Women's rights come under scrutiny in Bern

Shelters have been set up in some countries to protect women who are victims of human trafficking Keystone

The Swiss capital is hosting an international symposium until Friday on the responsibility of governments to ensure the rights of women.

This content was published on September 22, 2005 - 12:07

Experts from 12 countries are discussing why it is that despite laws designed to protect them, women around the world are still the victims of daily human-rights abuses.

The four areas under examination at the three-day meeting are domestic violence; trafficking in women; violence in armed conflict, and violence against women legitimised with cultural arguments.

The event is co-hosted by the Swiss Section of Amnesty International, Human Rights Switzerland, the World Organisation Against Torture, and Bern University's interdisciplinary centre for women's and gender research.

In a news release ahead of the symposium, Amnesty pointed to a recent increase in cases of countries being convicted of failing to ensure women's rights by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

It said that, according to the principle of due diligence, states bear responsibility under international law to prevent, investigate and punish violence against women.

Setting standards

Stella Jegher of Amnesty's Swiss Section says the goals of the conference are to make the concept of due diligence better known, to define a set of international standards to combat violence and protect women, and to discuss implementing these standards.

"We have a gap between what the human-rights system defines and what is implemented and what women all over the world experience," Jegher told swissinfo.

"Women still suffer everyday discrimination and stereotypes, while traditions and cultural prejudices hinder the implementation and fulfilment of legal standards," the conference organiser said.

Participants will be talking about the problems in their countries and learning from one another as they search for common strategies. A legal advisor from Ukraine, who defined that country's legislation on domestic violence, will be sharing her experiences.

Swiss situation

Jegher said that all four areas under discussion were relevant to Switzerland. Discussions were ongoing in the country about how to deal with violence and discrimination against women immigrants, and how to protect their rights while respecting cultural differences.

Switzerland's official foreign policy played an important role in conflict resolution, while domestic violence was at the forefront of people's minds after several recent cases of husbands killing their families.

"Regarding domestic violence, this is an issue which has been often discussed in Switzerland in the past ten or 15 years and there have been quite a lot of steps forward in terms of better legislation, for example to expel violent husbands from the home, or in terms of more training for police officers," Jegher added.

"But what is lacking is still the resources for proper protection of women, for instance for women's shelters."

Jegher said Switzerland could be a role model in some areas of human rights, "but I would be hesitant to say 'look at us and learn from what we have done'."

swissinfo, Morven McLean

In brief

The organisers say 160 people are taking part in the symposium, 40-50 of them from abroad.

The four main subject areas are: domestic violence; trafficking in women; violence in armed conflict and violence against women legitimised with cultural arguments.

According to the principle of due diligence, states bear responsibility under international law to prevent, investigate and punish violence against women and to ensure that victims receive adequate remedies and reparation.

On Thursday, several NGOs handed the government a petition with 28,000 signatures condemning trafficking in women and calling for tougher sanctions.

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