Tag Archive | "Rape"

And the Indian government is recognizing that indeed it does.

Rape and Murder in India a Wake-Up Call for Reform

It’s ironic that in India – which proudly proclaims a rich, ancient heritage and where the very symbol for strength and power in ancient scriptures is female (Shakti) – women today are struggling for a safe and dignified environment.

I was visiting India when a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, a victim of a brutal sexual assault in New Delhi in mid-December, was clinging to life in a hospital. She had been raped and severely beaten aboard a moving bus and eventually thrown out of the bus to die. Two weeks later, she succumbed to her internal injuries.

Police arrested five men accused of this heinous crime. They face rape, kidnapping and murder charges.

And the Indian government is recognizing that indeed it does. (Dawn)

And the Indian government is recognizing that indeed it does.

Typically in India, sexual crimes receive only cursory attention. They therefore go unreported and trials drag on forever. But this time there was extensive media coverage and unprecedented outrage all over the country. It seemed like a wake-up call, which led to peaceful demonstrations, especially by young people demanding an expedited trial, reform of outdated criminal laws, and effective implementation and enforcement of existing laws.

I was taken aback by the government’s initial response: Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds, primarily college students. Law enforcement authorities barricaded roads and imposed emergency measures to crush the largely peaceful protests.

I was equally struck by the intensity of anger and resolve among my relatives and friends. My nephew and niece in New Delhi and their families were out on the streets with the protesters, a first-ever for them. New Year’s Eve, usually marked with joyous festivities, was a sober candlelight vigil, where several thousands gathered to remember and honor the victim. A similar scenario was witnessed all over India.

Day after day, the protests continued. Political leaders, who typically lead demonstrations and protests in India, were conspicuous in their absence. People were so angry at the politicians for their lack of sensitivity that when the chief minister of Delhi eventually showed up at a gathering after a few days, she was shouted down and had to leave. Public pressure mounted, forcing the government to act. The Home Ministry appointed a three-member commission, chaired by a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of India. The commission received more than 8o,000 suggestions for reforms to the criminal justice system.

The commission called for strict enforcement of sexual assault laws and tougher jail terms for offenders. It urged the legislature to amend the country’s antiquated criminal code and recommended specific changes, including requiring police officers to register every case of·precluding people charged with criminal offenses from holding political office. To expedite these and future sex-offense trials, the government has established special “fast-track” courts.

Mahalakshmi Mahalingam, a social worker who formerly managed a 24-hour rape crisis hot line for the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program in Denver, lamented that “in India, victim blaming is the norm. The current situation bears testimony to how bitter and enraged women are about sexual abuse, coercion and rape.”

The night before India’s Republic Day, which celebrates the enactment of its constitution, President Pranab Mukherjee described the Delhi attack as a “grave tragedy that has shattered complacency.” He called for the nation “to reset its moral compass.”

Eve Ensler, founder of the One Billion Rising campaign, which addresses violence against women, said at a press conference in Delhi, “With the discussion on sexual violence, the window to women’s equality is open wider here than I’ve ever seen.” I hope she’s right.

Ved P. Nanda is Thompson G. Marsh Professor of Law and director of the International Law Program at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

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Women throughout India say that their gender makes them vulnerable to attacks. (New York Times)

Critical Analysis: Gang Rape Brings India’s Sexual Assault and Rape Laws Under Scrutiny


Women throughout India say that their gender makes them vulnerable to attacks. (New York Times)

Women throughout India say that their gender makes them vulnerable to attacks. (New York Times)

On Sunday, December 16, 2012, in New Delhi, six men gang raped and brutally beat a 23-year old female university student resulting in her death. These events re-ignited an ongoing debate concerning India’s sexual assault and rape laws. The Indian government indicated that in 2011 they received more than 220,000 reports of violent crimes against women. However, government officials suspect that the actual number may be much higher. Women hope that this unfortunate incident will bring stiffer penalties to deter future rapes and assaults.

New Delhi authorities charged five of the six suspects with murder and several others offenses. They are investigating whether the sixth suspect is under the age of 18 and, therefore, a juvenile under New Delhi law. Although the crimes committed are punishable by death, India has been slow to execute prisoners. Currently India has hundreds of prisoners on death row. Groups such as Amnesty International, a non-governmental human rights organization, insist that the death penalty is not the solution. They face an uphill battle as citizens are outraged at the treatment of Indian women and demand an immediate overhaul of laws regarding rape and assault.

Numerous international lawmakers consider India’s laws governing rape to be narrowly defined and rooted in tradition. In many cases, it makes the possibility of conviction unlikely. The law lacks clear and concise sentencing guidelines and provides for a judge’s discretionary judgment in sentencing. Lawmakers have expressed frustration with evidentiary matters during court proceedings. The lack of sufficient evidence has a tendency to transform the trial into a battle of the genders where the men often win. Given the issues outlined, it is not surprising that the lawyer of three of the suspects charged urged them to plead not guilty.

In representing the accused, Manohar Lal Sharma stated, “[w]e are only hearing what the police are saying. This is manipulated evidence. It’s all on the basis of hearsay and presumption.” This accusation of manipulating the evidence outraged many of India’s citizens because a companion of the victim witnessed the entire attack and suffered injuries while pleading with the six individuals to stop. Further,a DNA test confirmed that the victim’s blood matched the blood found on the clothing of the accused. In response to the DNA findings, two defendants offered to testify against the others in exchange for a lighter sentence.

The out-pour of support from around the world serves as a glimmer of hope for women in India. Although they know that the process is gradual, they are optimistic that the future will bring change. The government formed a panel of legal experts charged with the task of reviewing suggested amendments to India’s rape and assault laws. The suggestions include sentencing guidelines, harsher prison sentences, and chemical castration. Either way, India needs a definitive definition of rape and sexual assault. Hopefully these preventative changes come in time because even after this horrific incident, another Indian woman was gang raped by seven men.   

Tausha Riley is a 2L at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.


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Sources: CNN, U.S. State Department, The Chronicle of Higher Education

News Post: Afghan Rape Victim can be Pardoned if she Marries her Attacker

Sources: CNN, U.S. State Department, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Sources: CNN, U.S. State Department, The Chronicle of Higher Education

An Afghan woman, 21 year-old Gulnaz, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for adultery because she was raped by a man who was married to her cousin.  In Afghanistan, a rape victim can be charged with and convicted of adultery if the rapist is married at the time of the attack.

The rape took place two years ago, and Gulnaz conceived a child as a result of the attack.  The authorities are allowing Gulnaz to raise her young daughter in prison.  Gulnaz has agreed to marry her attacker in order to legitimize her daughter and be released from prison early.

In addition to adultery, Gulnaz is also serving time for “failing to report the rape in a timely manner,” which carries a separate penalty that requires additional jail time under the Afghan criminal code.

Gulnaz had few options after she discovered that she was impregnated by her attacker.  Michele Goodwin of The Chronicle explains, “Had Gulnaz remained silent, she might have brought dishonor on her family for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  That could have resulted in murder—an illegal, but nonetheless customary practice in dealing with women who “dishonor” their families.”

A spokesman for the Afghan Attorney General, Rahmatullah Naziri, told CNN that Gulnaz’s sentence was reduced to three years, leaving one year left for her to serve before she will be released and allowed to marry her attacker.

The barbaric nature of Gulnaz’s options after her rape and pregnancy have not been lost on the international community. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai received a petition on Sunday calling for the immediate release of Gulnaz.  Nearly 5,000 people had signed the petition in just 48 hours, yet Karzai has not acknowledged the petition.

The U.S. State Department acknowledged Gulnaz’s awful predicament, and made a statement last Thursday:

“Gulnaz’s situation is one no woman should have to face. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Gulnaz and her young daughter.  The Law for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was a major advancement for the rights of women in Afghanistan; but without full training and implementation, situations such as this one will continue to occur. We expect Afghan prosecutors to properly apply the law while also upholding Gulnaz’s rights.”

The effectiveness of The Law for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the face of such a blatant and violent attack on an Afghan woman remains to be seen.

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Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

The First Family of Genocide

The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued its judgment earlier this summer in the case of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko et al.

The Rwanda Tribunal has been working for 17 years and it has completed 50 genocide trials. Its judgments are now issued with comparatively little fanfare. But the Nyiramasuhuko judgment is extraordinary and merits a closer look.

Nyiramasuhuko, often referred to as simply “Pauline”, is first woman at the Rwanda Tribunal to be charged with genocide and the only women ever to be convicted. Pauline’s case concerned the town of Butare in Rwanda, a University town whose mayor bravely resisted the national government’s unfolding genocidal plans providing a safe harbor to thousands of desperate Tutsis. Nyiramasuhuko was instrumental in having the mayor sacked and later murdered to pave the way for the killing. She then proceeded to be a pivotal figure in the massacre of thousands of Tutsi refugees.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

Nyiramasuhuko was the first woman to be convicted of rape as an act of genocide. After the genocide but prior to her arrest, she was interviewed by the BBC in a Congolese refugee camp in 1995. She told the BBC she was not involved in the killings: “I couldn’t even kill a chicken. If there is a person who says that a woman, a mother, could have killed, I’ll tell you truly then I am ready to confront that person.” It turns out, this woman and mother not only had many Tutsis killed based on her direct orders but also ordered many women to be raped.

Nyiramasuhuko was the Minister of Women’s Development in Rwanda. Nyiramasuhuko held a Ministerial post in the extremist Rwandan government. It was cruel irony that the Minister of Women’s Development so brazenly ordered women to be raped and machete’d to death.

Nyiramasuhuko was convicted of conspiracy to commit genocide. The Nyiramasuhuko case was one of the rare cases where a Rwandan Trial Chamber issued a conviction on the conspiracy mode of liability. More often than not, Trial Chambers have not been persuaded by the evidence offered by the prosecution that an agreement to commit genocide existed. Only the Nazis wrote down their explicit genocidal plans, for the other genocides the evidence of conspiracy tends to be circumstantial. In Pauline’s case, however, the Trial Chamber found that the evidence clearly established Pauline audaciously conspired with her son and others to eliminate the Tutsi in Butare.

Nyiramasuhuko was the first person to be convicted for committing genocide with a son. The one thing you can say in Pauline’s favor is that she had a close-knit family. One of Pauline’s co-defendants was her son, Shalom Ntahobali. Evidence at trial established that Pauline ordered her son to abduct and rape Tutsi women. And being a good son, he complied.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law