A summary of a presentation from NAWL’s 14th Biennial Conference
Canada has been a leader in women’s human rights in the international human rights arena for several years. Indeed, Canada backed the campaign at the 1993 United Nations World Conference on Human Rights that led to the recognition that women’s rights are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The Vienna Declaration urged the UN General Assembly to adopt a draft declaration on violence against women and encouraged the UN Commission for Human Rights to appoint a special rapporteur on violence against women. In accordance with the Vienna Declaration, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women by consensus on December 20, 1993 (resolution A/48/104).
In 1994, the UN Economic and Social Council (decision 1994/45) endorsed the Canada-led resolution of the UN Human Rights Commission (resolution 1994/45) to appoint the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Its Consequences. To this day, Canada continues to provide leadership on this important resolution.
More recently, in October 2000, Canada sat on the Security Council when it unanimously adopted Council Resolution 1325, which has been heralded internationally as a far-reaching and substantive document. Resolution 1325 sets out a comprehensive agenda on women, peace and security issues, including the full participation of women in peace processes and peace building.
However, from a regional perspective the participation of Canada in the Organization of American States (OAS) has been weak. In this regard, Canada joins the United States, as being one of the few American States not to have signed the American Convention on Human Rights (1969); the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also known as the San Salvador Protocol (1988); and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (1994). The latter convention, also referred to as the Belem do Para Convention, is the only international treaty to specifically address the issue of violence against women.
The presentation looked at the only two international instruments that specifically address violence against women: the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Convention of Belem do Para. These instruments have been used both at the national, regional and international levels. Belem do Para, as a convention, offers extensive strategies and enforcement mechanisms that go beyond the realm of those offered by the UN Declaration. The strength of Belem do Para can be enhanced by creatively combining it with norms contained in other instruments of the Inter-American Human Rights system.
For Canadians, the challenge will be to examine how these norms and mechanisms can be used to secure, and perhaps go beyond, the rights and guarantees contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in Canadian law more generally. Beyond this, I believe that Canada could participate richly in the Inter-American system by engaging in a process of interaction and the construction of shared expectations across borders. From inside Canada, we can join with those outside in efforts to ensure that states are truly accountable to women’s human rights norms in the Americas.
Isabelle Solon Helal has been working as a lawyer for the Programme droits des femmes at Droits et Démocratie since 1997.