Category: Rights and Development

Legal Study: Sisters in Crisis – Violence against women under India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act

A number of studies and international legal arguments have been made to challenge the legality of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ― in force across much of India’s North and East ― by way of India’s constitution, and its international human rights obligations. This paper aims to explore the socio-legal and psychological forms of violence to which women are subjected under the Act, directly and indirectly, using the growing toolkit of international instruments to protect and advance women’s human rights, and in reference to current feminist legal scholarship. By doing so it aims to highlight India’s continuing and resounding failure to progressively realize women’s equality in the North and East, and the often invisible forms of gendered harm wrought by this low-profile yet powerfully destructive emergency law, along with and militarization generally.

Access the full legal study [pdf]: Violence Against Women under India’s AFSPA J Baker

 

This paper was written as part of a Master’s degree in International Human Rights Law, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 2010 – 2011. Thanks goes to the supervision of Proff. Fareda Banda, and feedback from human rights activists in the North and East, in particular Babloo Loitongbam of Human Rights Alert, Manipur, Bijo Francis of the Asian Human Rights Commission, and social entrepeneur Hasina Kharbhih.

 

Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                                               3

India and international law                                                                    4

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act                                           6

What does AFSPA mean for women?                                                    7

i)                    Violence against women in international law

ii)                  Violence, impunity and access to justice in the North and East

iii)                Militarization and violence against women

Conclusion                                                                                                        13

Bibliography                                                                                                     14

Appendix 1: Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958                                  20

Appendix 2:  List of Dos & Don’ts as directed by the                                    21
Supreme Court in Naga People’s Movement of Human
Rights v Union of India
[1997] ICHRL 117

 

 

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Op-Ed: Dynamic security – political change bad news for the women in Albania’s prisons

Open Democracy, 11 October 2013  [Article/photo story] Albania has been leading the Balkan region in its management of women’s prisoners – a complex group to detain and rehabilitate. Now, as a new government is sworn in and politically motivated staff changes look likely, this progress – and the wellbeing of its female inmates – is […]

Open Democracy, 11 October 2013

325 Womens Prison Tirana Alb 13 (61) [Article/photo story] Albania has been leading the Balkan region in its management of women’s prisoners – a complex group to detain and rehabilitate. Now, as a new government is sworn in and politically motivated staff changes look likely, this progress – and the wellbeing of its female inmates – is at risk. 

The formation of Albania’s new left-wing coalition this June signalled change for the country on many fronts. Yet one old fashioned tendency will likely pose unintended problems for a small minority – the women in its prisons.

[Click here for the original article; scroll down for photo story]

“Of course we are pleased with the democratic process,” says Erinda Bllaca, a lawyer with a local human rights NGO that makes regular monitoring visits to the country’s prisons. “But a change in government here unfortunately still means administrative change too. And when staff appointed by the previous regime are let go or redistributed, this can mean a lot of good progress going to waste.”

Wedged tightly among the low-rise flats of Albania’s capital, Tirana, the Ali Demi medium-security women’s prison is a case in point.  Run for five years by a female director with a background in social work, the small communist-era complex has managed to become an example of how – with limited resources – to imprison women ‘well’.

Women are a complex group to detain and rehabilitate. Historically out-of-focus in both prison management and international standards, research and advocacy has only recently begun to make a visible difference, thanks to campaigning organizations such as Penal Reform International, state-sponsored reviews (including Baroness Corston’s groundbreaking 2007 report for the UK Home Office and more recently, Dame Elish Angiolini’s recommendations to the Scottish government), and the UN’s long overdue Bangkok Rules: standards on the imprisonment of women released in 2010. Each has helped highlight the damage done to women, their families and their communities when their needs in prison are overlooked.

This is certainly relevant for Albania. Though the country is developing fast, its women are still less likely to be economically independent, more likely to face family violence, more likely to take on the responsibility of caring for children, and are at risk of much stronger stigma than men if imprisoned – particularly in rural areas where customary law has a stronghold.

325 Womens Prison Tirana Alb 13 (39)

An inmate plays with her child in Tirana’s women’s prison, Ali Demi. The prison accommodates children under the age of three and their mothers in a special wing, with around the clock child care assistance.

This resonates strongly among those in Ali Demi. “Our research in Albania’s prisons has found that many of its women have faced layer upon layer of violence and deprivation, at the hands of their husbands, family and the community, and they will suffer differently inside prison because of it,” said Therese Maria Rytter of Dignity – the Danish Institute Against Torture, which is conducting a study into global conditions for women in prison. “Many are cut off completely by their family, without news or contact with their children, and they dread the future that awaits them when they leave. The mental toll can be much greater.”

Irena Celaj’s approach as a new director took its cues from her social work background, but also very much from Albania’s new openness – in its pursuit of EU membership – to advice and training from international organizations, as well as local NGOs such as Bllaca’s  employer, the Albanian Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma and Torture (ARCT).  The team of ten care staff that Celaj has built at the 52-women prison, including a female head doctor, psychologist and head of social welfare, and seven other nurses and social support staff, has worked closely with the prison service and outside help to counter the gender-specific damage done by detention.

“Many of the women are abandoned because they killed someone within their families,” notes the prison’s Head of Social Welfare, Ingrid Balluka. “But most also did so after a lot of abuse. Some here also took the blame for killings done by their children. They need an extra amount of care, kindness, psychological and social support to heal, to join and face the community again.”

Ali Demi’s social workers spend much of their time mediating with and encouraging visits from women’s families and children, and checking up on children in homes and foster care. Group and individual therapy is often directed at the experiences of gender-based violence, or abandonment. When asked confidentially, many of the detainees’ spoke positively about the emotional support on offer.  “You can heal here,” said one woman, in her seventh year.

Irena Celaj

Irena Celaj

New flexibilities have also proven successful. Visiting hours are much longer than the standard 30-minute regulation; and most women can be released on leave toward the end of their sentence for days at a time as they start to re-establish their outside life. A busy vocational programme and an open door policy for trainers has seen inmates become busier throughout the week, say inmates and NGO workers, with languages, computer skills, cooking and handicrafts.

The morale of the women, as a result, not only appears visibly higher, but translates into an extremely low rate of violent incidents, depression and recidivism.

Bllaca, who works in prisons across the country, calls Ali Demi a ‘happy island’. Its director prefers to term it a place of ‘dynamic security’.

Indeed the only sense of state-led neglect for the women is in their housing – crumbling former military blocks that stand in stark contrast to the new facilities being built for men, but which the women have managed to warm with flowers, paint and handicrafts.

With a change of director almost certain however – along with other staff –  a note of discord has entered the daily life of the prison. The General Director of Prisons has already been replaced, and Celaj has been told to prepare for a handover – to a likely male director.  “I worry about keeping our programmes going. But above all, I worry for the trust we’ve built,” said Balluka. “These relationships are particularly important to women, and many have no one else. They are nervous.”

“I also wonder,” adds Celaj, “if a new prison direct is male, or has a police or a law background, how well he could really understand the needs here; the importance of the small details, and the outreach we’ve been building?”

Through a series of garden courtyards, in a bright, well kept library, inmates spoke privately about their friendships with staff and their dislike of change. “Without these staff I’m not sure how it would be, but not good. I think perhaps that we would fight more with each other,” said one 23-year old. “We even miss them at the weekend, when they’re off,” another woman volunteered. “They have become friends. Our environment is more peaceful with them here.”

Nevertheless, as Albania moves into the twenty first century and closer to Europe, old practices may no longer be renewed, and the change may well be handled differently than in the past.  “Maybe the new administration will see the value of keeping on those who do their job well, and all the training we’ve put into the last five years,” says ARCT founder, Adrian Kati.  “We certainly hope so.”  52 incarcerated women appear to agree.

Life Inside: Images from 325, Ali Demi women’s prison, Albania

Ali Demi prison is physically inadequate for its fifty or so female inmates. Yet despite this, the past five years have seen the prison – under the leadership of a director passionate about rehabilitation –  become a forward-looking place of hope and healing.

325 Womens Prison Tirana Alb 13 (3)

Male security staff are only allowed to work outside the prison, in line with international standards.

 

Though the buildings are old and inadequate, staff have helped the women to create a village atmosphere.

The communist-era buildings are old and inadequate, but staff have helped the women to create a village atmosphere.

 

Four women share each room, and many use their handicraft sessions to make homey furnishings. The doors of the cells are never locked, even at night.

Four women share each room, and many use their handicraft sessions to make furnishings. The doors of the cells are never locked, even at night. Women often wait until the weekends to pay each other social visits for tea and conversation.

 

Some find quiet sanctuary in the workshop. This woman, soon at the end of a 15 year sentence, is making a new wardrobe with material donated by staff and well wishers. She's been able to leave the prison for up to a week a number of times, to acclimatize to the outside world.

Some find quiet sanctuary in the workshop. This woman, soon at the end of a 15 year sentence, is making a new wardrobe with fabric donated by well wishers. In the past year she’s been able to leave the prison for up to a week, on a number of occasions. “It helps us understand how to behave, and prepare for release,” she says. “You can easily lose connection with the outside world.”

 

Women take turns to work in the kitchen as part of a daily work programme. Those who are able work 5-8 hours each weekday day, mostly a rotation of cleaning, gardening, cooking. Most prefer to be busy.

Women take turns to work in the kitchen as part of a daily work programme. Those who are able work do so 5-8 hours each weekday, generally rotating between cleaning, gardening and cooking. Most prefer to be busy, though they earn only 100 lek (1 USD) per month. “Being employed makes everything bearable,” said one woman, 14 years into her sentence. “I feel away from my problems. It keeps them away.”

 

There's a single public phone, but women can make or receive unlimited calls throughout the day. They must pay for outgoing calls using a phone card.

There’s a single public phone, but women can make or receive unlimited calls throughout the day. They must pay for outgoing calls using a phone card. This can be a problem for those abandoned by their families, and without funds of their own. Such abandonment is more common among female inmates, than male.

 

Attempts have been made to make the small visitors' room welcoming, but it doesn't allow for much privacy. Staff have no alternative.

Attempts have been made to make the small visitors’ room welcoming, but it doesn’t allow for much privacy, and staff have little alternative. Conjugal visits can be arranged occasionally though, in a small room nearby.

 

The library features a bank of donated computers

The library features a bank of donated computers. The women’s perspectives vary when it comes to their opportunities after prison, but many with less education prefer to learn vocational skills common to women here: kitchen work and hairdressing, handicrafts and child care. Many still take English or Italian lessons though.

 

Things are changing for women in Albania," said this young woman, who was arrested while finishing a degree in political science. "It's easier for women to be educated. But I'm sure when I leave there will be prejudice. We need to change the mentality of people."

“Things are changing for women in Albania,” said this young woman, who was arrested while finishing a degree in political science. “It’s easier for women to be educated. But I’m sure when I leave there will be prejudice. We need to change the mentality of people.”

 

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Building alliances: Indigenous women leaders unite against development-based violence

UN Women, 23 November 2012 The sound of helicopters still makes Soi Tonnampet shake, years later. It takes her back to the first time she and others from her indigenous community, the Karen, fled from an operation to clear areas of national parkland in Northern Thailand. She recalls that during their first three-day escape through […]

UN Women, 23 November 2012

The sound of helicopters still makes Soi Tonnampet shake, years later. It takes her back to the first time she and others from her indigenous community, the Karen, fled from an operation to clear areas of national parkland in Northern Thailand. She recalls that during their first three-day escape through the forest – one of many – an elderly woman died and another woman miscarried.


Indigenous women shared their concerns about development-induced violence,
and the strategies they have used to address it during the four-day meeting.
Photo credit: UN Women/Jo Baker

 

For Lori Beyer, who is helping indigenous women contend with mining operations in the Philippines, gender-based violence has a different face. “Many of the male campaigners have to go into hiding,” she says. “It makes the women more vulnerable to sexual harassment, intimidation and sometimes worse.”

Although they come from villages far apart, indigenous women’s network members from across Southeast Asia found shared ground during a recent consultation on violence against indigenous women, which focused on forms of violence that are worsened or caused by economic development projects.

 

Soi Tonnampet and Kruemebuh Chaya, both members of the Karen tribe from Keng Kra Chan, Thailand, share their experiences of violence and displacement with the group during a story-telling session. Photo credit: UN Women/Jo Baker.

 

Organized by the Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact and supported by UN Women, the meeting is part of work to connect indigenous women with each other, rights experts, and the skills they need, to define and respond to pressing issues. As decisions on the sustainable development framework are made, and countries – particularly ASEAN members – open up economically, the need to battle their invisibility and lack of public voice has become increasingly important.

“The impact of the violence on indigenous women that comes with militarization of indigenous territories, with the destruction of our natural resources and with the consequence of displacement, affects them not just as individuals but as a collective – through the social-cultural dimension of their identity and dignity,” says Joan Carling, AIPP Secretary General. “If [indigenous women] are not participating in any decision-making where it concerns them, then this issue is not being addressed”.

Although often found in areas of natural wealth, indigenous groups make up 5% of the world’s population, but 15% of the poorest worldwide, according to the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Many contend with extensive damage, marginalization and human rights violations as a result of aggressive development processes.

For women, these harms can take on different forms. The influx of non-indigenous workers and security personnel into indigenous areas has seen prostitution increase, for example, along with sexual harassment and rape. As indigenous livelihoods are altered or destroyed, levels of gender-based violence often rise, and economic, social and cultural harms can affect women differently as their burdens shift or increase. Yet with lower levels of education, and held back by multiple layers of discrimination, indigenous women can struggle to highlight their concerns and lead change.

 
Despite language and cultural barriers the women found solidarity –
and lighter moments – during the consultation.
Photo credit: Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

 

 

Nevertheless, with support, women leaders are emerging as effective advocates.  The Chiang Mai consultation connected twenty-nine indigenous women from eight countries in Southeast Asia  with regional and international human rights experts, women’s rights and indigenous peoples rights advocates – including representatives from the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, and the UN’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP).  “At this workshop I can hear other country’s cases, and how they have overcome [them] so that I learn from them,” says Seng Mai, who has been helping indigenous and rural people to respond to development projects in Myanmar, through the Kachin Development Networking Group. “And I can hear about international law, such as customary law and CEDAW.”

Participants also shared positive progress – whether cases pushed into and through their criminal justice process, interventions triggered from the UN Human Rights Council, or in the case of the Philippines recently, a military court martial successfully campaigned for, for soldiers suspected of extrajudicial killing.

Other network members, with support from UN Women and others, spoke of meeting with decision-makers on international platforms like the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), or the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 (Rio+20).  Many spoke of placing force behind their lobbying using the women’s and collective rights frameworks, found in international instruments such as the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  and CEDAW, known as the Women’s Convention.


Indigenous women from three areas of Indonesia meet with women from
Thailand’s Akha hill tribe, during the participants’ trip to a tribal village in
Chiang Mai. Photo credit: UN Women/Jo Baker

 

At the conclusion of the meeting, participants agreed on an action plan – a series of research, advocacy and capacity building steps for the coming year. For women like Soi, Lori and Seng Mai, the solidarity and the strategizing are a source of knowledge, but also critical encouragement and moral support.

This is a chance for me to bring this information to my country, my village and the women there,” explains Seng Mai. “So in the future when we face problems, we can all address them.”

 

The Southeast Asia Consultation on Development, Access to Justice and the Human Rights of Indigenous Women: Combating development-induced violence against indigenous women, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 30 October – 2 November 2012, was sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency, under UN Women’s Regional Programme on Improving Women’s Human Rights  programme in Southeast Asia

 

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Report: VAWG – Primary Prevention and Multisectoral Services

UN Women, October 2012 

This report is a summary of a global online consultation on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). I organized and moderated the discussion for UN Women, to support preparations for the UN’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women. It brought together the views of diverse respondents on the good practices, and key gaps & challenges in presenting and responding to VAWG, with a focus on prevention and services. Participants included representatives from civil society, government organizations, research and leadership institutions and UN agencies across the world. The summary of this discussion informed the development of the Secretary-General’s reports and inputs to the Commission.

Download: Online-Discussion-Report_CSW-57 

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Legal Study: Reconciling Truth and Gender – Lessons for Sri Lanka

Law & Society Trust Review, 2011

This legal study [download here] explores the scope of the discrimination facing Sri Lanka’s largest group of war-affected survivors – Tamil women in the North and East of the country – and the need for gender-sensitive truth commissioning following the country’s three-decades of conflict. It assesses key legal and practical obstacles to achieving this according to the international legal framework on non-discrimination, and briefly proposes ways to place Tamil women more centrally, and therefore legally, within the transitional narrative.

The paper occupied the full December 2011 volume of Sri Lanka’s Law and Society Trust Review, a monthly legal journal edited by renowned human rights lawyer, Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena (please see Editor’s Note, below), but was featured in various potted forms, such as for popular Sri Lankan media site, Groundviews, and on Open Democracy. The former was cited, as a sound analysis, in the response of the Tamil National Alliance to Sri Lanka’s Reconciliation Commission report in 2011.

The original topic was researched as part of an MA degree in Human Rights Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

 

Editor’s Note

Sri Lanka’s past lessons with Commissions of Inquiry, some of which have been positive but most, overwhelmingly negative, are applicable and relevant without adoubt to victims of all ethnicities and all communities in the country. This is a fact that must be understood in all its complexity though the perception may be that their relevance is limited to the minority communities.

Many of these bodies have been extremely politicized in their composition and functioning. Evenwhere a Commission of Inquiry functioned reasonably well, its recommendationswere routinely ignored by the administration of the day, despite the considerable benefits that may have accrued to citizens through full implementation. This is a reality not limited to a particular government or a particular executive, which again may not reflect the common perception.

The LST Review in its concluding Issue for the year 2011 publishes a reflection on truth telling and gender by researcher Jo Baker which examines the manner inwhich the critique of Sri Lanka’s Commission of Inquiry may be expanded, by taking into account the failure by such bodies to address gender discrimination issues. As she points out, though Commissions of Inquiry within Sri Lanka’s specific legal context cannot strictly be defined as truth telling mechanisms, nevertheless, they retain some relevant elements, such as gathering a credible picture of human rights violations.

Using international best practice, she looks at a gendered experience of conflict and displacement regarding women belonging to the ethnic Tamil minority from the broader viewpoint of discriminatory practices as well as their treatment by Commissions of Inquiry. While her analysis is therefore limited in terms of its subjects, it may well be opportune to reflect that the key areas identified by her for change in future experiments of this nature in truth telling, apply across the board to women of all ethnicities. As Sri Lanka has learnt from past experience, nominal representation of womenwhether in commissions, in politics, in administration or in the judiciary does not ensure that the needs and concerns of women, which demand specific and specialtreatment, are addressed.

Insofar as Commissions of Inquiry are concerned, their mandates must reflect this, their resources must allow for this and the general environment in which they function must embody this quite apart from the superficial and nominal inclusion of a woman as part of the composition of the body.  Sri Lanka has yet to see this type of sensitivity in the establishment and functioningof inquiry bodies of this nature and the writer is quite correct in making the point that the critique of a commission process must embrace questions of gender inclusivity as well as the commonly emphasized focus on independence and effectiveness. Comparative experience has shown that these exercises may be structured verydifferently from what Sri Lanka has known.

As she comments: Recently designed truth commissions in Sierra Leone and Timor Leste have begun to build an explicit reference to gender into the legal instrument that creates them, ensuring dedicated staff, resources and guidelines, and more comprehensiveinvolvement by female survivors. This has allowed for more consistent investigation into the privatized and structural harms that come from conflict, for the proper cross distribution of these findings in the report and – essentially – in any follow up action.

And ideally, the mandate must include not only violations in the public sphere but also violations in the private sphere, as this is where violence against women is centered, particularly in the context of conflict and displacement. Commissioners themselves who are appointed to these bodies must realize the importance of these concerns. Gender sensitive procedures of protection are imperative for such efforts. This paper is a substantial contribution to the existing debates of truth telling in Sri Lanka and it is hoped, will provoke a more extensive study across ethnicities inorder to better inform the public mind.

– Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

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