Saturday 17 December 2011

Victim of vicious long-term sexual violence failed by Pakistan justice system

Campaigning group Equality Now has issued an urgent alert after the brother of a teenager gang-raped by police has been shot dead outside a courthouse in Pakistan. The organisation is calling on government officials to protect 16-year-old Uzma Ayub and her family and to ensure justice in her case .

Equality Now is challenging the government of Pakistan to ensure justice in the case of this 16 year old gang rape victim. She was held captive for almost a year during which she was gang raped by a number of men including police officers. The rapes have resulted in her becoming pregnant. She has been fighting for justice with the support of her family and in particular her brother who was tragically shot dead outside the court house earlier this week by relatives of some of the accused police officers.

Equality Now is an international human rights advocacy charity working on issues of violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world. They work with grassroots women’s organisations in country in order to determine the best responses to women’s rights abuses. They have over 35,000 organisational and individual members in 160 countries. Their main areas of work are sex trafficking and prostitution, sexual violence, discrimination in law and practice and FGM.

More details of the case are as follows:

Uzma Ayub is from the Karak district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. She was abducted by police and held hostage for nearly a year, during which time she was repeatedly gang-raped by men whom allegedly included police officers and a civilian member of the Pakistani Army. On 9 December 2011, Equality Now learned that Uzma’s 25-year-old brother, Alamzeb Marwat, who had been supporting her pursuit of justice, was hit by a car and shot dead outside of a Karak court house while picking up legal documents with Uzma. 

Following pressure from the media and local human rights groups, five men have now been arrested, though one is still at large. In light of this murder and ongoing threats against Uzma and her family, Equality Now is deeply concerned for their safety and has issued an Urgent Alert calling on Pakistani officials to ensure the family’s immediate protection; make certain that Uzma’s case is properly investigated and that all the perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; protect local human rights organizations that are being threatened; and to bring Alamzeb’s killers to justice without delay. 
“This case epitomizes all the problems with Pakistan’s justice system – a system that repeatedly fails victims of sexual violence,” says Equality Now’s Global Director Yasmeen Hassan. “First and foremost, police officers who perpetrate sexual violence enjoy widespread impunity for the crimes they commit, using terror tactics to intimidate victims who dare to bring such violations to the justice system.” 
The abuse of women by police in Pakistan has been well documented and was the subject of a 106 page report released by Asia Watch and the Women’s Rights Project in the 1990s.  Uzma’s horrific situation, which has left her eight months pregnant, is yet another example of this ongoing epidemic. Uzma’s family is continuing to try and fight for justice despite grave threats being made against them, rampant police corruption and a district court that has been slow to act. Equality Now has further learned that police officers have been putting pressure on members of the local community and encouraging fundamentalists in the area to demonstrate against the arrests of the accused. 

Fundamentalist groups have also carried out protests against Uzma, accusing her of dishonoring her community and carrying an illegitimate child which they say should be aborted, and three local human rights organizations which have been assisting her.  Currently the case is adjourned as some of the accused requested an out of court settlement with Uzma and her family – a settlement which the family has repeatedly refused.  In fact, the murder occurred while Uzma and her brother attempted to get away from relatives and staff of the accused officers, who approached Alamzeb in an attempt to pressure him to accept a settlement.  Though today the Peshawar High Court issued a notice that a high-level committee will investigate the case, Equality Now and local groups do not put much faith in this as a similar decree was made prior to Alamzeb’s murder.

Equality Now’s goal is to mobilize global public pressure so that  Pakistani officials will properly and immediately address the violations committed against Uzma and her family, including those aimed at stalling her quest for justice.  Pakistan is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.”  Additionally, under their own Constitution, all citizens are considered equal before the law and are equally entitled to its protection.  However as this case clearly demonstrates, this equality will never be achieved if the very people who are sworn to uphold its mandates are the very ones who are violating it. Says Hassan,
“Pakistan has just passed two important laws aimed at the protection of women from harmful practices, including acid throwing and forced marriages, demonstrating that there is political will to further women’s rights.  But as a preliminary matter, the Government has to ensure that women are not violated by its own agents and that all perpetrators, starting with police officers, are brought to justice.” 
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text (c) Equality Now from their press release