Asia-Pacific, Gender, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-ASIA: Amnesty Reports Rampant Violence Against Women

Sonny Inbaraj

BANGKOK, May 25 2005 (IPS) - Mao Hengfeng was sent to a labour camp for 18 months in April last year for persistently petitioning the Chinese authorities over a forced abortion 15 years earlier, when she became pregnant in violation of China’s family planning policy.

She was reportedly tied up, suspended from the ceiling and severely beaten in the labour camp. Ma had been detained several times in the past in psychiatric units where she had been forced to undergo shock therapy.

”In China serious violations against women and girls continued to be reported as a result of the enforcement of the family planning policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations,” said the London-based Amnesty International in its annual assessment of the state of human rights in the world, released Wednesday.

Amnesty said Chinese women in detention included large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners, and they remained at risk of torture, including rape and sexual abuse.

The story of violence against women in the Asia-Pacific region is not a pretty one and Amnesty’s report indicates that it was rampant last year, regardless of whether they were facing gender based violence at home, in the community or in situations of conflict.

In Bangladesh, women accounted for the large majority of acid attack victims.

According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, quoted in the Amnesty report, at least 153 women were attacked between January and October 2004, and in cases that went before the courts, only one in nine ended in successful prosecution.

”In some cases the matter was reportedly ‘settled’ out of court between the families of the victim and the perpetrator,” the report revealed. ”Reasons for most attacks were reportedly disputes between families or refusal by women of marriage or sex.”

Acid attacks were also reported in Afghanistan.

”A campaigner against violence against women was attacked in September because of her human rights work. She was outside her home in Kabul when three men drove up in a car. One jumped out and threw acid at her, burning her neck,” revealed the report.

Incidentally, the largest section in Amnesty’s annual report was devoted to Afghanistan. The human rights group said the ouster of the conservative, Islamic Taliban regime in 2001 by U.S.- led forces did little to bring relief to women.

” Fear of abductions by armed groups forced women to restrict their movements outside the home,” said Amnesty.

”In the family, extreme restrictions on women’s behaviour and high levels of violence persisted. Election officials registering women voters were among those killed by armed groups.”

Across Afghanistan, particularly in Herat, Amnesty reported that hundreds of women set fire to themselves to escape violence in the home or forced marriage.

The report indicated that many Afghan women were imprisoned for alleged crimes such as running away from home, adultery and other sexual activity outside marriage – known as ‘zina’ crimes.

”In some cases, despite lack of evidence, they were imprisoned to protect them from their families,” said Amnesty.

In Nepal, an increasing number of women are being subject to violence in the nine-year Maoist insurgency, which often sees heavy fighting between the communist rebels and security forces.

”Gender-based violence, in particular rape of women by members of the security forces, was frequently reported,” said the Amnesty report.

Meanwhile India was singled out for its lackadaisical attitude in tackling violence against women.

”Despite the efforts of women’s rights advocates to address the widespread problem of violence in the home, India still lacked comprehensive legislation addressing domestic violence,” said the human rights group.

Amnesty pointed out that the Indian government had failed to submit overdue periodic reports to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, despite ratifying the convention to that effect.

In Pakistan, violence against women in the community, including crimes of ”honour”, continued to be reported.

The most bizarre case, Amnesty reported, was in last June when a tribal council directed that a seven-year old girl child be killed for alleged illicit relations with an eight-year old boy. Her father refused to accept the verdict and approached the local district administrator who provided protection.

Even affluent Australia did not escape Amnesty’s criticism.

”In October, the results of a U.N.-coordinated survey revealed that 36 per cent of Australian women with a current or former partner had experienced violence in a relationship,” said the report.

”In October it was reported that domestic violence was the leading cause of premature death and ill-health in women aged 15 to 44.”

In its annual report, Amnesty International also paid tribute to women’s rights groups.

”One of the achievements of women’s rights activists has been to demonstrate that violence against women is a human rights violation,” it said. ”This changes the perception of violence against women from a private matter to one of public concern and means that public authorities are required to take action.”

Amnesty pointed out that women’s rights activists were central to ensuring that the founding statute of the International Criminal Court explicitly recognises rape and other forms of sexual violence as crimes against humanity and as war crimes.

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