Today we mark the first United Nations observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It gives us an occasion to focus our fight against gender-based violence in all its forms -- whether it be domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, torture and abuse of women prisoners, or violence against women in armed conflict. It calls upon us to raise public awareness of this global scourge in all its forms, and to ensure that wherever it occurs, it will be met with global condemnation.

Since the birth of the United Nations, there has been increasing recognition that the enjoyment of human rights is essential to the well-being and development of the individual, the community, the nation and the world.  There has been increasing awareness of violations of the rights of women and girls. And yet violence against women -- one of the most shameful of all human rights violations -- continues to be widespread. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth.  It occurs in times of armed conflict and in peace, in the home, in the workplace and in the streets. It stands in the way of our progress towards equality, development, peace and all human rights for all.

In our efforts to confront violence against women, we have made some headway at the international and national levels. Member States of the United Nations have adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which outlines strategies for its elimination.  The Statutes of the Ad Hoc International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and the 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court, include gender-based crimes against women in times of conflict. There has been worldwide mobilisation against harmful traditional practices such as so-called "honour killings" -- which I prefer to call "shame killings".

Member States have enacted legislation banning violence against women -- legislation covering the home, workplace and society at large. They have introduced protection services and trained professionals to take effective action. They have launched campaigns to make all sectors of society understand that violence against women is unacceptable in any form.

But we must do much more. When Member States came together in June this year to review progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, they pledged themselves to a special focus on violence against women in meeting the goals of gender equality, development and peace.  They resolved to revise laws, prosecute perpetrators and continue to research the root causes of violence against women as a means to creating effective programmes against it.  They agreed to consider an international campaign to send the message of “zero tolerance” far and wide.

Today, let us recall that action to eliminate violence against women is the responsibility of all of us: the United Nations family, Member States, civil society and individual women and men.  This day, and the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Violence that we launch today, give us an opportunity to start building a new Millennium free from violence against women and girls; an age in which all humanity knows that when it comes to violence against women, there are no grounds for tolerance and no tolerable excuses.

CIS 16 Days

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