Tag: south asia

Insufficient rape laws across South Asia increase risk of sexual violence: Report

Photo- Human Rights Watch

By SAT News Desk

NEW DELHI/MELBOURNE, April 21, 2021: It is not uncommon in South Asia when a sexual violence victim woman does not report the case and it vanishes in thin air. In fact, women and families desist from going to a police station for fear of victim-blaming or massive delays in the criminal justice system.

A recent Jirgha (community panel) deal in Pakistan pushed a family to forgive culprits for parading a girl naked, reports voicepk.net. The case had garnered media attention when Sharifan Bibi had filed a petition in the Peshawar High Court in 2017, where she narrated her ordeal and accused the local police of collusion with the suspects. A rape victim in a recent case in India was asked to marry her alleged rapist.

A new report reveals how laws on rape in South Asian countries are insufficient, inconsistent, and not systematically enforced, putting women and girls at heightened risk of sexual violence. Survivors and victims’ families frequently face further victimization, resulting in extremely low reporting rates for rape, long delays within the criminal justice system, and withdrawal of cases.

Released jointly by international women’s rights organization Equality Now and Dignity Alliance International, ‘Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors’, focuses on six countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, India, and Sri Lanka – and calls on their governments to take urgent action to address sexual violence, improve access to justice for survivors, and end impunity for perpetrators.

Analysis of country-specific laws and policies relating to sexual violence found that in the six South Asian countries examined there are gaps in laws, failures in implementation, and governments are not fulfilling their commitments and obligations in international law regarding the protection and promotion of women and girls’ human rights.
In-depth discussions carried out by researchers with focus groups, survivors, activists, and lawyers identified numerous obstacles faced by sexual violence survivors. For the small minority who do manage to file police complaints, it is only the start of a long and arduous quest to access justice.

Impediments include:
● Conviction rates for rape are extremely low across throughout South Asia – in Bangladesh, it is only around 3%;

● Long delays in police investigations, medical examinations, prosecutions, and trials are common; 

● Reports of police officers refusing to file complaints or failing to investigate allegations are widespread; in four countries – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka – survivors and other stakeholders spoke about the challenge of justice system officials being susceptible to bribery and corruption;

● In rape cases, overly burdensome or discriminatory evidence is required; for example, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka all permit evidence about the sexual history of rape victims; this is based on patriarchal assumptions that only “chaste” and “moral” women and girls can be raped;

● In India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, the “two-finger test” – an unscientific, intrusive, and retraumatizing vaginal examination performed on the wrongful premise that it can determine a victim’s sexual experience and which is often used to imply that she is lying – is conducted in medical examinations of women and girls who have been raped;

● Rape survivors and their families frequently face extreme pressure to withdraw criminal complaints and stay silent; this includes being forced into informal community mediation and subjected to social stigma, victim-blaming, threats, bribery, and retaliation including loss of employment, eviction, and further violence;

● Survivors are coerced into dropping legal cases and accepting extra-legal settlements or compromises with perpetrators – in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal over 60% of survivors interviewed reported facing pressure to settle or compromise their case; in various instances, survivors did not receive the compensation promised under these extra-legal agreements;  

● Marital rape is not criminalized in Bangladesh, Maldives, India, and Sri Lanka; legally permitting impunity for rape within marriage treats women as the property of their husbands and takes away their rights over their own body;

● Quality support services for survivors are lacking, with minimal access to safe houses, counseling or other types of psychosocial care; poor provision of victim and witness protection schemes puts survivors and their families at risk of coercion and further harm;

● Survivors of sexual violence from socially excluded communities face even greater barriers to accessing justice as a consequence of caste, tribal, ethnic, or religious prejudice and persecution; while India and Nepal have passed specific laws aimed at preventing and redressing discrimination against certain socially excluded communities, more work is needed by all governments in the region to address this intersectional discrimination.

Report co-author Divya Srinivasan, a human rights lawyer and Legal Advisor for Equality Now, says: “Our research reveals how governments across South Asia need to take urgent action to provide women and girls with better protection against sexual violence and end widespread impunity for perpetrators. This requires closing gaps in-laws, addressing flaws in criminal justice systems, and investing in holistic responses to ensure access to justice and support for survivors.”

The report calls on South Asian countries to implement comprehensive and inclusive measures that effectively address sexual and gender-based violence. This includes:

● Addressing protection gaps in the law
● Improving police responses to cases of sexual violence
● Ensuring survivor-friendly medical examinations in rape cases
● Improving prosecution procedures and trials of sexual offenses
● Designing and funding holistic interventions to improve access to justice for survivors
● Reviewing laws and policies to ensure the specific needs of all marginalized communities are met

Evlyn Samuel, the report co-author from Dignity Alliance International, says: “The report reveals a multitude of barriers that survivors of sexual violence experience at different levels while accessing the criminal justice system across these countries. This calls for a dire need on the part of governments to adopt a more comprehensive, gender-sensitive approach in addressing issues of sexual violence against women and girls to bring systemic and transformative changes.”

Bangladesh police arrest children for Facebook posts


By Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director, Human Rights Watch

Displaying absolute intolerance for peaceful criticism, Bangladesh authorities have arrested hundreds of people, including journalists, for criticizing or satirizing the country’s ruling party and its leaders. Even children have not been spared for posting anything to social media that could be interpreted as criticism of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed.

On March 20, authorities arrested a child for posting a video online “defaming” Sheikh Hasina and her foreign minister, as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

One day earlier, police arrested an 18-year-old for posting a caricature of the prime minister on social media. Last year, authorities arrested a child for “defaming” the prime minister after a local ruling party politician said the boy had “badmouthed…our mother-like leader” on Facebook.

These arrests have all come under the highly problematic Digital Security Act (DSA), a vague law passed in 2018 granting law enforcement the power to arrest anyone accused of posting information online which, for example, “ruins communal harmony,” “causes confusion,” or “injures religious feelings.”

Those arrested have been held in pre-trial detention for long periods, even facing physical abuse as punishment. Cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, released on bail after months in jail, told the media he was beaten so badly during interrogation, his eardrum burst. Security forces showed him his drawings on a projector and asked him, “‘Who did you draw? Did you draw the prime minister?’” he said.

Mushtaq Ahmed, a dissident writer, was arrested in May 2020 for posting on Facebook that healthcare workers needed more personal protective equipment. He died in custody after he had been held in pretrial detention for nine months, during which it has been credibly alleged he was tortured.

These abuses violate the fundamental right to free expression and flout public health guidance to cease arrests and release all children in detention due to the pandemic. Prime Minister Hasina should bring an end to this now and publicly direct the police to stop punishing children — or anyone else — for criticizing her or other government officials.

Source- hrw.org (Under Creative Commons Licence), March 24, 2021

Indian Govt – ‘Freedom House’ lock horns over demotion from “Free’ to ‘Partly Free’ status


By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 6 March 2021: America’s leading think tank, Freedom House, in a recent world report said India has become from a ‘Free’ country to a ‘Partly Free’ country. It categorizes countries as ‘Free’, ‘Partly Free’, and ‘Not Free’. In fact, India now rubs shoulders with almost all South Asian countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Nepal) as ‘Partly Free’. Afghanistan is ‘Not Free’, the report says. India has rejected the new categorization in 7 point-by-point rebuttals. (See below link)

Its media release on March 3 says, ” The report found that the share of countries designated Not Free has reached its highest level since the deterioration of democracy began in 2006 and that countries with declines in political rights and civil liberties outnumbered those with gains by the largest margin recorded during the 15-year period. The report downgraded the freedom scores of 73 countries, representing 75 percent of the global population. Those affected include not just authoritarian states like China, Belarus, and Venezuela, but also troubled democracies like the United States and India.

In one of the year’s most significant developments, India’s status changed from Free to Partly Free, meaning less than 20 percent of the world’s people now live in a Free country—the smallest proportion since 1995. Indians’ political rights and civil liberties have been eroding since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014. His Hindu nationalist government has presided over increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks—including lynchings—aimed at Muslims. The decline deepened following Modi’s reelection in 2019, and the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 featured further abuses of fundamental rights.

The changes in India formed part of a broader shift in the international balance between democracy and authoritarianism, with authoritarians generally enjoying impunity for their abuses and seizing new opportunities to consolidate power or crush dissent. In many cases, promising democratic movements faced major setbacks as a result.”


This has perturbed the Indian government into saying the Freedom House classification is “misleading, incorrect and misplaced”. An MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava quoted in a wire. in report said, “The political judgments of Freedom House are as inaccurate and distorted as their maps. For example on the COVID-19 situation, there is a widespread appreciation in the world of our response, of our high recovery rate, and of our low fatality rate. India has robust institutions and well-established democratic practices. We do not need sermons especially from those who cannot get their basics right.”


South Asia dogged with poor health facilities, erosion of democratic rights: Report


By our Representative

A recent report by multinational advocacy groups, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Bangkok, and South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE), Kathmandu, “Human Rights in South Asia in Times of Pandemic”, has expressed concern that lack of basic health infrastructure has been one of the main reasons why the countries in the region are unable to fight Covid-19 crisis effectively.
Quoting data, the report says, “Bangladesh has 112 ICU beds and 400 ventilators for a population of about 165 million. Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, has a bed-to-population ratio of less than one per 1,000 when the recommended average by the World Health Organization (WHO) is five per 1,000.”
Pointing out that “the WHO also mandates a doctor to a population of 1:1000, while in India it is 1:1,404”, the report states, “For people living in rural areas and completely dependent on government healthcare facilities, the doctor to patient ratio is abysmally low with 1:10,926.”
The report believes, “In South Asia faces public health challenges on a demographic and geographic scale that is unmatched in the world. The majority of the people depend on the public health system. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are home to nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, with two-thirds of the world’s population living on less than USD 1/day, and have high infant mortality rates.”
Noting that things have worsened because of “the present condition of poor access to improved water and sanitation, poor maternal health and poor access to healthcare services”, the report says, “South Asian countries spend less than 3.2 percent of their GDP on health. As a consequence, South Asian countries do not have the capacity to protect the lives of people if Covid-19 spreads widely.”
In fact, the report says, instead of treating people humanely, South Asian states are using the current public health crisis “as a pretext to infringe upon people’s rights by imposing on their fundamental freedoms and civic space.”
It says, “There has been an increase in the use of fake news; abuse of security forces; arrests, fines, detentions; abusive acts against doctors by the community people, killings, racist behavior, increased violations and abuses against the freedom of expression through the controlling of digital spaces of human rights defenders.”
The report says, “Several South Asian countries have controlled the flow of public information in order to contain fear and skepticism related to the virus and the devastation that it may bring. The diversity of responses from South Asian countries shows a disproportionate and uncoordinated approach in the region despite the creation of the Covid-19 Emergency Fund.”
Thus, “The governments of India and Pakistan have used repressive laws to control the flow of information and misinformation in an attempt to mute peoples’ legitimate expressions of doubt and queries in relation to the actual situation of Covid-19 within their country. This has led to increased speculation and misinformation about Covid-19.”

Based on virtual interaction with experts across the region, the report quotes John Samuel, President of the National Centre for Advocacy Studies in India, as especially objecting to “a new kind of legitimacy of state apparatus because of insecurity and sense of fear in the society”, adding, “Although Covid-19 is a public health emergency, it seems to of had the effect of a political emergency.”
Objecting to the use of the ‘war’ metaphor, the expert states, it “is generally used to promote or incite nationalistic and jingoistic feelings, that has been applied in the response to Covid-19 throughout South Asia. It has allowed the police and security forces, including the armed forces, more power than ever before and has allowed them to enforce lockdowns.”
The report quotes Pradeep More, deputy director, Dalit Foundation, India, raising concerns regarding Dalit women and children, who, he believes, “will now be facing extreme marginalization due to ‘social distancing’.” Objecting to the term ‘social distancing’, he said, instead, ‘physical distancing’ should be used, noting, Dalits in India “have long been considered ‘untouchables’ and have been facing social distancing for a long time.”

Source- counterview.net, December 6, 2020.

Pakistan seeks to ‘control digital media’ amid anti-government protests


Representatives of tech companies and human rights groups and civil society have expressed concerns over the Pakistani government’s plan to access users’ data and remove “objectionable” digital material. S Khan reports.

Pakistani authorities earlier this month approved a draft policy, called the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 or the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), triggering a backlash from rights groups and tech companies.

Critics say that Prime Minister Imran Khan is seeking to control the digital space to prevent criticism against his government and the country’s powerful military.

The Asia Internet Coalition, an association of leading internet and technology companies, wrote a letter to PM Khan on October 6, expressing its concern over his government’s measures. The coalition includes companies like Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, Cloudflare, Expedia Group, Facebook, Google, SAP, Grab, LinkedIn, LINE, Rakuten, Twitter, Yahoo (Verizon Media), and Booking.com.

Although the AIC complained about the lack of consultation on Islamabad’s digital policies, a report published by Dawn newspaper claims that the government also wants to gain access to users’ data apart from forcing the companies to shift their servers to Pakistan and remove “objectionable” content within a specified time.

Pakistan’s Minister for Information Technology, Syed Amin ul Haq, told DW that Pakistan is an emerging market for digital business and that the government would not do anything to hamper its growth.

“It is not true that stakeholders were not taken into confidence over the policy. We formed a committee in February to consult with all stakeholders. In September, the policy was approved by the Law and Justice Ministry, and by the Cabinet on October 6,” Haq said.

A violation of fundamental rights

“The policy seeks to remove provocative, anti-state, anti-army, anti-judiciary, obscene contents and hate materials. The companies will be required to appoint a focal person three months after the policy comes into force because we need to talk to someone if we have any complaint. Also, any company with more than 500,000 users must get itself registered with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority,” Haq explained.

Opposition parties and civil society organizations say the government’s new digital policy is aimed at muzzling dissenting voices.

“We believe the government would use it to block (former prime minister) Nawaz Sharif speeches. It is alarming that the authorities are bent on violating citizens’ fundamental rights,” Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan, an opposition politician belonging to Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, told DW.

Khan said the government is signatory to many international agreements that guarantee the freedom of expression and privacy of individuals. “Does the government want to send a message to the international community that it is ready to violate these agreements? If it is the case, Pakistan will have to face consequences.”

Nighat Dad, executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation, says she will stop using social media if the servers are shifted to Pakistan. “Because I won’t be sure in what way my data would be used. The localization of servers is possible in countries where the data protection regime is very strong. I do not think it is the case in our country where malwares were used in 2011 to spy on people’s data,” she told DW.

Social media momentum against the government

Opposition against Imran Khan’s government and the military is growing in Pakistan. An alliance of opposition parties are holding anti-government rallies across the country, with former PM Sharif making fiery speeches from the UK, where he is currently in exile.

Sharif’s speeches are banned on mainstream media channels, although they are making rounds on social media all over the country.

“The government has controlled all local channels and newspapers, but it is still being criticized on social media. That is why the authorities want to control the digital media,” Asad Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told DW.

M. Zia Uddin, a Pakistani journalist, says that big tech companies are unlikely to shift their servers to Pakistan. “Pakistani businesses benefit from the presence of high-tech companies. If the government pushes them against the wall, they might pull out their businesses, which would harm the country’s economy,” he told DW.

‘Fake news’ and ‘campaign against the army’

Amjad Shoaib, a retired army general and defense analyst, says the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 would stop people from carrying out smear campaigns on social media against army generals and state institutions.

“A social media user accused me of acquiring land illegally, which is a completely baseless claim. Similarly, I also read on social media that two generals who opposed the army chief were detained. Again, fake news. Other countries censor this kind of content, so why shouldn’t Pakistan do the same?” Shoaib said.

The ex-general also slammed those who are opposing the shifting of servers to Pakistan. “They did it in India and the US. Why can’t they do it for Pakistan as well?”

Source- dw.com