India: Crimes against women - denied and unpunished

News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International
AI-index: ASA 20/010/2003     07/03/2003

On International Women's Day Amnesty International stands in solidarity 
with the women of Gujarat who were victims of gender violence during the 
massacres which started in the state on 27 February 2002.

"More than one year after the beginning of the massacres which targeted the 
Muslim community, there is still no official acknowledgement on the part of 
the government of Gujarat and the criminal justice system in the state of 
the magnitude and scale with which women were made a specific target of 
that violence," Amnesty International said.

Accounts narrated by eyewitnesses as well as human rights activists 
indicate that a large number of women in Gujarat were beaten up, stripped 
naked, gang raped, stabbed with iron rods, swords or sticks. Many of them 
were mutilated, disfigured and then often burnt alive by mobs allegedly led 
by Hindu nationalist groups. Police took insufficient action to protect the 
victims, while some officers reportedly instigated attacks or even sexually 
assaulted and verbally abused the victims.

Women's activists affirm that women's bodies were targeted as symbols of 
their community's honour and as a means to assault the dignity and 
integrity of the whole community.

Amnesty International calls on authorities within the government, the 
criminal justice system, the health system and the administration of the 
state to publicly acknowledge the extent of the gender violence which took 
place in the state; to take urgent steps to arrest and prosecute the 
perpetrators; and to provide appropriate redress and protection to the victims.

"Specific mechanisms and procedures, made contingent upon the exceptional 
circumstances in which the violence took place, should be set up urgently 
in Gujarat to ensure that crimes against women are investigated and 
prosecuted and that proper rehabilitation is offered to the victims," the 
organization said.

"Rape by officials as well as private individuals constitutes an act of 
torture for which the state must be held to account when it has failed to 
fulfil its obligation to provide effective protection," the organization said.

The few women who have had the courage to bring charges of sexual violence 
are reported to have found the police, health, rehabilitation and justice 
systems utterly unresponsive to their needs, with staff backing each other 
in negating the gravity of sexual abuses.

In many cases, victims were requested to file complaints with the same 
police officers who allegedly colluded with their abusers, and who 
reportedly refused to record their statements or did so in a defective manner.

In the few cases of rape which have reached the courts, priority is 
reportedly given to the prosecution of offences of murder over those of 
rape, when the two happened during the same incident. The result is that 
perpetrators of rape are often not prosecuted.

Medical reports continue to be requested by courts as a paramount piece of 
corroborative evidence in the prosecution of rape cases. In many cases, 
however, survivors of sexual violence were unable to access the health 
system after being abused, while bodies of raped women were often burnt by 
the attackers, in order to destroy the evidence of their crime. Requesting 
victims to produce medical reports often amounts to complying with the 
perpetrators' strategy, women's groups say.

Government rehabilitation policy, in itself grossly defective, is reported 
to have no focus at all on specific issues faced by women victims of 
violence, including: health and reproductive needs; access to counselling 
and to safe spaces to recover and rebuild themselves; and economic hardship 
after the loss of male family members. No specific schemes, rehabilitation 
packages or special procedures have been offered to the women victims.

"The urgent need is for specific mechanisms and procedures able to offer 
justice and redress to the victims of gender violence," Amnesty 
International said. "Investigative and judicial officers must be trained to 
deal sensitively with cases of gender violence; testimonies of victims 
should be thoroughly investigated and legal action should be an accessible 
option for women."

Cases of sexual abuse should be promptly prosecuted, even in the absence of 
a medical examination, provided that other compelling evidence of the crime 
exists, which could lead to the conviction of a defendant in proceedings 
that meet international standards of fairness. Victims of sexual abuse 
should be offered rehabilitation packages, which include financial 
assistance, shelter and medical or psychiatric care.


Following an attack on a train in Godhra, Gujarat, on 27 February 2002 in 
which 59 people, allegedly Hindus were killed, violence of unprecedented 
brutality targeting the Muslim community spread in the state and continued 
in the next three months, leaving more than 2000 people killed. Hindu 
nationalist groups were reported to have had a role in masterminding the 
violence. The state government, administration and police took insufficient 
action to protect civilians and in many cases may have colluded with the 
attackers and actively participated in the violence.

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