Due Diligence Project

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Public international law mandates States to exercise due diligence to promote, protect and fulfill human rights. This principle is commonly referred to as the “due diligence” principle. The obligation extends to not only preventing human rights abuses by the state and its agents, but also those by non-state actors in the so-called “private realm.” In order to properly address the violence committed against women, particularly by non-state actors, it is imperative that we have a deeper understanding of this obligation. What does it mean to act with “due diligence?”  What exact actions are required? When has this obligation been satisfied? Do the obligations change according to the circumstances? A deeper understanding is needed in order for international monitoring mechanisms to accurately gauge States' compliance with this obligation. States too need guidance on what exact actions are expected in order to track their own progress. 

In the majority of the cases violence is perpetrated by non-state actors, for example by a close male relative or intimate partner. In fact, the most common form of violence experienced by women globally is intimate partner violence. It is estimated that one in three women experiences violence in her lifetime. Situations of armed conflicts constitute another context where women are increasingly experiencing violence at the hands of non-state actors, such as paramilitary and militia groups. It is for instance estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, that between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped in Bosnia during the conflict in the early 1990s, and that around 200,000 women and girls were raped during the armed conflict in Bangladesh in 1971. 

Traditionally the State was only held accountable for violations of human rights committed by its agents.  By extending accountability for acts of violence perpetrated by non-state actors to the State, public international law recognizes that violence against women, whether committed by State or non-State actors constitutes human rights violations. This also means that the State has the obligation to enter the so-called ‘private sphere’ where most instances of violence against women take place. This is a sphere from which the State had excluded itself, preferring to limit instead only to the public sphere. Hence the concept of due diligence has helped rupture the artificial “public/private sphere” divide, as well as State/non-State actor dichotomy.


Due Diligence