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Stop violence against women

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Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, the European Commission and High Representative Federica Mogherini issued the following statement:

Violence against women and girls is violence against the whole humankind, and should have no place in Europe or elsewhere in the world. But we all know that despite our commitment, we are still far from winning this challenge.

Violence against women happens anywhere, there is no safe place, not even at home. On the contrary. Woman are targeted at home as well as in their workplace, in schools and universities, on the street, in displacement and migration, and increasingly online through cyber violence and hate speech.

The scale of the problem stays alarming: One in three women in Europe has experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Nearly all victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation within the EU are women and girls.

In developing countries, one in every three girls is married before reaching the age of 18. There are at least 200 million women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation, which is still performed in around 30 countries.

It is our responsibility as the EU and international community, to keep our commitment to preventing, openly rejecting and condemning all acts of violence against women and girls.

It is our duty also to support and protect the victims by creating a safe environment for them to report the crimes committed against them.

The EU is committed to keep working tirelessly with our partners to strengthen legal frameworks and institutions, supporting development and education, improving services for survivors, addressing the root causes of violence, promoting women empowerment.

But ending violence against women and girls requires a firm commitment not only at institutional level. It requires a broad involvement of international organisations, of NGOs, of the civil society at large. And most of all of men.

So our goal stays clear: eliminate violence against women and girls. The EU will stay at the forefront of this international mobilisation to defend the rights of every woman and every girl to live free and safe. We do it for our future and for our present because women are the pillar of just, open, developed and democratic societies, and nothing should deprive them of the freedom to play their role freely and safely.”

The European Union has put substantial measures in place to end such violence, including:

  • The EU’s Victims’ Rights Directive ensures more and better rights for victims of crimes and specialised support for victims of sexual or gender–based violence.
  • The Commission is in the process of concluding the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
  • The Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme helps tackle violence against women and children through funding grassroots projects focusing on prevention of gender-based violence, supporting victims and women and girls at risk, training of professionals and capacity building of services.

The EU is also tackling violence against women outside of the EU:

  • Over the last two years, we have supported more than 1.5 million women and girls by providing services for protection and care related to female genital mutilation. Prevention efforts are having a positive impact: some 3,000 communities, representing 8.5 million people, have publicly announced that they are abandoning this practice.
  • On child marriage, the EU has undertaken a series of initiatives designed to change attitudes and practices regarding girls’ rights, reaching over 1.6 million people.

Background

Violence against women and girls is a widespread and devastating human rights violation that takes place across the globe. WHO estimates that one third of women and girls worldwide experience violence at some point in their lives. The numbers may only be the tip of the iceberg, as this type of violence remains largely unreported due to the silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. As a result, many perpetrators remain unpunished.

In addition to the initiatives mentioned, the EU has put in place the Victims’ Rights Directive, which ensures more and better rights to victims of all crimes. Under these rules, the most vulnerable victims such as victims of sexual violence, victims of gender–based violence and victims of violence in close relations, have access to specialised support services. Such support includes access to shelters for victims in need of a safe place and targeted and integrated support including trauma support and counselling. The European Commission is closely monitoring the implementation of this Directive in the Member States and has taken action against those Member States who have not fully or correctly transposed EU rules.

Furthermore, the EU recognises trafficking in human beings as violence against women and girls, and this dimension continues to be a focus of key actions in the context of the EU legal and policy framework, under the horizontal mandate of the EU anti-trafficking Coordinator (Overview 2012-2016 and 2017-2018).

Moreover, today, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) is publishing a new risk assessment guide for the police, to help law enforcement authorities and health sectors to better work together to prevent repeated acts of intimate partner violence and save lives.

As a priority in its External Action, the European Commission is working on concluding the EU accession to the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, the first instrument in Europe to set legally binding standards to prevent violence against women and domestic violence, protect its victims and punish perpetrators. It is the obligation of the State to fully address this type of violence in all its forms and to take the necessary measures of prevention, protection and prosecution. In partnership with the United Nations, the EU launched the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls. With an unprecedented initial investment of €500 million, we are protecting and giving voice to those women and girls who have been silenced by their societies and now want to speak up. During 2017 and 2018, it is estimated that the EU allocated more than €62 million in humanitarian aid for the prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence worldwide under its protection and health programming.

Finally, the European Commission will be lighting up its headquarters in Brussels, the Berlaymont building, in orange on the night of Monday 25 November to show its support for combatting violence against women.

Human Rights

ILO calls on Belarus President to respect workers’ rights and freedoms amid protests

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The Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, has called on the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, to prevent human rights violations and “ensure full respect for workers’ rights and freedoms” during the wave of protests that have swept the country in recent weeks. 

In his letter to the Belarus President, Ryder urged President Lukashenko to release and drop charges against six trade unionists who have been detained by the authorities after participating in peaceful protests and industrial action.

He reminded the President that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure a climate free from violence, threats or pressure against peacefully protesting workers and that any such allegations should be rapidly and independently investigated.

“I must urge you to do all in your power to prevent the occurrence of human rights violations and ensure full respect for workers’ rights and freedoms,” Ryder’s letter said.

He expressed his deep concern at reports coming out of Belarus on the arrest, detention, imprisonment and mistreatment of workers’ leaders.

‘No one should be deprived of their freedom or be subject to penal sanctions for the mere fact of organizing or participating in a peaceful strike or protest,’ Ryder wrote.

The letter recalls that the ILO has been working with the Belarus government, and the national workers’ and employers’ organizations, for 16 years, helping to address issues raised by an ILO Commission of Inquiry in 2004  which was set up following serious infringements of trade union rights and freedoms in the country.

Ryder notes that while there has been some progress on these issues, “the Commission’s recommendations are far from being fully implemented.”

The intervention by the ILO Director-General follows a request made by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

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Human Rights

Switzerland: Draft anti-terrorism law sets ‘dangerous precedent’

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A proposed new anti-terrorism law in Switzerland could set a dangerous precedent for the suppression of political dissent worldwide, a group of five independent UN human rights experts warned on Friday. 

The draft legislation, currently before the Swiss Parliament, expands the definition of terrorism and no longer requires the prospect of any crime at all, they said, in a plea for a last-minute reversal by legislators. 

‘Expansive’ definition of terrorism 

Citing international standards, the experts defined terrorism as the intimidation or coercion of populations or governments through violence that causes death or serious injury, or the taking of hostages. 

Under the bill, “terrorist activity” may encompass even lawful acts aimed at influencing or modifying the constitutional order, such as legitimate activities of journalists, civil society and political activists. 

“Expanding the definition of terrorism to any non-violent campaign involving the spreading of fear goes far beyond current Swiss domestic law and violates international standards”, said the experts, all of whom were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council

“This excessively expansive definition sets a dangerous precedent and risks serving as a model for authoritarian governments seeking to suppress political dissent including through torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” 

Other sections of the draft law have also raised concerns, such as those giving the federal police extensive authority to designate “potential terrorists” and to decide preventive measures against them.  

Expertise declined 

The rights experts had earlier written to the Swiss authorities, expressing their concerns about the incompatibility of the bill with human rights and international best practices in counter-terrorism.  However, no changes were implemented. 

 “While we recognize the serious security risks posed by terrorism, we very much regret that the Swiss authorities have declined this opportunity to benefit from our technical assistance and expertise on how to combine effective preventive measures with respect for human rights”, they said. 

 The experts called on Swiss parliamentarians to keep in mind their country’s traditionally strong commitment to human rights, urging them to reject a law which “is bound to become a serious stain on Switzerland’s otherwise strong human rights legacy.” 

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Human Rights

Burkina Faso: Over 535,000 children under five ‘acutely’ malnourished

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Members of family, who fled conflict, at their shelter in the Pissila camp for internally displaced persons in Burkina Faso. WFP/Marwa Awad

New data from UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed worsening nutritional situation for children in Burkina Faso, with more than 535,000 children under the age of five suffering from acute malnutrition – an unprecedented level. 

Among them, some 156,500 children are “severely” malnourished, leaving them nine times more likely to die than well-nourished children, according to UNICEF

“The aggravating factors causing the nutritional situation of children to deteriorate are primarily linked to the displacement of populations due to insecurity, reduced access to livelihoods and reduced access to health care and nutrition,” said James Mugaju, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Burkina Faso.  

“The coronavirus pandemic has had a brutal impact on households and their ability to provide for the basic needs of their children. Children are paying the highest price, facing a triple crisis: security, health and food,” he added. 

Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in west Africa, has over one million internally displaced persons – 60 per cent of whom are children, and 3.3 million suffer from acute food insecurity.  

Worst affected regions 

According to the survey, the town of Gorom-Gorom in the Sahel region and the Barsalogho site for internally displaced persons in the Centre-Nord region are worst affected, where children under five suffering from global acute malnutrition recorded 18.4 per cent and 16.1 per cent, respectively. The figures exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) emergency threshold of 15 per cent.  

Equally alarming is the situation in Dori, Gorgadji, Bourzanga and Fada N’Gourma communes, all of which have a high prevalence of global acute malnutrition, ranging from 12.5 per cent to 13.6 per cent. Children in the Barsalogho, Kongoussi, Ouahigouya, Kaya and Matiacoali communes also have concerning prevalence rates of acute malnutrition, ranging from 8.6 per cent to 9.6 per cent.  

Areas where children are particularly affected by acute malnutrition are also those with the highest number of acutely food-insecure families, said UNICEF, calling for intensified efforts to ensure the continuity of nutrition services to provide an integrated package of prevention and treatment of malnutrition to reach the children in urgent need. 

“This is essential because good nutrition for children, from their first days and months, protects them from disease and infection, and helps them to recover when they fall ill,” said Mr. Mugaju.  

UNICEF response 

UNICEF and its partners have stepped up their response. Community health workers have been mobilized to travel to the most remote areas to screen and treat malnourished children at the community level, where they also provide advice on the best feeding practices for infants and young children, including in emergency situations.  

The UN agency is also supporting health authorities and is strengthening efforts to procure and deliver therapeutic foods, such as milk and ready-to-use therapeutic foods, to treat acute malnutrition. More than 52,600 cartons or about 737 tonnes of therapeutic food have been delivered to healthcare facilities and 51,685 children with severe acute malnutrition have been treated since January 2020. 

UNICEF Deputy Representative James Mugaju highlighted the importance of working together to support children.  

“Well-nourished girls and boys ensure good physical and cognitive development, which will give them equal opportunities to grow up fulfilled and reach their full potential,” he said. 

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