Groundbreaking Legal Instruments

One of the fruits of the tireless advocacy of feminists was the adoption of a number of key resolutions and conventions that advanced the rights of women.

Civil society and women’s rights groups in particular had long been trying to draw attention to the unequal and specific effects of armed conflict on the lives of girls and women. In response to that pressure, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1325, a watershed moment for the recognition of the importance of violence against women in conflict and women’s participation in post-conflict processes at all levels of decision-making.

On October 6, 1999 the UN General Assembly adopted a 21-article Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). By ratifying the Optional Protocol, states recognize the competence of CEDAW to receive and consider individual and class action complaints from within its jurisdiction, thus strengthening the implementation of CEDAW.

Work on a Declaration on Human Rights Defenders began in 1984 and was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998 on the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Rome Statute was adopted on July 17, 1998 by the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court. The ICC went into effect in 2002 and has the authority to try individuals as war criminals in signatory states.

The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, also known as the Convention of Belem do Para, is the first legally binding international human rights instrument to specifically address violence against women. Drafted and adopted by the Organisation of American States (OAS), it called for the established of mechanisms in the Americas for the protection of women against violence in both the private and public spheres.

After the atrocities of World War II ended and the United Nations was founded (1946), an effort was made by governments to agree upon and codify basic principles of human rights that would prevent such crimes against humanity in the future. On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a standard to which all nation states in the UN must adhere. The Declaration itself was drafted by representatives from all over the world and from a multitude of backgrounds, and laid out in written form for the first time a set of rights that were to be seen as universal, inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated.