The federal government is current seeking input from organizations on the issue of whether Canada should move forward with accession to the Belém do Pará Convention. Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) was contacted by the federal government this month to consult with us on this important issue of international law.
Battered Women’s Support Services is generally in strong support of Canada joining the Belém do Pará Convention.
The Belém do Pará Convention is formally known as the to the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women.
This regional treaty was adopted at the 24th regular session of the Organization of American States (OAS)’s General Assembly on June 4, 1994, in Belém do Pará, Brazil, and came into force on March 5, 1995.
To date, Canada has not joined the treaty. At the 2018 Summit of the Americas, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada would begin the review process to join the Belém do Pará Convention.
The Belém do Pará Convention is one of the very few binding international instruments that deals with the issue of gender-based violence and violence against women, and offers more extensive strategies, remedies, and enforcement mechanisms than other international instruments.
The Belém do Pará Convention aims to eliminate sexual, physical, and psychological violence against women in both the public and private spheres of society.
Article 2 of the Convention lays out that violence against women shall be understood to include physical, sexual, and psychological violence:
- that occurs within the family or domestic unit or within any other interpersonal relationship, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the woman, including, among others, rape, battery and sexual abuse;
- that occurs in the community and is perpetrated by any person, including, among others, rape, sexual abuse, torture, trafficking in persons, forced prostitution, kidnapping and sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in educational institutions, health facilities or any other place; and
- that is perpetrated or condoned by the state or its agents regardless of where it occurs.
As a proactive instrument, the Belém do Pará Convention also sets out the duties and obligations of state parties to the Convention to pursue policies to prevent, punish, and eliminate violence against women.
Chapter 3 of the Conventions lays out the duties of states to ensure the exercise and protection of every woman’s human, civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights and freedoms.
Article 7 of the Convention, for example, lays out that State Parties to Convention must take all appropriate means, without delay, to:
- refrain from engaging in any act or practice of violence against women and to ensure that their authorities, officials, personnel, agents, and institutions act in conformity with this obligation;
- apply due diligence to prevent, investigate and impose penalties for violence against women;
- include in their domestic legislation penal, civil, administrative and any other type of provisions that may be needed to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women and to adopt appropriate administrative measures where necessary;
- adopt legal measures to require the perpetrator to refrain from harassing, intimidating or threatening the woman or using any method that harms or endangers her life or integrity, or damages her property;
- take all appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to amend or repeal existing laws and regulations or to modify legal or customary practices which sustain the persistence and tolerance of violence against women;
- establish fair and effective legal procedures for women who have been subjected to violence which include, among others, protective measures, a timely hearing and effective access to such procedures;
- establish the necessary legal and administrative mechanisms to ensure that women subjected to violence have effective access to restitution, reparations or other just and effective remedies; and
- adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to this Convention.
Article 8 further states that States Parties agree to undertake progressively specific measures, including anti-violence education programs and specialized services for women who have been subjected to violence, including shelters and counseling services for all affected family members.
Of particular interest to us at BWSS is that the Belém do Pará Convention provides a robust mechanism to lodge complaints of violations of Article 7 of this Convention by state parties such as Canada.
Complaints can be lodged by any person or groups of persons or a nongovernmental organization like ours. This is especially crucial given the abject failure of state parties, such as Canada, to meaningfully eliminate gendered violence.
The level of violence that women, girls, and gender-diverse people experience in Canada has barely changed over the past two decades, and is especially magnified for those further marginalized by race, citizenship, class, sexual orientation, and disability.
For Indigenous women, girls, trans, and two spirit people in Canada, the crisis of gendered colonial violence and the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans, and two spirit people continues unabated, with no accountability from any level of government.
Importantly, Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls explicitly calls on Canada to ratify the Belém do Pará Convention:
1.2 We call upon all governments, with the full participation of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, to immediately implement and fully comply with all relevant rights instruments, including but not limited to:
- ICCPR, ICESCR, UNCRC, CEDAW, and ICERD, as well as all optional protocols to these instruments, including the 3rd Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
- American Convention on Human Rights: specifically, that Canada ratify the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women.
We are heartened with the high rate of ratification of Belém do Pará Convention across the region; 32 of the 35 OAS member states have already ratified the Convention. However, we remain disheartened that Canada still has not.
Given the stated commitments of the federal, provincial, and territorial officials to work to combat and eliminate gender-based violence, for example through the National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls, we strongly urge Canada to accede to the Belém do Pará Convention.