Rape Can Never be a Part of Any Culture

Sexual violence during conflicts is all too often downplayed and treated as part of local cultural traditions instead of being viewed as a war crime, Margot Wallström, the recently appointed Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict warned as she called for much greater international action to defeat the scourge.

She voiced the concern about the “lingering assumption that sexual violence is a tradition, rather than a tactic of choice” by groups engaged in war.

“Prevailing opinion would have us believe that what happens in a ‘private hut’ has nothing to do with security,” she wrote in the Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen on March 25, 2010 in a column jointly authored with Jonas Gahr Støre, Norwegian Foreign Minister.

“While bullets, bombs and blades make the headlines, women’s bodies remain invisible battlefields. Yet it is utterly indefensible to downgrade the threat level of sexual violence because it primarily targets women and girls. What makes forced displacement part of the war, and mass rape an intractable cultural trait?”

Ms. Wallström and Mr. Støre wrote that there are only cultures of impunity, and not cultures of rape, as some commentators have argued in certain countries or conflicts.

“Cultural relativism legitimises the violence and discredits the victims, because when you accept rape as cultural, you make rape inevitable. This shields the perpetrators and allows world leaders to shrug off sexual violence as an immutable – if regrettable – truth. It is time to state, once and for all, that mass rape is no more inevitable, cultural or acceptable than mass murder.”

The Special Representative – who is visiting Norway on her first official visit since being appointed by the UN – and the Foreign Minister stressed that the best way to overcome this problem is to ensure that perpetrators of rape and other forms of sexual violence are held accountable.

“We are convinced that where there’s a political will, there’s a way. Every rape – even in the midst of war – is a crime that can be commanded, condoned or condemned. That is a choice made by those in power, and it is a matter that concerns the guardians of global peace and security.”

Sexual Violence in Mae La Burmese Refugee Camp

cid_21651408277web56605mailre3January 15, 2009 – Mae La camp, the largest of nine for Burmese refugees on the Thai border, resembles a small thatched city, now more than a decade old, with a population of 50,000 registered and non-registered residents.
 
 Mae La suffers from a significant degree of sexual violence and domestic abuse, aggravated by frustration born of the inability to return to Myanmar, live and work openly in Thai society, or resettle in other countries.
 
 A Sexual and Gender Based Violence Committee (SGBV) was established in the camp in 2003. 
 
 While most of the camp residents identify themselves as ethnic Karen, many are Christian, Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist, said Soe Win, a Muslim member of SGBV. “I wanted to work with the committee as I was witnessing so much violence and abuse in the Muslim community and wanted to help,” he said.
 
 “We started the committee because we saw there were so many underage rapes and so much domestic violence in the camp,” he said.
 
 The SGBV said it was getting numerous cases, although fewer than before the programme in 2003, but many more went unreported. The committee acts as a first responder to acts of abuse. 
 
“In most cases, abused people, principally women and children, now come to the Committee for assistance. If it’s a domestic violence case, the Committee contacts the section leader in the camp and the camp security office … If the victim is scared [or] she will be further assaulted, it turns to the Karen Women’s Organisation, which provides a safe house. 
 
 Serious criminal cases, mostly involving rape, are referred to the International Rescue Committee Legal Assistance Centre – a project within the camp – which provides legal assistance and advice. If there are injuries, Aide Medicale International (AMI), which maintains two medical facilities in the camp, including a mental health project, provides assistance and refers sufferers to hospitals in Mae Sot City if evidence needs to be taken or the injuries are serious. 
 
If the crime is extremely serious, the perpetrator could enter the Thai justice system either in a court at Mae Sot City or another nearby city. 
 
In some cases, the Committee also engages in mediation and help in the process of reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator. 
 

Rights training 
The SGBV is not only involved in supporting the abused. It has received many kinds of trainings, in women’s and children’s rights. In turn, it provides training to women in the camp so they know their rights.

AHRC: Young Women Held in Military Torture Cells

January 12, 2009

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission 

Ms. Zarina Marri, a 23-year-old schoolteacher from Balochistan
province, was arrested in late 2005, and has been held incommunicado in an army torture cell at Karachi, the capital of Sindh province. She has been repeatedly raped by the military officers and is being used as a sex slave, to induce arrested nationalist activists to sign state-concocted confessions.

One man, who was arrested by a state agency and kept in military
torture cell almost for nine months, narrated the story of this young
woman to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF); nowpublic.com <http://www.nowpublic.com; the International Red Cross; and at Woolwich Court in London. The
current whereabouts of the young woman are not known. It has been
asserted that women who are fighting for the greater autonomy of
Balochistan are being arrested by the state agencies and being forced
into sex slavery in their custody.

Munir Mengal, the managing director of a Balochi-language
television channel, was arrested on April 4, 2006 from Karachi
International airport by the state intelligence agencies and
transferred to a military torture cell in Karachi for nine months
(http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2006/1666/
). He narrated the story of the forced sex slavery of the young
teacher Zarina Marri whom he encountered in a military cell.
According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Munir Mengal
witnessed many human rights violations in this military prison.
Mengal says that, “a young Balochi woman, Ms. Zarina Marri, was used as a sexual slave by the officers. They even once threw her naked into my cell. I did not know what had happened to this mother of a family who was arrested by the army in our province.”

Another Balochi nationalist (name omitted by request), who was
arrested by the military intelligence agency twice and kept in
military cells in different cities, has confirmed to the AHRC that
there were young Balochi females seen at those two torture cells,
naked and in distress. The prominent Balochi nationalist leaders say
that they know fact that young Balochi women are being arrested,
either during or after protest demonstrations on the disappearances
and are missing. They also know about the women are sexually abused in the military custody but they cannot say so publically because of their sanctity and harassment of their families.

Munir Mengal was also tortured and his penis was severely injured when he refused to have sex with Zarina Marri. He told RSF, “on 27th January, 2007 at 6 pm Major Iqrar Gul Niazi (Military Intelligence) called me in his office and showed me some nude pictures, and laughingly told me that you have been a director of a TV channel so certainly you have good relations with actresses.”

When he returned to his cell he found porn pictures strewn all over
it. Around 12 pm a low-ranking military officer called Subedar
brought a female there. She was trembling and weeping. “He threw her on my body and told me, ‘You know what to do with her. You are not a child we have to tell what to do with her.’” Mr. Mengal says after half an hour the officer returned, and seeing them sitting apart, abused them and forcibly took off their clothes. Mengal said he was stunned when the woman began praying in the Balochi language. She told Mengal her name was Zarina Marri and that she belongs to the Kohlu area, headquarters of the rebel Marri tribe, a scene of a
bloody insurgency that begun in 2005. She said she was a
schoolteacher and that the army personnel had abducted her along with her one-year-old.

“They accuse us for spying for the Baluchistan Liberation Army,”
Zarina Marri said. She begged Mengal to kill her. I have been
undressed several times for them.”

Mengal said on the refusal to have sex, the intelligence officials
inflicted cuts on his private parts. “I thought I would lose my
manhood,” he said. Ms. Zarina told to Mengal that she has seen some
females in the torture cell but was not allowed to talk with them.

At the time of this incident Colonel Raza of the Pakistani Army was
in charge of that cell. After a few days he was transferred to
Rawalpindi, Punjab province and Colonel Abdul Malik Kashmiri came as head of the military torture cell.

Munir Mengal was released from the military torture cell on 4th
August 2007 and was held in a civilian jail on August 5th. The
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) representatives met
him in Khuzadar jail, where he provided them with a detailed briefing
which they wrote down. The next day their doctor also checked the
injured portion of his penis. Mr. Andrew Barterlays, the officer of
ICRC who visited Mr. Mengal several times in jail, told Mr. Mengal
that until he was out of custody the ICRC could not take up the issue
of Zarina Marri, because both their lives would be threatened.

The officials of the education department of Kahan have disclosed
that Ms. Marri was a teacher at a government middle school in Kahan, Kohlu district, she was registered as Zarina Bi Bi and she was
trained as a Junior Vocational Teacher. She was among those people
who were transferred from Kohlu, Kahan, Sibi, Hernai, Much, Kohlo,
Dera Bugti, Sabsilla, Bhambhoor, Loti, Dhaman, Pir Koh, Spin, Tangi,
Babar Kach, Tandori and Sangan of the Balochistan province during
December 2005 and July 2006 when the military government of  Musharraf was using aerial bombardments to defuse the nationalist movement of Balochistan against the construction of cantonment areas. On 14 December 2005, paramilitary troops accused
the people of the area of firing eight rockets at a paramilitary base
on the outskirts of the town of Kohlu, a stronghold of the Marri
tribe, while Musharraf was visiting it. After the visit of Musharraf, within three days of the rocket firing incident, the paramilitary forces began attacking vast areas including the Kahan. It is reported in the media that the military government used the Pakistan air force for bombarding the area.

During the fighting between local nationalist militants and the
government forces particularly, due to the aerial bombardments, the
local population started migrating to other places including to
Punjab and Sindh provinces. Please also see urgent appeal of AHRC;
http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2006/1872/
 dated July 21, 2006.

After some days around 429 persons left the Kahan, district Kohlu,
and migrated towards Dera Ghazi Khan district, Punjab province,
Zarina Marri and her parents were also among the caravan. Since then there is no trace of the caravan of 429 persons. After some months people tried to search the missing people and some army officers deputed at the Kohlu district told the people of the area that so many persons were killed in the fighting between the government
forces and militants and also in aerial bombardments. But after the
revelation from Munir Mengal, managing director of Baloch
language television channel, to Reporters without Frontiers (RSF)
that Zarina Baloch was in military torture cell at Karachi and was
forced in to sexual slavery, the concern of the people of Kohlu,
Kahan, and Dera Bugti has risen about the people of the 429 persons
which includes more than 70 women, including many young women, who may be used as sex slaves by the Pakistan military.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has already reported that 52
torture cells are run by the Pakistan army, please see following link
(http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2008statements/1574/
), Karachi was stated to have three military torture cells. The
testimony by Mr. Munir Mengal has revealed the most heinous methods of army torture, using young women as sex slaves to induce political opponents to sign the government-concocted confessions of terrorist and anti-state activity.

The AHRC severely condemns the use of women as sex slaves by the
Pakistan army and for keeping these women incommunicado. Pakistan is the signatory to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) but women are being used as sex slaves in a gross violation of the Convention by army officers.

The AHRC urges the government of Pakistan to immediately hold a
judicial investigation into the women detainees being used as sex
slaves by the army officers in their detention centers, and to arrest
all the army officers posted in the torture cells; both in Karachi and
in the rest of Pakistan. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes must
be brought before the law. The government should ascertain the
whereabouts of the women arrested from Balochistan province who have disappeared after their arrest, including Zarina Marri. It is the
duty of the government to search for the missing persons taken by
State intelligence agencies, who have held them in torture cells for
many years.

Pakistan proudly calls itself the Islamic Democratic State but its
rulers appear to lack the courage to bring its own military into
check. It is a military that engages in torture and some of the most
heinous methods of breaking the spirit of those that it considers the
enemy, it is a military that pays no heed to the norms of civilised
behaviour and is one that, if not brought to book will convert
Pakistan into a barbaric state.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional
non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
—————————–
Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) – 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) – 2698-6367

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