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UN rights experts urge states to repeal criminal adultery laws

The UN Working Group on discrimination against women [official website] on Thursday urged governments around the world to repeal laws that criminalize adultery [statement] and give rise to severe penalties which include flogging, death by stoning and hanging. While the working group conceded that "adultery may constitute a valid ground for bringing a civil proceeding" in some cultures and traditions, the assembly of individual experts wholly declared [press release] that such an offense should not be deemed criminal. Wrote the group:

Adultery laws have usually been drafted and almost always implemented in a manner prejudicial to women. Provisions in penal codes often do not treat women and men equally and establish harsher sanctions for women, and in some countries, rules of evidence value women’s testimony as half that of a man's
Moreover, the group asserted that maintaining adultery as a criminal offense exposes women to "extreme vulnerabilities" and violates their inherent rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], which was adopted by the UN General Assembly [official website] in 1976. Specifically, wrote the group, such adultery laws infringe upon women's' Article 17 rights to "dignity, privacy, and equality, given the continuing discrimination against them."

Discrimination and violence against women is a global issue. In June Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on the Sudanese government [JURIST report] to reform its discriminatory laws and abolish both the death penalty and all corporal punishment after a young Sudanese woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. In March HRW urged the Afghan government [JURIST report] to release about 400 women and girls who were imprisoned for "moral crimes," including flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence in addition to "zina," which is a sexual relationship outside of marriage due to rape or forced prostitution. In July 2011 UN Women [official website] released a report examining the persistent discrimination against women [JURIST report] around the world and concluded that the rule of law does not provide adequate protection for women in practice. A month earlier a UN Special Rapporteur stated that even the US is facing continued violence against women [JURIST report], especially poor, minority and immigrant women. In May 2011 the Council of Europe (COE) [official website] introduced [JURIST report] the first international convention to combat violence against women [text]. In the same month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged Tunisia and Egypt [JURIST report] to ensure that women's rights receive constitutional protection.

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