UN calls for strengthened protection of more than 260 million victims of caste-based discrimination


United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

 

 

 

 

Continued plight of the ‘untouchables’

UN experts call for strengthened protection of more than 260 million victims of caste-based discrimination

GENEVA (24 May 2013) – They occupy the lowest levels of strict, hierarchical caste systems founded on notions of purity, pollution and inequality. They face marginalization, social and economic exclusion, segregation in housing, limited access to basic services including water and sanitation and employment, enforcement of certain types of menial jobs, and working conditions similar to slavery.

They are the Dalits of South Asia, who constitute the majority of victims of entrenched caste-based discrimination systems which affect some 260 million stigmatized people worldwide, people considered ‘untouchable’.

Caste-based discrimination remains widespread and deeply rooted, its victims face structural discrimination, marginalization and systematic exclusion, and the level of impunity is very high,” a group of United Nations human rights experts warned today, while urging world Governments to strengthen protection of the hundreds of millions of people across the globe who suffer from discrimination based on work and descent.

“This form of discrimination entails gross and wide-ranging human rights abuses – including brutal forms of violence,” they said. “Dalit women and girls are particularly vulnerable and are exposed to multiple forms of discrimination and violence, including sexual violence, on the basis of gender and caste. Children victims of caste-based discrimination are more at risk to be victims of sale and sexual exploitation.”

On this day, two years ago, the experts recalled, Nepal adopted the ‘Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Bill’, a landmark legislative piece for the defense and protection of the rights of Dalits. A recent decision by the British Government in April 2013 to cover caste discrimination by the Equality Act serves as a good practice to protect Dalits in diaspora communities.

“We urge other caste-affected States to adopt legislation to prevent caste-based discrimination and violence and punish perpetrators of such crimes, and call on world Governments to endorse and implement the UN Draft Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent.”*

The UN experts expressed concern about a serious lack of implementation in countries where legislation exists, and called for effective application of laws, policies and programmes to protect and promote the rights of those affected by caste-based discrimination. “Political leadership, targeted action and adequate resources should be devoted to resolving the long-standing problems, discrimination and exclusion faced by Dalits and similarly affected communities in the world,” they stressed.

“Caste-based discrimination needs to be addressed as a major structural factor underlying poverty,” the expert said, while welcoming the acknowledgment of caste-based discrimination as a source of inequality by the global consultation on the post-2015 development agenda.

However, they expressed hope that the agenda will also include specific goals for the advancement of Dalits and particularly affected groups. “Their specific needs require tailored action to lift them out of poverty and close the inequality gap between them and the rest of society,” they underlined.

“We will pay specific attention to the particularly vulnerable situation of people affected by caste-based discrimination and advocate for their integration and inclusion so that they can fully enjoy their human rights in accordance with international human rights law and national legislation”, the UN independent experts said.

“No one should be stigmatized; no one should be considered ‘untouchable’”.

The experts: Rita IZSÁK, Independent Expert on minority issues; Rashida MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Gulnara SHAHINIAN, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences; Najat Maalla M’JID, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; Mutuma RUTEERE, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Catarina de ALBUQUERQUE, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation; Magdalena SEPÚLVEDA, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

(*) UN Draft Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent:
http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session11/A-HRC-11-CRP3.pdf

For further information on the experts mandates and activities, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Marta Franco (+41 22 917 9268 / mfranco@ohchr.org) or write to minorityissues@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

 

 

 

 

The Struggle For Justice In Manipur #AFSPA


 

By Graham Peebles

03 May, 2013
Countercurrents.org

The primary colours of any civil democracy are we would agree, social justice, freedom of expression, freedom to protest and participation. India, with a population of 1.3 billion people is regularly hailed as the largest democracy in the world. At first glance the governments pretentions to democracy would appear to be justified, after all there is, on paper at least, an independent judiciary, a free press – freely owned from top to toe by corporations – a thriving civil society and, of course, the cornerstone of any democratic state: the haloed parliamentary elections, totally funded and (therefore) fully owned, top to toe, by the same corporations that count the national and regional newspapers, radio and television networks as their own, as well as growing portfolios of natural assets; rivers, forests, water supplies, mountains (full of bauxite), and other mineral resources.

Where elements of democratic necessity are lacking, democracy is absent, and if there is a single tenet upon which the democratic dream is built, it must surely be justice: legal justice, together with social justice, both of which are essential. With cries of inequality ringing out across the world, social justice – solidly founded upon principles of fairness, is universally missing.

In large parts of India not only is there little or no social justice, but the observation of judicial law is also lacking as government agencies and security forces trample on federal law, the Indian constitution, and a range of Internationally binding agreements. State violence, injustice and corruption, under the comforting cloak of impunity have long taken root in vast tracts of the country, most notably the Northeastern and Central States, where local people, herded together under the terrorist tainted banner of ‘Maoists’, or ‘rebels’ are waging a tribal uprising against government military and paramilitary forces.

State Criminality and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act

Manipur, like its neighbouring States in the Northeast is awash with government paramilitary, for over five decades it’s people have been petitioning and fighting for self-determination. They bear witness to the plague of state criminality, violent injustice and corruption surging through the country. Widespread rape, torture, false imprisonment and extra judicial killings, are all in use as methods of government oppression and control that are poisoning life in the region.

In March 2012i the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heynes, spoke of the “excessive use of force by police including fake encounters, custodial deaths and traditional practices affecting women such as honour killings, and dowry deaths”, he called for justice for victims and for the government to set up a “credible Commission of Inquiry” into extrajudicial killings. The panel should investigate “past violations, propose relevant measures to deal with these, and work out a plan of action to eradicate practices of extrajudicial executions.”

Justice is a jewel that unsurprisingly, eludes the disadvantaged and vulnerable throughout India; most at risk of abuse Heynes tells us, are “women and minorities — religious minorities, as well as Dalits [so called untouchables from the lowest caste]…. Adivasis [and] human rights defenders, including Right to Information activists…. and their protection deserves special measures.” Alas the only ‘special measures’ these marginalised people and advocates of justice are receiving in corporate India are to be found in the draconian articles of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) 1958. A law that is anathema to the democratic principles India proclaims to cherish. It grants immunity to security personnel committing wide-ranging offenses to innocent civilians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) 19/10/2011ii, state, that the law “grants the armed forces the power to shoot to kill in law enforcement situations, to arrest without warrant, and to detain people without time limits.” Soldiers acting with impunity are, HRW relay, “routinely engaging in torture and other ill-treatment during interrogation”.

Introduced in 1958 in Nagaland, the AFSPA descended onto the ‘disturbed’ districts of Manipur in 1980, creeping then into Jammu and Kashmir, until it permeated much of the Northeast of the country. The ‘emergency’ law, which Parliament and the people were promised was to be in operation for only six months, has lived on for 52 years and hundreds of deaths, rapes and false imprisonments later, is still being used to shield security personnel committing criminal acts. The AFSPA, as all unjust actions – far from easing tension has exacerbated the situation and fed insurgent groups, The Hindu 7/02/2013iii record, “In 1958 there was one “terrorist” group in the North East. Manipur had two groups when the State was brought under the Act. Today, Manipur has more than twenty such groups, Assam has not less than fifteen, Meghalaya has five of them and other States have more groups.“

Working for justice

The Government, perhaps keen to conceal the conflict taking place in Manipur, refused the UN Special Rapporteur permission to visit the State in 2012. Through the committed work of human rights groups and political activists in the region, the struggle for justice and the outrage against widespread human rights abuses, are kept persistently present. The figurehead is the heroic Irom Sharmilla Chanu. An “icon of public resistance”, the New York Times 8/02/2011iv called her, she bravely represents the people of Manipur, particularly the women of the state in their struggle for justice against the hated AFSPA, the excessive military presence and the violent abusive methods of security personnel.

The right to protest is another pre-requisite of democracy alongside justice. Peaceful or otherwise, protest is strongly discouraged in India, by a government eager to suppress dissent and present a sparkling-clean market-friendly image to the world. Within three days of Sharmilla’s peaceful protest, she was arrested, charged with attempted suicide – illegal in India, and imprisoned, without trial, for one year – the maximum sentence. This bizarre process has been repeated ever since, resulting in her being held in judicial custody for the last twelve years. She was last released on 12th March only to be re-arrested two days later.

Imprisoned, The Independent 4/03/2013v report, in “the secure wing of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences hospital in the city of Imphal” she is force-fed by the police using nasogastric intubation – a tube inserted into her nostril. She pleads ‘not guilty’ to the charge of attempted suicide, and rightly calls for all criminal charges to be dropped. Amnesty International (AI) 20/03/2013vi demanding her immediate release from police custody, report her saying “I love life…. I do not want to commit suicide. Mine is only a non-violent protest. It is my demand to live as a human being.” A hunger strike the British Medical Association makes clear, “is not equivalent to suicide. Individuals who embark on hunger strikes aim to achieve goals important to them but generally hope and intend to survive.” (Ibid)

Her well-documented political protest against abuse and injustice in Manipur, and specifically against the internationally condemned AFSPA, was fuelled by the shooting of 10 civilians in the village of Malon, near Manipur’s capital, by the Assam Rifles. They are one of a number of Government forces present within the State that have been implicated in a barrage of cases (yet to be investigated) of murder, rape and torture, most notoriously perhaps, the rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama in July 2004. Human Rights Watchvii report Manorama’s “bullet-ridden body was found at around 5:30 a.m. on July 11, 2004 by villagers near Ngariyan Maring, about four kilometers from her house.” she had been arrested at home, beaten and HRW report, “tortured” by members of the Assam Rifles, who were responsible for her murder. The incident so outraged the community that a group of elderly women staged a naked demonstration in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters, while carrying a banner that read: “Indian Army, Rape Us.”viii

Sharmilla’s peaceful action is the loudest cry in an army of voices calling for the repeal of the AFSPA. The Womens International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)ix state that the AFSPA, “continues to increase militarisation in the North East, augment impunity and facilitate human rights abuses including rape and other forms of torture, forced disappearances, and killings of civilians.” There is broad recognition in India, HRW 19/10/2011x report, “that the AFSPA should be repealed because it has led to so many abuses. Prime Minister Singh should overrule the army and keep his promise [made in 2004] to abolish this abusive law”. Various Indian bodies have recommended repealing the law, including amongst others, the Jeevan Reddy Commission (back in 2005), which described the situation in Manipur as “grave” and the Prime-Ministers Working Group on Confidence-Building Measures. In January this year The Justice Verma Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law found “that the AFSPA legitimised impunity for sexual violence, and recommended an urgent review of the law”.

An unjust law worth fighting

Reviews, recommendations, proposed amendments all miss the unjust violent point, and fail to demand that the law, which is an abhorrence to any society, democratic or not, be scrapped totally, and thorough investigations of past state criminality initiated. This commonsense view, is one that not only the conscience of the UN holds but the Supreme Court of India, which acknowledges that the conflict in Manipur is a fight for “self-determination”, also shares. It is, it seems, the army generals who are devoutly attached to the AFSPA. The Hindu reports Mr P. Chidambaram, the former Union Home Minister and now Finance Minister saying the “Army Chiefs have taken a strong position that the Act should not [even] be amended”, but retained in “disturbed” areas – ignoring the fact that the army is causing the disturbance. Government subservience to the men with guns has caused The Hindu to asks “Who is it that rules India”? The rupee-rich multi-national corporations, albeit via ‘democratically’ elected representatives, is the majority response.

Christof Heynes during his visit in March, made an unequivocal demand for the law to be scrapped, saying “the repeal of this law will not only bring domestic law more in line with international standards, but also send out a powerful message that instead of a military approach the government is committed to respect for the right to life of all people of the country.” The application of the law denies “the right to life” he said. His statement emphasises a chorus of comments made by the UN since 1997. In 2007, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the Government to repeal the Act, and in March 2009, Navanethem Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights herself demanded it be repealed. Such common-sense calls, as so many issuing forth from the table of the UN, have been resolutely ignored. The inviolable sanctity of the ‘nation state’, together with the unrepresentative out-dated Security Council, is constraining the UN and overriding the human rights of the people, which the Assembly of Nations was founded to establish and safeguard.

In Manipur, the most basic of the 30 rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (UDHR) – the right to life, liberty and security – also the right, “to be protected from arbitrary arrest, and to be free from torture and other ill-treatment”, are being trampled on by government security forces with, thanks to the AFSPA, impunity.

These unconditional rights are to be found not only in the pages of the UDHR, but within the hearts of just men and women throughout the world. They are everyone’s birth-right, beyond caste, class, income or position, and must be rightly observed.

Graham Peebles is Director of The Create Trust, www.thecreatetrust.org A UK registered charity (1115157). Running education and social development programmes, supporting fundamental Social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. Contact , E:graham@thecreatetrust.org

 

UNHCR rapporteur calls for repeal of AFSPA in India


The much-criticized Armed Forces Special Powers Act known as the A-F-S-P-A used by India in Kashmir and troubled northeastern states has once again come under fire — this time by the UN.

The body has asked for an immediate repeal of the controversial law throughout the troubled zones.

Rashida Manjoo, the Special UN Rapporteur says the act, which has been blamed for arbitrary executions in Kashmir and seven northeastern Indian states, gives sweeping powers to troops to arrest, search and even shoot people with impunity from local laws. She believes the act violates international laws.

India introduced AFSPA in 1958 to put down separatist movements in the country’s northeast which extended to most parts of Indian-administered Kashmir soon after the outbreak of armed insurgency against New Delhi’s rule in 1989.

Hafiza is one of the many thousands of victims hit hard by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Her 15-year-old son was taken away by government forces in Kashmir and his whereabouts remain unknown to date.

Manjoo was in India to assess the situation of violence against women. The UN expert’s visit to India comes at a time when violence against women has increased exponentially in India’s capital as well as other cities.

According to the national crime records in India, rape cases more than doubled between 1990 and 2008. Statistics show 228,650 of the 256,329 victims of violent crimes recorded in the country last year were women. The conviction rate for rape cases in India is 26%. Investigations also reveal every 20 minutes one rape happens in the country. Despite the increase in sexual violence, the number of convictions is falling.

Human rights defenders have repeatedly requested the Indian government to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. But the administration still seems least interested in responding to the calls and this has created an atmosphere of impunity and lack of accountability for the crimes security forces have perpetrated… Shahana Butt, Press TV, New Delhi, India

 

UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences finalises country mission to India


 

 

Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences finalises country mission to India

NEW DELHI (1 May 2013) – At the end of her official country mission to India, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, delivered the following statement:

“I have been mandated by the Human Rights Council to seek and receive information on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and to recommend measures to eliminate all forms of violence against women.

I would like to begin by expressing my thanks to the Government of India for having invited me to visit the country from 22 April to 1 May. The invitation, which was in response to a request from my mandate, was received prior to the events that led to the death of a young woman in Delhi on 16 December 2012. The protest actions and outpouring of sadness and anger; and the extensive coverage by the media, both local and global; has generated a huge focus on the issue of violence against women and girls in India.  This mission has generated country-wide interest, and also, demands for the addressing of this systemic problem as an urgent imperative, at both the State and the non-state levels.

During my visit, I held meetings in New Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Manipur, and gathered information from other states, including Tamil Nadu. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including Union and State authorities, National Human Rights Institutions, representatives of civil society organisations, and United Nations agencies. Most importantly, I want to thank the individual women who shared their personal experiences of violence and survival with me. The pain and anguish in the testimonies of loss, dispossession, and various human rights violations, was visceral and often difficult to deal with.

The Government of India has signed and ratified numerous international human rights instruments and has also adopted numerous progressive laws and policies at the Union and State levels. Numerous laws, including amendments to existing laws, have been enacted to address various manifestations of violence against women. Among others, these include: the Indian Penal Code which broadly includes crimes against women. This law includes the crimes of rape, kidnapping and abduction for specified purposes, homicide for dowry, torture, molestation, eve teasing, and the importation of girls, among others. More specific laws on crimes against women include: the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal) Act 2013, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, the Commission of Sati Prevention Act 1961, and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 among others.

Furthermore, the following Bills are currently under discussion: the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill 2012, the Readjustment of Representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Bill 2013, the Removal of Homelessness Bill 2013, the Prevention of Female Infanticide Bill 2013, the Abolition of Child Labour Bill 2013, the Child Welfare Bill 2013, the Indecent or Surrogate Advertisements and Remix Songs (Prohibition) Bill 2013 and among others.

At the institutional level, the realisation of the promotion and protection of human rights broadly, and women’s rights and children’s rights specifically, are vested in numerous Union and state level Ministries, Departments, Commissions, Committees and Missions for the empowerment of women. Furthermore, I was informed about numerous programs and policies that have been put in place in recent years to address the issue of violence against women within a human rights and development framework. These include schemes addressing the needs of victims of rape, trafficking, domestic violence, and so on. Some of these schemes address counselling, support, skills development, access to benefits and also to shelters. Public/private partnerships have been forged within different spheres including the police sector. The laws and schemes highlighted above will be analysed and discussed fully in my mission report.

I welcome the Government of India’s speedy response after the rape incident of 16 December. A judicial committee headed by the late Justice Verma was established, and new legislative measures were adopted earlier this year. While this legislative reform is to be commended, it is regrettable that the amendments do not fully reflect the Verma Committee’s recommendations.

It is unfortunate that the opportunity to establish a substantive and specific equality and non-discrimination rights legislative framework for women, to address de facto inequality and discrimination, and to protect and prevent against all forms of violence against women, was lost. The speedy developments and also the adoption of a law and order approach to sexual wrongs, now includes the death penalty for certain crimes against women. This development foreclosed the opportunity to establish a holistic and remedial framework which is underpinned by transformative norms and standards, including those relating to sexual and bodily integrity rights. Furthermore, the approach adopted fails to address the structural and root causes and consequences of violence against women.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is a positive development in the aspirational goal of protection for victims of family violence. The discrepancy between the provisions of the laws and the effective implementation thereof, whether through the use of the police generally or the Protection Officers in particular, was a recurrent complaint which I heard. Despite provisions intended to offer legal, social and financial assistance to victims, many women are unable to register their complaints. As a result, the vulnerability of women increases, and further, they are also deprived of the benefits prescribed in the law – as proof of registration of cases is required for access to many benefits. Furthermore, prevention of violence, as a core due diligence obligation of the State, does not feature in the implementation of this law.

Despite numerous positive developments, the unfortunate reality is that the rights of many women in India continue to be violated, with impunity as the norm, according to many submissions received. Mediation and compensation measures are often used as redress mechanisms to address cases of violence against women, thus eroding accountability imperatives, and further fostering norms of impunity.

Manifestations of violence against women

Numerous experiences of violence, whether direct or indirect, in different spheres including the home, the community, and in institutions, whether perpetrated by state actors or condoned by the State, was shared with me during the mission. Violence is being experienced in situations of peace, conflict, post-conflict, and displacement among others. The denial of constitutional  rights in general, and the violation of the rights of equality, dignity, bodily integrity, life and access to justice in particular, was a theme that was common in many testimonies. Violence against women as a cause and consequence of de factoinequality and discrimination was also a common theme in numerous submissions received.

Violence against women and girls in India manifests in numerous ways and varies in prevalence and forms based on numerous factors including geographic location. Some manifestations include: sexual violence, domestic violence, caste-based discrimination and violence, dowry related deaths, crimes in the name of honour, witch-hunting, sati, sexual harassment, violence against lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, forced and/or early marriages, deprivation of access to water and basic sanitation, violence against women with disabilities, sexual and reproductive rights violations, sex selection practices, violence in custodial settings and violence in conflict situations, among others. These manifestations of violence are rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities faced by women, and are strongly linked to their social and economic situation. One interlocutor described violence against women and girls as functioning on a continuum that spans the life-cycle from the womb to the tomb.

During my visit, I heard numerous testimonies of many women who are survivors of domestic violence, whether at the hands of their husbands or other family members. Many of these women live in family settings with deeply entrenched norms of patriarchy and cultural practices linked to notions of male superiority and female inferiority. The lack of effective remedies, the failure of the State to protect and prevent violence against women, the economic dependence of many women on the men in their lives, and the social realities of exclusion and marginalization when speaking out, often results in women accepting violence as part of their reality. The current focus by state actors on preserving the unity of the family is manifested in the welfare/social approach and not in the human rights based approach. It does not take into consideration the nature of relationships based on power and powerlessness; of economic and emotional dependency; and also the use of culture, tradition and religion as a defence for abusive behaviour.

Sexual violence and harassment in India is widespread, and is perpetuated in public spaces, in the family or in the workplace. There is a generalized sense of insecurity in public spaces/amenities/transport facilities in particular, and women are often victims of different forms of sexual harassment and assault.

On the issue of conflict-related sexual violence, it is crucial to acknowledge that these violations are occurring at the hands of both state and non-state actors. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations broadly, according to information received. The law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights. Furthermore, in testimonies received, it was clear that the interpretation and implementation of this act, is eroding fundamental rights and freedoms – including freedom of movement, association and peaceful assembly, safety and security, dignity and bodily integrity rights, for women, in Jammu & Kashmir and in the North-Eastern States. Unfortunately in the interests of State security, peaceful and legitimate protests often elicit a military response, which is resulting in both a culture of fear and of resistance within these societies.

In India, women from the Dalit, Adivasi, other Scheduled castes, tribal and indigenous minorities, are often victims of a multiplicity of forms of discrimination and violence. Despite protective legislative and affirmative action laws and policies, their reality is one where they exist at the bottom of the political, economic and social systems, and they experience some of the worst forms of discrimination and oppression – thereby perpetuating their socio-economic vulnerability across generations. They are often forced to live in displacement settings, experience forced labour practices, prostitution and trafficking, and also experience intra-community violations of rights.

In consultations in Manipur, I heard anguished stories from relatives of young women who have disappeared without trace or who were found dead shortly after going missing. The lack of response from the police is the norm in such cases, with the attitude being that these are mostly elopement cases. I am deeply concerned about other consequences of such disappearances of young women, including exposure to sexual abuse, exploitation or trafficking. More generally, many tribal and indigenous women in the region are subjected to continued abuse, ill-treatment and acts of physical and sexual violence. They are denied access to healthcare and other necessary resources, due to the frequency of curfews and blockades imposed on citizens. Moreover, the chronic underdevelopment prevalent in the region, coupled with frequent economic blockades, is having an impact on the overall cost of essential items, and is exacerbating the already vulnerable situation of women and children living in the region.

Customary and religious practices such as child marriages and dowry-related practices, sorcery, honour killings, witch-hunting of women, and communal violence perpetrated against cultural and religious minorities, were highlighted in numerous testimonies. Communal violence, inspired by religious intolerance, does manifest in some parts of India. Indiscriminate attacks by religious majorities on religious minorities, including Christian and Muslim minorities, is frequently explained away by implying that equal aggression was noted on both sides. Also, such violence is sometimes labelled as ‘riots’, thereby denying the lack of security for religious and other minorities, and disregarding their right to equal citizenship. This issue is of particular concern to many, as the wounds of the past are still fresh for women who were beaten, stripped naked, burnt, raped and killed because of their religious identity, in the Gujarat massacre of 2002.

I am also concerned about the declining female sex ratio in India. The deeply entrenched patriarchal social norms, prevailing views of daughter-aversion and son-preference, the dowry-related link, and, the general sense of insecurity in light of high prevalence rates of gender-based violence, is fuelling a significant drop in female births throughout the country. The Indian Government’s concern about this issue has resulted in the adoption of policies and schemes. The implementation of such interventions is resulting in the policing of pregnancies through tracking/surveillance systems and is resulting in some cases in the denial of legal abortion rights, thereby violating the sexual and reproductive rights of women.

With regard to domestic workers, I am dismayed by the prevalence of numerous violations faced by these women and girls. Many of them, often migrant and unregistered women, work in servitude and even bondage, in frequently hostile environments; performing work that is undervalued, poorly regulated and low-paid. According to testimonies, they are also denied access to essential services and resources provided by the State, as they lack proper identification, and view this as a barrier to access. They are often the victims of various acts of violence, including sexual harassment and victimization by their employers and others.

I have also been informed that women with disabilities experience numerous forms of violence, including sexual violence, forced sterilization and/or abortions and forced medication without their consent. In addition, their experience of discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation reinforces the need for greater attention and specificity.

India has embarked on a journey of aggressive economic growth and this path is viewed as the route to simultaneously addressing its human development challenges. Despite the inclusion of beneficial provisions for women and children in the Five Year Plan, the impact of economic development policies on women is resulting in forced evictions, landlessness, threats to livelihoods, environmental degradation, and the violation of bodily integrity rights, among other violations. The adverse consequence of resulting migration to urban areas is reflected in the living and work conditions of many of these women and children, for example living in slums or on the streets, engaging in scavenging activities and in sex work etc. Some women have committed suicide; others are frequently exposed to acts of harassment and violence, including sexual assault. It was strongly argued by many interlocutors that India’s pursuit of neo-liberal economic growth must not be pursued at the expense of vulnerable women and children, and their right to a healthy and secure environment.

Conclusion

Numerous human rights mechanisms have addressed the violation of women’s human rights in India. The substance of some relevant recommendations addresses the following issues:

1)    There is  a need for urgent measures to end the alarming decline in sex ratios (CEDAW, CRC)

2)    The negative effect of personal status laws on the achievement of overall gender equality (CRC, CCPR, and CEDAW). Such laws need to be reformed to ensure equality in law (CEDAW).

3)    The social and cultural patterns of discrimination against women require urgent action by the State (CEDAW).

4)    Ensure that all victims of domestic violence are able to benefit from the legislation on domestic violence. Develop a comprehensive plan to combat all forms of violence against women (CEDAW). Domestic violence is endemic. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code must be enforced effectively (CESCR).

5)    The implementation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Public Safety Act and the National Security Act, and the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act should be repealed (HRC, SR Summary Executions), as it perpetuates impunity (HRC), and is widely used against Human Rights Defenders (SR HRD).

6)    Grave concerns are noted as regards the continuing atrocities perpetrated against Dalit women. There is a culture of impunity for violations of the rights of Dalit women (CEDAW). Concerns are further expressed for the failure to properly register and investigate complaints of violations against scheduled castes and tribes, the high rate of acquittals, the low conviction rates, and the alarming backlog of cases related to such atrocities (CRC, CEDAW and CERD).

7)    The practice of devadasi is of concern (HRC). The effective enforcement of relevant legislation and the Indian Constitution is required to end this practice (CERD).

8)    To expeditiously enact the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control andRehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005 with the incorporation of: sexual and gender-based crimes, including mass crimes against women perpetrated during communal violence; a comprehensive system of reparations for victims of such crimes; and gender-sensitive victim-centred procedural and evidentiary rules, and to ensure that inaction or complicity of State officials in communal violence be urgently addressed under this legislation.

9)    Grave concern is expressed about the continued existence of women and girls employed as domestic workers and their experiences of sexual abuse (CEDAW).

10) Harmful practices on women and girls, including forced marriage, dowry and dowry-related violence are of great concern (CEDAW, CRC, CERD, and HRC). Violence and social sanctions due to inter-caste relationships are also of concern (CERD).

11) The impact of mega-projects on the rights of women should be thoroughly studied, including their impact on tribal and rural communities, and safeguards should be instituted (CEDAW).

12) Continuing disparities in literacy levels are of concern, in particular the educational status of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and Muslim women (CEDAW). Effective measures must be adopted to reduce the drop-out rates among Dalit girls (CERD).

13) More effort is needed to end customary practices which deprive women fromunderprivileged classes, castes and religious minorities of their rights to human dignity and to non-discrimination (HRC).

I would like to encourage the government of India to ensure specificity in addressing the multiple and intersecting inequalities and discrimination that women face. My mandate has consistently voiced the view that the failure in response and prevention measures stems from Government’s inability and/or unwillingness to acknowledge and address the core structural causes of violence against women. Linkages should be made between violence against women and other systems of oppression and discrimination prevalent within societies. A legislative and policy approach will not bring about substantive change if it is not implemented within a holistic approach that simultaneously targets the empowerment of women, social transformation, and the provision of remedies that ultimately address the continuum of discrimination and violence, and also the pervasive culture of impunity.

My comprehensive findings will be discussed in the report that I will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014.”

ENDS

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo also holds a part-time position as a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town. Learn more, visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/index.htm

Another Draconian Bill from Gujarat


 

The Gujarat Government has done it again! On February 26th 2013, it tabled ‘The Gujarat Irrigation and Drainage Bill, 2013’ which seeks to make it compulsory for farmers to get a licence to draw water from a canal or ground well beyond a certain limit and prescribes penal action including imprisonment against the errant farmers. 

 

In a year designated by the United Nations as the ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’, the bill is absolutely draconian in nature clearly aimed against the small farmer and heavily weighing in favour of industrialists and powerful vested interests.

 

The bill was passed “unanimously”, after the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly staged a walk-out demanding that the bill have a wider consultation and that all contentious portions from it be deleted immediately.  The leader of the Opposition Mr. Shankersinh Vaghela stated “the bill was originally brought by the British who wanted to control the farmers. The State Government should withdraw the bill and form a committee to study it.”

 

The new bill seeks to replace the Bombay (Gujarat) Irrigation Act 1879 which was first enacted by the British 134 years ago. The bill has several contentious provisions, among them are:

 

  • farmers need a licence to draw water from canals or ground well beyond a limit
  • violations incur a six month jail term or a fine of Rs.10,000/-
  • those farmers who have their land near a canal have to pay for the water even if it reaches them by percolation or leakage
  • the appointment of “Canal Officers” with unbridled magisterial powers including to take into custody ‘erring’ farmers

 

On reading the bill, one is simply aghast at the way the farmer is targeted through this draconian bill. The sum and substance of this bill focuses on‘policing, penalties and punishment’ (P3).  The bill fails ‘in toto’ to have a comprehensive policy for water conservation and a participatory approach towards a precious natural resource which strictly belongs to the people.

 

At an important meeting convened under the banner of PUCL’s Prabudh Nagrik Shakti Manch in Ahmedabad recently, it’s Convenor Mr. Suresh Mehta (a former Chief Minister of Gujarat) unequivocally stated that “the bill violates the Constitution and of the right to liberty. It will leave the farmers at the mercy of the Canal Officer…..” 

 

Several social activists from across the State feel that this new bill is clearly of a colonial mindset where the rulers think that they can arrogate unquestionable powers to themselves and abrogate the rights of the ordinary citizen.  Over the next few weeks, Gujarat is bound to witness several public protests on this bill.  Already the PUCL has launched a public awareness campaign and a signature drive requesting the Governor of Gujarat not to sign the bill in the wider interests of the people.

 

The bill is clearly another anti-people piece of legislation strongly indicating that fascism has come to rule the roost in Gujarat!

8th March, 2013

 

(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)


Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad – 380052

Phone: 79 27455913, 66522333   Fax:  79 27489018
Email: sjprashant@gmail.com     www.humanrightsindia.in

 

UNDP Online Portal for Decentralized Planning Launched #goodnews


05 November 2012

imagePHOTO: SEPHI BERGERSON/UNDP INDIA29 October 2012, New Delhi - The Planning Commission and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have launched a unique online portal http://www.nrcddp.org/ which brings together all the necessary guidelines and best practice processes required for undertaking participatory decentralized planning at district, block and village levels.

This portal will primarily function as a knowledge and information exchange gateway for policy makers, planners and practitioners engaged in decentralized planning. It will also provide a window on research, good practices, innovations, news, events and data on decentralized district planning and local governance at regional and global levels.

While over the last two decades, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments have accorded greater constitutional status to urban and rural local governments, a number of challenges remain in ensuring the success of decentralized district planning in the country.

A key challenge is to develop knowledge and capacities of functionaries of panchayat and municipal bodies at district and state levels with regards to Acts, rules and guidelines on decentralized planning and governance; capacity development frameworks; technical approaches useful to enable decentralize planning; and good practices and learnings that are emerging from around the country.

As India enters the 12th Five-Year Plan period, where decentralized planning and governance are viewed seen as cross-cutting processes across programmes and public services, the portal aims to ensure decentralized planning and development management is knowledge-driven and dynamic

The portal was released by Shri Mihir Shah, Member Planning Commission and Lise Grande, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, India in the presence of senior representatives from state governments, and other UN agencies. It focuses on seven states – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

The portal is run by the National Resource Cell for Decentralized District Planning (NRCDPP), a joint initiative by the Planning Commission and UNDP as part of the Government of India-United Nations Joint Programme on Convergence which promotes decentralized and convergent planning and development in the country.

Contact Information

Narendra Mishra  (Narendra.mishra@undp.org); +91-46532389

Contact Information:

 

In Bangkok:
Mr. Omar Siddique, Mobile (66 87) 337 2801, omar.siddique@undp.org

 

Appeal from a daughter in Bangladesh – ‘ Give justice to my mother Saira “


Sami  Ahmed says

Twenty  years ago the Bangladesh government broke the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when they allowed the child marriage of my mother, Saira Ahmed, to a British paedophile. The purpose of this petition is to generate enough support that the Bangladesh government will recognize that they have broken several articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and press charges against the family my mother was married into. All facts stated here are verified in the feature film that is in development based on these events.

Me and my mum want to say thank you to all that sign our petition because in doing so you make us feel like we do have a family here, and that we are not alone. Your signature means you are now family members. I want to keep you all updated monthly about the progress of this campaign, so kindly do provide an email address and continue to share this petition with others.

The act of child marriage is not rare: from 2000-2008, 64% of women aged 20-24 in Bangladesh were married before they were 18 years old.

We have all the legal documents and court papers to prove Saira’s husband was a paedophile here.

1:Saira during her child marriage. 2 & 3: Saira now

PLEASE SIGN ONLIEN PETITION HERE AND SHARE WIDELY

contact
Sami Ahmed
Website: http://justiceforsaira.wordpress.com/