IALL 2014 Annual Course Part I: Gender & Human Rights

By Charles Bjork

1450119_10100475958347527_6708231589772581974_nIALL’s 33rd annual course on international law and legal information in Buenos Aires got underway with three informative presentations focusing on Gender and Human Rights in Latin America.

The first speaker was Analia Montferrant, an attorney in the Office of Domestic Violence of the Supreme Court of Argentina. The Supreme Court established the Office, known by its Spanish acronym OVD, in 2004 to address the widespread under-reporting of domestic violence in Argentina. The role of the OVD is comparable to that of EEOC in American employment discrimination law.   After verifying an accusation of domestic violence, the OVD’s team of lawyers, psychologists, and social workers makes an initial determination as to whether legal intervention is warranted and then refers the case to the appropriate civil or criminal authorities for prosecution.

Since it became operational in 2008, the OVD has evaluated approximately 60,000 accusations of domestic violence involving more than 80,000 affected persons. Approximately two-thirds of the affected persons are women, one quarter are children, and the remainder are men, primarily elderly men abused by their adult children. The statistics compiled by the OVD help to guide the development of public policies to combat domestic violence. Among the key findings is fact that domestic violence is not confined to working class households but affect persons of all socio-economic backgrounds.

The next speaker was Paola Bergalla, a member of the law faculty at the Universidad de Palermo in Buenos Aires. Professor Bergalla began with brief overview of disputes concerning reproductive rights that have arisen in Latin America during the past 35 years, including assisted reproductive technology, emergency contraception, and abortion. She went on to discuss the impact of Artavia Murillo v. Costa Rica, a case in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held that Costa Rica’s absolute ban on in-vitro fertilization (IVF) was in breach of the American Convention on Human Rights. In doing so, the Court applied a proportionality test to balance the rights of infertile couples who want to become parents against the right to life of embryos created via IVF. The Court ultimately concluded that an embryo does not attain the legal status of a person until it is implanted in the womb of the prospective mother. National courts in a several Latin American jurisdictions have begun to cite the decision in the Artavia Murillo case, particularly for its proportionality test and for its treatment of infertility as a disability. Prof. Bergalla concluded her presentation with a summary of the evolution of abortion law in Argentina.

The final speaker was Natalia Gherardi, an attorney with the Latin American Team for Gender Justice, known by its Spanish acronym ELA. She spoke about her organization’s efforts to help bridge the gap between laws on the books designed to promote gender equality and how those laws are applied in practice. In 2009, ELA established a judicial “observatory” to evaluate decisions issued by national courts in Latin America pertaining to the rights of women. The ELA posts each decision on its website in PDF format, along with a brief analysis of the outcome. In addition, the ELA grades each decision based on the extent to which the author(s) of the decision employ gender stereotypes. Decisions that rely on gender stereotypes receive one or more thumbs down, while decisions that eschew gender stereotypes receive one or more thumbs up. The twin goals of the ELA’s judicial observatory are to promote greater understanding of how courts in Latin America resolve disputes concerning the rights of women and to make these decisions more accessible to the public.

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