India Supreme Court orders state government to compensate rape survivor
October 01, 2019
India’s Supreme Court on Monday directed the state government of Gujarat to pay 5 million Indian rupees (US$ 70,000) in two weeks as compensation to Bilkis Bano, a 40-year-old woman who was raped by a mob during an anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002.
In April the court had ordered the Gujarat government to compensate Bano monetarily. It had also instructed the state to give her government employment and a house in a locality of her choosing. This is the highest compensation ever given to a rape survivor in India.
The Gujarat government had initially promised to follow the apex court’s order but told a three-judge bench on Monday that it intended to file a review petition. The bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, gave the state two weeks to comply with the decision.
Bilkis Bano was raped and 14 members of her family, including her 3-year-old daughter, were murdered in March 2002 when a lynch mob attacked a Muslim community in Gujarat’s Dahod district. Bano faced an uphill battle for justice as the state police allegedly refused to cooperate with her and suppressed evidence. After police dismissed the case against her assailants, she approached the National Human Rights Commission of India and petitioned the Supreme Court seeking a reinvestigation. The Supreme Court directed a federal agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to carry out an investigation, following which the case was transferred outside of Gujarat.
In 2005 a special court in the state of Maharashtra indicted 19 individuals, including police officers, for rape and suppressing evidence. In January 2008, 11 people were sentenced to life imprisonment on multiple counts of rape and murder, and a policeman was convicted of falsifying evidence. Seven others were acquitted.
In 2017 the Bombay High Court upheld the trial court’s decision partially by affirming terms of life imprisonment given to the 11 individuals convicted. The court also set aside the acquittal of the remaining seven accused in the case, including Gujarat police officers and doctors of a government hospital, who were convicted of suppressing evidence.
Tajikistan: Barriers to Aid for Domestic Violence Victims
Source: Human Rights Watch
September 19, 2019
Tajikistan’s government takes little action to investigate or prosecute domestic violence cases and is doing far too little to help survivors, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Despite progress in some areas, Tajik law does not criminalize domestic violence, and women who experience abuse lack adequate protection and access to shelter and other services.
Senior researcher Steve Swerdlow talks about domestic violence in Tajikistan, and how oftentimes no one – from the police, to judges, to their own families – will help victims.
The 93-page report, “‘Violence with Every Step’: Weak State Response to Domestic Violence in Tajikistan,” documents obstacles to help and justice for domestic abuse survivors. Despite laws that guarantee survivors’ rights to protection and social services, Human Rights Watch found ongoing gaps in police and judicial responses to domestic violence, including refusing to investigate complaints, failing to issue or enforce protection orders, and treating domestic violence as a minor offense. Human Rights Watch also released a video with domestic violence survivors describing the hurdles they faced when trying to get protection.
“The response to domestic violence victims in Tajikistan often leaves them in danger,” said Steve Swerdlow, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Officials are ignoring their obligations to enforce Tajikistan’s law on domestic violence.”
The Tajik government takes little action to investigate or prosecute domestic violence cases and is doing far too little to help survivors.
A 2013 law on preventing domestic violence led to important measures, such as awareness-raising campaigns and staffing of some police stations with specially trained female police inspectors. But survivors, lawyers, and service providers report that police often ignore the law, and that victims lack adequate protection from abuse and access to shelters.
Underreporting and insufficient data collection make it difficult to assess the scale of domestic violence in Tajikistan, but local and international groups report that it is commonplace. In 2016, United Nations Women, the UN agency that champions gender equality, reported that domestic abuse affects at least one in five women and girls throughout the country, drawing on government statistics. In November 2018, the UN committee that oversees implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women expressed concern that domestic violence in Tajikistan is “widespread but underreported” and that, along with marital rape and sexual assault, it is not criminalized.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 80 people, including 55 female domestic violence survivors from the country. Human Rights Watch also interviewed police, lawyers, shelter and crisis center staff members, government officials, service providers, and representatives of the UN, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and other international organizations with projects on violence against women.
The Tajik government had not responded to requests for information regarding the implementation of the 2013 domestic violence law or provided any comment on the findings.
Women interviewed reported enduring years of abuse, usually by husbands or partners, including rape, stabbing, strangulation, and beatings with sharp and heavy objects such as a shovel, a fireplace poker, an iron, and a chair. They said abusers deprived them of food, clothing, and access to toilets or the kitchen. Women said the violence caused injuries, including internal bleeding and damage to vital organs, concussions, skull fractures, broken jaws, and severe bruises, as well as symptoms of trauma and emotional distress.
“After he beat me, I narrowly escaped and went to the city prosecutor’s office covered in blood,” said a 28-year-old woman who endured four years of spousal abuse and rape. But as she tried to report the violence, she said the prosecutor interrupted, saying, “Aren’t you yourself to blame?” He called her husband, exposing her whereabouts, and told her, “Everything will work out fine. Go home.”
Tajikistan’s domestic violence law allows police and courts to issue temporary or long-term protection orders to prohibit abuse or bar contact between the abuser and the victim. However, many survivors said that the police never informed them about protection orders or failed to enforce the orders or penalize abusers who violated them. Abusers are rarely prosecuted or brought to justice, Human Rights Watch found.
“Those responsible for domestic violence should be brought to justice,” Swerdlow said. “Without accountability, abusers are sent a message that domestic violence is acceptable.”
Survivors also face a dire lack of services. Tajikistan has only four specialized shelters for domestic violence survivors for a population of nearly nine million people, far short of the minimum called for in international standards. Nongovernmental groups provide most of the available services. Although Tajikistan has a network of state-supported women’s resource centers throughout the country, qualified psychosocial and mental health counselors are virtually nonexistent, and there is almost no legal assistance for survivors, including for property division following divorce.
Survivors and activists said that even in women’s resource centers and shelters, most available counseling focuses on reconciling survivors with their abusers rather than ensuring protection, services, and accountability for serious ongoing violence. Women said they were often encouraged to return to abusive relationships and continued to experience violence.
Other barriers include financial dependence on abusers and fear of losing custody of their children. Many women said they remained in abusive relationships or tried to reconcile with abusive husbands who had abandoned them because they and their children would otherwise go hungry.
In Tajikistan, where wives usually live with their in-laws, housing options, even after divorce, are extremely limited. A provision of Tajik law known as vseleniie means that courts often order that a divorced woman and her children be allocated a portion of the home of her former in-laws and husband in which to reside. Vseleniie has placed many women and survivors of abuse in even more precarious situations where they are exposed to continuing risks of violence.
Other harmful practices that can heighten the risk of domestic violence include polygamy and unregistered, forced, and child marriages, even though the government has raised the marriage age to 18 and taken steps to ensure that couples register their marriages with the state.
The Tajik government should amend the domestic violence law to explicitly criminalize domestic violence, Human Rights Watch said. It should ensure that police, prosecutors, and judges issue and enforce protection orders and investigate and prosecute domestic violence. Officials who fail to do so should be disciplined.
The government should also support shelter, health, psychosocial, and legal services for survivors, including by expanding legal aid and domestic violence shelters. The government should amend the vseleniie provision and develop longer-term housing options for vulnerable segments of the population, including domestic violence survivors.
Tajikistan’s international partners, including international aid agencies, should press the Tajik government to criminalize domestic violence. They should also offer further assistance for shelters, affordable longer-term housing, and other services for victims of domestic violence.
“The Tajikistan authorities’ priority should be protecting women from abuse, not pressuring them to return to unsafe environments,” Swerdlow said. “Tajikistan should ensure that domestic violence is investigated and prosecuted, and that there are shelters and other services available to keep women safe.”
Refugee rights groups file lawsuit against new asylum rule
July 17, 2019
The American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of refugee resettlement organizations and civil rights centers in California against Attorney General William Barr and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan arguing that a new rule barring non-citizens who transit through another country on their way to the US from seeking asylum violates the Administrative Procedure Act(APA) and the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
The new rule was immediately issued—both created and set to go into effect on Tuesday—which the suit argues is a violation of the required procedural steps of the APA.
The complaint also cites the INA as its basis for relief—specifically, where it declares that a non-citizen is ineligible for asylum in the US only if she “was firmly resettled in another country prior to arriving in the United States.”
“As part of our nation’s commitment to the protection of people fleeing persecution and consistent with our international obligations, it is longstanding federal law that merely transiting through a third country is not a basis to categorically deny asylum to refugees who arrive at our shores,” the complaint states.
Council of Europe condemns Hungary for human rights abuses
May 21, 2019
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović released a report Tuesday detailing the abuses by the Hungarian government towards asylum-seekers following her visit in February.
The report finds that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has continued to promote xenophobic policies under the guise of addressing an immigration crisis. Refugees held at transit zones have been allegedly deprived food and face extremely higher rates of rejection of their asylum applications. According to a statement, the Commissioner believes that the Hungarian “government’s stance against immigration and asylum seekers has resulted in a legislative framework which undermines the reception of asylum seekers and the integration of recognized refugees.”
The report also addresses other areas of concern such as recent legislation targeting and criminalizing certain NGOs’ activities and its impact on civil society. There also have been reforms to the judiciary that have undermined the balance between the judiciary and self-governance. Finally, Mijatović believes that Hungary is “backsliding” on gender equality through legislation that reinforces gender stereotypes while calling for greater protections for violence against women
Taiwan parliament legalizes same-sex marriage
May 17, 2019
The Legislative Yuan of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the country’s parliament, approved a bill Friday legalizing same sex-marriage in the country.
In May 2017 the country’s highest court, the Judicial Yuan, mandated that the country legalize same-sex marriage within two years. However, a non-binding referendum held in late 2018 showed widespread resistance to marriage equality. Nevertheless, the Legislative Yuan approved the bill with a 67-22 vote on Friday, becoming the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage and the thirty-first country in the world to recognize same-sex partnerships.
The bill provides for marriages between Taiwanese partners of the same sex, but only permits limited adoption rights. In a statement made to the BBC, Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan leader Jennifer Lu said that the bill was a great step forward, but “still not full marriage rights; we still need to fight for co-adoption rights, and we are not sure about foreigner and Taiwanese marriage, and also gender equality education.”
Indian Court Decides In Favor of Informed Consent Rights for Intersex People
Source: Human Rights Watch
April 29, 2019
A court in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu has ordered the local government to prohibit medically unnecessary “normalizing” surgeries on children born with intersex variations until the patients themselves can consent.
“Intersex” refers to the estimated 1.7% of the population born with bodily traits that do not fit conventional expectations of female or male. Their sex characteristics – such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals – differ from social expectations. Except in very rare cases when the child cannot urinate or internal organs are exposed, these variations are medically benign, natural variations of human anatomy.
Yet in the 1960s surgeons in the United States popularized “normalizing” cosmetic operations, such as procedures to reduce the size of the clitoris. This approach has been effectively exported globally.
These procedures are not designed to treat a medical problem and there is no evidence that such operations help children “fit in” or “function in society,” which some surgeons say is their aim. The operations do, however, carry high risks of scarring, loss of sexual sensation, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma
For decades, intersex patients and their advocates have asked governments and the medical community to develop standards to defer elective procedures until patients can decide for themselves – exactly what Justice GR Swaminathan delivered in his judgment on April 22.
The judgment cites India’s landmark 2014 Supreme Court decision upholding the rights of transgender and gender-diverse people. It also refers to Malta’s 2015 gender identity and sex characteristics law, which enshrined rights-based legal recognition for transgender people and banned unnecessary surgery on intersex children, the World Health Organization, which has urged an end to these operations, and the Indian intersex advocate Gopi Shankar.
Shankar wrote to India’s National Human Rights Commission and received a response from the Ministry of Health in 2017, which the judgment cites in full.
The ministry’s response features a subtle but important obfuscation. Officials deny Shankar’s claim that non-consensual medically unnecessary surgeries are being carried out, claiming that “any kind of invasive medical procedure, including sex reassignment surgeries, are done only after thorough assessment of the patient,” and “only after taking a written consent of the patient/guardian.”
But as I documented in my research for Human Rights Watch on the issue in the US, parents sometimes give their consent based on only limited or biased information from doctors. And a parent’s consent to medically unnecessary major surgery on a child too young to speak is hardly sufficient for protecting children from the risks of these surgeries. Scholarly research on the issue has found, similarly, that medical teams often coerce consent from parents by presenting “normalizing” surgeries as the preferred option, or using scare tactics such as suicide fears based on irrelevant data.
In recent years, national, regional, and international health and human rights bodies have increasingly called for the protection of intersex children’s informed consent rights. “The consent of the parent cannot be considered as the consent of the child,” Justice Swaminathan’s ruling stated plainly.
In recent years, national, regional, and international health and human rights bodies have increasingly called for the protection of intersex children’s informed consent rights. In 2015, 12 United Nations agencies released a joint statement referencing “unnecessary surgery and treatment on intersex children without their consent.” In 2017 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling for protecting intersex children from unnecessary and irreversible surgery without their consent, and in 2019 the European Parliament complemented that call with its own resolution.
Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and intersex-led organizations worldwide have called for legal protections to ensure that such surgery is conducted only when the patients themselves consent. UN human rights committees, which oversee international treaties, have condemned the practice of non-consensual “normalizing” operations on intersex children 40 times since 2011.
Justice Swaminathan’s words will ring true for intersex activists, patient advocate physicians, and parents around the world who have shown through their own experience that peer support and honest conversations are the best form of care. And as he said, “The parents must be encouraged to feel that the birth of an intersex child is not a matter of embarrassment or shame.”
The Health and Family Welfare Department of Tamil Nadu has eight weeks to respond with its policy protecting the informed consent rights of children born with intersex traits. They would do right to consult with intersex advocacy groups and follow international human rights standards in crafting their policy and set an example the rest of India should follow. Everyone has the right to informed consent – even those who were born with bodies that are slightly different.
Indiana hate crimes bill signed into law
April 03, 2019
The bill allows judges to impose harsher sentences for criminals who victimize others based on listed traits.
It has been controversial because it was significantly amended from the original bill. Originally, the bill was written to extend protections to people based on age, gender identity and sex. However, the bill that was passed only includes color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation in the list of protected traits.
According to the fact sheet released by the Indiana Senate Republicans, judges are not limited to the list in determining sentencing: “This law is carefully worded to make sure that courts can punish any bias crime committed against a person based on any trait they may have, including gender, even if that trait is not specifically listed in the law.”
Senate minority leader Tim Lanane tweeted in response to the bill: “The bias crimes amendment in SB 198 leaves out protections for age, gender and gender identity, but is being called ‘inclusive’ by the supermajority. I wish I could tell you this is an April Fool’s Day jokes, but sadly it’s not.”
Previously, Indiana was one of five states without a hate crimes bill.