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Canada ignores the importance of sexual and reproductive health rights in addressing rape

    June 12, 2013

    (Ottawa) In a deeply troubling and unprecedented turn of events, Canada put forth text at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday which ignores an important need of rape survivors and fails to take account of recent international progress in tackling violence against women around the world.

    Since 1994, Canada has led the negotiation of resolutions on violence against women in the UN Human Rights Council (and before 2006 the UN Commission on Human Rights), making the resolution progressively stronger each year. As such, it is all the more disappointing that this year’s draft resolution is so weak on the importance of sexual and reproductive health as an essential element in efforts to address violence against women.

    The proposed resolution excludes references to sexuality education and a number of essential services that must be made available to survivors of sexual violence. The international community, including Canada, has previously agreed that adolescents should have access to sexuality education and that survivors of sexual violence should have access to sexual and reproductive health services. It has been recognized that education and necessary health services play a fundamental role in responding to the widespread violence that women and girls continue to face in every corner of the world. The resolution as drafted does not adequately address these rights-based measures that are central to the global effort to better protect women from violence.

    “The rights of women and girls continue to be violated around the world.  Amnesty International’s research demonstrates that shocking levels of violence are still a daily reality for women and girls everywhere,” said Alex Neve, Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada (English Branch). “From women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women and girls in Canada—all rape survivors have the right to life, physical security, equality and the right to health. For these rights to be realized, women and girls must have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, and they need champions in government to stand up for these rights.”

    In human rights agreements dating back 20 years, Canada has supported the rights of all women and girls, including rape survivors, to have access to sexual and reproductive health services. “Does Canada no longer care about sexual and reproductive health services and their vital importance for survivors of rape?” said Béatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnesty International Canada’s francophone branch. “This is not about a piece of paper being circulated at the United Nations—this is an important international decision that sets the ground for Canada’s policies on sexual and reproductive rights and funding priorities both at home and abroad.”

    Canada’s failure to stand up for recognized international human rights standards has taken other governments by surprise.  At this stage, some countries that have traditionally actively supported this resolution through co-sponsorship are indicating that they will likely not do so this year. The provisions in the draft resolution, including those dealing with marital rape and with early and forced marriage, do make welcome and important contributions to addressing violence against women.  However, these omissions with respect to sexuality education and access to sexual and reproductive rights services remain glaring and deeply problematic.

    Amnesty International calls on Canada, as the country that leads the negotiations around this resolution on violence against women, to work quickly and actively to reintroduce stronger language on sexual and reproductive health rights in the text. Without such language, this resolution will be seriously incomplete.

    Adoption of the draft resolution by the Human Rights Council is expected on Friday 14 June 2013.

    For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact: Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations 416-363-9933 ext 332, bberton-hunter@amnesty.ca

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