Is There Really An Ounce of Honour in Killing?

Today’s post is about something that I feel deserves a great amount of attention. In all honesty, it was not until a dear friend of mine shared a link to a BBC article about last week’s murders in the Indian state of Harayana, that I decided to explore the issue of ‘honour killings’ further.

Image Courtesy: interactblogs.wordpress.com

Image Courtesy: interactblogs.wordpress.com

Many will accede to the fact that ‘honour killings’ is not news. It has been going on for several decades. However, it remains newsworthy because of the fact that it continues to persist in the 21st century is cause for great concern. According to the BBC Ethics Guide, honour killings are a subset of the broader notion that is an honour crime. By definition, honour crimes involve violence, including murder, committed by people who want to defend the reputation of their family or community.

Just last week, an 18-year old girl and her fiance were brutally killed. By whom? The girls own family. In fact, in an article in The Guardian, Narendar Barak, the victim’s father, showed no remorse after he admitted to beating his daughter to death and dismembering her fiance.

“I have no regrets … not even a little … This should happen. If society is to be saved, then it should happen,” he said.

This case was dubbed a “honour killing” because of the fact that both the victims come from the same caste. As such, they were forbidden by tradition from marrying one another. More so, tradition also dictated that children were not permitted to chose who they marry. Instead, the decision has to be made by their parents. Hence, in order to preserve the purity of their local tradition, murder was the only answer. Violating their rights to life and to be free from torture in some sense was justified, as a necessary evil, when the protection of the entire culture was at stake.

To many this view will seem horrific. However, for the cultures perpetrating these ‘honour crimes’, this view is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it is based on their version of morality and behaviour, separate from the notion of universal human rights.

Cultural relativism often conflicts with universal human rights. By definition, cultural relativists ascribe to a morality that is solely governed by culture and nothing else. This is why crimes of honour are often go unnoticed or the perpetrators are granted impunity. These two paradigms are stark opposites and in order to find any resolution to this issue, condemnation of such local culture is not the answer.

In fact, if we have a look at the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of HUman Rights, Article 18 states that,

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Image Courtesy: humanityhealing.org

Image Courtesy: humanityhealing.org

Confusingly enough, it also states that,

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

Therefore, while these may be rights everyone should enjoy by the sheer fact that we are all human beings, the writing is not always black and white.

Firstly, for cultures that see ‘honour killings’ as an affirmation of morality, human rights are seen as an alien, Westernized concept. Hence, expecting them to comply with a so-called “Western” universal notion of morality – that goes against everything their culture represents – would be rather foolish.

Instead, according to a book entitled, ‘Honour: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence Against Women’, “combating crimes of honour cannot mean repudiating the human dignity and rights of all concerned, including the perpetrators of these crimes, their families and communities. Unless one subscribes to the authoritarian view that people should simply be coerced into doing what is good for them; it is necessary to gain their cooperation and support through an internal discourse within the community around cultural norms and institutions associated with these crimes”.

In no way, am I alluding to the fact that the protection of woman should be put on the back-burner while this internal discourse is underway. Practical and legal measures should be taken. After all, ascribing to certain cultural norms and morality does not exempt you from the law of the state, which clearly indicates that murder is a crime, punishable by the judicial system.

However, the question should be one of a long -term strategy – in addition to, not instead of, all that can be done immediately.

What are your views? Can you make an argument for cultural relativism? What can be done to ensure these ‘honour killings’ stop?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Do note that every once in a while, I will explore issues outside the exclusive realm of sexual violence, that I feel deserve a great amount of attention. Do Check out “Hot Topics” for more prolific issues around the world.

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It’s Our Fault

Aren’t we all sick of being told that rape is our- the woman’s – fault? This sarcastic video, courtesy of the All Indian Bakchod (AIB), went viral a couple of days ago and demonstrates everything society needs to forget in order to get rid of a rape culture and more importantly the rape epidemic, especially in India. Blaming the victim is something that has to be stopped. Have a look and together let’s help change society’s mentality toward women and sexual violence.

It’s NOT my fault.

We have a voice, let’s use it.

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UN’s New Sexual Violence Declaration – A Step Forward? Maybe Not.

Image Courtesy: smh.com.au

Image Courtesy: smh.com.au

With the Syrian conflict raging, the world awaits the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York next week. What’s on their agenda? A new declaration to end sexual violence.

In a joint report, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague and Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Angelina Jolie claim that a declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict will be presented to the United Nations on September 24th.

Image Courtesy: news.uk.msn.com

Image Courtesy: news.uk.msn.com

According to the report, the Declaration will give every country in the world an opportunity to show where it stands on this issue. It’s main components include a pledge not to allow amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements, so that the perpetrators of these crimes can be held accountable, a new International Protocol by the middle of 2014 to help ensure that evidence produced can stand up in court and more survivors can see justice, and to place the safety and dignity of victims at the heart of investigations into rape and other sexual crimes in conflict zones. Lastly, its signatories will promise to put protection from sexual violence at the forefront of all their conflict and humanitarian work, and to help strengthen the capacity of countries most at risk of this violence.

For the first time, the countries endorsing this declaration will agree that sexual violence is indeed a war crime and is also in complete violation of the Geneva Conventions and their first protocol, established in 1977 which relates to the protection of victims in international armed conflicts.

In fact, in June 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, highlighted the importance of collective action against crimes of sexual violence.

“Preventing sexual violence in conflict is our joint responsibility.  It must be part of our work in many areas, from peacekeeping and political missions, to mediation, ceasefire agreements, security-sector reform, justice-sector reform and the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

“Those who hold power and influence have a special duty to step forward and be part of a global coalition of champions determined to break this evil,” he added.

Now let me pose a question, how many of you think this plan will actually be effective?

Firstly, the inclusion of a pledge to stop amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements is almost laughable. A pledge by definition means, a solemn promise or undertaking. It is not a signed contract, it is basically a verbal commitment to something. How can victims of sexual violence place their faith in a mechanism that lacks any basic foundation? This declaration is basing its success on the good faith of the member states of the UN. What it fails to recognize, and naively at that, is that nation states act in terms of their own vital national interests. Good faith is rarely a consideration.

Secondly, the fact that this declaration like all UN-proposed declarations are non-binding, allows countries where rape is rampant to still escape prosecution. If they simply do not ratify the declaration, isn’t amnesty in some sense granted to them anyway? How can the UN esure enforcement? How can the UN ensure that countries comply with the proposed declaration? These are questions that need to be answered.

I do not discredit the nobility involved in putting forth such a declaration in the first place. However, states need to take responsibility first. States need to be made to comply with international law. Rules do not matter if states are always breaking them.

What do you guys think? Is this declaration a step forward? How can the UN ensure that states comply with this newly proposed declaration? What else needs to be done?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Update: 113 Countries Sign Pledge Against Sexual Violence

Yes, in Burma It’s Legal For Soldiers to Rape!

For the past 2 years, Burma has been undergoing a series of dramatic political, economic and administrative reforms, in an attempt to democratize. These reforms have gained so much international recognition, with even President Obama praising the Burmese President, Thein Sen for his leadership in moving his country toward democracy.

However, while Burma attempts to move forward, sexual violence against the ethnic minorities is more rampant than ever. It is no secret that the Burmese army has raped innocent ethnic minorities for years. However, it seems a little hypocritical to sell an image of democratization to the world while at the same time violating a woman’s basic right to life and security.

In fact, according to the organisation, Burma Campaign UK, Thein Sen while seen as a reformer spent 14 years on the ruling council of the previous dictatorship, and was one of its most senior members. More so, after the 2010 elections – if they can even be called that – the Burmese army broke its long-standing ceasefires in Shan state and Kachin state. Ever since, the Burma Campaign UK, started receiving a big increase in reports of rape by Burmese army soldiers.

In one of the worst cases according to the Burma Campaign UK, in May 2012, Burmese Army soldiers found Ngwa Mi, a grandmother with 12 children, sheltering alone in a church in Kachin State. About ten troops beat her with rifle butts, stabbed her with knives, and gang-raped her over a period of three days in the church.

What is even more horrifying is that the military is exempt from the law and as such, has a license to rape without any fear of prosecution. According to the 2008 Burmese Consitution “places the military outside the purview of the civilian courts and includes an amnesty provision which precludes the prosecution of military perpetrators of crimes, including sexualized violence”.

According to a brilliant blog post written by Phyu Phyu Sann and Akila Radhakrishnan jointly, “recognizing this barrier to combating impunity domestically, if the new Burmese government is sincerely committed to transitioning to democracy, as they say they are, they should ratify the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court and grant the court retroactive jurisdiction over crimes in Burma going back to July 1, 2002, the date of the entry into force of the statute”.

The international political community as well has to bear some responsibility. The United Nations, as we all know, does not have the capacity to act alone, and therefore no matter how many reports and investigations it carries out, the situation will unequivocally remain the same. As such, it is the duty of the international community to demand consistent accountability from the Burmese government. No army should have a license to rape, no matter what the circumstance and if a country’s own government is too foolish or stubborn to realize this, it is up to the international community to enforce.

What do you think? What options are civilians left with if their own state allows soldiers to rape? What can save them?

We have a voice, use it.

The Downside of Marriage: An Insight Into Marital Rape

Marital rape is taken lightly by governments all over the world, from first world states to the worst of the third world. In an attempt to wrap my head around this controversial topic I decided to do a little research of my own  and something in a blog post  I read caught my attention particularly.

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Image Courtesty: bubblews.com

“Criminalizing marital rape is a no brainer. There’s no need for even the phrase “marital rape” to exist. We don’t have “marital murder” after all. It’s just murder. The relationship of the victim to the perpetrator is completely irrelevant”.

While I do understand the concern with trying to accuse a husband of raping his wife, I do have to agree with the sentiment above, that rape is rape no matter who the perpetrator may be. It’s easy for people to dismiss this issue. Often, people and even women I’ve spoken with cite that there’s nothing wrong with a husband wanting to sleep with his wife, while the wife may be unwilling to for reasons revolving around laziness and pure lethargy. This is true and I agree fully. However, what these people fail to recognize is an implicit notion of consent despite the woman being tired.

Therefore, under any circumstance the above-mentioned example wouldn’t amount to rape anyway. Why? Because in order for someone to be raped or sexually assaulted, there cannot have been consent from the victim in the first place. Of course, consent is not considered real consent if it is obtained by force, intimidation or by deception. Women often choose not to resist a rape in order to survive. This does not mean however that she consented to what happened.

Having said that, let me just put it plainly: marital rape is wrong and there should be legal repercussions for the perpetrator. Not only can marital rape occur in relationships but, the scars left on marital rape victims are often more traumatizing than other rape victims, not that I’m keeping score, because any situation involving rape is devastating. However, according to the Rape, Abuse, Incest & National Network’s research, women who are victims of marital rape are more likely to experience repeated assaults than other rape victims. In fact, among battered women, sexual assault may be a routine part of the pattern of the abuse.

For example, a Nigerian lady named Temilade Temisan was a victim of routine physical, verbal and sexual abuse – that is too brutal to even put into writing – by her husband for years, all because she exerted her right to say no.

There is also an underlying pressure to stay with the perpetrator. A victim with children who lacks outside employment may be financially dependent on her spouse and feel there is no way to leave the situation.

Lastly, and most significantly, a victim may have difficulty identifying what has happened to them as ‘rape’ or as a crime for that matter. For many cultures, defining the other spouse’s conduct as rape or identifying someone she married and loves as a “rapist” can have negative repercussions that the victim may not have the capacity to deal with. This has resulted in cases of marital rape being one of the most rarely reported crimes, even today.

Having said that, I hope I have convinced you that marital rape is a serious issue and crime. The fact that countries like Singapore, marital rape is not a legal offense is rather disheartening to me. Not only does it send the message that women’s rights are not valued but it sends the more offensive message that women’s rights are valued less than a man’s rights.

What are your views? Do you guys believe that marital rape is a crime? If so, how can we change mindsets of governments to  ensure proper legislation for women around the world?

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‘No’ Should Mean No

In a new survey, almost a quarter of the men in  the Asia-Pacific region have admitted to committing the heinous of rape at some stage in their life.

 The study covering six countries – Bangladesh,China, Cambodia,  Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka – found that 10% of men admitted to raping at least once a woman who was not their partner. The figure rose to nearly 25% when rape of a partner was included.

Image Courtesy: weheartit.com

Image Courtesy: weheartit.com

What struck me as particularly odd was the fact that the men willingly admitted to raping women as they felt they were sexually entitled to such activity.  Almost 75% of the men surveyed admitted to this reasoning while the remainder cited entertainment as their main motive for rape.

Unsure of exactly what the word ‘entitlement’ meant, I decided to look it up. The definition for those of you wondering is –

An entitlement is a guarantee of access to something, based on established rights or by legislation.

Now, I do agree that by virtue of being alive we are all entitled to certain things, food, water, shelter, education, heath care and so on. I do not believe however, that men are entitled to sex. The difference, I hope, is plainly obvious: the things on the former list are all necessary for survival  (if not always, then at some point), while sex is not.

I was speaking with a few of my girlfriends and the broad consensus on the issue of sexual entitlement was that it is a “load of crap”. To some the whole concept was almost laughable and rightfully so. It’s almost as good as saying I’m entitled to kick you in the crotch, as my dear friend explicitly put it. We all know that no one is entitled to kick anyone, and by likening kicking someone in the crotch to sexual entitlement, the hope is that one can see how ludicrous the entire argument is.

Furthermore, as far as I know sexual entitlement is not enshrined by any international organization or national constitution (thankfully) and neither is it enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As far as legislation goes, I could come up with nothing that guarantees it.

It can be argued that in some situations the story is not so black and white. However, by paying close attention to the countries surveyed in this report, it should be known that most, if not all, of them suffer from grave social inequalities. Women’s rights are barely noticed, let alone, guaranteed.

As such, 1 golden rule should always apply and be engrained into the mindsets of these people, so far removed form reality.

A person ALWAYS has the right to say ‘No’

What are your views? Do you guys believe there is an argument to be made for social entitlement?

We have a voice, use it.

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A Look Back at the Delhi Gang Rape Case

December 16, 2012: A 23-year-old paramedical student was brutally gangraped in a moving bus in Delhi.

1images Image Courtesy: india.blogs.nytimes.com

December 23, 2012: Fast track court set up by Delhi high court to speed up the trial.

2images Image Courtesy: globalpost.com

December 26, 2012 : Victim is flown to Singapore for treatment at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

December 29, 2012 : The victim dies of her injuries in Singapore. PM Singh says he is deeply saddened by her death, and pledges to channel emotions surrounding the case into action. Six suspects are charged with murder after the victim’s death.

index Image Courtesy: nydailynews.com

January 3, 2013: The father of the victim demands that those responsible be hanged and calls for new legislation on sex crimes to be named in honor of his daughter. Five men are formally charged and a sixth accused was due to be tried separately in a juvenile court.

February 5, 2013: Trial begins

images 1 Image Courtesy: thelinkpaper.ca

March 11, 2013: Ram Singh found dead in his cell in Tihar jail

March 21, 2013: India approves a tougher new anti-rape law to punish sex crimes, including death for repeat rape offenders

August 22, 2013: Prosecution initiates final arguments

August 26, 2013: Prosecution concludes final arguments

August 27, 2013: Defence begins final arguments

August 31, 2013: Juvenile Justice Board holds minor guilty of rape and murder

images Image Courtesy: metro.us

September 3, 2013: Trial ends

September 10, 2013: Court held the 4 remaining accused guilty of rape and murder