From: Jeanne Sarson MEd, BScN, RN, Human Rights Defender/activist, Canada Linda MacDonald, MEd, BN, RN, Human Rights Defender/activist, Canada

January 17, 2011


We sent the following statement to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, because of its importance we are forwarding it as our submission to you Ms. Bachelet. This letter is focussed on violence against women and the need for stronger laws in relation to torture inflicted in the private sphere by non-state actors. Stronger laws in relation to violence against women were mentioned as one of the seven priority focus areas of UN Women. Stronger laws must operationalize the human right, equality and dignity of women/girls as written in the article 5 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), in article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and in CEDAW Committee General Recommendation 19 7(b). All these UN instruments state “that no one shall be subjected to torture”. Good practices means this repetitive statement must be operationalized by naming acts that constitute torture perpetrated by non-state actors in the ‘so-called’ private sphere as torture when these occur. How will women ever achieve equality if acts that constitute torture are globally invisibilized by being trivialized, minimized and misnamed? Laws must be specific and distinct, stating clearly that torture by non-state actors is a distinct and specific human rights violation and a crime. The articles of the UDHR, CAT and CEDAW Committee act as evaluations tools to measure our global community’s socio-cultural and relational developmental progressions or lack thereof, from a gendered perspective, as it relates to torture perpetrated by non-state actors in the private sphere. Although some jurisdictions have laws now these are coated in patriarchal fundamentalism when it comes to being globally operationalized, by being clearly identify and named as acts of non-state torture (NST) that are inflicted against women in the private sphere. NST is a specific and extreme form of violence perpetrated against women as adults or when they were girls. For 18 years we have worked solely with women in industrialized countries who, as adults or as girls, endured NST inflicted by a spouse, parents, family members and others such as exploiters and pedophiles (Bibliography examples listed below). The women have been unable to find their rightful place on the human rights agenda of “no on shall be subjected to torture”. There continues to be a patriarchal divide that has drifted down from the ‘Rights of Men” – which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was initially called – whereby laws on the naming and prevention of torture have generally been considered to belong to the so-called male public sphere; whereas, acts of NST against women are invisibilized even when these acts satisfy the elements of torture as defined in CAT. The prohibition of torture is absolute. Good practices require specific recognition that acts of NST that satisfy the elements of torture as defined in CAT exists. Without specifically naming acts that constitute NST perpetrated in the private sphere, non-state actor torture will be deemed not to exist. No data will be collected. This is the present situation in Canada. If women are to know the meaning of equality, freedom and dignity every human rights instrument that states “no one shall be subjected to torture” must be applicable to each and every woman no matter who she is or which community she resides in. Women need to claim the right not to be subjected to NST because the human right not to be subjected to torture is every woman’s human right.

Respectfully submitted, Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald

CONTACT INFORMATION: Jeanne Sarson: 167 Evergreen Drive, Truro, NS, Canada, B2N 6H9 Email:; Phone/Fax: Office: 1-902-895-6659; Home: 1-902-895-7399

Linda MacDonald: 361 Prince Street, Truro, NS, Canada, B2N 1E4 Email: Phone: 1-902-895-2255; Cell: 902-956-2117

Bibliography Sarson, J. & MacDonald, L. (2009, Winter). Defining torture by non-state actors in the Canadian private sphere. First Light, 29-32. Retrieved from Sarson, J. & MacDonald, L. (2009, Winter). Torturing by non-state actors invisibilized, a patriarchal divide and spillover violence from the military sphere into the domestic sphere. Peace Studies Journal, 2(2), 16-38. Retrieved from Sarson, J. & MacDonald, L. (2010, April). Canada: Torturers, guns and bullets. IANSA Bulletin, 22, 1. Retrieved from Sarson, J. & MacDonald, L. (2008). Torture of Canadian women by non-state actors in the private sphere: A shadow report March. Retrieved from

As the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women officially begins its work this month, World Pulse is asking women worldwide: What is YOUR vision and recommendation for UN Women? We invite you to raise your voice by writing a letter to UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet outlining your recommendation for how this new UN agency can truly affect change on the ground to promote gender equality and uphold the rights and needs of women both on a local and global scale. Learn more:

Take action! This post was submitted in response to UN Women: Visions and Recommendations.


Dear Linda,

Thank you for participating in this campaign, by using your voice and speaking out for women worldwide. Your letter is beautifully written and your voice is powerful!

In the coming weeks, we will compile your letters and share your voices with the GEAR Campaign, who have been working closely with UN Women to ensure the inclusion of civil society groups, and through the PulseWire community, grassroots women leaders, as they set their agenda. We will also be sending your letters directly to Michele Bachelet and other senior leaders of the newly formed UN agency, to demonstrate the effectiveness for sourcing opinion, knowledge and needs from the global grassroots women's movement through our online community. Through this, we hope to open a portal for our community to have a direct line of influence within the UN Women agency.

I will keep you updated on the progress of our campaign!

In friendship and solidarity, Jade