Peru: UN experts concerned that criminalising women activists will silence victims of sexual harassment

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GENEVA (17 October 2022) UN experts today expressed grave concern for the rights and liberty of Peruvian anthropologist and human rights defender Marcela Poirier Maruenda, who was convicted of an aggravated defamation crime earlier this year, after she accused a former university professor of alleged sexual harassment.

Poirier was convicted by a judge in May 2022, who ordered her to pay nearly $50,000 USD in damages and sentenced her to one year and eight months in jail. Ahead of her appeal, which will be heard on 19 October, the experts raised the alarm that if the lower court judgment is upheld, it could have a chilling effect on those who speak up against sexual and gender-based violence.

“We are concerned that the lower court judgment sentencing Poirier failed to integrate a victim-centred and gender-sensitive approach,” the UN experts said ahead of the appeal hearing.

“If the court’s decision stands, it could silence other victims and survivors of sexual violence and prevent them from speaking out against their aggressors,” they said. “Defending against a defamation claim can be costly and stressful, leading to potential re-victimisation and mental trauma.”

The then Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders during his visit to Perú in 2020, raised that defamation lawsuits facilitate strategies to silence or discredit human rights defenders and journalists who report on human rights violations. In her thematic report issued in July 2021 the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion reiterated her concern about the abusive use of the justice system, particularly through criminal offenses such as defamation, to silence women. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls also highlighted the need to break the cycle of impunity and increase the rate of prosecution in cases of gender based violence.

Echoing the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in its review of Peru in February 2022, the UN experts urged the State to expedite the investigation and prosecution of all acts of harassment, gender-based violence against women and discrimination and acts of intimidation and reprisals perpetrated against women human rights defenders.

The experts are in dialogue with the Government of Peru on this issue.

ENDS

The experts: Ms Mary Lawlor (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders – the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.

Ms. Irene Khan (Bangladesh) is the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.An internationally recognized advocate for human rights, gender equality and social justice, she was Secretary-General of Amnesty International from 2001 to 2009 and Director-General of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) from 2010 to 2019. Ms. Khan is affiliated with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and has been Consulting Editor of the Daily Star, Bangladesh’s largest English newspaper.

Ms. Reem Alsalem (Jordan) Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences. She holds a Masters in International Relations from the American University in Cairo, Egypt (2001) and a Masters in Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (2003). She is an independent consultant on gender issues, the rights of refugees and migrants, transitional justice and humanitarian response.

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