Through research and dissemination, the project aimed to promote the application of international law by regional, national and international courts in order to further the promotion and protection of women’s rights, including the rights of adolescents and young girls.
The project aimed to address the gap between existing international human rights norms and their practical application at the national level. This was considered of direct benefit to attorneys and advocates seeking practical legal resources to use in their daily work to protect and promote women’s rights, including the right to live free from all forms of violence. The indirect beneficiaries of the project were all women, adolescents and girls who have suffered violations of their right to physical integrity, as well as those who will be protected from future violations as the result of increased recognition of their rights under national and international law.
The project aimed to achieve this through: 1) research and collecting together national and international case law affecting women’s right to physical integrity, with an emphasis on violence against women; 2) analysing and summarising of cases that either use international law or that use national legislation and are of key concern to women’s rights advocates; 3) creating a legal database where these annotated case summaries with links to the full text are available on a web page dedicated to this project; 4) disseminating the information to lawyers and other advocates through meetings and a seminar in each country at the conclusion of the year-long project; 5) producing a publication to accompany the web page that describes advocates’ experiences in using international law and tribunals to advance women’s rights in Europe.
Through research of the jurisprudence of international, regional and national tribunals, the project demonstrated the absence of unifying standards of protection for victims of violence within the three EU countries studied, and where application of European regional standards would be most useful.
Seminars were held in each country at the conclusion of the project to inform advocates, NGOs, university faculty and other interested parties about the outcome of the project.
1. The project managed to establish a successful and thorough methodology to exchange comparative information on human rights laws across diverse legal systems to promote cross-regional collaboration, and to compile case law from three EU countries and several international tribunals addressing violence against women in all forms.
2. The project was able to solicit the participation of several student volunteers. This served the important function of giving young people the opportunity to work in the field of women’s rights and human rights. It also provided research support to the attorneys. A student volunteer worked with an attorney in each of the countries. In addition, the student-run organisation RightsLink at Columbia Law School in New York provided research assistance on the decisions of the United Nations committees with individual complaint mechanisms. Adding to the project’s impact and management without increasing the budget is always worth considering.
3. Consultant attorneys were invited to give talks related to the work they were doing for the project. This was useful both for dissemination of the project and for making contacts with advocates in the field of women’s rights. For example, in Spain, the coordinator of the project gave a talk at a law school regarding female genital mutilation and international norms. In Ireland, the consultant attorney was invited to give a talk on the status of Ireland’s abortion law at an international meeting. The consultant attorney in Denmark presented the project at a meeting of the Balkan Women’s and Human Rights NGOs, which monitors the CEDAW convention in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The project itself noted a number of lessons learned:
4. The importance of face-to-face meetings. These proved to be essential for the development of the project methodology, particularly when assessing its application to any one legal system. Long discussions ensued between attorneys concerning the relative importance of substantive and procedural law and its terminology, which were critical in ensuring that the web page be a useful tool for advocates.
5. Time period. The one-year allotted for the wide range of activities was too short. If this pilot project is replicated, it should run on a two-year basis. One year proved a very short time to: develop the methodology, conduct a wide range of legal research, edit research materials, design and create the web page and data base, produce a publication, and plan and orchestrate three seminars. The projects reliance on service providers, such as the web page and database designer, also slowed down the progress of the work. A more realistic time-frame would account for such unforeseen, and often unavoidable delays.
6. The accessibility of international law. Women’s Link Worldwide was premised on the notion that national-level advocates have limited knowledge of and access to international law and precedent. The first year of the project confirmed that, and further demonstrated that most advocates do not believe that these instruments can be usefully brought into their work. However, many advocates demonstrated great interest in exploring the use of international law in their work.
7. The need for on-line availability. The project made clear that, although some information regarding legislation is available, the actual application of such legislation in case law is not readily available on the web for any region.
8. Wide dissemination. The project uncovered the need to offer access to legal information to non-attorney advocates.
9. Fostering collaboration. During its seminars, the project saw the importance and the need to bring together advocates from the human rights and women’s rights community to work on issues of violence against women.
10. Continuity. Importance of continuity in the work related to this project. Given the existence of the database as a tool for asserting women’s rights to be free from violence, and the established networks of women’s rights advocates in each country, the team that worked on the pilot project Women’s Link Worldwide is well poised to engage in concrete and collaborative follow-up activities on these issues.
An on-line database to allow users to access the case law; it also includes annotated summaries and background information on each country’s legal and political system as well as relevant legislation.
· A hard copy publication to accompany the database, which includes interviews with leading international lawyers on their practical experiences in using both international law and international tribunals to protect and promote women’s rights.