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General international law and violence against women

After the CEDAW Committee issuing General Recommendation 19 in 1992, the next significant step in framing the discussion on violence against women occurred with the adoption of the DEVAW in 1993.[1] [2] Technically speaking, from a positivist point of view, this marked the appearance of a recognized soft law instrument. The adoption of the declaration was a result of the movement led by the Commission on the Status of Women and the ECOSOC that advocated the adoption of an international instrument on violence against women. A notable expression of this advocacy was ECOSOC Resolution 1991/18 Violence against Women in All its Forms.[3] [4] In this resolution, ECOSOC recommended the adoption of an international instrument ‘expressly’ addressing violence against women. The objective behind this recommendation went beyond the creation of a simple resolution or a soft law instrument. Contrary to the previously mentioned ECOSOC resolution of 1988, this time ECOSOC acknowledged the existence of the CEDAW and the work of its Committee on the issue of violence against women. However, it also noted that the CEDAW ‘does not expressly address violence against women’.62 Thus, it became clear that the objective was to come up with a binding instrument, rather than soft law. Therefore, the absence of any follow up after the adoption of the DEVAW can again be interpreted as absence of the required consensus at the international level for the transition of the prohibition of violence against women from soft to hard law. However, thanks to the adoption of the DEVAW at least the soft law nature of the prohibition of violence against women can now be safely affirmed.

Other developments in relation to the prohibition of violence against women at the international law level can be identified in some specific areas of human rights law. For instance, some forms of violence against women are framed as issues related to the prohibition of torture or as a right to life.[5] Refugee law adjudication also contributed significantly to bringing attention to various forms of violence against women and framing them as human rights issues.[6] Other human rights bodies followed the strategy of framing violence against women as violations of other already well-established human rights standards. However, this development does not mean that violence against women in all its forms and manifestations became part of established human rights law. This simply indicates that some forms of violence against women can be addressed, to some extent, under the existing hard law standards. There is still uncertainty in regard to whether the prohibition of violence against women in its entirety, and not simply some of its forms, has accomplished the transition from soft to hard law.

  • [1] It is not the objective of this chapter to trace the reception of the prohibition of violence againstwomen in general human rights law. This would require at least another article. A very valuable andmost up-to-date source of information on the developments surrounding the issue of violence againstwomen in general human rights law remains the already mentioned book by A. Edwards (2013).
  • [2] Adopted by UN GA Resolution 48/104 of 20 Dec. 1993, A/RES/48/104.
  • [3] ECOSOC, Resolution 1991/18, 30 May 1991.
  • [4] ECOSOC, Resolution 1991/18, 30 May 1991, last introductory paragraph.
  • [5] For a discussion of these developments: Edwards (2013): 198—303.
  • [6] See e.g.: M. Randall, ‘Refugee Law and State Accountability for Violence againstWomen: A Comparative Analysis of Legal Approaches to Recognizing Asylum Claims Based onGender Persecution’, Harvard Womens Law Journal vol. 25 (2002): 281—318; L. S. Alfredson, CreatingHuman Rights: How Non-Citizens Made Sex Persecution Matter to the World (Philadelphia: Universityof Pennsylvania Press, 2009).
 
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