LGBT Rights: Colonisation and International Human Rights Standards

Written by Garima Tiwari

While 18 countries, home to more than 10 percent of the world’s population, now recognize same-sex marriage, 77 countries still outlaw sodomy.[i]  In seven of these countries, same-sex acts are punishable by death! Just recently, the Supreme Court of India reinstated a sodomy law recriminalizing same-sex relationships in a country home to 1.2 billion people. [ii] Max Fisher says that, “That’s more than the combined populations of the next 20 most-populous countries where same-sex acts are criminalized. If we assume that rates of homosexuality are consistent worldwide, then the number of gay men and women who can be jailed for their sexuality may well have just doubled.”[iii] Continue reading

Undertrials :Sentenced without Conviction

Written by Garima Tiwari


“The laxity with which we throw citizens into prison reflects our lack of appreciation for the tribulation of incarceration; the callousness with which we leave them there reflects our lack of deference for humanity.”[i]    -Supreme Court of India (2013)

The Supreme Court in the above case granted bail to Thana Singh who had been languishing in an Indian prison for more than 12 years, awaiting the commencement of his trial for an offence under the narcotics law.

An undertrial, or a pre-trial detainee denotes an un-convicted prisoner i.e. one who has been detained in prison during the period of investigation, inquiry or trial for the offence she/he is accused to have committed. He is an accused who is assumed to be innocent till proven guilty. He is in custody only to ensure that he appears at court as required or is available to answer questions during investigations. There is no other reason for him to be in prison Undertrials constitute 64.7% of the total prison population in India. There are over 2.41 lakh undertrial prisoners in India.[ii] An extensive investigation across the country has exposed a dark sub-culture thriving in jails across the country, not very different from the murky underworld of organised gangs and criminals. In the absence of proper legal aid, the poor and the vulnerable, especially women and youngsters, unwittingly become part of the sordid system.[iii]

Many prisoners are constrained to languish in prisons because the police do not finish investigation and file the charge-sheet in time. This is a very serious matter because such people remain in prisons without any inkling of a police case against them. Many prisoners remain in prisons for long period because of the delay in trial.

              The grant of bail[iv] is one important remedy available to reduce pre-trial detention. [v] Indian courts have reiterated that the grant of bail should be the rule rather than the exception. Because they are considered to be less likely to abscond or interfere with the investigation, bail provisions in non-bailable offences are more liberal if the accused is under sixteen, a woman, sick or infirm.[vi] Despite sounding fair, the bail provisions and their implementation are highly discriminatory. But the prisoners are unable to serve surety and as has been mentioned in the Legal Aid Committee appointed by the Government of Gujarat noted[vii]:

The bail system causes discrimination against the poor since the poor would not be able to furnish bail on account of their poverty while the wealthier persons otherwise similarly situated would be able to secure their freedom because they can afford to furnish bail.

As the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) noted, pretrial detention can therefore negatively impact the presumption of innocence,[viii] and should be used only as a “last resort.”[ix] States should only detain individuals pending trial where it is absolutely necessary. International and regional human rights instruments are explicit as to the limited circumstances under which pretrial detention is permissible. The UNHRC has stated that,

“bail should be granted, except in situations where the likelihood exists that the accused would abscond or destroy evidence, influence witnesses or flee from the jurisdiction of the state party.”[x]

In criminal proceedings, following the first appearance before a judicial officer, European Court of Human Rights Article 5(1) only permits detention when it is reasonably necessary to prevent further offenses or flight.[xi] Thus, international standards strongly encourage the imposition of noncustodial measures during investigation and trial and at sentencing, and hold that deprivation of liberty should be imposed only when non-custodial measures would not suffice.

Most of those in the Indian prisons are poor, indigent, illiterate or semi-literate. They do not know that they are entitled to free legal aid or that they can be released on personal bond. They therefore, continue to be in jail for long periods. Lack of adequate legal aid and a general lack of awareness about rights of arrestees are principal reasons for the continued detention of individuals accused of bailable offences, where bail is a matter of right and where an order of detention is supposed to be an aberration. [xii]

The overuse of detention is often a symptom of a dysfunctional criminal justice system that may lack protection for the rights of criminal defendants and the institutional capacity to impose, implement, and monitor non-custodial measures and sanctions. It is also often a cause of human rights violations and societal problems associated with an overtaxed detention system. One of the fundamental elements of human rights law which importance grew over time is the concept of “Fair Trial”. Taking this into account, the question rises how far the application of the fair trial rights stretches into the pre trial stage of investigation. Answering this question is far from easy and as Safferling points out correctly, it is by no means obvious what the fair trial concept really encompasses and what the singular rights within this concept really stand for.[xiii]

In India, apart from the Prisoners Act, 1984, there is a Model Prison Manual in place and the various judicial pronouncements have made it clear that prisoners are entitled to human rights, the most important of which is presumption of innocence till proven guilty.

In 1982-83, the All India Jail Reforms Committee under Justice A.N. Mulla came out with suggestions for prison reform. Yet to be implemented, the committee had recommended that undertrial prisoners should be lodged in separate facilities, away from convicted prisoners. It had also called for quick trials, simplification of bail procedures and suggested that bail should be granted to the accused as a matter of right unless the prosecution could prove that releasing the accused on bail endangered the security of society.[xiv]  Another suggestions is that it should be made mandatory for the jail authorities to educate them about their rights and provide them legal aid. The plight of the wrongfully confined prisoners is compounded when jail authorities refuse to release information about them in public domain. One very relevant solution is Section 436A of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code states that the maximum period for which an undertrial prisoner can be detained without being released is not more than 50% of the maximum imprisonment specified for the charge he/she is booked for, except if the offence attracts death as the maximum punishment. According to the law, such prisoners can be released on personal bond if they cannot furnish bail. This provision is hardly used by authorities. Public-spirited citizens and lawyers could also take up these matters. The prison authorities should display the updated information every month on their website and also display hard copies of the information in every prison in a place where prisoners have access.

As Justice P.N Bhagwati, “It is high time that the public conscience is awakened and the government as well as the judiciary begins to realise that in the dark cells of our prisons there are a large number of men and women who are waiting patiently, impatiently perhaps, but in vain, for justice – a commodity which is tragically beyond their reach and grasp.”[xv]


[i] Thana Singh v. Narcotics Bureau of Narcotics (23 January, 201)

[ii] National Crime Recorts Bureau Data 2012 (India)

[iv] The Indian Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 does not define the term “bail” although offences are classified as bailable and non-bailable.

[v] The main bail and bonds provisions are provided in Chapter XXXIII of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code.

[vi] Handbook of Human Rights and Criminal Justice in India, by South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2007, p. 62.

[vii]Report of the Legal Aid Committee appointed by the Government of Gujarat, 1971 (headed by Justice P.N. Bhagwati) (p. 185)

[viii] Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Argentina, CCPR/CO/70/ARG (2000), para. 10.

[ix] United Nations Minimum Rules of Non-Custodial Measures, Principle 6.1

[x]  Hill v. Spain, Communication No. 526/1993, para. 12.3.

[xi] Council of Europe, Recommendation (2006)13 on the Use of Remand in Custody, the Conditions in which it takes place and the Provision of Safeguards against Abuse, para. 6.

[xiii] SAFFERLING,CHRISTOPH J. Towards an International Criminal Procedure, Oxford 2001 p.26

[xv] Hussainara Khatoon and Others v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar AIR 1979 SC 1360.

Smuggling of Migrants: A Search for New Land, New Home, New Life.

Written by Garima Tiwari
In this picture, victims of human smuggling are intercepted along the Southern border of the United States of America. Photo credit/Wordpress

In this picture, victims of human smuggling are intercepted along the Southern border of the United States of America. Photo credit/Wordpress

On May 16th, 2013 Ecuador smashed a ring that smuggled immigrants from India and Sri Lanka into the US through Ecuador. Among the six people were arrested including three Indian nationals and two members of Ecuador’s immigration police. They brought in nationals from India and Sri Lanka, and arranged refuge for them in various hotels. The smugglers charged USD 5000 per person and after entering Ecuador illegally, the migrants would be sent to Central America and from there to the United States.[i]   Continue reading

Children as Victims of Trafficking in India

Written by Garima Tiwari

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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:


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. (

[i] Police Rescue Indian baby allegedly sold on facebook, April 24, 2013 available at

[ii] Jason Overdorf, Indian Chilld Trafficking on the Rise, May 5, 2013 available at

[iv] Child Trafficking in India available at

[v] Darker Side of India: Child Trafficking on the Rise,27th March 2013, available at

[vi] Rashmi Drolia,Child Trafficking: 38 Children Rescued from Railway Station, 15th March 2013,available at

[viii] Prabha Kotiswaran, India has to rethink human trafficking, The Hindu Business Line, march 27th 2012, available at

[ix] Anusree Garg, Anti Trafficking Legislation Inadequately Combatting Sex Trafficking in India, March 2013, The Human Rights Brief, available at The Human Rights Brief,

[x] India Prohibits All forms of Trafficking, March 21st, 2013, Bachpan Bachao Andolan available at

[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:  The full report can be found here:

[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:

[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:

[7] Helene Reece, “Too much blame placed on popular prejudices against rape victims for low conviction rates”  LSE March 25, 2013, available at:

[8] Verma Report, p. 93 para 37

[9] See Honour Based Violence Awareness Network:

[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:

[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: [accessed 3 May 2013]

[13] Zen Jingyan, “Sexual Assault victims suffer twice in China” Huff Post World, November 3, 2011, available at:

[14] Rafael Romo, “Police Officers in Mexico suspected in alleged rape” CNN February 22, 2013, available at:

[15] IRIN, “Our bodies – their battle ground: gender based violence in conflict zones” September 1, 2004, available at:

[16] The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, Stop Rape in Burma, accessed on April 26, 2013, available at:

[17] Specific objections from each country can be found here:

[18] See Eric Neumayer, Do International Human Rights Treaties Improve Respect for Human Rights?, LSE Research Online, (2006) available at:

[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:

[20] Louise Erdrich, “Rape on the Reservation” International Herald Tribune, February 26, 2013, available at:

[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:

[24] Katrin Bennhold, “The Best Countries to be a Woman – and the Worst” International Herald Tribune, June 13, 2012, available at:

[25] Anup Shah, “Womens Rights,” Global Issues, March 14, 2010, available at: 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.