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Rapporteur for women's rights visits Nicaragua, urges reforms to address sexual violence and unsafe abortion

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tracy RobinsonTracy Robinson, the rapporteur for women's rights of the Intern-American Commission on Human Rights, recently visited Nicaragua and spoke on the importance of curbing sexual violence and unsafe abortion.©Ipas

On June 22, women’s rights advocates in Nicaragua celebrated the enactment of the Comprehensive Law Against Violence Toward Women (Law 779), echoing the cautious optimism of the rapporteur for women’s rights of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Tracy Robinson, who praised the law during a recent visit to the country.

“Law 779 is an important step forward, but hardly the end of public discussion and analysis,” Robinson said in a speech on May 29 to observe the International Day of Action for Women’s Health.

During her two-day visit to Nicaragua—a nation where violence against women is widespread and abortion is banned under all circumstances, even to save a woman’s life—Robinson spoke passionately about the devastating consequences of sexual and domestic violence and unsafe abortion.

“Impunity for violence against women is a chronic problem in this country and the rest of the Americas,” she said. “It is difficult to find reliable data, but one report suggests that less than 10 percent of cases involving violence against women and girls go to trial. I encourage the State [of Nicaragua] to fully assess the relationship between reproductive health and violence and to work closely with civil society in addressing both.”

Insisting that reproductive health care is a fundamental human right, Robinson also spoke explicitly of the need to legalize abortion: “Action to repeal the articles of the Penal Code that criminalize abortion in all circumstances would be a momentous advance towards respecting and recognizing the dignity and human rights of women and girls.”

New law and report put spotlight on sexual violence

Law 779 calls for a comprehensive approach to handling violence against women, which means integration of all institutions involved: district attorney’s offices, police, the nation’s Institute of Legal Medicine, the health and judicial systems, and others, explained Ipas Central America Director Marta María Blandón.

Unfortunately, “the law went into effect without having a budget for its implementation,” said Ipas Central America Policy Coordinator Mayte Ochoa. “We hope the resources will be included in next year’s general national budget.”

Further evidence of the need to allocate resources for sexual violence law enforcement came from the IACHR’s official launch in June of its 2011 report Access to Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence in Mesoamerica. “The report focuses on El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and the repercussions of the problem of sexual violence, and roadblocks to access justice in Central American countries in general,” Robinson explained.

The report finds that sexual violence in the region is a multidimensional problem resulting from a social environment that tolerates violence, socio-cultural patterns that discriminate against women and inadequate responses by law enforcement.

“The great significance of this report is that it shows the IACHR is involved and interested in researching and addressing issues facing women in the region,” Blandón said.

Similarly, the importance of Robinson’s visit to Nicaragua was the demonstration of her commitment to advancing women’s rights there. Robinson is the first commissioner to visit Nicaragua in 20 years; she was invited by Ipas Central America, the Nicaraguan Autonomous Women’s Movement (Movimiento Autonomo de Mujeres de Nicaragua, MAMN), the Center for Justice and International Law (Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional, CEJIL), and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos, CENIDH).

“The objective of inviting the rapporteur to Nicaragua—beyond achieving any immediate domestic impact—was to allow her to get to know first-hand the situation of women’s human rights here, especially because she is just beginning her term and we hope the Commission will show increasing interest in our situation,” Ochoa said.

During her visit, Robinson—who assumed her rapporteur position in January—had the opportunity to meet with and listen to different women’s groups, as well as to speak in a widely attended forum.