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Shadow Letters Bring Reproductive Rights to Light

Human Rights Committee urges Ecuador, Moldova and Croatia to protect reproductive rights

The Center celebrated the recent concluding observations on Ecuador, Croatia and Moldova from the U.N. Human Rights Committee, which reaffirm the obligation of these states to guarantee reproductive rights. The Committee's concluding observations responded directly to issues the Center raised in shadow letters as well as in a briefing before Committee members in October 2009.

Ecuador

In Ecuador, the Center highlighted the failure of the government to protect girls against sexual violence in schools and to ensure that adolescents have access to essential reproductive and sexual healthcare services. The shadow letter discussed the case of Paola Guzmán v. Ecuador , a student in Ecuador who was sexually abused for two years by the vice-principal of her school before becoming pregnant at the age of 16 and committing suicide. The case is pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Committee's Recommendations:

The Committee's concluding observations note with concern the large number of cases of violence against women and girls in Ecuador and, in particular, the incidence of sexual abuse and harassment against girls in schools. The Committee also recommended that the government of Ecuador take a number of steps to prevent sexual violence and ensure access to justice for survivors, including training educational personnel and students and running awareness-raising campaigns to combat sexual violence in schools.

Read the shadow letter >

Read the concluding observations >

Moldova

The Center's advocacy in Moldova focused on the case of Z v. Moldova , in which Z was prosecuted and found guilty of murder for inducing a late-term abortion at home. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison even though there is no criminal penalty under Moldovan law for a pregnant woman who aborts. The Center has worked with the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights (IDOM) to file a case on behalf of Z before the European Court of Human Rights and the Supreme Court of Moldova. The Center's shadow letter highlighted the impact of shortcomings in the Moldovan judicial system on women's human rights.

The Committee's Recommendations:

The Committee responded positively to the Center's submission and its concluding observations directly addressed Z's case. The Committee expressed concern that women in Moldova have been unlawfully prosecuted for murder or infanticide after having undergone an abortion and called on the government to release any woman currently serving a sentence on such charges. It also recommended that the government of Moldova provide appropriate healthcare in prison facilities to women who have undergone abortions.

Read the concluding observations >

Croatia

In the case of Croatia, the Center discussed the state's systematic failure to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education in its schools and the negative impact of this policy on adolescent health. The Center also noted with concern State support for sexuality education programs that promote gender stereotypes and discrimination.

The Committee's Recommendations:

The Committee recommended that Croatia "intensify its efforts to eliminate gender stereotyping with a view to changing the perception of women's roles in society" through public education campaigns and training school teachers on gender equality.

Read the shadow letter >

Read the concluding observations >

The Committee's concluding observations on Ecuador, Moldova and Croatia represent its continuing commitment to upholding sexual and reproductive rights. The Center will draw on these recommendations in its on-going advocacy at the national, regional and international levels.

 

Q: What is a “shadow letter” and how is it used?

A: When a government reports to a United Nations or regional human rights body on its compliance with a human rights treaty, groups such as the Center are given an opportunity to submit “shadow letters.” These letters point out shortcomings and highlight violations that are often ignored or covered up by governments in their own progress reports. Members of human rights bodies use these shadow letters to guide discussions with governments and develop recommendations for how governments can do a better job of meeting human rights standards.