11.20.2018
By Lucia Canton
Despite The Risk, Victims Around the World Speak Out To Help Eliminate Violence Against Women

In honor of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th, we’ve highlighted the ongoing fight against gender based violence, and recognized the vital role that human rights defenders, including our partners and laureates, play in addressing this violence around the world.

Recently, Nadia Murad, a 2018 Nobel peace prize winner, said: “I was an Isis sex slave. I tell my story because it is the best weapon I have.” In an interview, Nadia publicly discussed her decision to speak out: “I would have to tell the audience about Hajji Salman and the times he raped me and all the abuse I witnessed. Deciding to be honest was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, and also the most important.” Survivors like Nadia voluntarily subject themselves to re-victimization, to not only speak up for victims who have been silenced, but to make sure no other woman becomes a victim of violence. Today, Nadia is an avid human rights advocate and we are thrilled she is being recognized for her influential work.

At Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, we work hand-in-hand with courageous human rights defenders on the ground to get justice for victims of gender-based violence, women who have disappeared, and those whose voices have fallen on deaf ears or were taken from them when their life was cut short.

Over the last few years, we have represented several families who have lost their loved ones to femicide. In August of 2005, 19-year-old Claudina Isabel Velazquez Paiz did not return home from a party in her hometown of Guatemala City. Claudina’s parents began a desperate search for their daughter but the police refused to take immediate action despite epidemic rates of violence against women in Guatemala. The following morning, Claudina was found shot dead, with signs of sexual violence on her body. In 2015, in partnership with the Guatemalan Association of Mayan Attorneys and Notaries, we brought Claudina’s case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In a landmark ruling, the Court found that the government failed to act with due diligence in the prevention and investigation of Claudina’s femicide, ordering them to adopt a series of measures addressing the systematic discrimination and violence against women in Guatemala. We also work with partner organization CEDIMAC on cases of violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city notorious for its high rates of femicide and disappeared women. Together, we have presented several cases before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), many of which are currently in procedural stages. In 2017, the IACHR granted admissibility on six femicide cases from Ciudad Juarez.

Although many countries are taking significant strides towards ending violence against women, stories like Claudina’s still remain prevalent. This must not discourage us, but push us to work harder to ensure we see the day where no woman, girl, or family has to live through a disappearance or a femicide, and the climate of impunity that surrounds this crime. This year has been defined more by the energy and drive of women than by the acts of those trying to limit or deprive them of their rights. Women all over the world have demonstrated unparalleled courage by speaking out and turning their most traumatic and vulnerable experience into their strongest weapon against injustice. In addition to Nadia Murad receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, in the last few months alone, Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery has empowered women everywhere to speak out, and over 100 women won house seats in the U.S. midterms for the first time in history. So, this November 25th, join us in recognizing all the victims who are no longer with us, and every survivor who continues to fight, whether you are speaking out or not-- we hear you, we believe you, and we support you. Your strength empowers so many in this fight to end violence against women.

Lucia Canton is a 2L at American University Washington College of Law interning with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights' litigation and advocacy team this fall" at the bottom.