Domestic Violence as an International Human Rights Issue
In this chapter I will discuss some of the methodological problems that the Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project has encountered in addressing domestic violence against women. I have chosen to focus on domestic violence both because of the severity of the problem and because of the complexities of the legal and conceptual issues that arise in treating it as a human rights violation. By highlighting these complexities, I hope to illustrate how international human rights law can most effectively be used to combat domestic violence. The discussion will also have obvious relevance to other efforts to address de facto discrimination in the application of facially neutral criminal laws to private actors.
I will begin by tracing the evolution of the traditional human rights movement for the purpose of showing both why that movement has neglected the problem of domestic violence and why such neglect can no longer be justified in light of comparable issues that the movement now addresses. I will then outline the type of evidence that in my view is needed to treat the problem of domestic violence as a human rights issue, while noting the ways in which this proof often differs significantly from the evidence required for more traditional human rights inquiries.
Finally, I will discuss the experience of the Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project in collecting this evidence. In doing so, I will note a troubling void that we have observed in the work of local human rights and women's rights organizations. By highlighting this void, I hope to help spawn the factual research needed to address the problem of domestic violence more effectively as a human rights issue.