Saturday, 8 October 2011

Seeking Justice for Nepalese Victims of Rape

Nepalese Woman by David Orgel
Nepalese Woman uploaded by David Orgel on Flickr

Nepal was torn apart by a decade of violence and civil war that ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 21 November 2006.  Gender-based violence was a key feature of this conflict and women were raped and brutalised by both the government forces and the Maoist rebels. 

In October 2011, it was widely reported that Justice still eludes Nepal's civil war rape victims.  Five years after the peace agreement was reached, hundreds of women who suffered rape and torture at the hands of armed forces are yet to receive justice.  Rape was viewed by the government’s Royal Nepal Army to be a legitimate form of torture and many women were arrested, detained and tortured on charges of aiding or supporting the Maoist insurgents.

In her book Sexual Violence and Armed Conflict, Jane Leatherman estimates that 40,000 Nepalese children were illegally detained by Maoist insurgents during the conflict and tortured, sexually violated and recruited for military activity.

Victims face multiple hurdles when seeking justice for these attacks.  Despite widespread reporting of the atrocities by organisations such as Amnesty and in reports that appeared in the mainstream media (see: “Children suffer in Nepal conflict”, BBC, 2005), the majority of Nepalese women remain silent about their ordeals.  Rape victims are stigmatised and rejected, especially if the rapes result in pregnancies.

Nepalese human right rights activists have received constant threats of violence which has further contributed to the silence of victims in the country.  In January 2009, Nepalese radio journalist and activist Uma Singh was hacked to death by 12 to 20 men in her room.  Her only crime was to raise awareness of the levels of violence against women in Nepal (see: “Nepal radio journalist murdered”, BBC, 2009).

It is important to note that the sexual violence against women and children that occurred during the armed conflict did not occur in a vacuum but against the backdrop of a patriarchal society where men’s status is elevated and women are forced to remain in subordinate positions. 

The United Nations Population Fund in Asia (UNFPA) has uploaded a video titled “Silent Tears: Gender based Violence in Nepal”.  In the video, they note that:

“Gender-based violence is widespread in Nepal.  Male dominance and female subservience is at the root of violence against women.  95% of the women and girls surveyed reported that they had personally experience violence, 77% of them from their own family members (SAATHI).  nearly 58% reported that such violence was a daily occurrence.”

You can view the video at the end of this post.

Despite these hurdles, a survivor of violence during the armed conflict has come forward but local police are refusing to register her complaint.  The Advocacy Forum Nepal reports that the police invoked a law which states that rapes had to be reported within 35 days of the incident.  International law prohibits such limitations on rape and, in fact, the Nepal Supreme Court issued a directive to the Nepalese government in 2006 to amend the law and remove all conflicts and limitations in serious crimes such as rape.

There has been no progress on this case since the beginning of October 2011.  Despite the many incidents of sexual violence during the conflict, this is the first case to be lodged with the District Police Office.  Human rights organisations continue to lobby the government in this case and it will no doubt have serious consequences for other women seeking justice across Nepal.

Silent Tears: Gender based Violence in Nepal

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