Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Decisions of the Committee on Women's Discrimination (CEDAW)

Decisions from CEDAW's latest session (58th), just concluded last week, are not yet available. The following three decisions were issued after its February session (57th) and are now available for review.  In the first two cases violations were found to exist and the government must respond by this September.  The third case was ruled to be inadmissible, with no further action to be taken.

The full text of these cases can be found at the official UN website under the 57th session.


Rape of a deaf and mute 17 year old woman in the Philippines; inadequate sign language and support services; acquittal of the perpetrator due to poor investigation/prosecution efforts, and prejudicial misconceptions and gender stereotypes of the trial judge

R.P.B. v. the Philippines, CEDAW/C/57/D/34/2011 (March 12, 2014), decided February 21, 2014. Represented by counsel (Evalyn G. Ursua and Maria Karla L. Espinosa).  Articles 1 and 2(c), (d), and (f) of the Convention. The complainant comes from a poor family near Manila and is both deaf and mute.  She was raped by a neighbor when 17 years old.  She filed a complaint with the local police, and was interviewed with the help of her sister who provided sign language interpretation. 

She was interviewed by a male police officer, which is a violation of applicable laws.  An affidavit was prepared which she and her sister were asked to sign, but it was prepared in Filipino, even though her sign language fluency was in English. She was not provided a translation. She also underwent a medical exam which concluded there was clear evidence of trauma and sexual assault. 

The perpetrator was arrested but the hearings against him were delayed for several months due to the unavailability of the prosecution’s witnesses. No sign language interpretation was made available on other scheduled dates.

The trial finally went forward on the testimony of the complainant and her mother only, plus written stipulations from the medico-legal officer and police officer who had taken the initial complaint and medical exam. The defendant was acquitted.  The trial court challenged the credibility of the complainant’s testimony and found that she failed to prove that the sexual intercourse was not consensual.  The judge described in detail why he felt that the victim was not credible because she hadn’t resisted the assault with sufficient force.  Despite some evidence of injury and resistance of her arms during the rape, the judge concluded this was not enough to negate the implication of consent.

The Committee concludes the victim’s rights have been violated.  She was not given adequate sign language interpreter services, since she only understood written and sign language English and most of the hearings and investigations were only in Filipino.  The Committee also notes the mistaken and prejudicial reliance on gender stereotypes by the trial court about the use of force and intimidations and the myth that women must forcefully and physically resist the sexual assault to be blameless in its occurrence. 

The Committee recommends that the government provide reparations to the victim in this case, including monetary compensation and free of charge psychological counseling and therapy, and in general, that the government review its legislation on rape, guarantee free and adequate interpreters, including in sign language, in all legal proceedings, ensure rape proceedings are conducted in an impartial and fair manner, free from prejudices or stereotypical notions regarding the victim’s gender, age or disability, and provide regular, adequate training on the Convention, the Optional Protocol, and the Committee’s general recommendations on these topics, in particular nos. 18 and 19 on stereotypes and gender bias to legal professionals. 

The government is to submit a written response within 6 months (Sep 2014) on the actions it has taken to implement these recommendations. The government is also requested to publish this decision, translate it into Filipino and recognized regional languages, as appropriate, and widely disseminate it.  VIOLATION. 


Public insurance maternity leave program enacted, then retracted in lieu of private insurance at much higher premiums, and leaving a gap of 2 years during which private insurers required a qualifying period and would not cover new pregnancies.  Held to be a violation of article 11(2)(b) of the Convention.

De Blok et al v. the Netherlands, CEDAW/C/57/D/36/2012 (24 March 2014), decided 17 February 2014. Represented by counsel (Marlies S.A. Vegter of Bosch Advocaten). Removal of a previously existing public scheme providing benefits to self-employed women during maternity leave, without provision of an adequate alternative.  Violation of CEDAW article 11(2)(b).  The case involves six Dutch nationals, women who were pregnant, self-employed, and without adequate maternity leave benefits after the date that the public law was rescinded and before private insurers were willing to cover such pregnancies (2 year qualifying period).

A Dutch law came into effect in January 1988, the Incapacity Insurance (Self-employed Persons) Act. It established mandatory insurance for self employed workers and their spouses against risk of loss of income owing to their inability to work.  Those insured paid premiums for coverage. A maternity leave allowance of 16 weeks was included.  The law was rescinded in August 2004, requiring self employed workers to take out private insurance after that date if they wanted to be covered against loss of income.  However, most private insurers only covered maternity leave benefits for pregnancies at least 2 years after taking out the insurance.  The premiums for such private insurance were also substantially higher. Others have challenged the fairness of these circumstances in the Dutch courts and lost, the courts concluding it was not a discriminatory act against women.  A declaratory action was also sought by one of the complainants in 2005, which led to a court ruling rejecting their claim in 2007 and an appeal that also rejected their claim in 2009.

The Committee rejects the government’s arguments that the maternity benefits provisions in article 11(2)(b) of CEDAW do not apply to self-employed persons and are “instructive” and a “best efforts obligation” only, not mandatory.  In the present case, having initially introduced a compulsory public maternity leave scheme applicable to all, the government abolished the system without introducing any transitory measures and decided that self employed persons would no longer be covered by the public insurance scheme, but must take out private insurance instead.  5 of the 6 claimants did not purchase private insurance because they could not afford it; in one case the premiums for the private insurance were equal to her entire income.  Concludes that the abolishing of the benefits without putting in place an adequate alternative maternity leave scheme was a violation of article 11 of the Convention.

A new act was adopted in June 2008, re-establishing a public maternity benefit scheme for self-employed women, but this Act did not address the lack of benefits for women who gave birth between August 2004 and the adoption of this new program in June 2008.

The government is ordered to provide reparation to the six complainants, including appropriate monetary compensation, for the loss of maternity benefits.  In addition, the government is ordered to address the gap in benefits available as noted above, between August 2004 and June 2008 when the new law reinstated a maternity benefits program.

The government has 6 months to respond (Sep 2014) on how it has implemented this decision.  It is also requested to publish and disseminate this decision to all relevant sectors of society. VIOLATION.


Woman who is raped and abused in a domestic relationship in Mongolia, then seeks asylum in the Netherlands. Loses her asylum claim and files this claim with the Committee, rejected as failing to substantiate a valid claim under CEDAW

N. v. the Netherlands, CEDAW/C/57/D/39/2012 (March 12, 2014), decided 17 February 2014.  Represented by counsel (Ilse van Kuilenburg).  A woman from Mongolia sought asylum in the Netherlands. Her application was rejected and deportation proceedings were begun. 

She had worked for an influential businessman in Mongolia, who she claimed had raped her, beat her up, confiscated her passport and identity papers and kept her imprisoned in his house.  She said multiple attempts to file complaints with the local police led to bribery by her perpetrator and no charges being filed against him.  She escaped and sought refuge with a friend, but was forcibly removed by men who returned her to her abuser 2 months later.  She escaped a second time and this time went to live in a more remote location, but again was discovered and forcibly removed and returned to her abuser. By this time she was pregnant. He forced her to take some pills to try to induce a miscarriage, but they were not successful. She eventually contacted a smuggler and fled to the Netherlands, to seek asylum. 

The Dutch immigration service found her statements of abuse credible, but did not believe that the Government of Mongolia was unwilling or unable to protect her. Her request for asylum was denied.  She appealed the decision to the Dutch courts and lost. 

The Committee concludes that her complaint is not admissible before them because she failed to raise the issue of sex-based discrimination in the handling of her asylum request in the Dutch courts. CEDAW does not cover asylum claims as a general matter, but only where there has been sex-based discrimination in their handling. In addition she has not provided any explanation for why she thinks articles 3 and 6 of CEDAW have been violated, which deal with the advancement of the human rights of women and exploitation of prostitution and trafficking of women. On her claim of fear of gender based violence if she were to return to Mongolia, she offers no explanation for why her perpetrator would continue to be a threat to her five years after the events occurred.  Nor has she explained how, in the past, the Mongolian authorities have failed to protect her in her personal circumstances or shown that there is a real risk that these authorities would be unable to provide her with appropriate protection upon return.  Her failure to follow up on the various police complaints she had filed was also noteworthy to the Committee.

Therefore her complaint is ruled INADMISSIBLE.

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