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A recent study of international human rights law by the University of California Law School found that while there are well over one hundred uses of the term “violence against women” (defined to include sexual violence), no human rights instruments explicitly address sexual violence against men. The use in some instruments of the term “gender-based violence”, which should in theory focus attention on violence against both genders, is in practice used solely in relation to violence against women.
So human rights advocacy work for men must rely on gender-neutral instruments which do not specifically address sexual abuse, such as the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – stretching these instruments to fit a problem for which they were not designed.
This legal lacuna has serious consequences. While it is generally assumed correctly that women and girls are the primary victims of sexual violence, according to one analysis of prevalence studies in 1999, 3% of men worldwide had been raped in their lifetime (as children or adults) – representing, at that time, 210 million victims.
We urge the UK government to work towards an instrument short of a treaty at UN level. This, we suggest, should take the form of a non-binding Declaration of the General Assembly on Sexual Violence Against Men in Conflict, which would definitively state the UNs’ opposition to such violence, and commitment to work towards the protection of victims. As to the artificial sex bifurcation of the issue, we believe that the Declaration should affirm that sexual violence threatens victims regardless of gender, but should make clear that the UN is specifically committed to combating the historical reluctance to acknowledge and tackle sexual violence aimed at men.
- The UK should work towards a new UN General Assembly resolution which observes the historical reluctance to recognise sexual violence against male victims and confirms the UN’s commitment to tackle such violence gender-neutrally.
- The UK should advocate that the Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Committee issue General Comments acknowledging the prevalence of sexual violence against men.
The UK should accept the right of individual petition under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention Against Torture.
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Read the policy paper here