Pakistan: Women must not be used as pawns in crime punishment
Posted: 19 August 2002
"All too often women in Pakistan suffer cruel and degrading punishments which fly in the face of international standards. If the government is serious about its duty to protect human rights, it must ensure that jirgas cease to abuse people's rights. If this cannot be ensured, they should be abolished," Richard Bunting, Director of Communications at Amnesty International UK, said.
While the high profile gang-rape case - in which a tribal council ordered that a woman be gang-raped as punishment for an alleged breach of honour by her brother - continues in a Pakistani court, Amnesty International fears that the tribal justice system which facilitated this grave abuse will continue to impose cruel punishments if urgent measures are not taken to amend or abolish it.
In rural Pakistan, jirgas are convened to resolve disputes over land, water, breaches of 'honour', murder and blood feuds. Their objective is not to elicit the truth - which in a close-knit community is frequently widely known - but the restoration of social harmony. In the case of blood feuds, jirgas do this by imposing compensation payments on the offender. Compensation often includes the handing over of girls and women to the aggrieved party.
In June 2001, a jirga in Thatta district 'settled' a nine-month old feud over a murder by giving two young girls from the side of the murderers to the side of the victim: the 11-year-old daughter of one accused was made to marry the 46-year-old father of the murder victim and the six-year-old daughter of the other accused was married to the eight-year-old brother of the victim. The 'compensation' package was accepted by all sides, the girls were not asked their opinion and no criminal prosecution was initiated relating to the murder. Though the 'deal' was reported in the English language press, the government took no steps to prevent such abuse, rescue the girls or to bring the perpetrators to justice.
In some cases, jirgas have 'judicially' dealt with rape cases and imposed cruel and degrading punishments. In May 1994, a village council in Mithankot, Punjab province, sentenced a man it found guilty of rape to having his own wife raped by the husband of his victim. The eight elders then watched the 'sentence' being carried out. Police were reported to be present during the incident but failed to intervene.
In cases where a woman is believed to have 'dishonoured' her family by having a male friend, marrying a man of her choice or seeking a divorce, jirgas have decided that all those responsible be killed or otherwise punished - even though the right of women to freely decide their marriage partner is laid down in Pakistan law and its constitution.
· The report will shortly be available from: www.amnesty.org
· For more information on the gang rape case see: http://web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/recent/ASA330182002
· For more information on violence against women in Pakistan see: http://web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/recent/ASA330102002?OpenDocument