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.

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Is the Death Penalty the Answer?

no-death-penalty-button-blog-13Image Courtesy: paxchristiusa.org

The death penalty has been raised around the world as a sufficient and much needed punishment for the crime of rape. The underlying belief is that such a tough punishment or national stance on rape will lead to diminishing incidences of rape and act as an effective deterrent.

Major human rights organizations, like Amnesty International have campaigned for years against the death penalty which violates one’s fundamental right to life. While I do agree that no court should have the capacity to take away one’s life, I believe the issue is more complex than that alone.

Let us look at China for example. According to a study conducted by US-China Today entitled: Rape in China, only 1 out of 10 cases of rape is likely to be reported. Furthermore, the study concluded that while the majority of us would like to believe that the perpetrators of such assault were strangers, the majority of these crimes were actually committed by someone the victim knew.

In fact, if the death penalty were the punishment for rape, wouldn’t it deter the victim from coming forward especially so if the perpetrator was one of their own family members. The entire system is based on the reporting of the case and who will report a case if the conviction would lead to the death of a father or brother or son?

Also, if you look at the actual laws in place in China, like India, the death penalty is actually the severest of penalties one can receive for rape. While, logically this should deter rapists, crimes against women haven’t gone down. Therefore, the correlation between invoking the death penalty and the consequent result of lower crime rate seems to be ill founded.

Tougher laws alone are not the answer. The problem in China and India is largely a cultural one. Violence against women is rooted in patriarchal gender relations where women are assigned roles based not on their capacity but norms and values that perpetuate male dominance and superiority. The gender inequality is embedded in all levels of the society such as employment, education and social status.

It is easy to look at the death penalty as a plausible solution to years of crimes against women. It seems almost justified in places India and China where rape is so rampant. However, rape has not stopped and it is almost foolish to think it will just because of the imposition of the death penalty.

Firstly, in order to be convicted, crimes of rape have to be reported. In patriarchal societies like India and China scores of rapes go unreported. In fact, the woman is often pressured by the authorities, her family or the attacker himself to recant her statement even if she does have the courage to go forward. Secondly, if no one is willing to listen, how can any rapist be convicted and sentenced to death?

The problem is not the law alone. The real problem lies in the systematic failure to recognize rape as an actual crisis or epidemic as I have put it many times before. It is not considered a serious enough issue and therefore, even asking for the death penalty seems foolish. While it may bring justice for one victim, hundreds of others are still left in the dark.

According to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, what should be focused on is whether the police are serious about such crimes, how quickly the matter is tried in a court and whether there is a system that punishment will be given to those responsible. Every case should not be treated as different but be given the due diligence that it truly deserves.

What do you guys think? Is the death penalty the answer?

We have a voice, use it.

Ariel Castro’s Death: Good or Bad?

I was browsing through twitter and was stunned to see several posts on my news feed confirming the death of Ariel Castro. For those who do not know, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment plus a 1000 years for holding captive three young women and raping them.

AP_ariel_castro_court_jef_130703_16x9_992Image Courtesy: abcnews.go.com

At first, I thought good riddance. A convicted rapist is off the streets, for good this time. Then I thought, I wonder how the victims feel. Their ordeal lasted 10 years and his only a couple of months. In fact, the statement that Michelle Knight, one of the women he captured made in court echoed this sentiment completely. It said:

You said, at least I didn’t kill you. For you took 11 years of my life away, and I have got it back. I spent 11 years in hell, and now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this that happened, but you will face hell for eternity.

The death penalty would be so much easier. You don’t deserve that. You deserve to spend life in prison.

It made me wonder, did he not just take the easy way out? How can these three innocent victims ever get the justice they deserve now?

What are your views? Was Ariel Castro’s death good or bad?

Are 3 Years Enough?

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The youngest of the accused in the Delhi gang rape case has been sentenced to three years in reform home.

According to the Indian Penal Code, crimes of murder are punishable by death. More so, after this horrific incident in December 2012, and the public uproar it created, the government of India toughened laws and imposed the death penalty in cases where a victim of rape is left in a vegetative state after an attack.

For many this brought a sense of hope and it was precisely this hope and the expectation of a tougher sentencing that has left the entire nation reeling.

Kiran Bedi, an Indian Social Activist and a retired Indian Police Service officer  expressed her frustration via Twitter, saying that “Courts need not be mechanical robots. We make laws and then interpret them not to be enslaved but do justice to victims too“.

However, according to the Indian juvenile court system, 3 years is the maximum sentence a juvenile can receive. By this standard, the convicted murderer received the maximum sentence and justice was served.

Yet, one should ask whether age should have been the only factor that prevented this criminal from being persecuted by the fullest extent? In my opinion, whether the accused was 17 or 18 should be irrelevant. Emotional and intellectual maturity is what should be the focus of attention as opposed to the juvenile’s numerical age. One year does not separate the men from the boys. After all, five of the attackers were over the age of 18 and not one of them acted like a proper man.

Also, according to investigative reports, this man was accused of being the most violent while carrying out this horrific crime. How then is it fair that the most violent perpetrator be sentenced to simply three years at a reform home?

The answer is simple: it isn’t fair. Instead what would be fair is for heinous crimes to be prosecuted differently from ordinary crimes, like petty theft. The judicial system should have in place different legal provisions based on the seriousness of the crime committed. Justice for such crimes should not be determined by age alone. After all, does it really make sense to give a murderer and a thief a similar sentence? I think not.

While the Juvenile Justice Board believes in reform as opposed to punishment, it seems almost ridiculous to believe that such a criminal could truly reform  after having committed such a heinous crime.

I am inclined to believe in second chances. However, I am also inclined to believe in justice for the victim, who isn’t with us anymore. The facts remain that this man was one of the six men who attacked her, and ultimately murdered her. I am no lawyer, nor am I a expert. I am however a woman, and this verdict was a slap in the face for women everywhere and particularly in India. On a daily basis women in India are sexually harassed, from catcalls on streets and groping in buses to rapes. Quite often the police refuse to accept complaints by female victims and even accuse them of inviting unwanted male attention by dressing provocatively.

This verdict was an institutional failure and has made the Indian judicial system look like a complete joke.

What are your views? Are you pro-reform or pro-punishment? Are 3 years enough?

We have a voice, use it.