Rapporteur noted that one of the primary ways in which dominant familial ideology affects women, as well as men, is through dictates on sexuality.  She further points out that asylum law in some countries has also recognized the need to bring sexual orientation within the gambit of international human rights protection.

45. The Special Rapporteur points out that the Programme of Action adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development affirms the plurality of family forms and recognizes that there is no universal family model. Juxtaposed with the articulation of the family as the basic unit of society is the recognition that the family is socially constructed and thus is affected and transformed by demographic and socio-economic changes. International standards may influence those changes positively by requiring that consent and equality remain the basic principles around which such relationships are reconstructed.

46. Further, while traditionally human rights texts have given protection to families on the basis of the full and free consent of partners, international norms have now also begun to address the question of sexual autonomy and the right to privacy of individual human beings. The Beijing Platform for Action states, for example, that "the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters relating to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of discrimination, coercion and violence".

47. The Special Rapporteur has received information about numerous forms of violence against women in the family, including but not limited to traditional forms such as wife battery and domestic assault. The Special Rapporteur included in her 1996 report  a framework for model legislation on domestic violence. She urged States to adopt the broadest possible definitions of acts of domestic violence and relationships within which domestic violence occurs, bearing in mind that such violations are not as culture-specific as initially observed, since increasing migration flows are blurring distinctive cultural practices, formally or informally. Furthermore, the broadest definitions should be adopted with a view to compatibility with international standards. States are urged to enact comprehensive domestic violence legislation which integrates criminal and civil remedies rather than making marginal amendments to existing penal and civil laws.  

4. Trafficking in women and children

48. Trafficking is now recognised as a serious human rights issue - a special and global infringement of the human rights of women. Trafficking was a major issue of discussion in the context of violence against women in Beijing and the Beijing Platform of Action reflects a broad understanding of trafficking. Although no definition has been agreed upon at the international level, the link between trafficking, forced prostitution and the violation of women=s rights has been clearly established. An essential aspect is the recognition that because of the core elements of coercion and exploitation, trafficking constitutes violence against women, and consequently a violation of the human rights of the women.

49. Both the UN General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights have recently emphasized the human rights dimensions of the problem of trafficking in women and children. Among the human rights treaty bodies, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Human Rights Committee (HRC) and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) have reviewed the issue in examining reports from State Parties.

50. The principal body dealing with trafficking is the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery of the Sub-Commission on Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (itself a subsidiary body of the Commission on Human Rights). In 1999, trafficking in persons and exploitation of prostitution of others was  a primary focus.  A number of Special Rapporteurs have also continued to address the trafficking of women in the context of their respective mandates, and the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women gave particular attention to the issue of trafficking in women and girls in her 1999 report.

51. A consistent and concerted approach to trafficking requires a common understanding of the problem and general agreement on preferred approaches and solutions. OHCHR recognises that trafficking is not a single event but a series of constitutive acts and circumstances implicating a wide range of actors.  It is essential that anti-trafficking measures take account of this fact and that efforts are made to address the entire cycle of  trafficking.  This will involve improving the information base, ensuring an adequate legal framework and an effective law enforcement, prevention, protection and support for trafficked persons, cooperation and coordination between national, regional and international responses.

52. In developing detailed responses to each stage of the trafficking cycle it is essential that certain basic policy principles guide and inform any anti-trafficking initiative.   These principles must ensure a uniform adherence to a human rights-based approach and can also provide a means of measuring the success of anti-trafficking measures:

   First: The protection of human rights and the dignity of trafficked persons must be given    the highest priority.

   Second: Governments must accept responsibility for the problem of trafficking and for    the development and implementation of appropriate responses. Trafficking is not a private    wrong - this is an injustice that involves and implicates us all.

   Third: The definition of the term - trafficking - in laws, policies and programmes should    not be restricted to sexual exploitation. It should be broad enough to cover other    identified purposes without ambiguity, such as bonded or forced labour and other slavery-    like practices.  It should use child and gender sensitive language to signal that children    and women are the ones most vulnerable to trafficking.

   Fourth: Traffickers and their collaborators must be prosecuted and adequately penalized    -  paying full attention to due process rights and without compromising the rights of    victims.

   Fifth: Trafficked persons should not be criminalized for the involuntary illegality of their    entry or residence in countries of transit and destination, or for the involuntary activities    they perform as a consequence of their being trafficked.

   Sixth:  Victims of trafficking, including those with "irregular" immigration status, should    be granted protection and necessary physical and mental care by the authorities of    receiving countries.

   Seventh: Victims of trafficking should be provided legal and other assistance in the    course of any criminal, civil and other actions against traffickers. Governments should    be encouraged to provide temporary or permanent residence permits, safe shelter and    adequate witness protection during legal proceedings.

   Eight: The safe and, as far as possible, voluntary return of victims, instead of automatic    repatriation, should be ensured, particularly in cases of organized criminal involvement.

   Ninth:  Children should not be treated the same way as adults in the identification, rescue    and repatriation process. Children have special rights and special needs that must be    recognized and protected.

Finally: efforts must be made to address the root causes of trafficking such as poverty, inequality, discrimination and racism.  


53. Since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, the United Nations system has implemented the Platform's objectives through, a system-wide medium-term plan for the advancement of women. The first plan (1996-2001) follows the structure of the Beijing Platform for Action and most of the participating organizations and entities of the United Nations system approached the advancement of women through main-streaming gender concerns into the full range of their activities. Some committed themselves to support programmes specifically targeted at women while others adopted the advancement and empowerment of women and the achievement of women's equality as their primary focus. Basically, all entities of the United Nations are, to varying degrees and in their specific areas of concern, participating in activities to implement the Beijing Platform for Action.

54. The second system-wide plan for the advancement of women for 2002–2005 is to be prepared in two phases. A first phase consists of an assessment of activities undertaken by the United Nations system and of obstacles encountered and lessons learned from the current plan and the system-wide process of its implementation. The second phase should consist of a new plan reflecting the growing emphasis on action and delivery.

55. The system-wide plan is a useful indicator of the extent to which the advancement of women and gender integration is being successfully implemented by the United Nations system. It is however obvious that the understanding of women's issues as the human rights of women to be integrated throughout the system still need to be developed. The Commission on the Status of Women is still at the initial stage of the integration of the human rights dimension in its agenda.

56. The integration of  a gender perspective in all human rights activities, and ensuring that the human rights of women are included as an important element of all activities of the system has been a priority objective of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights since Beijing. OHCHR, in coordination with the Division for the Advancement of Women, has developed a multi-level approach to main-streaming gender in the Office and in human rights mechanisms as a means of realizing the human rights of women and girl children.

Steps forward 57. Respecting and protecting the human rights of women are now central purposes of the United Nations. The results of the five year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action will be crucial to the effectiveness of future efforts to this end, and it is crucial that the high human rights standards which were agreed in Beijing are safeguarded.

58. At the international level, priority should be given to achieving universal ratification, without reservation, of those treaties which protect the human rights of women, including the Optional Protocol to Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

59. At the national level, governments should take effective action to respect, protect and fulfill those standards.  Priority should be given to national implementation of international human rights norms as interpreted by the human rights treaty bodies and the mechanisms of the special procedures system. It is important to underline that those norms now reflect a very high degree of consensus: there is  almost universal ratification of  the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and widespread accession to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

60. In approaching the future it is essential to be guided by the following words of the Beijing Platform for Action; "Unless the human rights of women, as defined by international human rights instruments, are fully recognized and effectively protected, applied, implemented and enforced in national law as well as in national practice in family, civil, penal, labour and commercial codes and administrative rules and regulations, they will exist in name only."

Geneva, 10 May 2000



Site map  Contact us