UN Special Rapporteurs
last updated 23 June 2009

In 1994, the Commission on Human Rights made its first appointment to the position of Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Including Its Causes and Consequences. Radhika Coomaraswamy, from Sri Lanka, held the position from 1994 to July 2003.  Yakin Erturk, a women's advocate from Turkey, held the position from July 2003 to June 2009.  Rashida Manjoo, from South Africa, currently holds the position of Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Including Its Causes and Consequences and was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2009. 

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur as articulated by the Commission is to "see and receive information on violence against women, its causes and consequences, from Governments, treaty bodies, specialized agencies and other special rapporteurs . . . [and] recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international level to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences . . . ." U.N.C.H.R. Res. 1994/45 (ESCOR 1994), paras. 6 and 7. Rapporteurs are seen as one of the most effective tools within the United Nations to monitor human rights violations. From 1994 to July 2003,Ms. Coomaraswamy issued 28 reports on violence against women, including sexual assault. 

Ms. Coomaraswamy, noted that rape "remains the least condemned war crime." It is only in the last few years that it has been prosecuted as a war crime, crime against humanity and form of genocide.  Neverthless, the prosecutors at the international tribunals responsible for indicting perpetrators for international crimes of sexual violence have not done so in very many cases.  Human Rights Watch has complained repeatedly that the prosecutors have not taken seriously their obligation to prosecute crimes of sexual violence in Rwanda and in Kosovo. 

From U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Preliminary report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, E/CN.4/1995/42, 64 (1995).  

The Special Rapporteur has also paid particular attention to sexual assault against refugee women and women who are internally displaced due to conflict. As the Special Rapporteur has explained:

Refugee women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual attacks whilst in flight. There are reports of gang-rape, forced 'marriages' and sexual mutilation by bandits, members of armed groups or fellow refugees. The need to cross military lines or areas affected by anarchy or civil war in order to reach safety puts women and girls in especially perilous circumstances as they are at great risk of being subjected to sexual exploitation in return for passage to safety, the grant of refugee status, or legal documentation.

From 1998 Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Alternative Approaches and Ways and Means Within the United Nations System for Improving the Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (E/CN.4/1998/54) (26 January 1998). For more information, please visit the Sexual Assault Against Refugees page of this website.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has created a  webpage for the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. The page includes documents of the Special Rapporteur and other information on key issues, countries visited by the Special Rapporteur and international standards relating to violence against women.

Links to the Special Rapporteur's reports on violence against women are available under the Sexual Assault: Research and Reports section of this website.