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Complaints and UN human rights monitoring bodies

Submitting “complaints” to UN Human Rights monitoring bodies can be one way of drawing attention, especially international attention, to a campaign issue.  A specialized website explains the steps of complaining to the UN Human Rights System, which can be part of a large campaign on the enforcement of human rights treaties. It includes links to online complaint forms for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Example: The Karen Vertido Communication

Through the Optional Protocol to CEDAW process, the CEDAW Committee is able to review individual complaints and conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations of women’s human rights. In 2007, the very first individual complaint to the CEDAW Committee in Southeast Asia was filed by Karen Vertido of the Philippines. It was submitted on her behalf by the Women’s Legal Bureau, who led a wide NGO advocacy campaign on ending discrimination against women in the area of sexual violence.

The Karen Vertido Communication asserted that the court decision in her case of rape was an act of discrimination and a direct contravention of CEDAW. Vertido had filed rape charges in 1996, against Jose Bautista Custodio, then President of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) where Vertido was serving as the organization’s executive director. After several years in court, the case was thrown out and Mr. Custodio was acquitted. The court’s judgement cited that the existence of rape was called into question because ‘there [was] no clear evidence of any direct threat of grave harm coming from the accused,’ and the ‘Court cannot understand why she did not escape when she appeared to have so many opportunities to do so.’ The campaign alliance felt that despite the country’s Anti-Rape Law, the judgement showed the continued existence of archaic attitudes about rape in the Philippines, where sexual assault is still viewed as a crime that a woman brings upon herself as a result of her behaviour.

In 2010, the CEDAW Committee ruled that the Philippine government, as a State Party to CEDAW, was accountable for the violation of Vertido’s rights under CEDAW. It recommended that the government provide her with appropriate compensation and undertake measures to address problems in legislation, prosecution and the judicial process in regards to the victims of sexual assault.

Source: adapted from Pasqual, L., UNIFEM, 2009. Time for Action – Implementing CEDAW in Southeast Asia.