#India- Heaping abuse on the abused #sexualviolence #Vaw


CHILDRAPE
Hindustan Times
April 10, 2013

The sharp contrast between public outrage and institutional mechanisms when it comes to crimes like rape was nowhere more evident than in the case of the 10-year-old victim from Bulandshahr. When the mother of the child, allegedly raped by an upper caste man, took courage into her hands and went

to the police station to report the crime, the traumatised child was locked up. This was in an all-women police station. The Supreme Court has taken suo motu cognisance of media reports on this issue and has sent a notice to the state government. Despite the public outrage after the Delhi gang rape, it is clear that things on the ground have not really changed for victims of rape.

The plight of sexually abused children is by far the most heart-rending. Incidents of sexual violence against children seem to be on the rise. In recent times, just before the Bulandshahr episode, a 45-year-old businessman was arrested for raping his 16-year-old daughter in Gurgaon. In Karnal, a father has been arrested for raping two of his minor daughters. This proves that stringent laws alone cannot be effective. The first port of call for a victim is the police. It is here that both sensitivity and speed in gathering evidence are essential. In cases of rape, medical evidence has to be recorded within 24 hours. In the case of children, it is absolutely vital that the child is not traumatised any further. Unfortunately, class, caste and socio-economic factors work against victims in many police stations. There is a great deal of social stigma attached to rape. It is the duty of the law to see that this does not deter victims from registering their complaints.

Along with strengthening laws, the police have to be taught to be more sensitive in the cases of child rape victims. The child’s testimony must be recorded in a conducive environment and she should not have to face her attacker unless absolutely necessary. Children of such abuses need long-term counselling. Unfortunately, in our conservative society, abuse at home by a father or male relative is often covered up to protect the family’s honour. The February report by Human Rights Watch titled ‘Breaking the Silence: Child Sex Abuse in India’ highlights how the government’s response to children who are sexually abused fails to protect the victims. In the Bulandshahr case, it is absolutely vital that the police persons who thought it fit to lock up the victim be bought to book. After the Delhi gang rape, there was a huge momentum for change. There cannot be such a glaring disconnect between public sentiment and police conduct.

Otherwise the gains made in the form of stronger laws will not really amount to either preventing rapes of children or minimising the trauma of child victims.

 

‘Probe sexual violence against Tamils in Sri Lanka’ #Vaw


NEW DELHI, February 22, 2013

J. Balaji, The Hindu

File photo of Brad Adams, Asia Director, Human Rights Watch

The Hindu File photo of Brad Adams, Asia Director, Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch’s report to be released on Monday

The Human Rights Watch (HRW), a global human rights organisation, has sought an international investigation into reports of sexual violence, rape, third degree torture against Tamil women and men carried out by the Sri Lankan security forces to get confessions from those suspected to have links with the then Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The HRW, which has prepared a 140-page report, “‘We Will Teach You a Lesson’: Sexual Violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan Security Forces,” which is to be released on Monday, provides detailed accounts of 75 cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse that occurred from 2006 to 2012 in both official and secret detention centres throughout Sri Lanka.

While widespread rape in custody occurred during the armed conflict (with LTTE) that ended in May 2009, “HRW found that politically motivated sexual violence by the military and police continues to the present.” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams claimed: “The Sri Lankan security forces have committed untold numbers of rapes of Tamil men and women in custody. These are not just wartime atrocities but continue to the present, putting every Tamil man/woman arrested for suspected LTTE involvement at serious risk.”

Mr. Adams said the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should direct the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an independent international investigation. “The government’s response to allegations of sexual violence by its security forces has been dismissive, deeming them ‘fake’ or ‘pro-LTTE propaganda.’ It’s not clear who in the government knew about these horrific crimes. But the government’s failure to take action against these ongoing abuses is further evidence of the need for an international investigation,” he said.

Victims’ accounts

Quoting from the accounts of a 31-year-old Tamil woman who was picked up from her Colombo house by CID personnel in November 2011, the HRW said: “I was taken to the fourth floor of the CID office in Colombo. I was not given any food or water. The next day, the officials, who included a uniformed armed official, photographed me, took my fingerprints, and made me sign on a blank sheet of paper. They told me that they had all my husband’s details and kept asking me to disclose his whereabouts. When I told them my husband was abroad, they continued to accuse him of supporting the LTTE. I was beaten with many objects. I was burned with a cigarette during questioning. I was slapped around and beaten with a sand-filled pipe. Throughout the beatings, they asked me for my husband’s details. I was raped one night. Two men came to my room in civilian clothes. They ripped my clothes and both raped me. They spoke Sinhala so I could not understand anything. It was dark so I couldn’t see their faces clearly.”

Another 23-year-old male youth, caught in August 2012, said: “They removed my blindfold [and] I found myself in a room where four other men were present. I was tied to a chair and questioned about my links to the LTTE and the reason for my recent travel abroad. They stripped me and started beating me. I was beaten with electric wires, burned with cigarettes and suffocated with a petrol-infused polythene bag. Later that night, I was left in a smaller room. I was raped on three consecutive days. The first night, one man came alone and anally raped me. The second and third night, two men came to my room. They anally raped me and also forced me to have oral sex with them. I signed a confession admitting my links with the LTTE after the rapes.”

Yet another youth, who surrendered before the security forces in May 2009, said: “Two officials held my arms back [while] a third official held my penis and inserted a metal rod inside. They inserted small metal balls inside my penis. These had to be surgically removed after I escaped from the country.” A medical report corroborates his account, said HRW.

The rights body alleged that the victims also described being beaten, hung by their arms, partially asphyxiated and burned with cigarettes. None of those who spoke to HRW had access to legal counsel, family members, or doctors while they were detained. Most said that they signed a confession in the hope that the abuse would stop, though the torture, including rape, often continued. The individuals interviewed were not formally released but rather allowed to “escape” after a relative paid the authorities a bribe.

 

A victory against modern day slavery- HRW


December 1, 2012
  • Nisha Varia

Governments may never be able to count the number of women and girls who escape getting trapped into domestic servitude due to better labour standards. But by closing gaps in legal protections and enforcement, they will no longer be providing employers the tacit permission and leeway that has allowed exploitation of domestic workers to flourish.
Nisha Varia, women’s rights senior researcher

The ILO Domestic Workers Convention was unthinkable just a few years ago. It represents the culmination of years of effort by domestic workers, advocates, and officials to shine a spotlight on a long-ignored but significant sector of the workforce, says Nisha Varia

If someone had told me 45 years ago that we would be here today, I would not have believed it. We do not have to be slaves anymore. — Myrtle Witbooi, chair of the International Domestic Workers Network and former domestic worker from South Africa, Geneva, June 10, 2011

Growing activism against modern-day slavery has highlighted the abuse and exploitation suffered by millions of men, women, and children around the world. Donor funding has flowed to create shelters and services for victims while a proliferation of anti-trafficking legislation has focused on arresting and prosecuting traffickers.

Until recently the crucial role of prevention has enjoyed less visibility and support, but the growing domestic workers’ rights movement, and the development and adoption of a landmark treaty last year provides a promising example of how to move forward in the fight against forced labour.

While the break-up of an organized crime syndicate may seem a more obvious sign of progress, governments could make significant progress against modern-day slavery by ensuring robust, comprehensive legal frameworks protecting a range of human rights, including guarantees for labour protections as seemingly mundane as a minimum wage, a weekly day off, and limits to hours of work.

Overcoming initial scepticism and resistance, members of the International Labour Organization (ILO)—governments, trade unions, and employers’ associations—have done just that. On June 16, 2011, they voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new groundbreaking treaty that, for the first time, established global labour standards for the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workersworldwide who clean, cook, and care for children, families, and the elderly in private households.

ILO Convention 189 Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers radically changes how domestic workers—the vast majority of whom are women and girls—and their work inside the home are valued, recognized, and protected. Its desperately needed and long overdue protections shake deeply entrenched gender discrimination in social and legal norms, and, in some countries, the lingering legacies of slavery.

I woke up at 5 a.m., cleaned the house and made breakfast for the children and worked all day. I went to sleep at 3 a.m. I never got a chance to rest…. The wife of the employer shouted and beat me every day…. The employer had my passport. The door was locked. I was not allowed to go out or even talk to the neighbours. I never received my salary. – Chain Channi, Cambodian domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 12, 2011

In a review of 72 countries’ labour laws, the ILO found that 40 percent did not guarantee domestic workers a weekly rest day, and half did not limit hours of work. Many national child labour laws also exclude domestic workers, meaning employers can employ young children and make them labour for long hours, often at the cost of their education and health.

Over the past 12 years, Human Rights Watch’s research on domestic workers in countries as diverse as Indonesia,Saudi Arabia, the United States,Morocco,Guinea, andEl Salvador has documented pervasive abuses and labour exploitation, including excessively long working hours without rest; unpaid wages for months or years; forced confinement in the workplace; food deprivation; verbal, physical, and sexual abuse; and forced labour including debt bondage and trafficking. Domestic workers, many of whom are migrants and at least 15.5 million of whom are children under the age of 18, who suffer such abuses typically have little access to redress.

Migrant domestic workers confront additional risks posed by language barriers, precarious immigration status, excessive recruitment fees, and employers’ confiscation of passports. Human Rights Watch investigations across Asia and the Middle East have documented the failure of many governments to monitor recruitment agencies that impose heavy debt burdens or to ensure that migrant domestic workers have access to courts, information about their rights, and support services when they face abuse.

Forging Global Labour Standards

The ILO convention was unthinkable just a few years ago. It represents the culmination of years of efforts by domestic workers, advocates, and officials to shine a spotlight on a long-ignored but significant sector of the workforce. These efforts focused on the ILO, with its unique tripartite structure in which workers’ groups, employers’ groups, and governments (183 countries are members) negotiate international standards, with all three component groups having a vote.

Speaking during the negotiations in Geneva, Maria Luisa Escorel, minister counsellor from the permanent mission of Brazil, Geneva, said: “The lack of protection for domestic workers represents a significant gap in the coverage of international labour standards…. Domestic workers around the world are looking to the ILC [International Labour Conference] to adopt a convention that would help to overcome past injustices and give domestic workers a better future.”

Many governments initially expressed hesitation or direct opposition to a legally binding convention on domestic work, citing the impracticality of monitoring work in private households and their reluctance to add to a growing body of international labour standards, many of which had poor rates of ratification. However, lobbying bydomestic workers’ organizations and NGOs, an ILO survey of laws and practices around the world, and compelling opening statements at the negotiations by the workers’ group and key governments made a strong case that the pervasive exploitation and abuse in this sector could no longer be neglected.

Some of the most contentious debates during the negotiations included regulation of employment agencies, elements of written contracts for domestic workers, provisions on social security and a healthy working environment, and how to account for working hours when domestic workers are not actively working but must be available to be “on-call.” Surprisingly, provisions on monitoring and inspections of private homes garnered little controversy during the final debate.

From the outset of negotiations, key governments provided decisive support, advocating strongly for binding standards that would extend equal labour protections to domestic workers. Delegates from Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the US, Argentina, and Uruguay spoke up repeatedly to introduce and defend strong provisions and to point to effective country-level examples of legislation and implementation.

As negotiations progressed, support for the convention grew. Some states with initially hostile attitudes changed their positions as they heard evidence of the abuses against domestic workers and concrete examples of how legislation in a diverse array of countries could improve domestic workers’rights. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia), along with Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India, reversed early opposition to a legally binding convention and expressed support in the final vote.

In the end, on June 16, 2011, the newly negotiated standards won overwhelming support, with 396 delegates (representing governments, workers, and employers’ associations) voting for the convention, 16 voting against, and 63 abstaining. Swaziland was the only government to vote against the convention.

The ILO Domestic Workers convention guarantees domestic workers labour protections equivalent to those of other workers, including for working hours, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, daily and weekly rest periods, social security, and maternity leave. The new standards oblige governments to address the minimum age for children in domestic work and their right to attend school, protect domestic workers from violence and abuse, regulate recruitment agencies and fees, and set out measures for effective monitoring and enforcement.

Translating Standards into Change on the Ground

While we celebrate this historic moment, we also know that there are many challenges to face in our struggle to ensure that these rights, now enshrined in Convention form, are upheld, protected, and defended. – Migrant Forum in Asia, statement, Manila, June 16, 2011

Adopting a new convention is only the first step in a long, difficult campaign for widespread ratification and implementation. Encouragingly, although the process is slow, many countries are reviewing and revising their national legislation to bring it into conformity with the convention. Dozens of countries worldwide have submitted the convention to the appropriate national authorities for reviewUruguay, the Philippines, and Mauritius have been the first to ratify the convention, which will become legally binding in September 2013, and several Latin American countries will likely complete their formal ratification processes soon.

Whether governments are close to ratifying the convention or not, they will feel pressure to respect the standards it sets forth. For example, several countries are in the process of adopting legislation on domestic work, such as Kuwait, the UAE, Lebanon, and Indonesia, and they will consult the standards as they finalize their laws. Singapore and Malaysia, two of the nine countries that abstained when the convention was adopted, will find it in their interest to introduce reforms anyway to remain an attractive destination for migrant domestic workers who can increasingly opt for better working conditions and pay elsewhere. After years of rejecting the need for reform,Singapore finally agreed to require a weekly rest day for domestic workers.

Discrimination and exploitative practices are deeply entrenched and recognition and respect for domestic workers’ rights will not improve overnight. To make the new standards count, advocates must strengthen efforts at the national level to replicate their success in Geneva. They must also raise public awareness among key constituencies such as national labour officials, employers, trade unions, and the media. They will then need to build momentum around ILO ratification and related legislative reforms.

Because the strength and diversity of the domestic workers’movement varies greatly by country and region, another priority is to provide international support to national and regional groups as needed. This may entail defending freedom of association for domestic workers, providing financial and organizational support to fledgling groups, or building alliances among domestic workers, labour, migrants, women’s rights, and children’s rights organizations.

Finally, dissemination of best practices and lessons learned, particularly on experiences with successfully enforcing domestic worker protections, will be crucial for ensuring that strong global standards turn into concrete improvements in local practices.

Governments may never be able to count the number of women and girls who escape getting trapped into domestic servitude due to better labour standards. But by closing gaps in legal protections and enforcement, they will no longer be providing employers the tacit permission and leeway that has allowed exploitation of domestic workers to flourish.

Nisha Varia will be speaking at the Trust Women Conference in London, December 4th-5th.

 

#Yemen: Security Forces Raiding Aden Hospitals


Forcible Arrests of Alleged Militants Threaten Health Care
OCTOBER 20, 2012
  • Saleh Amhad Abdullah, 16, in intensive care at Aden‘s al-Nabiq Hospital, two days after being shot in the head on October 7, 2012, during an exchange of gunfire while he was selling fruit outside the medical center.
    © 2012 Letta Tayler/Human Rights Watch
Gunfights in hospitals put patients and medical workers at grave risk and threaten to shut down health care in Aden. Both security forces and their opponents are showing callous indifference to human life.
Letta Tayler, senior Yemen researcher

(Aden) ­– Yemeni state security forces are threatening health care in Aden by forcibly removing wounded alleged militants from hospitals, exchanging fire with gunmen seeking to block the arrests, and beating medical staff. One hospital in that southern port city has suspended operations as a result.

Aden security forces describe the patients they have sought to arrest as suspects in serious crimes, including attacks against state security forces or armed robbery. Sources link most if not all of the wounded patients to Herak (“Southern Movement”), a coalition of groups seeking greater autonomy or independence for former South Yemen. Gunmen supporting and protecting the alleged militants have fueled the violence by firing at state security forces on hospital grounds.

“Gunfights in hospitals put patients and medical workers at grave risk and threaten to shut down health care in Aden,” said Letta Tayler, senior Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Both security forces and their opponents are showing callous indifference to human life.”

Government security forces have entered two hospitals in Aden at least five times in 2012 to arrest alleged militants, without warrants and despite warnings from doctors that the patients required continued hospitalization.

On October 7, 2012, state paramilitary forces allegedly beat hospital guards and shot a 16-year-old fruit vendor in the head during an exchange of gunfire with gunmen trying to block the arrest of two alleged militants being treated for gunshot wounds at Aden’s al-Naqib hospital.

“He had no gun. He was only selling fruit,” one of the teenager’s relatives told Human Rights Watch at the hospital two days later. “He was shot as he ducked to escape the bullets.” The international humanitarian organization Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) indefinitely suspended operations at its Aden hospital after a similar gunfight on September 27.

The Central Security Forces (CSF), a state paramilitary unit, has played a prominent role in the hospital raids, which took place at al-Naqib and the MSF hospital. CSF is commanded by Yahya Saleh, the nephew of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who left office in February after a yearlong uprising. In the October 7 incident at al-Naqib, the CSF carted off a seriously wounded patient from the intensive care unit after pulling out his drainage tubes, two witnesses and a senior hospital official told Human Rights Watch.

For fear of similar attacks, medical officials told Human Rights Watch nearly all hospitals in Aden except al-Naqib now generally refuse to admit politically sensitive patients.

Governor Waheed Rasheed of Aden, in an interview with Human Rights Watch, described the wounded patients as “dangerous militants.”

Local sources say the majority if not all of the patients sought by the authorities were members of Herak. Herak was formed in 2007to obtain more resources for South Yemen, an independent state until unification with the north in 1990. Herak includes many non-violent groups but also armed separatist factions. State security forces have repeatedly used excessive and often deadly force against largely peaceful Herak protests. Since the 2011 uprising and particularly since Saleh left office, armed Herak members have attacked state security forces and other government targets, Yemeni government authorities and independent political observers say.

The Yemeni government is responsible for ensuring the security of hospitals and other medical facilities. Consistent with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, security forces acting in a law enforcement capacity “shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” Whenever the use of force is unavoidable, security forces shall “[e]xercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved.”

Patients in hospitals are not immune from lawful arrest. However, they retain their right to health care as provided under international law. The forcible removal of seriously wounded patients from a hospital, placing their lives or health at risk, violates this right.

Human Rights Watch called on Yemeni authorities to take immediate measures to protect patients and medical workers from the excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests by security personnel. Governor Rasheed told Human Rights Watch that the government is committed to protecting patients and medical staff.

The armed men who try to prevent the security forces from making arrests in hospitals are also seriously risking the lives of patients and medical personnel, Human Rights Watch said.

“Whatever their agendas, gunmen should not turn hospitals into shooting galleries,” Tayler said. “At the same time, the government should minimize risks to patients and hospital staff and stop depriving alleged militants of their right to medical treatment.”

For more details on the attack, please see the below text.

Attacks on al-Naqib
At 5 a.m. on October 7, about 10 armed members of the Central Security Forces (CSF) stormed al-Naqib Hospital and forcibly removed two wounded alleged militants, hospital staff members who witnessed the incident told Human Rights Watch. The security forces told hospital officials that the two patients had attacked a local CSF post two days earlier. About 20 additional members of various security forces surrounded the hospital, the staff members said.

The CSF members beat two hospital guards with Kalashnikov assault rifles and a gurney, dislocating one guard’s shoulder, the staff members said. The CSF members grabbed cell phones from patients and hospital staff, tore out the telephone landlines when staff tried to call the hospital’s managers, and charged into rooms searching for the alleged militants, they said.

“We were terrified,” one hospital worker told Human Rights Watch. “They were shouting and cursing at us and pointing their Kalashnikovs at anyone in their path.”

Gunmen who were linked to the alleged militants opened fire on the CSF members from outside the hospital, starting a gunfight, hospital staff said. Two days later, hospital staff showed Human Rights Watch four bullet holes in the ground-floor pharmacy, one in the intensive-care unit and several in the front of the building that they said were from the shootout.

One bullet hit Salah Ahmad Abdullah, the 16-year-old who had been selling fruit outside the hospital. Medical staff said witnesses told them that a CSF member shot the boy as he ducked between his fruit stand and a passing van to avoid the gunfire. The bullet entered Abdullah’s skull and exited the back of his head.

Two days after the shooting, Human Rights Watch saw Abdullah in intensive care at the hospital, unable to speak. Doctors said the bullet removed some of his brain tissue.

The CSF members removed one alleged militant from al-Naqib’s intensive care unit, where he was recovering from surgery after being shot in the lungs, according to two hospital staff members who said they witnessed the incident. Ignoring repeated objections from medical staff, the CSF members pulled out the two tubes draining liquid from the patient’s lungs, then removed him in a government ambulance with no medical staff aboard.

CSF and other security forces have on several occasions forcibly removed wounded alleged militants and activists, including known Herak members, from al-Naqib hospital without arrest warrants and against doctors’ orders since 2007, including at least two other times in 2012, medical staff said. In February 2011, masked security forces stormed the hospital and detained a Herak leader, Hassan Baoum, and his son Fawaz. The former Yemeni government held the two men without charge for 10 months, half of that time incommunicado.

Shootings at MSF Hospital
On September 27, security forces and gunmen trying to stop the arrests of two alleged militants undergoing medical treatment engaged in a five-hour standoff that included two protracted exchanges of gunfire at the MSF hospital in Aden, two witnesses and a third source who investigated the incident told Human Rights Watch.

The attack prompted MSF to evacuate all 24 patients and close the facility the following day. Since opening in April, the 40-bed MSF hospital had treated hundreds of patients, including Herak members, government forces, landmine victims, and residents wounded in nearby Abyan governorate, where the Yemeni government with United States support is fighting Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The security forces accused the two patients of crimes including armed robbery. One of the patients was recovering from abdominal surgery for bullet wounds and was under medical orders to remain hospitalized for at least 24 hours.

During the afternoon, personnel from the CSF, the Central Investigations Division, and General Security – the regular police force – entered the MSF hospital without arrest warrants, demanding that staff hand over one or both wounded suspects, the witnesses said. Some security force members beat and threatened two hospital guards, the witnesses said.

Around 6 p.m., another six CSF members entered the hospital to arrest the two patients, while four carloads of reinforcements waited outside. Soon after, gunmen supporting one or both alleged militants converged on the hospital and began shooting at the CSF forces that were then at the hospital door. The CSF members took cover inside the hospital and began returning fire. Three bullets entered the hospital ward and one hit the office manager’s office, the witnesses said.

“Gunfire was entering the building from two directions, and those of us inside the hospital were caught in the middle,” one witness told Human Rights Watch. “We took refuge in a corridor, hoping the bullets wouldn’t reach us.”

One CSF member was wounded during the shooting and was stabilized inside the hospital as the gunfight continued, the witnesses said.

After several hours of negotiations, the state security forces and gunmen withdrew and the Yemeni authorities removed the two wounded alleged militants. The Yemeni forces transferred the patient who had just undergone surgery by ambulance to the medical center at Aden’s General Security prison. On October 4, one week after MSF closed the hospital following the incident, CSF personnel showed up at the MSF office in Aden with the same patient, saying that his condition had deteriorated and that he needed emergency care but that no hospital would admit him.

“The security forces were asking, ‘Can’t you help him?’” a witness told Human Rights Watch. “The MSF members replied, ‘We can’t treat him because we had to close our hospital.’” Ultimately the authorities transferred the patient to another hospital.

On June 18, 2012, government security forces stormed the MSF hospital to arrest another alleged militant who was recovering from surgery for a bullet wound, prompting the hospital to suspend operations for three days. Tensions were running high because of numerous Herak protests in the preceding days and a suicide bombing in Aden earlier that day that had killed the Yemeni army commander for the southern region, Gen. Salem Ali Qatan. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for that bombing.

The security forces included CSF members, who terrified staff and patients as they demanded custody of the alleged militant, witnesses said. “They were heavily armed and acting crazed,” one witness told Human Rights Watch.

MSF eventually negotiated the transfer of the alleged militant to a state-run hospital in a government ambulance. En route, supporters of the patient ambushed the ambulance and escaped with the patient, sources told Human Rights Watch.

India should accept UN recommendation to repeal AFSPA: Human Rights Watch


NEW YORK: A leading human rights group today asked India to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, impose a moratorium on the death penalty and accept other recommendations of UN member states to address the country’s “most serious human rights problems”.It also asked Indian government to respond to concerns that the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act can be abused to restrict civil society organisations from promoting human rights by limiting their access to foreign.

The UN member states at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May this year had made wide-ranging recommendations calling upon India to ratify multinational treaties against torture and enforced disappearances, repeal AFSPA, introduce an anti-discrimination law and protect the rights of women, children, dalits, tribal groups, religious minorities, and other groups at risk.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Indian government has promised a “comprehensive response” to the UPR’s 169 recommendations and will submit its responses during the current session of the UN Human Rights Council.

It said there are expectations that the Indian government will make serious efforts and not mere “lame” assertions to address its human rights problems.

“The Indian government should make a serious effort to carry out these recommendations instead of simply pointing to existing legislation or policies,” South Asia director at Human Rights Watch Meenakshi Ganguly said.

“What is needed is a strong commitment to transparency and accountability to protect human rights, not more lame assertions of good intentions,” she said.

“India should accept the recommendations by United Nations member states at the UPR to address the country’s most serious human rights problems,” the group said in a statement.

During its 2012 review, the Indian government set out the fundamental rights provided by the constitution, judicial pronouncements, the Right to Information Act, the Right to Education Act of 2009 and the NationalFood Security Bill to demonstrate the government’s commitment to protect human rights.

The government however “downplayed” abuses by security forces and the role of AFSPA in facilitating these abuses, HRW claimed.

The government asserted that most complaints of army and paramilitary abuses were found to be false, and said the Act had been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“But the government failed to note that it has ignored measures to prevent abuses outlined in the Supreme Court ruling,” the rights group said.

The UPR is the mechanism to examine the human rights records of all 192 UN member states and provides an opportunity for each state, every four years, to explain what actions it has taken to improve respect for human rights in its own country.

Syrian forces use sexual violence against men, women, children – HRW


Fri, 15 Jun 2012 10:17 GMT

Source: reuters // Reuters

Demonstrators protest against Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Maraa, near Aleppo, June 8, 2012. The placard reads, “Your tanks never scared us, we are staying here, you are mortal”. REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout

(Story contains graphic details of abuse and torture)

* Women complain of rapes during military raids

* Many Syrians reluctant to report “shameful” crimes

* Electric shocks to genitalia of prisoners

BEIRUT, June 15 (Reuters) – Government forces have used rape and other sexual violence against men, women and children during the Syrian uprising, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

The U.S.-based group said it had recorded 20 incidents from interviews inside and outside Syria with eight victims, including four women, and more than 25 other people with knowledge of sexual abuse – including medical workers, former detainees, army defectors, and women’s rights activists.

“Sexual violence in detention is one of many horrific weapons in the Syrian government‘s torture arsenal and Syrian security forces regularly use it to humiliate and degrade detainees with complete impunity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

“The assaults are not limited to detention facilities – government forces and pro-government shabiha militia members have also sexually assaulted women and girls during home raids and residential sweeps.”

Cases were reported all around Syria, but most of all in Homs province, an epicentre of the revolt.

HRW quoted a man who said he had been held in the Political Security branch in Latakia in a cell with over 70 other people. He said young boys were treated worse than adults, brought back to the cell raped and with their fingernails pulled out.

“One boy came into the cell bleeding from behind. He couldn’t walk. It was something they just did to the boys. We would cry for them,” the man said.

HRW said many of the assaults were in circumstances in which commanding officers knew or should have known the crimes, such as electric shocks to genitalia, were taking place.

In another face-to-face interview a woman from the Karm al-Zeitoun neighbourhood of Homs city which was overrun by Assad’s troops said she heard security forces and shabiha militia rape her neighbours while she hid in her apartment in March.

“I could hear one girl fighting with one of (the men)… She pushed him and he shot her in the head,” HRW quoted the woman as saying. She said three girls, the youngest aged 12, were then raped. After the men left the woman went next door.

“The scene on the inside was unreal. The 12-year-old was lying on the ground, blood to her knees… More than one person had raped the 12-year-old… She was torn the length of a forefinger. I will never go back there. It comes to me. I see it in my dreams and I just cry.”

Some interviewees told HRW that victims did not want their families to know about the assault because of fear or shame. In one case, HRW said a female rape victim was willing to be interviewed but her husband forbade it.

“Even when they may wish to seek help, Syrian survivors of sexual assault have limited access to medical or psychological treatment and other services,” HRW said.

“It is critical that survivors of sexual assault have access to emergency medical services, legal assistance, and social support to address injuries caused by the assault; prevent pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections; and to collect evidence to support prosecution of perpetrators.” (Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Illegal mining marred communities


Published: Friday, Jun 15, 2012, 12:47 IST | Updated: Friday, Jun 15, 2012, 12:48 IST
By Subir Ghosh | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

The Indian mining industry has spiraled out of control, and the government has miserably failed to regulate it. The scale of lawlessness in the multi-billion dollar industry is hard to assess, and the industry has not only fuelled corruption, but also wreaked havoc on both local communities as well as the environment.

This overview of the mining industry comes from a 70-page report—Out of Control: Mining, Regulatory Failure, and Human Rights in India, released by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday. The report lays the blame squarely on the Indian government. “It has encouraged lawlessness by failing to enforce law or even monitor whether mine operators are complying with them,” HRW said.

The report delves deep into the reasons for the state of affairs – it says deep-rooted shortcomings in the design and implementation of key policies effectively left mine operators to supervise themselves. The pervasive lawlessness in the scandal-ridden mining industry is essentially the failure of governance.

The HRW report acknowledged it as a national problem, but narrowed down on illegal mining in Goa and Karnataka for its two well-documented case studies. The report talks of an annual rate of 30 criminal acts for every legitimate mining operation in the country, and goes on to show how even mines operating with the approval of government regulators are able to violate the law with impunity.

HRW researchers visited iron mining areas in Goa and Karnataka and found that reckless mine operators had destroyed or contaminated water sources people depend on for drinking water and irrigation. In some cases, miners even heaped waste rock and other mine waste near the banks of streams and rivers, leaving it to be washed into local water supplies or agricultural fields during the monsoon rains.

If this was not all, some operators punctured the local water table and then simply discarded the vast torrents of water that escape—permanently destroying a resource that entire communities rely on. Some farmers complained that endless streams of overloaded ore trucks passing along narrow village roads had left their crops coated in thick layers of metallic dust, destroying them, and threatening economic ruin.

Yet, it is not the ministry of mines that has been castigated – it is the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) which has been singled out for criticism by HRW. It talks of crucial environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports being extremely inaccurate, deliberately falsified, or both. The most bizarre case cited is that of a mine in Maharashtra being cleared even though its EIA report contained large amounts of data taken verbatim from a similar report prepared for a bauxite mine in Russia.

Read more here

Broken Pledges by India to End Killings, Torture at Bangladeshi Border


Border Security Force

Border Security Force (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 India-  Abuses  by Border force Increases

(New York) – Authorities in India should investigate fresh allegations of human rights violations by the Border Security Force (BSF) along the Bangladesh border and prosecute those found responsible.

Despite assurances to the Bangladesh government and public orders to exercise restraint and end unlawful killings and attacks on suspected smugglers, evidence documented and published by Indian and Bangladeshi nongovernmental organizations suggest that the BSF is once again committing abuses including extrajudicial killings, torture, and ill-treatment of both Indian and Bangladeshi border residents.

“The Border Security Force has reverted to its previous tactics of unilaterally punishing suspects, defying orders from Delhi issued last year to exercise restraint and protect the right to life,” saidMeenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But the central government is also responsible, since it has failed to hold perpetrators accountable. Justice is the best deterrent against further violations.”

In December 2010, Human Rights Watch released “Trigger Happy, Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border,” which documented nearly 1,000 killings by the BSF over the last decade. In January 2011, the Indian government assured Bangladeshi officials that it would order the BSF to exercise restraint and encourage the use of rubber bullets instead of more lethal ammunition, steps welcomed by Human Rights Watch.

Although BSF attacks decreased significantly over the next year, the new evidence presented suggests that Indian border troops continue to frequently abuse both Bangladeshi citizens and Indian nationals residing in the border area. The recent allegations claim that in order to get around the restrictions on shooting at sight, BSF soldiers have been subjecting suspects to severe beatings and torture, resulting in deaths in custody.

Efforts by local residents and activists to file complaints and secure justice have resulted in threats and intimidation. The National Human Rights Commission has sought responses when allegations are filed, but without adequate witness protection complainants end up risking further abuse.

Large numbers of killings and other abuses have been reported in 2012. Odhikar, a Dhaka-based nongovernmental organization, has documented as many as 13 killings by the BSF since January 2012. Kolkata-based nongovernmental organization Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), has documented five other killings during the same time period, based on statements from witnesses and families of victims.

In one recent example, MASUM reported to the National Human Rights Commission of India that on April 22, 2012, soldiers from the BSF’s 91st battalion chased and shot 21-year-old Babu Seikh in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal. According to MASUM, Seikh, along with three of his companions, was walking toward the marshland in the evening when they were chased by BSF soldiers who fired at them without warning. After a bullet hit Seikh, MASUM says that one of his companions saw the soldiers drag an injured Sheik to their camp nearby, where he later died in custody without access to medical attention. In another case, MASUM reported that on January 1, 2012, four Indian teenagers, accosted while smuggling cattle, jumped into a rivulet to avoid punishment. The BSF soldiers allegedly beat them when they tried to come out of the water. All four boys, severely injured because of the beatings, eventually drowned.

In another case, Odhikar reported that Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, a cattle trader who bought cows from India to Bangladesh and lived in West Khodaipur village of Dinajpur district, died on February 14, 2012, due to alleged torture by BSF soldiers. Rahman was caught by BSF soldiers when smuggling cows from India. According to Odhikar, he was then severely beaten near the border at Aboiter in Hili Thana, Gangarampur district in India. He was later taken by his companions to the Upazila Health Complex in Bangladesh for medical help, where he died at around 5:30 a.m. on February 14. The post-mortem report says Rahman died due to injuries to his head. At the time of death his right eye was missing; his right jaw, ear, and gums were crushed; and some brain matter had come out through a deep wound in his upper jaw.

Last year, MASUM released a video showing BSF soldiers brutally beating a Bangladeshi national caught smuggling cattle in West Bengal state. Eight soldiers were suspended but no further information is available regarding their prosecution or punishment.

Human Rights Watch knows of no cases in which BSF soldiers have been prosecuted for violations committed along the India-Bangladesh border. This includes a highly publicized case in which a 15-year-old Bangladeshi girl trapped in the wire fencing at the border was shot by the BSF in January 2011.

“While the Indian government claims that it holds its forces accountable, it produces no information to show that this is actually happening,” said Ganguly. “There appears to be complete impunity for BSF soldiers – even in the most egregious cases. Unless the government orders an independent investigation and ensures the prosecutions of those against whom credible evidence is found, such acts of brutality will continue.”

The India-Bangladesh border is heavily populated and very poor, with large numbers of people moving back and forth to visit relatives, buy supplies, and look for jobs. Others engage in petty and serious cross-border crime. The border force is mandated to address illegal activities, especially narcotics smuggling, human trafficking for sex work, and transporting fake currency and explosives. However, instead of arresting suspects and handing them over to the police for trial, BSF soldiers have taken it upon themselves to punish suspects.

Human Rights Watch called on the Indian government to do more to ensure compliance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. Given the failure of the BSF’s internal justice system to prosecute its members for human rights abuses, personnel of all ranks implicated in serious rights abuses should be investigated by civilian authorities and tried in civilian courts. This is particularly important because the BSF is now being deployed in security operations against Maoists in central and eastern India. Considering the widespread tendency to subject local residents at the Bangladesh border to verbal and physical abuse including severe beatings, the government should ensure a transparent system of accountability that will prevent violations in these areas.

The Bangladesh government, after initially failing to address this issue, finally began to call for the protection of its citizens. In March 2011, at a joint border coordination conference, Maj. Gen. Rafiqul Islam, head of the Bangladesh border guards, called on the BSF to respect the right to life and said that individuals “must be treated innocent unless and until he or she is proved to be a criminal or offender.” BSF director-general Raman Srivastava promised “to maintain utmost restraint on the border” and also provide troops “with non-lethal weaponry.”

“It is time for the Indian government to keep its promises to end abuses and hold its forces accountable,” said Ganguly. “At the same time, Bangladeshi government should publicly demand that the Indian government end this scourge of violence along their border.”

Immediate Release- India: Hold Police to Account for Sexual and Other Assaults- HRW


Human Rights Watch logo Русский: Логотип Хьюма...

Human Rights Watch logo Русский: Логотип Хьюман Райтс Вотч (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

India: Hold Police to Account for Sexual and Other Assaults
Attacks Show Need for Better Government Response

(Mumbai, May 14, 2012) – Indian officials need to immediately open transparent and impartial criminal investigations into recent cases where police have assaulted women, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the government of India to overhaul its policies and response to women, children, and transgender people who experience violence. The Indian authorities should protect victims from police intimidation and discrimination, and prevent police interference in investigations and post-assault medical treatment, Human Rights Watch said.

Human rights and social activists in India are gathering on May 14, 2012, in SataraMaharashtra state, to peacefully protest the police assault and subsequent treatment of a pregnant sex worker. On the eve of the protest, the organizers learned that the police intended to invoke powers to prevent public disorder under the Bombay Police Act, 1951 to try to prevent the peaceful protest from taking place. In a joint letter with 50 national and international organizations and individual activists, Human Rights Watch urged the Indian prime minister toensure that police officers are held accountable and to create a high-level task force to advise the government on implementing policies, programs, and practices for addressing gender-based violence.

“The state’s response to women who experience violence is often characterized by delay, denial, discrimination, and disregard for women’s dignity,” said Aruna Kashyap, Asia researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “The system needs an urgent, substantial overhaul and officials who fail to carry out their duty or engage in discrimination againstthose who experience violence should face consequences.”

Two recent cases of violence involve Anu Mokal and Anjana Ghadge, sex workers who were beaten by the police, and Soni Sori, a tribal woman and government teacher from Chhattisgarh state who was arrested and accused of being a Maoist supporter, and then allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted in police custody. These two cases, which occurred in totally different contexts, underscore the urgent need for independent oversight of the police and the need to eliminate police interference in post-assault healthcare.

On April 2 Mokal and Ghadge, both sex workers, were physically assaulted by a police officer on the street in Satara, and then arrested. Mokal, who was pregnant at the time, told Human Rights Watch that although police officers took her to see a doctor at the civil hospital in Satara, they then refused to allow her to have the medication prescribed by the doctor.A few days after being released from custody, Mokal had a miscarriage.

According to local activists, there is no evidence that the state authorities have taken even the initial step necessary to open a criminal investigation against the police officer accused of beating the women – that is the registration of a first information report (FIR). Neither Mokal nor Ghadge have received copies of an FIR, to which they are entitled under Indian law. In fact, Mokal told Human Rights Watch she has come under pressure to withdraw her complaints. Indian authorities should immediately put in place measures to protect Mokal from retaliation or intimidation to withdraw her complaint. They should consult on appropriate measures with her, the activists who have been supporting her, and her lawyers, said Human Rights Watch.

“That a pregnant woman may have miscarried as the result of a reported police beating is particularly shocking,” K. Srinath Reddy, chairperson of the High-Level Expert Group on Universal Health Coverage and a signatory to the joint letter, said to Human Rights Watch. “‘Janani Suraksha’ [Safe Motherhood] is a goal of our national health mission and if a pregnant woman has indeed been attacked by a protector of law, it is not only a violation of law, human rights, and personal dignity but an affront to public health.”

Soni Sori alleges that police in Chhattisgarh state sexually assaulted her while she was in custody and pressured her to implicate others of being Maoist sympathizers after her arrest inOctober 2011. According to her lawyers, police interfered with the medical examination and prevented her from getting access to appropriate treatment, and she did not receive adequate follow-up care while she was housed in the Raipur jail. According to media reports, no criminal investigation has been initiated against any police officer in her case.

In their joint letter to Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, groups cited the government’s failure to implement the recommendations of several governmental and expert advisory bodies that address gender-based violence. For instance, in 2011 the Planning Commission Working Group on Women’s Agency and Empowerment recommended that the government consider setting up one-stop crisis centers providing shelter, police, legal, medical, and counseling services to victims of violence. Similarly, the High-Level Expert Group on Universal Health Coverage and the Working Group on the National Rural Health Mission recommended taking a stronger health system response to gender-based violence.

“It’s appalling that one arm of the government spends millions on women’s health while another can assault and harm women’s health without facing justice,” said Kashyap. “Indiacannot boast about its commitment to women’s health unless it adopts a zero-tolerance policy towards police violence and supports women who dare to stand up to it.”

Human Rights Watch and other groups urged the Indian government to set up a high-level task force to advise the government on an appropriate multi-faceted response to violence, including victim and witness protection. The task force should assist the government in developing protocols and standards for how to respond to violence against women and children, especially sexual assault; to prevent discrimination and improper police interference; and to ensure perpetrators are identified and held accountable. The letter called on the government to ensure that vulnerable groups, in particular sex workers, those living with HIV, people with disabilities, people from transgender communities, and those reporting sexual assault by the police, can access appropriate medical treatment without police interference and in a nondiscriminatory manner.

The high-level task force should operate in a transparent and consultative manner, tapping into local and international good practices and expertise, Human Rights Watch said.

To read more, including Mokal’s first-hand account of police abuse, please see below.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on women’s rights in India, please visit:

       The March 2007 letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regarding Sexual Assault Case in Police Custody: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/07/india-letter-prime-minister-manmohan-singh-regarding-sexual-assault-case-police-cust

       The September 2010 report, “Dignity on Trial: India’s Need for Sound Standards for Conducting and Interpreting Forensic Examinations of Rape Survivors”:http://www.hrw.org/reports/2010/09/06/dignity-trial-0

For more information, please contact:

Background

Case of Anu Mokal and Anjana Ghadge
On April 2, 2012, Anu Mokal and Anjana Ghadge were going to a hospital to visit a friend who had recently given birth, when they walked past police vans. Mokal told Human Rights Watch that one of the officers called Ghadge over and without any warning began to beat her as the other police officers watched. According to Mokal, when she tried to intervene and told the police officer that he should not hit Ghadge, an elderly woman, the police officer then turned on her and began to hit her.

Mokal said she pleaded with the officer to stop beating her: “When I fell on the floor and tried holding his leg begging him to stop because I was pregnant, he pushed me away and kicked me.” Mokal said that she and Ghadge were then taken to the police lock-up and falsely accused of soliciting for sex work in a public place, an offence under Indian law.

Mokal said the police took her to the civil hospital in Satara that night.

“I showed the doctor the blue-black marks on my body and told her I was pregnant,” she said.

The doctor wrote out a prescription for medication, but according to Mokal, when she asked one of the police officers who had escorted her there if she could purchase the medication, he took the prescription and ordered her back into the police van. The officers took her back to the police lock-up. Mokal was never handed the prescription back and no immediate medical treatment was provided to her.

Before producing her in court the following day, Mokal said that police station officers and staff dressed in civilian clothes approached her and apologized on behalf of their “saab” (sir) and pressured her not to complain against him “because they were all together and nothing would happen to him.” She also told Human Rights Watch that they told her not to bring this up in court when she was produced.

Mokal and Ghadge appeared in court the next day, were fined 1,200 rupees (US$22) each and then released. Since she was in pain and wanted medication, Mokal went to the Satara civil hospital again with local activists soon after she was released. Mokal’s hospital records, which Human Rights Watch has seen, document that she sustained “contusion” and prescribe pain medication and antibiotics.

Within a couple of days of returning home Mokal began to experience bleeding and miscarried, she told Human Rights Watch.

Mokal and Ghadge submitted a written petition of complaint to the Satara police superintendent soon after they were assaulted.

Mokal was admitted to the hospital in Satara following her miscarriage, and in the initial few days she was there, she said an unknown young woman, dressed in jeans and wearing a full face veil that only revealed her eyes, came to her and asked her what action she was planning to take. Mokal says she told the woman that she “would pursue the case and go up to Delhi if needed.” She also says that the woman asked her to drop the case for money. Mokal says she refused to take any money and the woman left.

After the intervention of local activists, a police officer came and took Mokal’s statement while she was in the hospital, while Ghadge gave a statement to the police on May 12, two days before a planned public protest in Satara.

However, even though police have taken statements by Mokal and Ghadge, and despite inquiries from local activists, it appears as if a “first information report” (FIR) was never registered against the police. Under Indian law, complainants have the right to receive a copy of the FIR as soon as it is registered, and neither Mokal and Ghadge nor any of those assisting them have been provided with a copy.

Case of Soni Sori


Chhattisgarh police arrested and accused Soni Sori, a tribal teacher, of being a sympathizer of Maoist rebels. She alleged that police sexually assaulted and tortured her while she was detained in Chhattisgarh police custody in October 2011. She has since been charged, is on trial for several alleged offences and was in the Raipur jail.

Soni Sori’s lawyers sought an order from the Supreme Court of India, granted on October 20, 2011, for her to have an independent medical examination and treatment. Soni Suri was examined and treated at a Kolkata hospital but she claims that she has not been allowed access to the follow-up medical treatment as prescribed by the hospital while she has been in Raipur jail.

On May 2, almost six months after the first order, the Supreme Court of India issued another order, directing the Chhattisgarh police to take Soni Sori to New Delhi for follow-up medical treatment, where she is now. To date the Chhattisgarh state government has yet to register any FIR and investigate the allegations of torture.

Afghanistan: Hundreds Of Women, Girls Jailed For ‘Moral Crimes’


Kabul – The Afghan government should release the approximately 400 women and girls imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes,” Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The United States and other donor countries should press the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai to end the wrongful imprisonment of women and girls who are crime victims rather than criminals.

The 120-page report, “‘I Had to Run Away’: Women and Girls Imprisoned for ‘Moral Crimes’ in Afghanistan,” is based on 58 interviews conducted in three prisons and three juvenile detention facilities with women and girls accused of “moral crimes.” Almost all girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan had been arrested for “moral crimes,” while about half of women in Afghan prisons were arrested on these charges. These “crimes” usually involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence. Some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution.

“It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “No one should be locked up for fleeing a dangerous situation even if it’s at home. President Karzai and Afghanistan’s allies should act decisively to end this abusive and discriminatory practice.”

The fall of the Taliban government in 2001 promised a new era ofwomen’s rights. Significant improvements have occurred in education, maternal mortality, employment, and the role of women in public life and governance. Yet the imprisonment of women and girls for “moral crimes” is just one sign of the difficult present and worrying future faced by Afghan women and girls as the international community moves to decrease substantially its commitments in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch interviewed many girls who had been arrested after they fled a forced marriage and women who had fled abusive husbands and relatives. Some women interviewed by Human Rights Watch had gone to the police in dire need of help, only to be arrested instead.

“Running away,” or fleeing home without permission, is not a crime under the Afghan criminal code, but the Afghan Supreme Court has instructed its judges to treat women and girls who flee as criminals. Zina is a crime under Afghan law, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch described abuses including forced and underage marriage, beatings, stabbings, burnings, rapes, forced prostitution, kidnapping, and murder threats. Virtually none of the cases had led even to an investigation of the abuse, let alone prosecution or punishment.

One woman, Parwana S. (not her real name), 19, told Human Rights Watch how she was convicted of “running away” after fleeing a husband and mother-in-law who beat her: “I will try to become independent and divorce him. I hate the word ‘husband.’ My liver is totally black from my husband… If I knew about prison and everything [that would happen to me] I would have just jumped into the river and committed suicide.”

Human Rights Watch said that women and girls accused of “moral crimes” face a justice system stacked against them at every stage. Police arrest them solely on a complaint of a husband or relative. Prosecutors ignore evidence that supports women’s assertions of innocence. Judges often convict solely on the basis of “confessions” given in the absence of lawyers and “signed” without having been read to women who cannot read or write. After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years.

Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women makes violence against women a criminal offense. But the same police, prosecutors, and judges who work zealously to lock up women accused of “moral crimes” often ignore evidence of abuse against the accused women, Human Rights Watch said.

“Courts send women to prison for dubious ‘crimes’ while the real criminals – their abusers –walk free,” Roth said. “Even the most horrific abuses suffered by women seem to elicit nothing more than a shrug from prosecutors, despite laws criminalizing violence against women.”

Abusive prosecution of “moral crimes” is important to far more than the approximately 400 women and girls in prison or pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said. Every time a woman or girl flees a forced marriage or domestic violence only to end up behind bars, it sends a clear message to others enduring abuse that seeking help from the government is likely to result in punishment, not rescue.

The plight of women facing domestic violence is made still worse by archaic divorce laws that permit a man simply to declare himself divorced, while making it extremely difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce, Human Rights Watch said. The Afghan government made a commitment to reform these laws in 2007 under its National Action Plan for Women in Afghanistan, and a committee of experts drafted a new Family Law that would improve the rights of women. This new law, however, has been on hold with the government since 2010, with no sign of movement toward passage.

“It is long past time for Afghanistan to act on its promises to overhaul laws that make Afghan women second-class citizens,” Roth said. “Laws that force women to endure abuse by denying them the right to divorce are not only outdated but cruel.”

By maintaining discriminatory laws on the books, and by failing to address due process and fair trial violations in “moral crimes” cases, Afghanistan is in violation of its obligations under international human rights law. United Nations expert bodies and special rapporteurs have called for the repeal of Afghanistan’s “moral crimes” laws. The UN special rapporteur on violence against women has called on Afghanistan to “abolish laws, including those related to zina, that discriminate against women and girls and lead to their imprisonment and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.” The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has urged Afghanistan to “[r]emove so-called moral offences as a crime and release children detained on this basis.”

“The Afghan government and its international partners should act urgently to protect women’s rights and to ensure there is no backsliding,” Roth said. “President Karzai, the United States, and others should finally make good on the bold promises they made to Afghan women a decade ago by ending imprisonment for ‘moral crimes,’ and actually implementing their stated commitment to support women’s rights.”