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Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

WARSAW, POLAND– The following statement on Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland:

Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men

Statement Delivered by Nicole Sobotka

U.S. Delegation to the

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Equality of opportunity is denied to women when they are discriminated against in access to education and economic opportunities, when police fail to provide them with equal protection against physical assault, when they are trafficked into slavery-like exploitation, when they face sexual assaults at the hands of combatants, and, above all, when their government fails to provide them with remedies against these abuses. The acts enumerated are illustrative and by no means exhaustive. OSCE members have already agreed to the importance of equality between men and women in the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE documents and we encourage the full and complete fulfillment of the Final Act’s mandate that “[t]he participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms . . . for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.” A country’s responsibility under international law for acting to counter human rights violations upon its territory applies equally when those rights are asserted by women.

Despite the commitment of OSCE states in the Charter for European Security to “undertake measures to . . . end violence against women,” in some cases agents of the state continue to perpetrate violence against women. Women in conflict settings have suffered brutal sexual assaults, including rape, at the hands of combatants. The United States welcomed the judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia earlier this year when it convicted three men of rape and sexual enslavement against Bosnian women in Foca. This judgment made clear that rape and sexual enslavement of women are crimes against humanity in any situation. The United States has noted previously with grave concern reports of sexual violence against women in Chechnya as well as acts of sexual violence against women committed during the conflict in Kosovo. The United States urges Russian and Yugoslav authorities to investigate these serious charges thoroughly and prosecute those responsible.

In some instances, the perpetrators of violence against women are private actors rather than agents of the state. The U.S. Delegation welcomed the meeting on violence against women convened earlier this year by the OSCE’s Informal Group on Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men. The meeting effectively raised awareness among OSCE delegations of the scope and severity of the problem of violence against women, especially domestic violence. The clear message that emerged was that worldwide, countless women are not safe from violence—not even in their own homes.

Violence against women is a problem in every country and the statistics on domestic abuse in OSCE countries are shocking. Regrettably, the United States reports that as many as one quarter to one-third of American women may have been physically or sexually abused at some point in their lives; and on average more than three women are murdered by their husbands in the U.S. each day. Fortunately, in the last ten years the U.S. federal and state governments have implemented additional laws that provide for police training on proper response to domestic violence and provide the necessary support services to victims and abusers. The implementation of these laws has increased our prosecution rates and has begun to break the cycle of violence. Russian government statistics indicated that some 14,000 women died in 1997 in Russia due to domestic violence. In Hungary, NGOs estimate that 150 women die each year at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends. In Moldova, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 382 cases of spousal abuse last year—72 of which ended in murder.

Unfortunately there is too often unwillingness on the part of the competent authorities to intervene in situations of ongoing violence in a home, the victims of which are predominantly women. Too often there is an unwillingness to investigate and prosecute perpetrators under relevant provisions of the criminal code. Police in many countries say they lack financial and human resources to respond to domestic violence, but women tell a different story of police who won’t act to aid a victim of domestic abuse “until blood is spilled.” Some police officers believe that they are unauthorized, be it by law or culture, to intervene in domestic matters. It is imperative, therefore, to train police that physical abuse is never a private affair and can never be justified. It is a crime, regardless of the sex or marital status of the victim. The State must protect its citizens from such abuse and provide remedies for its victims, or be considered complicit in those actions. The U.S. Delegation calls on OSCE participating States to afford the issue of domestic violence a higher priority on the domestic policy agenda and to undertake meaningful steps, including legal reforms, if necessary, to end this abuse against women.

Human rights violations against women also take the form of discrimination on the basis of sex. In the 1991 Moscow Document, the OSCE participating States committed to “encourage measures effectively to ensure full economic opportunity for women, including non-discriminatory employment policies and practices.” Despite this commitment, some women in the OSCE region do not enjoy full and equal economic opportunities, facing invasive personal questions in job interviews that have no bearing on their skills related to the job for which they applied. In Ukraine and Poland, to name but two examples, some job advertisements specify that men only need apply. Moreover, women often lack effective legal tools to sanction employers who use such discriminatory tactics.

Many states have done little to rectify human rights violations against women despite constitutional assertions of equality for all their citizens. The United States urges all OSCE participating States that have not already done so to enact anti-discrimination laws that enable women, and other targets of discrimination, to pursue an adequate and effective remedy against such discrimination. The United States further urges those states with anti-discrimination laws on the books to implement them faithfully.

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