Framework for submissions to the UN SRVAW thematic report on rape as a grave and systematic human rights violation and gender-based violence against women


This framework has been developed by CREA, RESURJ, Global Health Justice Partnership and Amnesty International, to support allies submitting their response to the call for submissions1 by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its cause and consequences, on rape as a grave and systematic human rights violation and gender-based violence against women (SRVAW). The framework we provide below outlines a set of key considerations that offer a critical perspective on the role and use of the criminal law as the primary tool to address gender-based violence, including sexual violence. It covers key areas of concern highlighted in the questionnaire.  Please feel free to use any of the information below.  We consider this a public document.  It is not necessary to include it as a citation, unless you wish to do so.

As noted in the call, the SRVAW is preparing a thematic report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2021. The report will address ‘States’ responsibility to criminalize and prosecute rape as a grave and systematic human rights violation and a manifestation of gender-based violence against women, in line with international human rights standards.’ The call is a process to gather data for the report. In her report, the SRVAW ‘intends toprovide recommendations to States and other stakeholders on key international human rights standards that should be integrated in national criminal justice responses in order to harmonize them with accepted international standards; to provide access to justice and support for victims of rape; to break the cycle of impunity; and to prosecute perpetrators, ensuring that they are not protected by hidden domestic norms that are still part of criminal law or criminal procedure.’

The call for submissions is an opportunity for civil society to engage with the SRVAW on laws and policies on gender-based violence, including sexual violence and state accountability. The broader explanation below is intended to offer a tool for civil society to encourage the SRVAW to consider and address the full scope of gender-based violence, including the disproportionate and heightened risk of violence against women, girls, sexual and gender diverse persons and gender non-confirming persons, including by the State, and their lack of access to redress. 

  1. We call for the SRVAW to reaffirm states’ responsibility to address gender-based violence, including sexual violence as a grave and systematic human rights violation, but suggests that the report use a broader analytical frame that situates the criminal justice response and penal reform within more comprehensive approaches to combat gender-based violence, including sexual violence, beyond prosecution and punishment.

  1. We suggest that it is critical that the report highlight the importance of proactive measures to be taken to shift changing mindsets and attitudes. In situations where non-criminalized approaches can better achieve the aim of preventing, remedying, and redressing gender-based violence, including sexual violence, they should be considered, particularly given the range of shortcomings of criminal justice systems worldwide. 
  2. Toward this end, we especially encourage colleagues to make reference to specific experiences of using complementary and alternative, victim-centered measures that can be used alongside criminal laws, to ensure a comprehensive approach to preventing and redressing SGBV, that do not solely rely on penalization and punishment, and other measures  to prevent violence in the first place, and that center the needs of survivors.  
  3. We urge the SRVAW to recognize the harms associated with unjust use of criminal law and criminalization, and a growing over-reliance on penalization and punishm

We hope these considerations will be helpful in supporting organizations and activists in their submissions to the call by the SRVAW. Please note that we have intentionally provided broad principles which can be used in full or in part in individual/organizational submissions.  The last date for submission is 31st December 2020.