Feminist International Radio Endeavour - FIRE
Hope for Victims of Rape
Karen Vertido Case
The Karen Vertido Case
5 to 7 December, in Katmandu, Nepal, the fourth consultation on the
potential of the OptionalProtocol to the Convention on the elimination of
all forms of Discrimination against Women (OP-CEDAW), focused on
litigation strategies with participants from South Asia and Asia Pacific.
As the previous four, this meeting was organized by IWRAW-AP, a
non-profit international women's organization based in the South. IWRAW-AP
promotes the domestic implementation of international human rights
standards by building the capacity of women and human rights advocates to
claim and realize women's human rights.
of the sessions of this consultation focused on the Karen Vertido case, a
communication which has been submitted by the Philippines to the CEDAW
Committee through its Optional Protocol.
Taking this as a case study, the entire group went through the
process of filing a complaint from the very beginning (e.g. how to
determine whether a case is ready for the CEDAW Committee), through the
filing process (e.g. how to put together and file the complaint), to the
end (e.g. how to ensure a hopefully favorable finding is properly
a member of the Advisory Group to IWRAW-AP’s
campaign on the ratification and use of the OP-CEDAW “Our
Rights Are Not Optional”,
I was impressed with the presentation of the Karen Vertido case by Mae
Buenaventura of the Women’s
Legal Bureau of the Philippines for so many reasons, but most of all,
because our group believes that this is the type of case women should be
bringing to the CEDAW Committee.
Because this type of case is profoundly feminist in that it stems from the
notion of the personal as political.
As such, this case will have a double-sided impact because it will
promote not only the personal equality of the individual woman who files
the complaint or communication, but also a more political impact in
advancing overall women’s
equality. In other words, in contributing to the overall jurisprudence of
the CEDAW Committee, each remedy suggested in this type of case will
inevitably have an impact not only on the individual to whom it is
addressed (personal), but will further contribute to larger change for
women as a group (political).
if favorably resolved, not only will Karen be able to find some kind of
restitution of her dignity, but women all over the world will be able to
use a favorable decision to improve access to justice for women victims of
rape and other sexual crimes in their own homes.
was discussed at the consultation, this case is also important because
Karen Vertido is the first woman from Asia, or for that matter, from any
country of the two third’s
world, to submit a complaint under the communications procedure of the
Optional Protocol. Karen, a
successful career woman until her rape on March 29, 1996, is being legally
assisted by Filipino lawyer Evalyn Ursua, and the well known Women’s
Legal Bureau of the Philipines.
to Mae, Karen’s
case was dismissed allegedly for lack of probable cause.
She told us that Judge Europa said in her decision that the
evidence presented by the prosecution, citing in particular the testimony
of Vertido, "leaves too many doubts in the mind of the court to
achieve the moral certainty necessary to merit a conviction."
according to Mae, Europa did state that there could be no worse violation
of a woman's person than the crime of rape but the bottom line in
determining charges of rape is the credibility of the testimony of the
complainant and Judge Europa was not willing to believe this victim: __"This court is unconvinced that there exists
sufficient evidence to erase all reasonable doubts that the accused
committed the offenses charged, its duty to acquit him is unavoidable,"
the judge said in the decision. Mae
told us that supporters of Karen were not surprised that this judgment,
instead of castigating the perpetrator, transformed Karen into the guilty
party as this is usually what happens in rape cases. She added that the
judge, though a woman, maintained the long–held
male view that Karen could have resisted because she is a well-educated,
articulate, "decent," and married woman. According to Karen’s
lawyers, this judgment reinforces the myth that women who are well-educated,
articulate, decent, and married cannot be raped.
was able to submit this communication thanks to the adoption of the 21-article
Optional Protocol to the CEDAW on 6 October, 1999, by the General Assembly
of the United Nations. By
ratifying the Optional Protocol on 12 November 2003, the Philippines
recognized the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of
Discrimination against Women -- the body that monitors States parties'
compliance with the CEDAW -- to receive and consider complaints from women
such as herself who, after having tried to seek redress from her own
government regarding the case of rape she filed in 1996 and after having
exhausted all domestic remedies as is required by the Optional Protocol,
is now seeking justice at the international level.
this level, Karen is not indicting businessman Jose Custodio, whom she
accused of rape and who was acquitted of the charge in 2005, but the
Philippine government. She alleges that her rights as a woman and a
survivor of violence were violated because the judge who rendered the
decision relied on “gender-based
myths and misconceptions”
such as the ones stated above. According to Mae, the judge also relied on a distorted
reading of the testimonies, including those of mental health experts.
This is one of the reasons Karen is making the government
responsible for her inability to get justice since it is the obligation of
the Philippines to have trained all judges on the issue of violence
against women, as well as on methodologies to compensate for the male bias
that exists in practically all court proceedings.
fact, Mae told us that part of Karen’s
brief is that the Philippine government, specifically the judiciary, has
not done enough to enlighten and educate trial judges and prosecutors on
the real nature of rape and violence against women, the psychological
elements of a victim’s
reaction (or lack of reaction) to abuse, and the unequal status of women
in that country. The complaint also cites summaries of seven other cases
where the accused rapists were likewise acquitted, and where the judges’
decisions relied on gender stereotypes and biased judgments.
we understood that Custodio will remain free, we support this case because
we were told by Mae that Karen and the Women’s
Legal Bureau are not filing this communication in order to reverse the
judgment that found him not guilty of committing rape.
They are doing it as a way to get the government to change its rape
laws and to comply with their obligation to end discrimination in all
told us that Karen had decided to file this complaint a few days after the
promulgation of the decision that acquitted her rapist which had left her
very depressed. But while at
home in Davao province, a good friend called her up and convinced her to
meet with former Ambassador Rosario Manalo, who was then a member of the
CEDAW Committee and who had just been elected the body’s
to Mae, Manalo told Karen not to give up, and that if she wanted, she
could seek justice through the OP-CEDAW.
Hearing about this new mechanism gave Karen a faint spark of hope
but she wondered whether she had the energy and resources to continue her
struggle for justice at the international level.
She decided to call up her lawyer Ursua and asked her what filing
the petition would mean. When Karen realized that a favorable decision
would help thousands of other women victims of rape she decided that she
had to come forward. Both she
and her lawyer decided to recruit the help of the Women’s
whole group present at the Kathmandu meeting applauded this decision since
having the assistance of legal experts will increase the possibility that
the CEDAW Committee will admit this case.
It is important to always keep in mind that the Optional Protocol
establishes that in order for individual communications to be admitted for
consideration by the Committee, a number of criteria must be met,
including having exhausted all available domestic remedies. These requirements are very technical and therefore a
complaint has a better chance of being admitted if it is presented with
the assistance of legal experts.
then told us that it took the Women’s
Legal Bureau two years to raise the money for all the research and writing
it had to do in order to prepare the complaint.
Aside from Ursua, WLB relied on two other lawyers, one law graduate
and two interns, as well as the cooperation of several NGOs, to complete
then showed us the statement that Karen prepared for a press conference
held a few days before our meeting. Although
Karen was not present at the press conference, her daughter Kai, who was
just a child when her mother went public with her charges and is now a
young woman, read Karen’s
statement, which opens with an acknowledgement of the men and women who
made her “protracted
struggle for truth and justice”
also mentions her lawyers, particularly Ging Ursua, as well as Dory
Avisado, her therapists Doctors Ping Conanan and June Lopez, former
Senator Letty Ramos-Shahani “who
took me under her wing,”
and Rosario Manalo, who, “at
a time I needed it most …
was the instrument to deliver a message of hope.”
also acknowledges the help of Joy Uy-tioco, who after hearing Karen’s
story and issuing a generous check to support her struggle “transformed
herself from a signer of her own checks into what she calls ‘Karen’s
do I go on fighting,”
reads the statement, “I
fight because it is I who has been given the opportunity to fight. It
could have been anybody else. But it landed on my lap…
I fight for the young woman who reads this to you now. I fight for her
daughters, and her daughters’
daughters. I fight for you -- every one of you, and your daughters as well.”
now I am here,”
Karen says in her message. “And
you are here. We are about to send off this communication…
The document carried my name but in reality (it) carries the name of every
Filipino woman. For the outcome of this endeavor hopefully will change the
way the judiciary and every pillar of justice handles every case of rape.
And our great hope it that the outcome of this endeavor will not only change the way the Filipino judiciary handles every case of rape, but that it will be used by the feminist movement everywhere to change the way the judiciary handles violence against women in every country. The myths this case is trying to cast out of the judiciary and of the minds of legal experts exist everywhere. Therefore, it is for the women’s movements everywhere to follow this case and use it to eliminate discrimination against women in court procedures everywhere.