1.          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) established its Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women in 1994 in order to renew its commitment to ensuring that the rights of women are fully respected and ensured in each member state.  While the constitutions of each member state provide formal guarantees of equality, through its work the Commission had become increasingly aware of the persistence of discrimination based on gender in national legal systems and practices.  Accordingly, the Special Rapporteurship was established with an initial mandate to analyze the extent to which member state law and practices which affect the rights of women comply with the broad obligations of equality and nondiscrimination contained in the American Convention on Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. 


2.          Since that initial study and the resulting report, this Rapporteurship has played a vital role in the Commission’s work to protect the rights of women through the publication of thematic studies; assisting in the development of new jurisprudence in this area within the individual case system; and supporting the investigation of broader issues affecting the rights of women in specific countries of the region through on site visits and country reports.[1] 


3.          The obligations of equality and nondiscrimination continue to serve as the points of orientation for the selection of issues being addressed by the Rapporteurship.  Further, the Commission and its Rapporteurship place special emphasis on the problem of violence against women, itself a manifestation of gender-based discrimination, as recognized in the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (“Convention of Belém do Pará”). 


4.          The current work program of the Rapporteurship is designed to address a priority challenge for the rights of women throughout the Hemisphere: how to ensure women effective access to justice, particularly women who have been subjected to violence.  The priority nature of this challenge has been amply demonstrated in the Rapporteurship’s thematic work, as well as through the Commission’s case system and country reporting.  It is also underlined in the challenges identified as priorities by member states, experts and representatives of civil society.  The Rapporteurship’s work program takes as its point of departure that prompt access to effective judicial protection and guarantees is the first line of defense for the protection of basic rights, and takes as its challenge that victims of violence and discrimination based on gender are often unable to obtain such access, leaving their rights unprotected.  The fact that most cases of violence against women are left in impunity fuels the perpetuation of this grave violation.   


5.          The current Special Rapporteur, Marta Altolaguirre, a Guatemalan jurist, Commission member and First Vice President of the IACHR in 2002, was designated by the Commission in March of 2000.  The first Rapporteur, former Commission member Claudio Grossman, a Chilean jurist, was named by the Commission in 1994, and served until 2000.


6.          The priority given by the Commission and its Rapporteurship to the protection of the rights of women also reflects the importance given to this area by the member states of the OAS.  In particular, the Plan of Action adopted by the Heads of State and Government during the Third Summit of the Americas recognizes the importance of women’s empowerment, and of their full and equal participation in development, in the political life of their countries, and in decision-making at all levels.  To this end, the Plan of Action endorses the Inter-American Program on the Promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equality and other regional initiatives aimed at implementing the commitments set forth in the Beijing Declaration and its Platform for Action.


          7.          While enhancing the protection of the rights of women is an agreed upon priority within the hemisphere, the capacity of the Rapporteurship to discharge its role in this regard is subject to serious budgetary constraints.  To carry out her mandate, the Special Rapporteur receives support from the Executive Secretariat.  Over the past year, with the support of the Executive Secretariat, the Rapporteurship has been seeking external funding to enable it to amplify its resources and capacity for action.  In 2003 the Rapporteurship hopes to receive financial support that more adequately corresponds to the depth and seriousness of the challenges faced in the Hemisphere in this area, and the commitment the OAS has articulated to meeting those.




A.          On-site visit to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico


8.          On February 12 and 13, 2002, Special Rapporteur Marta Altolaguirre carried out the Rapporteurship’s first on site visit, to examine the situation of violence against women in Ciudad Juárez, Estado de Chihuahua, Mexico.  In particular, according to the State’s own information, over 250 women and girls had been killed since 1993, and approximately 250 others were listed as missing persons.  The visit was undertaken pursuant to expressions of concern by hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, and following the invitation of the Government of President Vicente Fox.  The Rapporteur held numerous meetings in Ciudad Juárez and Mexico City with representatives of the State and civil society, as well as with the family members of some of the victims. 


9.          In expressing her initial reflections at the close of the visit, the Rapporteur indicated that, notwithstanding certain measures that had been taken to address the killings, the State’s response continued to be seriously deficient.  Indeed, as various State representatives acknowledged, the measures adopted did not correspond with the magnitude of the problem.  Both the State and non-state sectors indicated that the administration of justice had been ineffective in clarifying the crimes, thereby creating a climate of impunity and fear.  The Rapporteur highlighted that this impunity, in turn, contributed significantly to the perpetuation of violence against women in Ciudad Juárez.


          10.          On December 13, 2002, the report prepared by the Special Rapporteur presenting her findings and recommendations on the situation in Ciudad Juárez was approved by the Commission.  That report was prepared on the basis of the information gathered during the on-site visit, as well as subsequent follow-up activities.  These activities included hearings before the Commission’s 114º (March 2002) and 116º (October 2002) regular period of sessions, as well as informational reports presented by the State in December of 2002 and January of 2003.  In accordance with Article 58 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure, this initial version of the report was transmitted to the State for its observations.  The final version of the report, reflecting those observations to the extent deemed pertinent, was approved by the Commission in February of 2003 for inclusion in the present annual report.


          11.          The Commission and its Special Rapporteur continue to follow-up on this situation, and on the measures taken to comply with the recommendations issued in the report.  In this regard, the Commission has convened a hearing for its 117º regular period of sessions to address the situation in Ciudad Juárez.  Further, the Commission continues to process several individual petitions opened in connection with killings included in the scope of the report, and the Commission and Special Rapporteur continue to monitor the precautionary measures issued to protect the personal integrity of a key advocate for women subjected to violence in Ciudad Juárez, Esther Chávez, as well as the measures granted to protect the wives and attorney of two men accused in connection with certain killings in Ciudad Juárez.


          B.          The Rapporteurship goes on-line


          12.          In the fall of 2002, with the assistance of the Executive Secretariat, the Rapporteurship was able to create a space in the Commission’s web page specifically dedicated to the work of the Rapporteurship and the Commission in the area of women’s rights.  It contains information on the Rapporteurship’s mandate, activities and initiatives, the Rapporteurship’s reports, and provides a list and links to all the IACHR case reports and chapters of country reports that specifically deal with the rights of women. 


          13.          The dissemination of information about the norms of the system that protect the rights of women, as well the reports that show how these norms have been applied in concrete situations and cases, is crucial in promoting women’s access to effective remedies.  In this regard, the Rapporteurship is pleased to note that the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH) posts news about its activities and those of the IACHR concerning the rights of women in its list-serve “conectando.” 

C.      The individual petition system and recent jurisprudence of the IACHR in relation to the rights of women


14.          The work of the Commission and its Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women play complementary roles.  In this sense, one of the objectives of the Rapporteurship is to serve as a resource for the full Commission in targeting issues, and providing data, information on jurisprudential developments and other source material.  A closely related purpose is to serve as a means to raise awareness within civil society of the mechanisms the regional system offers to enhance the protection of these rights, including the individual petition system.  In this regard, the Rapporteurship’s promotional activities have a direct bearing on its protection activities, and those of the Commission as a whole.


15.          The Commission is currently processing a substantial number of individual petitions that deal with alleged human rights violations with gender-specific causes and consequences.  The Commission’s work in this area has involved convoking hearings on such pending petitions, as well as on broader issues affecting the rights of women in the hemisphere.  With respect to these broader issues, with the assistance of the Special Rapporteurship, during its 114º regular period of sessions (March, 2002), the Commission convened hearings on: the status of women in the law; violence against women; and the situation in Ciudad Juárez.  During its 116º regular period of sessions (October, 2002), the Commission convened hearings addressing: the status of the right of women to be free from discrimination, and the situation in Ciudad Juárez.  Such hearings provide a very valuable opportunity for the exchange of information with representatives of civil society.


          16.          Further with respect to discrimination, in 2002 the Commission published a friendly settlement report on the petition of Mónica Carabantes Galleguillos v. Chile, which involved the expulsion of a pregnant secondary student from a publicly subsidized private school on the basis of her pregnancy.[2]  When her family challenged the expulsion through the courts, the school’s action was upheld through the level of Supreme Court review.  The settlement involved the adoption of legislation concerning the access of pregnant students to education, the recognition by the State of the violations claimed, and a scholarship for the victim’s higher education. 


17.          The Commission is currently facilitating negotiations aimed at concluding a friendly settlement between the parties in the case of María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez v. Peru,[3] which addresses claims of sterilization absent full informed consent and related violations.  Returning to the issue of violence more specifically, the Commission has admitted and continues to process other cases dealing with claims of violence with gender specific causes and consequences, including Zoilamérica Narváez Murillo v. Nicaragua[4] and MZ v. Bolivia.[5] 


18.          The Rapporteurship continues to serve the Commission as a resource in relation to the processing of individual petitions concerning the rights of women, as well as with respect to requests for precautionary measures and other related activities.


19.          A review of the Commission’s jurisprudence with respect to human rights violations with gender specific causes and consequences confirms a common denominator: the inability of most victims to obtain prompt access to effective judicial protection and guarantees.  The individual petition system provides a mechanism to investigate and evaluate deficiencies in the State’s response to these kinds of violations and to make specific recommendations designed to remedy the violations concerned, thereby bringing the response at the national level into greater conformity with what is required under international law. 


D.          Activities of cooperation and promotion


20.          From February 28 to March 1, 2002, the Rapporteurship participated in the first joint meeting of the special rapporteurs on the rights of women, with Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences (UNSRVAW), and Angela Melo, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.  This constructive meeting and the joint declaration issued by the Rapporteurs on March 8, 2002 denouncing the persistence of discrimination and violence against women were reported on in last year’s update report, which included the text of that declaration.[6] 


21.          The UNSRVAW and the Rapporteurship then collaborated on the issuance of a joint press release, also released on March 8, 2002, expressing grave concern for the situation of women and girls affected by widespread gender-based violence in Colombia.  The release reviews some of the forms of violence in question, and exhorts the State to intensify its efforts to combat such violence including through the application of due diligence to ensure that the perpetrators are held to account, and increased training for the authorities concerning the causes and consequences of such violence and their responsibilities under the law.


22.          The Rapporteurship greatly values these opportunities for collaboration with the UNSRVAW, and the Rapporteur of the African system in the pursuit of goals of mutual interest, and looks forward to future such opportunities.  The opportune exchange of information, and the chance to share priorities and strategies is an important tool in the quest to prioritize the protection of the rights of women at all levels.


          23.          The Commission and its Special Rapporteur maintain regular contact with the Commission of Women of the OAS (“CIM”), which in the past has included participation in such activities as CIM meetings of Delegates, and various expert and working meetings dating back to the drafting of the Convention of Belém  do Pará.  On February 5, 2002, the Commission and its Rapporteurship were represented in a meeting of experts convened by the CIM to discuss the formulation of recommendations to the Fourth Meeting of Ministers of Justice (REMJA IV), as part of the process to implement the Inter-American Program on the Promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equity and Equality.  The recommendations, which were subsequently submitted to that Meeting by the CIM, had the objective of assisting the Ministers in incorporating a gender perspective in the formulation of policies in the area of administration of justice, including with respect to women’s access to justice and their status within the justice system.  In September of 2002, the Commission and its Rapporteurship were invited by the CIM to participate in an OAS General Secretariat working group to assist the CIM in initiatives against trafficking in women and children.


24.          The Commission and its Rapporteurship have also enjoyed periodic interaction with and support from the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH) based in San José, Costa Rica, particularly with respect to training and promotional activities.  In this regard, on May 15, 2002, the Commission and its Rapporteurship participated in the panel presentation “Los derechos reproductivos en el contexto del sistema interamericano de derechos humanos,” as part of the Seminar-Workshop “La Promoción y la Protección de los Derechos Reproductivos a través del Trabajo de las Instituciones Nacionales de Derechos Humanos para América Latina, el Caribe y Canadá,” organized in San José by the IIDH with the UNHCR and the UNFPA.  In October of 2002, the Special Rapporteur participated in an in-depth consultation with other rapporteurs of the inter-American and UN systems and representatives of civil society designed seek new mechanisms to exchange information relevant to the respective mandates.  As mentioned above, pursuant to this consultation, the IIDH is posting information about the work of the Rapporteurship on its list-serve “conectando.”


25.          Within the context of the OAS more generally, the Commission and its Rapporteurship made a presentation during the May 22, 2002 panel “The Role of Law in Incorporating the Perspective of Gender: The Experience of the Inter-American Human Rights System” before the General Secretariat of the Organization.  This was organized in Washington D.C. by the OAS, the CIM and CIDA as part of the conference initiating the gender mainstreaming project of the OAS.


26.          On August 22, 2002, the Special Rapporteur presented her paper “Mecanismos del sistema interamericano de derechos humanos para la protección de los derechos de la mujer,” during the conference “Los derechos humanos y la Globalización: Avances y retrocesos,” organized by the Comisión Andina de Juristas in Lima, Peru.


          27.          Subsequently, on November 4, 2002, the Comisión and its Rapporteurship were represented in the panel discussion “Género y Acceso a la Justicia en Perú: Un Diálogo de Aprendizaje.” This was a “distance-learning dialogue” organized by the World Bank, with video-conference participation from Washington, D.C., Lima, Peru and Geneva, Switzerland. 


          III.          WORK PROGRAM


28.          As we look toward the next phase of the Rapporteurship’s activities, the focus is on the challenges women face in obtaining access to justice – with a particular focus on violence against women and impunity.  The question of women’s access to justice has had tremendous relevance for the work of the Rapporteurship in a number of its initiatives, most recently with respect to its work on the situation of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. 


29.          The experience of women with respect to the administration of justice has to be analyzed from a variety of perspectives.  For example, it is essential to consider the extent to which women do or do not participate as decision-makers involved in administering justice, and to identify the obstacles that impede their full participation.  It is equally important to analyze the response women receive as users of the justice system, and to identify the barriers women may face as litigants and victims of crime. 


30.          Within its coming activities, the Rapporteurship will be working toward: identifying and sharing best practices in the region with respect to women’s access to justice; analyzing the current challenges that confront the countries of the region in this area; formulating recommendations designed to strengthen the best practices and overcome the obstacles; amplifying awareness in the region of the guarantees and mechanisms the inter-American human rights system offers for the protection of the rights of women; and monitoring, and providing any technical assistance requested by member States in the implementation of such recommendations in national law and practice. 


31.          The capacity of the Rapporteurship to fully tackle this crucial issue is naturally dependent on funding.  The Rapporteurship, with the support of the Executive Secretariat, is currently pursuing external funding to provide the resources necessary to fully develop this next set of activities.




          32.          The foregoing update provided a brief review of the work done and current concerns being addressed by the Commission and its Rapporteurship in seeking to ensure greater respect for the rights of women.  On balance, initiatives at the local, national and regional levels aimed at confronting human rights violations with gender specific causes and consequences have succeeded in establishing some key minimum standards, particularly with respect to discrimination and violence against women.  Within the region, for example, we have seen the adoption of new or improved legislation, programs and policies to combat violence against women.  The priority challenge that continues to confront us is the gap between these standards and the lived experience of the women of the Americas.


33.          In this regard, the Special Rapporteur again emphasizes the problem of impunity and its role in encouraging the persistence of human rights violations that have gender-specific causes and consequences.  Impunity in such cases undermines the very system of guarantees, and creates a climate conducive to the repetition of violations.  The key commitment with respect to which the Special Rapporteur exhorts the member States to redouble their efforts is to apply due diligence in the investigation, prosecution and punishment of acts of discrimination and violence against women.  In connection with this obligation, it is crucial that States provide victims with prompt access to effective justice.


[ Table of Contents | Previous | Next ]

[1] More specifically, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women serves to: raise awareness of the need for further action to ensure that women are able to fully exercise their basic rights; issue specific recommendations aimed at enhancing member State compliance with their priority obligations of equality and nondiscrimination; promote the mechanisms – for example, the filing of individual complaints of violations – that the inter-American human rights system provides to protect the rights of women; conduct specialized studies and prepare reports in this area; and assist the Commission in responding to petitions and other reports of violations of these rights in the region.  Additional information on the Commission and its Rapporteurship, including the initial Report on the Situation of Women in the Americas, may be found at www.cidh.org under the heading “rapporteurships.”

[2] Report 33/02, Petition 12.046, Mónica Carabantes Galleguillos (Chile), adopted March 12, 2002.

[3] Report Nº 66/00 – admissibility, Case 12.191, María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez (Peru), Annual Report of the IACHR 2000.

[4] Report 118/01 - admissibility, Case 12.230, Zoilamérica Narváez Murillo (Nicaragua), Annual Report of the IACHR 2001.

[5] Report 73/01 – admissibility, Case 12.350, MZ (Bolivia), Annual Report of the IACHR 2001.

[6] Update on the Work of the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women, Annual Report of the IACHR 2001.