Transitional Justice in Post-Conflict Syria

Written by: Regina Paulose

As various parties in and out of Syria prepare for the January 22, 2014 “Geneva II” talks, it is important for the international community to remember that a successful long term peace and transition plan in Syria will require the genuine participation of minority groups in Syria of all backgrounds. While these ideas have been communicated to the parties that will be in attendance, it is important that legitimate mechanisms are in place to ensure the participation of all in the transition and that the participation of all people remains a non-negotiable item during the talks. Continue reading

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Terrorism: Victims Beyond Borders

Written by Lina Laurinaviciute

terrorism attacks“Wars between states are confined to geographical areas and have a declared set of combatants, but terrorism can be conducted with relative ease across many national borders.”[1] Continue reading

Private Prosecutions for Criminal Offences in England and Wales: Time for a Code?

By Claire de Than and Jesse Elvin, City University London

c.de-than@city.ac.uk and jesse.elvin.1@city.ac.uk

 

In the English legal system, most prosecutions for criminal offences are brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the prosecution service for England and Wales created in 1986 by section 1 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. However, this Act did not abolish the historical right to bring a private prosecution: on the contrary, section 6(1) of the 1985 Act expressly preserves it, subject to certain controls. Thus, private prosecutions still occur today.  Continue reading

Victim Rights: Are We Victimising the Perpetrators?

Victims have rights. No doubt about it. Since the 1960’s the need for the criminal justice system to take into account the needs of the victims has been emphasized. These efforts-mostly driven by non profits-have borne fruits. The international community has paid attention. In 1985 the United Nations Declaration of the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power was adopted by the General Assembly[1]. This Declaration recognized the vulnerability of victims of crime and that there was a need for judicial and administrative processes to respond better. Part of the better response included “allowing the views and concerns of victims to be presented and considered at appropriate stages of the proceedings where their personal interests are affected, without prejudice to the accused and consistent with the relevant national criminal justice system”[2]. In almost similar fashion, the General Assembly subsequently adopted the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law[3]. This instrument provided, inter alia that “A victim of a gross violation of international human rights law or of a serious violation of international humanitarian law shall have equal access to an effective judicial remedy as provided for under international law”[4].

The right of victims to actively participate in the criminal trial process has also been reflected in international criminal law. Thus, whereas previous international tribunals such as the Nuremburg Tribunals, the ICTR, the ICTY among others, did not offer any role to the victim during the trial, the Rome Statute has been very generous in this regard. The Statute sets up a Victim and Witnesses Unit within the Registry charged with the responsibility of undertaking “protective measures and security arrangements, counselling and other appropriate assistance for witnesses, victims who appear before the Court, and others who are at risk on account of testimony given by such witnesses”[5]. In addition, Article 68 provides that ‘‘Where the personal interests of the victims are affected, the Court shall permit their views and concerns to be presented and considered at stages of the proceedings determined to be appropriate by the Court”[6]. The only qualification to this right is that it ought to be conducted “in a manner which is not prejudicial to or inconsistent with the rights of the accused and a fair and impartial trial”[7]. The ICC has had occasion to interpret this rather wide provision. In the Lubanga case[8], for example, the victims were allowed to directly participate in the investigations and the prosecution of the case. In the Kenyatta case[9] and the William Ruto case[10], victim participation during the trial process included allowing the Victim’s Representative to ask questions during the trial.

Whereas this development in the recognition of the victim rights is applaudable, I am concerned that the international criminal jurisprudence could end up tipping to the other side: ‘victimising’ the alleged perpetrator in the name of recognizing the victim(s)’ rights. Let me explain. The entire adversarial nature of criminal trials hangs on an assumption of the equality of arms between the protagonists. The prosecution and the accused person should have equal resources and the same opportunities to argue their cases. However, this balance will be interfered with when the Victim is provided an opportunity to participate in the trial. Since the victim would naturally be on the opposing side from the accused person, his/her participation would essentially be a second cross examination of the accused person and his witnesses. An unfair result no doubt.

Secondly, victim participation in proceedings negatively affects the pace of proceedings. This also has negative repercussions on the rights of the accused to have his case determined fast. The Victim will not only spend time during the cross examination stage but he will also have a right to make interlocutory applications and appeal on any Rulings therefrom. This could in turn take an inordinate amount of the court’s time. As an example, Elisabeth Baumgartner estimates that in the Lubanga case “out of a total of 45decisions rendered by Pre-Trial Chamber I from the issuing of the warrant of arrest in February 2006 tothe referral of the case to the Trial Chamber in September 2007, 20 decisions (13 per cent of all decisions) were directly related to victim participation (not counting decisions on victim protection issues)”[11]. In a court where each second counts in terms of the cost implications, this is significant.

Thirdly, the primary role of the criminal justice process is to determine the guilt or otherwise of the accused person. In other words, “the criminal law system cannot serve therapeutic purposes, since it does not have the resources needed and was not designed to attend to the victims.”[12] All other roles such as victim support are ancillary and ought to be in support of this objective. The participation or none participation of a victim at this stage does not affect the guilt or otherwise of the accused person[13]. Admittedly the court needs to understand the pain and circumstances of the victim as a result of the alleged crimes. However, such information is only relevant at the sentencing stage, not in trial. When the victim participates at the hearing stage the smooth functioning and possibly the eyes of the court are taken away from the primary goal (guilt or innocence of the accused) to ancillary issues (plight of the victims

Lastly, the victims interests in court are (or ought to) be adequately represented by the Office of the Prosecutor. Limiting the participation of the victims during the trial will compel them to co-operate more with the Office of the Prosecution. Rather than pursuing their own independent strategy, the victims will work with the objective of the prosecutor. This is a good thing for international criminal law.

In a word therefore for the above mentioned reasons there is need to rethink the participation of the victims   in the trial process. Too great an involvement is not only disruptive but “might not be the most judicious path towards the recovery and reparation desired by the victim”[14].


[1] Resolution No. A/RES/40/34,29 November 1985, 96th plenary meeting

[2] Annex to the Resolution, Access to Justice and Fair Treatment, Paragraph No. 6(b)

[3] Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 60/147 of 16 December 2005

[4] Annex to the Resolution, Access to Justice, Paragraph 12

[5] Article 43 Paragraph 6

[6] Paragraph 3

[7] Ibid

[8] ICC, Decision on the applications for participation in the proceedings of VPRS 1 to VPRS 6 in the Case Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, ICC-01/04-01/06-172, 29 June 2006

[9] ICC-01/09-02/11 The Prosecutor v. Francis Kirimi Muthaura, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and Mohammed Hussein Ali

[10] ICC-01/09-01/11 The Prosecutor v. William Samoei Ruto, Henry Kiprono Kosgey and Joshua Arap Sang

[11] Aspects of victim participation in the proceedings of the International Criminal Court by Elisabeth Baumgartner, International Review of the Red Cross, Volume 90 Number 870 June 2008, Footnote No 39

[12] Victims and International Criminal Justice: A Vexed Question? by Mina Rauschenbach and Damien Scalia, International Review of the Red Cross, Volume 90 Number 870, June 2008.umber 870 June 2008Volume 90 Number 870 June 2008

[13] Of course, the limitation to this is when the victim testifies in court as a witness for the prosecution

[14] Supra Note 12

Children as Victims of Trafficking in India

Written by Garima Tiwari

sctnow india-child-labour_1570360i

( http://www.glogster.com and http://www.gandhiforchildren.org)

The recent case of an Indian new-born baby allegedly sold for 800,000 rupees ($ 14,750) over Facebook, opened up many questions on the prevalence and working of child trafficking racket in the country. The boy, born in a hospital in Ludhiana in the northern state of Punjab, was sold twice before the deal on the social networking site. The infant’s grandfather allegedly first snatched the child from his own daughter, telling her he had been stillborn, to sell him to a nurse for 45,000 rupees. The nurse, in turn, reportedly sold the baby for 300,000 rupees to a hospital lab assistant. The infant was then allegedly put up for sale on Facebook by the lab assistant, and a businessman from New Delhi is accused of offering 800,000 rupees for him after seeing photographs. The police raided the businessman’s house and recovered the child. They also arrested five people including the grandfather and another man accused of facilitating the deals. Tens of thousands of children in India are thought to be trafficked every year, some for adoption but also many for bonded labour, begging or sexual exploitation.[i] That is hardly the experience of most parents. Since 2007, when the exposure of a serial killer in Nithari, on the outskirts of New Delhi, revealed that local police had ignored parents’ pleas that their children had disappeared, evidence has piled up showing that officials continue to disregard complaints of missing children.[ii]

Many, many such incidents are repeatedly reported with multitude of reasons for trafficking and sad implications. Take for example, Smita a sixteen year old girl was taken from her village in Jharkhand, India and subjected to various forms of sexual abuse and exploitation at the hand of her employers including rape. When rescued her parents refused to take her back since she had been tainted by rape. Falling sex ratios in Haryana and Punjab has led to a need for trafficking of brides from villages in Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam and West Bengal, who have been sold off by the parents. Jyoti, age fourteen, was sold and married to a 40-year old man for Rs 15,000 in order to produce a mail heir[iii]

This post highlights the need for urgent action by the authorities to fight child trafficking in India. A huge number of children from a place called Tarai in Nepal are trafficked to India everyday and they fall victims to child labor. Approximately 90,000 children went missing in India in 2011 alone. Nearly half of these cases remain unsolved. Thus, while there is movement of children through procurement and sale from one country to another, with India being both a supplier as well as a “consumer”, there is internal “movement” of children within the country itself – one town to another, one district to another and one state to another. It is undertaken in an organised manner, by organised syndicates or by individuals, and sometimes informal groups. Relatives and parents are part of this as well.[iv] Children as young as 5 years are sold to traffickers by their parents who are in need of money and brought to India.  These children are trafficked to various parts of India like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata and are made to work in cloth factories, have to stitch bags and perform various hazardous and odd jobs. [v] In 2012 about 250 Nepali children were rescued from the India-Nepal border. There are number of unregistered orphanages in Nepal which are trafficking children to different parts of the world and Indian human rights activists speculate that there are thousands of Nepali children who work in India. In March 2013, 38 tribal children, including 32 minors were rescued who were being taken by train for bonded labor. [vi]Their parents were given an advance amount of Rs 1,000 for a bonded labour of 40 days for the children, to work at the under construction site of railway tracks in Nagpur in India. The agents involved in trafficking usually give these minor girls the look of a married woman so that they are not easily caught. The boys were to be paid a daily wage of Rs 160 and girls Rs 150.

The chart below shows some of the methods of trafficking:

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Chart taken from the Manual For Social Workers : Dealing with child victims of trafficking and commercial sex exploitation[vii]

The Indian Constitution under Article 23 specifically prohibits human trafficking, asserting that all citizens have the right to be protected from exploitation. Article 36 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides for protection of children from exploitation and physical and psychological recovery and article 39 of the CRC provides for the social reintegration of child victims of exploitation. In India, various laws like Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act of 2000 (JJA), Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956 (ITPA) amended in 1986, and the like, are providing support, care, and protection to these children in various State Homes across the country.

In June 2011, India ratified the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplemented the 2000 UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime. India’s response to the problem of trafficking has been considerably influenced by its Trafficking in Person (TIP )Report rankings. The definition of trafficking under the UN TIP Protocol is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons” by using “force[,] . . . coercion, abduction, fraud, [and] deception” to control and exploit another person, including, but not limited to, sex exploitation.Between 2001 and 2003, India figured in Tier Two of the TIP Report before being demoted to the Tier Two Watch List. It was only in May 2011 when India ratified the UN Protocol that it made its way once again into the Tier Two List. India’s response to the trafficking problem in terms of abolishing trafficking isn’t unique in the sub-continent. Indeed, the 2002 SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children defines trafficking as sex trafficking following a 1949 UN Convention, rather than the 2000 UN Protocol.[viii]

While India has ratified the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Trafficking in Persons, without reservation, and enacted ITPA in response showing its intention to fight trafficking, Section 7 of the said act which penalizes those who prostitute in or near public places, and Section 8, which penalizes the solicitation of sex, both of which have in practice justified the police’s arrest and imprisonment of trafficked women who have been forced into prostitution and who have no knowledge or control over the brothel’s proximity to public places. Amending the law to exclude Sections 7 and 8 would decriminalize the activities of trafficking victims who are forced to solicit for sex. In 2006, a bill to amend the ITPA was proposed by India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, which would decriminalize prostitution and instead would penalize prostitutes’ clients. The law currently contains provisions that penalize brothel owners, managers, and traffickers. The Ministry of Home Affairs also set up specialized police units in major Indian cities in 2011 with the sole task of investigating sex trafficking cases and arresting traffickers and brothel owners and managers. These police officers were specially trained and sensitized to understand how trafficking rings operate. However, the police lack the resources to investigate and make arrests on every trafficking case. [ix] Even after arrest the judicial process is so slow that while one is being put under trial, the whole trafficking ring keeps flourishing.

The recent Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 recognises trafficking as an offence in the Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code . This is on the similar lines as the Palermo Protocol, also ratified by India in May 2011, following a Supreme Court judgement defining trafficking in a public interest litigation (PIL) field by Bachpan Bachao Andolan in 2011. The bill targets the entire process that leads to trafficking of a person and also makes the employment of a trafficked person and subsequent sexual exploitation a specific offence under Section 370 A.[x] While the old section 370 of Indian Penal Code dealt with only buying or disposing of any person as a slave the new section will take in its purview buying or disposing of any person for various kinds of exploitation including slavery. This provision includes organ trade as well. As the explanation further clarifies “exploitation” would also include prostitution. This is in addition to the ITP Act, 1956. The new section also ensures that persons involved at each and every stage of trafficking chain are brought within the criminal justice system.Also by specifically including that if a person is brought with his/her consent, where such consent is obtained through force, coercion, fraud, deception or under abuse of power, the same will amount to trafficking, the law has been substantially strengthened. This will cover all situations where girls who happen to be major are duped with promises of marriage and willingly accompany the traffickers who exploit them in various ways. While earlier no specific offence was made out for the mere bringing of the girl in question now that too is criminalized.  It has also been specifically added in the provision that consent of the victim is immaterial for the determination of the offence.The new section also differentiates the instances of trafficking major persons from minor persons. This differentiation is brought about by providing separate penalty for each with higher minimum sentence for trafficking minor persons.In addition the section also provides for enhanced punishment for repeated offender as well as where the offender traffics more than one person at the same time. By providing that trafficking in minor persons on a repeated conviction will attract imprisonment for life (meaning the remaining natural life) the law has been substantially changed.[xi] This will surely act as a big deterrent. Involvement of a public servant including a police officer shall entitle him to life imprisonment which shall mean the remaining natural life.[xii] Addition of the section 370 A further adds strength to trafficking related law by criminalizing employment of a trafficked (major/minor) person. A person who has even reason to believe or apprehension that the minor/major person employed by them has been trafficked will make them criminally liable. This places a huge responsibility on the employers who were till now, let off easily under the not so strict provisions of the child labour laws and juvenile related laws.  Here also a higher minimum prison term is prescribed where a minor person is involved. Also important is the fact that irrespective of age of the person employed, simply employing a trafficked person is an offence. This provision will go a long way in ensuring that people verify the antecedents of the placement agencies as also get the police verification of the persons employed. This will also aide in curbing the huge demand for labour who are victims of unsafe migration.[xiii]

The enactment of the law on paper with no real training and support to the functionaries would be futile and therefore, what is needed now is “actual”, “planned” and “effective” implementation. Involving the community participation in the whole implementation process would create a greater impact. The procedures and technicalities should not reduce the ambitious legislations to empty words, because at stake here are the children- the future of the nation.

(For those who want to get a deeper understand of the brutality of the child trafficking rackets I recommend the movie recently screened at the Cannes Film Festival on May 22 titled: “Oass- The Dew Drop”, which is inspired by a real-life story of abduction of an 11-year-old Nepalese girl who is sold to a brothel in Delhi by her aunt. (http://www.youtube.com/user/OassTheFilm))


[i] Police Rescue Indian baby allegedly sold on facebook, April 24, 2013 available at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/police-rescue-indian-baby-allegedly-sold-on-facebook/article4650168.ece

[ii] Jason Overdorf, Indian Chilld Trafficking on the Rise, May 5, 2013 available at http://www.salon.com/2013/05/05/child_trafficking_in_india_on_the_rise_partner/

[iv] Child Trafficking in India available at http://www.haqcrc.org/publications/child-trafficking-india

[v] Darker Side of India: Child Trafficking on the Rise,27th March 2013, available at  http://www.siliconindia.com/news/general/Darker-Side-of-India-Child-Trafficking-on-the-Rise-nid-144134-cid-1.html

[vi] Rashmi Drolia,Child Trafficking: 38 Children Rescued from Railway Station, 15th March 2013,available at  http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-03-15/raipur/37744973_1_railway-station-tribal-children-needy-children

[viii] Prabha Kotiswaran, India has to rethink human trafficking, The Hindu Business Line, march 27th 2012, available at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/india-has-to-rethink-human-trafficking/article3251458.ece

[ix] Anusree Garg, Anti Trafficking Legislation Inadequately Combatting Sex Trafficking in India, March 2013, The Human Rights Brief, available at The Human Rights Brief, http://hrbrief.org/2013/03/anti-trafficking-legislation-inadequately-combating-sex-trafficking-in-india/

[x] India Prohibits All forms of Trafficking, March 21st, 2013, Bachpan Bachao Andolan available at http://www.bba.org.in/news/210313.php

[xiii] Ibid

Victims Rights in Sexual Assault cases

Written by: Regina Paulose

The Verma Report

In the last couple of months, women’s and children’s rights have catapulted to the forefront of the international community due to tragic situations involving sexual assault. The most notable of these was the New Delhi gang rape in December 2012. This is not the first time these situations have happened. Why these situations have garnered this much media attention as opposed to similar situations that occur daily is an anomaly. However, the extensive spotlight has created a space for needed global discourse and critique of the current framework regarding victims’ rights.

One would be amiss to think that this problem is unique to India. In fact, in the research that was surveyed for this brief article, a vast amount of information indicates this is nothing short of a global endemic.

The December 2012 gang rape in New Delhi has forever changed the way women and children’s rights will be discussed in India. The tragic and grotesque situation, mobilized the people of India to protest inadequate laws that allow women and children to fall prey to those with an unforgivable appetite for sexual propensities. As a result the Government formed, under the leadership of Justice Verma,[1] the Committee on the Amendment to Criminal Law in India, which issued a report (Verma Report) in response to the huge public outcry. The Commission took responses from over 80 groups in addition to surveying laws from different countries.  The Commission’s conclusion after 200 + pages was simple.

Breathe life into your hollow laws and hollow words.

Although the report contains recommendations that the Indian legislature should adopt to address problems relating to sexual assault, it contains, what this author believes, to be a global framework that every country should consider in reevaluating and formulating laws that seek to protect victims from sexual assault.

The New Framework and its Four Pillars

Brutality/violence against women and children is a “deficiency [that] has to be overcome by leaders in society aided by systemic changes in education and social behavior.”[2] The report outlines what is broken down into four pillars which make up a new framework.  These pillars are not discussed in any particular order of preference.  Each pillar represents an area that will need to be improved alongside the other pillars[3] to allow shifts such as the one envisioned in the Verma Report.  Additionally, these four pillars are not discussed in minute detail, but serve as a launching point for more discussion which needs to involve holistic approaches.

Improvement of judiciary and government mindset

The judiciary, the guardian of the rule of law, should be continually up to date on the intricacies relating to sexual assault topics. The judiciary needs to change outdated conceptions that it may have of sexual assault victims.  These cases are victim dependent (99% of the time) and poor actions on the part of judges or a hostile courtroom can prevent a victim from participating in proceedings. In 2011, in Manitoba Canada, a Judge was scrutinized for his “archaic” statements when he analyzed the night of a sexual assault and said that “sex was in the air” and that the defendant was a “clumsy Don Juan.”[4]  In places such as the United States and Canada, judicial remarks such as these can be reviewed by an independent council or a bar association, which could result in punitive measures. However, punitive measures do not necessarily lead to a change in attitudes when these cases are presented.

It is important to address these attitudes that start from the judiciary and work its way through lawyers and juries. “Social attitudes are a thread running through the criminal justice system in response to rape.”[5] “Rape myths” as it is sometimes referred to “can directly or indirectly serve to excuse perpetrators and blame victims, and psychologists have found that they may also increase the likelihood that individuals will commit rape.”[6] There are also those who are of the opinion that the “rape myth” is “overstated” and challenge it on three grounds (1) some attitudes are based on opinions and facts (2) not all myths are about rape but rather how people negotiate sex and (3) there is little evidence that rape myths are widespread.[7]  Regardless of one’s position on the prevalence of rape myths, it still stands to reason that those who have the most power in interpreting laws and protecting victims should be knowledgeable in this area. These judicial players have an obligation not to perpetuate attitudes that continue to harm women and children. A victim should not make a decision to report or proceed with a case based on whether or not she will be believed by the attorneys, judge, or the jury.

Government attitudes towards sexual violence also need to change. It is evident that many government actors need to be educated on issues such as rape and women’s rights, in addition to utilizing their power to enforce laws. It would also be of use for legislatures and government players to review laws that have large gaps that allow women and children to fall prey to predatory acts.

Education/Retraining and Accountability of Law Enforcement

Law enforcement people are considered “arbiters of honor.”[8] This pillar has three components. The first component involves proper education and training on the root causes of sexual violence. Law enforcement needs to properly respond and not be apathetic, which can create a large change in how these situations are addressed.  This re-education and training unfortunately can present an uphill challenge as it also requires replacing existing beliefs in some communities. For example, law enforcement should be vigilant against “honor crimes” which are prevalent in different parts of the world. “Honor killings” or “honor based violence” are deeply rooted (origins stem from the Bible) and it is estimated that 5,000 honor based killings happen a year internationally.[9] Another example is eliminating the concept of shame. In sexual assault situations, the question should be about “bodily integrity” which translates into “integrity of the community.”[10]  This kind of shift in the mentality of law enforcement would allow more victims to come forward.

The second component involves the actual enforcement of the laws. In Kenya, where a large amount of sexual assault laws protecting women exist, women’s groups have challenged the enforcement of these laws based on the fact that police have done little to effect the law thus resulting in sex discrimination. A claim was submitted to the Kenya High Court as of October 2012 on this basis.[11] In Honduras it has been reported that there exists an “”apparent inability” of the government to effectively enforce legislation on the matter because of the lack of proper training for law enforcement personnel.”[12] In China, “when a victim has reported a sexual assault to police, seeking justice, hoping for the violator to be punished by the law, if the violator is powerful or backed by someone important, the victim will be pressured to solve the problem quietly, mostly to save face for the violator and related parties.”[13]

The third component has to do with creating laws or enforcing laws which hold law enforcement (including military) accountable. There are unfortunately many situations around the world in which law enforcement are perpetrators of this crime.  In Mexico, two police officers allegedly raped an Italian tourist while she was leaving a club at night. The officers also demanded money from the victims.[14] This was on the heels of another occurrence in Mexico where a similar situation occurred. It is also important to note that rape occurs with high frequency in conflict situations. As examined in different reports:

“mass rape in war has been documented in various countries, including Cambodia, Liberia, Peru, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Uganda. A European Community fact-finding team estimated that more than 20,000 Muslim women were raped during the war in Bosnia. At least 250,000, perhaps as many as 500,000 women were systematically raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, according to reports from the World Bank and UNIFEM. Most recently in Darfur, Western Sudan, displaced people have described a pattern of systematic and unlawful attacks against civilians by a government-sponsored Arab militia and the Sudanese military forces.”[15]

Prosecution of such crimes needs to occur and immunity should never be granted to personnel engaging in torture. For example, in Burma, no law exists which mandates the investigation of crimes by military troops because they are granted full immunity and are outside the jurisdiction of civilian courts. Minority groups have alleged that acts of sexual violence have occurred by the military, yet due to immunity, they walk free.[16]

Enforcement of State Obligations under International/Domestic Law

States have international obligations under the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the ICCPR, the ICESCR, and CEDAW to protect women and children. However, the world is not unified on various conventions and their provisions despite all the rhetoric. For example with the CEDAW, many countries had expressed that they would not include certain provisions (specifically contested are Article 2- equality of women and Article 16 – legal, cultural, and political rights for women).[17]  It should be noted that scholars do suggest based on various studies that treaty ratification does not necessarily equate to a better record of human rights performance.[18] In the bigger picture however, having such legislation implemented or modeled on a domestic level is important. In March 2013, US President Obama signed in to law the Violence Against Women’s Reauthorization Act (VAWA) which affords various protections for women.[19] One of the landmark items was the passage of provisions which protect Native American women from gaps in the law, which prior to VAWA did not allow them to prosecute perpetrators on reservations. This should be hailed as a major step forward in light of the fact that “federal prosecutors decline[d] to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases” on reservations and that “more than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who [were] immune from prosecution by tribal courts.”[20]

Obligations of the State to provide for women and children

There is no question that the “state has a fundamental duty to protect women from gross/horrible violations of human rights.”[21] Women and children need to be protected from malnutrition, should be given access to means of economic empowerment, and should be safe from trafficking and domestic violence. These tools allow women to have a chance at being equals in society.  In India, the rhetoric of equality for women dates back to 1939.[22] Many probably assume that lesser developed countries are in desperate need of women’s rights laws. However, the 2012 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report indicates that countries such as the Philippines, outranked the USA for protecting women’s rights.[23] In another survey conducted by TrustLaw, which ranked the G20 nations (but only ranked 19 of the 20), the survey found that Canada was more “egalitarian” than its counterparts and ranked China at #14 and India at #19.[24]  These indicators only serve to emphasize that “gender equality furthers the cause of child survival and development for all of society, so the importance of women’s rights and gender equality should not be underestimated.”[25]

Next Steps

Although the Verma report (a must read) is more detailed and more researched than this short article, there comes a time when law and rhetoric should create a perfect storm for action on sexual violence against women and children. It should be an embarrassment to any civilized society that sexual predators and rapists roam free without punishment. As studies continue to indicate, society will pay an ultimate price if women are not considered equal and action is not taken against this kind of violence. From a brief glance at each of these pillars, it is obvious that every single country in the world has a lot of work to do.


[1] Justice Verma passed away on April 22. Justice Verma was well known for his integrity and judicial activism. Read more on his death here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-22260180.  The full report can be found here:  http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/archive/01340/Justice_Verma_Comm_1340438a.pdf

[2] Verma Report, p. 22 para 5

[3] I do not address every single problem that is associated with sexual assault in my post. This article in its limited capacity only seeks to address the large points made in the Verma Report to allow the reader an opportunity to continue the discussion.

[4] CTV News, Judicial Council reviews Sexual Assault Remarks, February 25, 2011, available at: http://www.ctvnews.ca/judicial-council-reviews-judge-s-sex-assault-remark-1.611990

[5] Charnelle van der Bijl and Philip N. S. Rumney, Attitudes, Rape and Law Reform in South Africa, The Journal of Criminal Law, 414-429, (2009).

[6] Dr. Brienes, “She asked for it: the Impact of Rape Myths” Psychology Today,  November 5, 2012, available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201211/she-asked-it-the-impact-rape-myths

[7] Helene Reece, “Too much blame placed on popular prejudices against rape victims for low conviction rates”  LSE March 25, 2013, available at: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2013/03/Too-much-blame-placed-on-popular-prejudices-against-rape-victims-for-low-conviction-rates.aspx

[8] Verma Report, p. 93 para 37

[9] See Honour Based Violence Awareness Network: http://hbv-awareness.com/

[10] Verma Report, p. 93 para 38

[11] Liz Ford, How Kenyan Girls are using the law to fight back against rape, The guardian, December 4, 2012, available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2012/dec/04/kenyan-girls-law-fight-rape

[12] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Honduras: Update to HND32564.E of 15 October 1999 on violence against women, including social, government and police attitudes; whether state protection and redress available to victims of sexual violence is effective and sufficient; the general attitudes of such victims regarding the responsiveness of the state and the corresponding reporting rates; women’s organizations that assist victims of sexual violence, 18 October 2002, HND40207.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f7d4da111.html [accessed 3 May 2013]

[13] Zen Jingyan, “Sexual Assault victims suffer twice in China” Huff Post World, November 3, 2011, available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zeng-jinyan/sexual-assault-china_b_1073693.html

[14] Rafael Romo, “Police Officers in Mexico suspected in alleged rape” CNN February 22, 2013, available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/21/world/americas/mexico-rape-police

[15] IRIN, “Our bodies – their battle ground: gender based violence in conflict zones” September 1, 2004, available at: http://www.irinnews.org/InDepthMain.aspx?InDepthId=20&ReportId=62817

[16] The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, Stop Rape in Burma, accessed on April 26, 2013, available at: http://www.stoprapeinconflict.org/burma

[17] Specific objections from each country can be found here: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/reservations-country.htm

[18] See Eric Neumayer, Do International Human Rights Treaties Improve Respect for Human Rights?, LSE Research Online, (2006) available at: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/612/1/JournalofConflictResolution_49(6).pdf

[19] Jodi Gillette and Charlie Galbrath, “President Signs 2013 VAWA Act – Empowering Tribes to Protect Native Women” The White House blog, March 7, 2013 available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/03/07/president-signs-2013-vawa-empowering-tribes-protect-native-women

[20] Louise Erdrich, “Rape on the Reservation” International Herald Tribune, February 26, 2013, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/opinion/native-americans-and-the-violence-against-women-act.html

[21] Verma Report, para 18

[22] Verma Report, Chapter 1, para 25

[23] Emma Clarke, 10 Countries with Very Surprising Womens Rights Rankings, Policymic, available at: http://www.policymic.com/articles/11804/10-countries-with-very-surprising-women-s-rights-rankings

[24] Katrin Bennhold, “The Best Countries to be a Woman – and the Worst” International Herald Tribune, June 13, 2012, available at: http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/13/the-best-countries-to-be-a-woman-and-the-worst/

[25] Anup Shah, “Womens Rights,” Global Issues, March 14, 2010, available at: http://www.globalissues.org/article/166/womens-rights. The author of this article delves into the various areas and the impact that lagging womens rights will have on each. He also focuses on topics such as the “feminization of poverty” which indicate that women suffer the most economically which has a snowball effect on society.