International Judicial Colloquium on Women’s Access to Justice in the Context of Sexual Violence

Bellagio, Italy

December 2017

Participants of the 2017 International Judicial Colloquium on Women's Access to Justice in the Context of Sexual Violence recognised that gender-based violence against women and girls, including sexual violence is a form of discrimination and both a cause and consequence of inequality. 

They noted with concern that such violence is growing in intensity in all regions and countries, both in its many longstanding manifestations as well in as newly emerging forms such as the prevalence of gender-based violence against women and girls in digital spaces and through the use of technology.


They also raised concerns regarding the continuing impunity resulting from the failure of many justice systems to combat gender-based violence against women and girls and the failure of States to ensure that the justice system is capable of addressing it effectively.  

The participants further highlighted that sexual violence against women involves the violation of a range of human rights guaranteed to women and girls, including the right to life, bodily integrity, freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, health (including sexual and reproductive health and rights), respect for private life, right to just and favourable conditions of work, and non-discrimination and equality.

The Colloquium resulted in the adoption of the Bellagio Declaration, which sets out state obligation and the role of the judiciary in ensuring access to justice for gender based violence, including sexual violence in an effective, competent manner and with a gender perspective.

The IWRAW-AP is an NGO based in Malaysia, working internationally. It supports national NGO’s engaging with the CEDAW Committee and promotes knowledge, use and dissemination of the CEDAW Convention and Optional Protocol, as well as the Committee’s General Recommendations, Concluding Observations and views in cases of inquiries and individual communications, to and by women activists, lawyers, judges, police forces, etc. It organises regular meetings and offers capacity building programs, and specifically for women activists through its Global to Local Programm.


By Patricia Schulz, UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

It was a fascinating meeting and process, involving  eight high-level judges, who have all brought progress in the treatment of sexual violence against women in their countries and/or institutions. They came from Supreme and Constitutional Courts, from the ICC, and from other superior courts. Five experts in gender equality and gender-based violence against women and four representatives of IWRAW-AP also participated.

Each invited participant was asked to make a presentation so that there was a formidable exchange of information and experiences, at both national and international levels.

The judges explained how they deal with the challenges to ensure women’s rights and notably to ensure prevention, prosecution, punishment, remedy and reparation in cases of sexual violence against women.


They addressed domestication of international norms into national legislation (and bypassing lack of domestication); evidentiary rules; overcoming cultural norms that ensure impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence; developing a culture supportive of survivors (including men victims and survivors, notably in the context of armed conflicts); adopting a victim centered approach in adjudicating such cases; networks for sharing of good practices between judicial authorities nationally and internationally; computerization; and lack of resources.

The five experts tackled the various international and regional legal frameworks and mechanisms addressing sexual violence; the need for transformative remedies for victims/survivors of sexual violence; judicial gender stereotyping; new ways for lawyers to argue cases of sexual violence and confront police and judiciary inaction/reticence to deal actively, competently and impartially with cases of sexual violence; the importance of NGOs advocacy work and supporting survivors of sexual violence in the whole judicial process; the role of human rights bodies regarding sexual violence, in particular of the CEDAW Committee (with a focus on its General Recommendations No. 30, 32, 33 and 35 and its jurisprudence under the Optional Protocol).

The text affirms - for the first time I believe - that “impartiality of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial” are dependent on the absence of discrimination against women, gender stereotyping or other prejudicial attitudes by the judiciary.


The Declaration must now be widely disseminated, through judges’ and lawyers’ networks, NGOs and other stakeholders.




1. Judge Joyce Aluoch, Judge and First Vice President,International
Criminal Court

2. Judge Jacinta Correia, Judge, Dili District Court, Timor Leste

3. Judge Jad Maalouf, Summary Affairs Judge, Lebanon

4. Justice Nasir ul Mulk, Former Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan

5. Judge Susan Okalany, Resident Judge, High Court Circuit Mbale,

6. Judge Vacharin Patjekvinyusakul, Senior Judge, Taling Chan
Provincial Court, Thailand

7. Justice Leona Theron, Judge, Constitutional Court of South Africa
8. Judge Amy Tsanga, Justice, High Court of Zimbabwe

9. Vrinda Grover, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India

10. Simona Lanzoni, Member, GREVIO
11. Patricia Schulz, Member, UN CEDAW Committee

12. Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against
women, its causes and consequences

13. Viviana Waisman, Executive Director, Women’s Link Worldwide

14. Andrew Byrnes, Member, Advisory Committee, IWRAW Asia Pacific;
Professor, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney,

15. Lesley Ann Foster, Chairperson, Board of Directors, IWRAW Asia
Pacific; Executive Director, Masimanyane

16. Maria Herminia Graterol, Member, Board of Directors, IWRAW Asia

17. Umyra Ahmad Fikhri, Programme Officer, IWRAW Asia Pacific

18. Ishita Dutta, Programme Officer, IWRAW Asia Pacific