CEDAW 52nd Session Country Reports: Mexico and Bahamas

By Mel O’Brien

The final two states to have their country reports addressed in the 52nd CEDAW session were Mexico and Bahamas.
This was the first appearance of the Bahamas before the Committee, and the Committee had to address all first five reports of the country as there had been such a delay for submitting them (the Bahamas ratified CEDAW in 1993). The delegation promised to be timelier with subsequent reports.

As was a running theme with other states, with regards to women in politics and leadership, there seemed to be both a lack of understanding of what temporary special measures are and an unwillingness to apply them. Like previous states in the session, the Bahamas declared there is no need for special measures, a decision that was even declared by the Bahamas Court of Appeal. The Bahamas argued that there are ‘no barriers of advancement of women’ in the country, and that the small percentage of women elected to parliament in May 2012 does not demonstrate the fact that 16.5% of candidates were women. However, this is a very low percentage compared to the fact that over 18,000 more women than men are registered to vote. This demonstrates a real interest in politics by Bahamian women, and a need for programs that encourage women to participate in politics.

Also of issue to the Committee were the reservations that the Bahamas maintains for certain CEDAW provisions, namely Article 2(a) which obligates embodiment of ‘the principle of the equality of men and women’ in the Constitution; and Article 9 concerning the granting of women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality. The Committee had previously requested the Bahamas to remove their reservation to Article 2(a), but no steps have been taken to do this. Only the reservation for Article 16(h) (regarding equal rights for spouses in respect of property) has been withdrawn. The Committee emphasised that any reservation to Article 2(a) is contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention.

The reservation to Article 9 is due to the fact that the Bahamas has discriminatory provisions relating to the granting of nationality. A Bahamian man can transfer his nationality to his foreign spouse, but a Bahamian woman cannot do the same. The woman’s spouse has to wait 5 years to apply for citizenship. A Bahamian father can transfer his nationality to a child born abroad, but a mother cannot. Thus, a child with a Bahamian mother born abroad has to wait until they are 18 to apply for Bahamian citizenship. The Committee was particularly concerned about these discriminatory provisions, and urged the delegation to change legislation and remove the reservation to Article 9.

Another significant concern to the Committee was the fact that marital rape is not a criminal offence in the Bahamas. A bill to criminalise marital rape was drafted, but was not discussed by parliamentarians. According to the delegation, the public voiced concerns about the bill, and thus the government did not proceed with the legislation. The public objection was based on the fact that because of the importance of marriage and family life in Bahamian culture, people didn’t believe that rape in marriage existed. Thus it was clear to the Committee that the Bahamian government needs to make a concerted effort to alter the perceptions of the people, to reinforce that marital rape does indeed occur.

It was clear that in Mexico’s case, violence against women (VAW) was going to be the big issue to discuss. The high levels of femicide in the country, such as in the Ciudad Juarez, and of other VAW are a significant concern and Mexico’s greatest challenge. Data demonstrates a permanent increase in VAW and discriminatory treatment of women human rights defenders. The growing influence of organised crime and drug cartels creates an extravagant level of impunity for VAW. The delegation mentioned some of the actions taken by the state in combating the violence and the cartels, but overall the response of Mexico was disappointing and did not really address specific action taken to combat VAW. The strategy is to head on combat the criminal organisation in marketing and financial structures; strengthen institutions such as the judiciary, police, and other law enforcement bodies based on a ‘scientific approach through law’; and to prevent violence through social mechanisms such as the participation of citizens. However, little detail was provided about how these strategies are to function in practice, apart from the establishment of a system for complaints about any abusive authority, as well as the training of 62% of national law enforcement officers.

According to the delegation, they have been working on equal access of women to the justice system, but obstacles have prevented this becoming a reality. These obstacles include physical access to courts, mistrust of the legal system, and formalism of processes. In addition, structural discrimination against women makes it difficult for women to access justice. Four justice centres have been created, that have heard complaints from over 5000 women. The state has been conducting training of officers to specialise in investigation of human rights violations, and created a National Commission on Violence Against Women.

The Committee asked the Mexican delegation about some specific cases of VAW in which perpetrators had still not been held accountable. One case was the Otengo case, which involved arbitrary imprisonment, rapes, and torture of 26 women, committed by police. The alleged perpetrators were released in 2006 for lack of evidence. A 2010 investigation has led to reopening of investigations by the general prosecutor’s office into the crime of torture in the case. In February 2012, a request was put to the courts to issue arrest warrants for the crime of torture. However, the delegation did not state whether these warrants had been issued and executed. The case has at least led to an overhauling of the law of torture, in May 2012, to bring the definition in line with international treaties.

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