International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Entered into force: 23 March 1976
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (Resolution 2016) on 16 December 1966. As one of two international treaties that make the ‘International Bill of Human Rights’ (along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the ICCPR provides the legal framework to protect and preserve the most basic civil and political rights, including the right to life, freedom from slavery and the right to equality. For this reason, most of the rights contained in the ICCPR are related to tackling VAW, given that VAW is a cause and consequence of women’s unequal enjoyment of their human rights when compared to men.
Some of the ICCPR’s articles most relevant to tackling violence against women include:
- Article 2: right to non-discrimination and the right to an effective remedy
- Article 3: equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of civil and political rights in the ICCPR
- Article 6: right to life
- Article 7: right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Article 8: right not to be subjected to slavery or forced labour
- Article 9: right to liberty and security of the person
- Article 10: right of all persons deprived of their liberty to be treated with dignity
- Article 16: right to recognition before the law
- Article 17: right to private and family life
- Article 24: right of children to special measures of protection
- Article 23: right to marry with free and full consent; equality in marriage
- Article 26: right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law.
- Article 27: rights of individuals in minority groups.
First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-OP1)
Entered into force: 23 March 1976
The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-OP1) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (Resolution 2200A (XXI)) on 16 December 1966. It establishes an individual complaints procedure for bringing alleged violations of the Covenant by states parties before the ICCPR treaty body, the Human Rights Committee.
Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (ICCPR-OP2)
Entered into force: 11 July 1991
The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-OP2) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (Resolution 44/128) on 15 December 1989. It commits states parties to the abolition of the death penalty.
Human Rights Committee
The Human Rights Committee (HRC) is the independent expert body appointed to oversee states parties’ implementation of the ICCPR and its Optional Protocols. It consists of 18 independent experts who are nationals of States parties to ICCPR. They are elected by secret ballot and serve four-year terms. The CCPR meets three times annually.
Through its General Comments, the Committee has addressed gender-based violence in relation to a number of the ICCPR’s provisions and state responsibility to eliminate it.
9. States parties must respond appropriately to patterns of violence against categories of victims such as intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists, retaliation against witnesses, violence against women, including domestic violence
8. …the positive obligations on States Parties to ensure Covenant rights will only be fully discharged if individuals are protected by the State, not just against violations of Covenant rights by its agents, but also against acts committed by private persons or entities that would impair the enjoyment of Covenant rights in so far as they are amenable to application between private persons or entities. There may be circumstances in which a failure to ensure Covenant rights as required by article 2 would give rise to violations by States Parties of those rights, as a result of States Parties’ permitting or failing to take appropriate measures or to exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, investigate or redress the harm caused by such acts by private persons or entities. States are reminded of the interrelationship between the positive obligations imposed under article 2 and the need to provide effective remedies in the event of breach under article 2, paragraph 3.
5. Inequality in the enjoyment of rights by women throughout the world is deeply embedded In tradition, history and culture, including religious attitudes. The subordinate role of women in some countries is illustrated by the high incidence of prenatal sex selection and abortion of female foetuses. States parties should ensure that traditional, historical, religious or cultural attitudes are not used to justify violations of women’s right to equality before the law and to equal enjoyment of all Covenant rights…
8. Women are particularly vulnerable in times of internal or international armed conflicts. States parties should inform the Committee of all measures taken during these situations to protect women from rape, abduction and other forms of gender-based violence.
10.When reporting on the right to life protected by article 6, States parties should provide data on birth rates and on pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths of women. Gender-disaggregated data should be provided on infant mortality rates. States parties should give information on any measures taken by the State to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies, and to ensure that they do not have to undergo life-threatening clandestine abortions. States parties should also report on measures to protect women from practices that violate their right to life, such as female infanticide, the burning of widows and dowry killings. The Committee also wishes to have information on the particular impact on women of poverty and deprivation that may pose a threat to their lives.
11. To assess compliance with article 7 of the Covenant, as well as with article 24, which mandates special protection for children, the Committee needs to be provided information on national laws and practice with regard to domestic and other types of violence against women, including rape. It also needs to know whether the State party gives access to safe abortion to women who have become pregnant as a result of rape. The States parties should also provide the Committee with information on measures to prevent forced abortion or forced sterilization. In States parties where the practice of genital mutilation exists information on its extent and on measures to eliminate it should be provided. The information provided by States parties on all these issues should include measures of protection, including legal remedies, for women whose rights under article 7 have been violated.
12. Having regard to their obligations under article 8, States parties should inform the Committee of measures taken to eliminate trafficking of women and children, within the country or across borders, and forced prostitution. They must also provide information on measures taken to protect women and children, including foreign women and children, from slavery, disguised, inter alia, as domestic or other kinds of personal service.
23. States are required to treat men and women equally in regard to marriage in accordance with article 23, which has been elaborated further by general comment No.19 (1990). Men and women have the right to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent, and States have an obligation to protect the enjoyment of this right on an equal basis. Many factors may prevent women from being able to make the decision to marry freely. One factor relates to minimum age for marriage. That age should be set by the State on the basis of equal criteria for men and women. These criteria should ensure women’s capacity to make an informed and uncoerced decision. A second factor in some States may be that either by statutory or customary law a guardian, who is generally male, consents to the marriage instead of the woman herself, thereby preventing women from exercising a free choice.
24. Another factor that may affect women’s right to marry only when they have given free and full consent is the existence of social attitudes which tend to marginalize women victims of rape and put pressure on them to agree to marriage. A woman’s free and full consent to marriage may also be undermined by laws which allow the rapist to have his criminal responsibility extinguished or mitigated if he marries the victim. States parties should indicate whether marrying the victim extinguishes or mitigates criminal responsibility and, in the case in which the victim is a minor, whether the rape reduces the marriageable age of the victim, particularly in societies where rape victims have to endure marginalization from society. A different aspect of the right to marry may be affected when States impose restrictions on remarriage by women that are not imposed on men. Also, the right to choose one’s spouse may be restricted by laws or practices that prevent the marriage of a woman of a particular religion to a man who professes no religion or a different religion. States should provide information on these laws and practices and on the measures taken to abolish the laws and eradicate the practices which undermine the right of women to marry only when they have given free and full consent. It should also be noted that equality of treatment with regard to the right to marry implies that polygamy is incompatible with this principle. Polygamy violates the dignity of women. It is an inadmissible discrimination against women. Consequently, it should be definitely abolished wherever it continues to exist.
28. The obligation of States parties to protect children (art.24) should be carried out equally for boys and girls. States parties should report on measures taken to ensure that girls are treated equally to boys in education, in feeding and in health care, and provide the Committee with disaggregated data in this respect. States parties should eradicate, both through legislation and any other appropriate measures, all cultural or religious practices which jeopardize the freedom and well-being of female children.
6. The State party must ensure that the rights guaranteed in article 12 are protected not only from public but also from private interference. In the case of women, this obligation to protect is particularly pertinent. For example, it is incompatible with article 12, paragraph 1, that the right of a woman to move freely and to choose her residence be made subject, by law or practice, to the decision of another person, including a relative.
4. Article 23, paragraph 2, of the Covenant reaffirms the right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family. Paragraph 3 of the same article provides that no marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses. States parties’ reports should indicate whether there are restrictions or impediments to the exercise of the right to marry based on special factors such as degree of kinship or mental incapacity.
3. In most cases, however, the measures to be adopted are not specified in the Covenant and it is for each State to determine them in the light of the protection needs of children in its territory and within its jurisdiction. The Committee notes in this regard that such measures, although intended primarily to ensure that children fully enjoy the other rights enunciated in the Covenant, may also be economic, social and cultural. For example, every possible economic and social measure should be taken to reduce infant mortality and to eradicate malnutrition among children and to prevent them from being subjected to acts of violence and cruel and inhuman treatment or from being exploited by means of forced labour or prostitution, or by their use in the illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, or by any other means.
8. So far as personal and body search is concerned, effective measures should ensure that such searches are carried out in a manner consistent with the dignity of the person who is being searched. Persons being subjected to body search by State officials, or medical personnel acting at the request of the State, should only be examined by persons of the same sex.
Interested in other general comments? Browse all of the HRC’s general comments on the OHCHR website
There are two states reporting procedures for the ICCPR to the Committee:
1. Under the General Reporting ICCPR Guidelines, countries must submit a detailed report including information on violence against women:
When reporting under each Covenant right, [States must] provide information regarding the enjoyment of this right by women, addressing in particular:
- The proportion of women in positions of responsibility in both the public and the private sector and the measures taken to promote the representation of women in Parliament and in senior positions in Government as well as in the private sector.
- Measures to ensure equal pay for equal work for women and men.
- Whether the State party has adopted legislation which specifically criminalizes domestic violence and provide information on its scope and content.
- What measures have been taken to ensure that acts of domestic violence are effectively investigated and perpetrators prosecuted and sanctioned.
- Other steps taken to combat domestic violence such as training for judges, prosecutors, police and health officers and awareness-raising campaigns for women on their rights and available remedies, as well as information on the number of safe shelters and the resources allocated to the assistance of victims of domestic violence.
- Discrimination in minimum age of marriage.
- Unequal rights in marriage.
- Equality in divorce arrangements, including regarding custody of children.
- School attendance by girls.
- Transmission of nationality to children.
- Legislation on rape, including spousal rape.
- Measures taken to eliminate traditional practices and customs affecting the dignity and personal integrity of women and girls.
2. In 2009, the Committee adopted an optional, simplified reporting procedure to states regular periodic reports: “Focused reports based on replies to lists of issues prior to reporting (LoIPR)”. Under this new procedure, the CCPR prepares a targeted list of issues to be addressed in a focused state report. The Committee seeks input from CSOs and National Human Rights Institutions prior to adoption of the list of issues. These lists typically include sections on violence against women.
While state reports tend to provide information on legislative framework, they may not always thoroughly reflect the reality on the ground: for example, they may focus on domestic law, even though the implementation of that law for rights-holders may not be effective in practice. The Committee invites input from civil society to be used in their review of states’ reports (see section immediately above).This gives civil society actors the opportunity to present alternative evidence, views, findings and/or raise issues that are not covered by the state report. This input is submitted in the form of a report and parallel to the state report concerned. These reports are often referred to as “shadow reports” or “parallel reports”.
Interested in submitting a parallel report to the Committee?
Entered into force 23 March 1976 with the adoption of ICCPR-OP1
Although the Committee’s individual complaints procedure has been underused in cases involving VAW, it has delivered landmark decisions in this regard. For an example, see our case study below.
Interested in submitting an individual complaint to the Committee?
Case Study: Diene Kaba v. Canada (2008)
Female genital mutilation amounts to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment
This case was submitted to the HRC by Ms. Diene Kaba who faced the deportation with her daughter from Canada to Guinea, where Fatoumata (her daughter) risked being subjected to Female Genital Mutilation.
After reviewing the case, the HRC found that Fatoumata did, in fact, face a real risk of being subjected to FGM on return to Guinea. This was due to evidence that demonstrated the widespread occurrence of FGM throughout Guinea, despite a legal prohibition of the act. Diene also appeared to be the only family member opposed to the act and lacked the authority to prevent it due to male authority within Guinean society.
For these reasons, the HRC decided that Canada’s deportation of Diene and Fatoumata would violate article 7 of the ICCPR (the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment). It also found that this deportation would violate article 24(1) of the ICCPR (right to protection as a minor) because Fatoumata was only 15 years old at the time of the complaint.
Want more? Read the full text of the case
For more information on engaging with the UN treaty bodies, see ‘Working with the United Nations Programme: A Handbook for Civil Society’