A BAHAMIAN human rights expert has played a pivotal role in two landmark human rights cases heard by the United Nations.
Marion Bethel, Bahamian UN CEDAW member and attorney, played a pivotal role in a ruling for Filipina sexual slavery victims in Geneva, Switzerland.
According to a press release, Ms Bethel was one of five members of the Working Group on Communications under the Optional Protocol of the CEDAW Convention. This working group was responsible for examining the complaint filed by 24 Filipina nationals. Ms Bethel was also the case rapporteur for this particular complaint.
On November 23, 1944, the complainants in this case, commonly known as “Comfort Women”, were forcibly taken to the Bahay na Pula (Red House), the Japanese headquarters in San Ildefonso, Pampanga. They were detained in the Red House from one day to three weeks, where they were repeatedly subjected to rape, other forms of sexual violence, torture and inhumane detention conditions. They have since then endured long-term physical, psychological, social and economic consequences, including physical injuries, post-traumatic stress, permanent damage to their reproductive capacity and harm to their social relationships in their community, marriage and work.
In the committee’s ruling, they ultimately found that the Philippines failed to provide reparation, social support and recognition commensurate with the harm perpetrated against the women by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War. As such, they requested that the Philippines provide the victims with full reparation, including material compensation and an official apology for the continuing discrimination.
“This is a symbolic moment of victory for these victims who were previously silenced, ignored, written off and erased from history in the Philippines. The committee has duly recognised the agency and voice of these women in seeking social justice and redress for violation of their human rights,” Ms Bethel said.
“The committee’s views not only respect the right of the victims to full reparation inclusive of an apology, they pave the way for the restoration of their dignity, integrity, reputation and honour,” said Ms Bethel.
“This case demonstrates that ignoring or trivialising sexual violence against women and girls in war and conflict situations is, indeed, another egregious form of violation of women’s rights. We hope that the committee’s decision serves to restore human dignity for all of the Filipina victims, both deceased and living,” Ms Bethel said.
In the second matter the committee also reviewed a complaint filed by a Spanish national who underwent premature labour, induction and a caesarean section without her consent. The committee ruled that the traumatised mother was subjected to obstetric violence and requested that Spain provide full reparation inclusive of an apology for the damage that she suffered to her physical and psychological health.
Obstetric violence includes mistreatment as well as verbal and physical abuse.
“If doctors and nurses had followed all applicable standards and protocols, it might be possible that the victim would have given birth naturally without having to go through a series of procedures that dehumanised her and left her without agency and dignity during childbirth,” said Ms Bethel.
“This case calls on us in The Bahamas to reflect on and address our own protocols and standards concerning the treatment of women in health care facilities in compliance with the human rights standards of dignity, respect and autonomy,” said Ms Bethel.
The committee also requested Spain take action to combat gender-stereotyping and gender-based violence against women that was widespread, systematic in nature and ingrained in health systems. This included providing obstetricians and other health workers with adequate professional training on women’s reproductive health rights, and specific training for judicial and law enforcement officials.
The experts on women’s rights also requested that Spain respect women’s autonomy and ability to make informed decisions about their reproductive health by providing them with complete information at every stage of childbirth and by requiring that their free, prior and informed consent be obtained for any invasive treatment during childbirth, as well as to develop, publicise and implement a charter of patients’ rights.
Ms Bethel was the first Bahamian elected to a UN Human Rights Treaty Body when she started her first term in 2017. Her current term ends in 2024.
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