Pakistan Wednesday September 13, 2006, Shaaban 19, 1427 A.H.
Women's Protection Bill a farce: HRCP
By our correspondent
[Scroll down to read: Women's Bill fiasco and Pakistan rape reform fails after Musharraf caves in]
KARACHI: “Women’s Protection Bill is a farcical attempt at making the Hudood Ordinances acceptable,” says the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressing its discontent over the latest compromise made by the government with respect to the amendments in the ordinance.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the HRCP reiterated its demand to repeal the Hudood laws saying that the government “should refrain from using the issues of women’s rights to further its own interests, rather than making any real effort to better
the plight of the fair sex in the country.”
Disappointed with the amended bill, the HRCP argued that the implications of the ordinances go far beyond discrimination and persecution of women on the plea of morality. It remarked that the bill has failed to address victims of rape who are imprisoned under Tazir punishment of Zina (adultery).
The HRCP also noted that the two amendments introduced earlier by the clerics within the ruling party had stiffened conditions for complaint of Qazf. “By keeping Hadd punishment of Zina-bil-jabr in the ordinance, while moving the Tazir punishment to the PPC, the authors of the draft have created confusion in deciding jurisdiction of the appellate court,” it added.
This will benefit only those accused of Zina-bil-jabr. In addition the government has agreed to replace Section 3 of the draft interpreting the ordinance according to the injunctions of Islam.
Addition of Section 3, the statement said, could undo the meaningful amendment made in the law. The Abolition of the Punishment of Whipping Act, 1996 that abolished mandatory public whippings for the crimes of Zina (adultery) and Zina-bil-jabr (rape).
“The law prescribes punishments that are inhuman and allows for evidence of male Muslim witnesses for application of Hadd punishments,” it added, further indicating that the amended bill would be detrimental to the rights of non-Muslim citizens who may not subscribe to Islamic principles.
“Such open-ended jurisdiction granted to an already cowed down judiciary will result in authentication of the most conservative form of religious interpretations."
Pakistan: Wednesday September 13, 2006, Shaaban 19, 1427 A.H.
Women's bill fiasco
FAR from having the women’s rights bill passed and adding a feather to its cap, the government seems to have created an utter mess as much for itself as for the original and basically sound idea of amendments to the Hudood ordinances. That the Hudood laws would not be repealed but would be amended was itself a climbdown from the hopes aroused by the repeated declarations by President Pervez Musharraf that one of the aims of his government was to improve the lot of women and minorities and other disadvantaged groups by doing away with discriminatory laws. Later, it became obvious that the government did not have the courage to stare the still-strong Zia lobby in the face and make the necessary changes in the Hudood laws if a repeal was not possible. Now the events of the last few days, the deferment of the bill twice in five days, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s ego-boosting heli-lift testify as much to the clerics’ power as to the ruling party’s political pussyfooting.
London -- September 12, 2006
One might now be tempted to ask whose brilliant idea it was to synchronise the passage of the women’s rights bill with the president’s visit to the US. In the first place, it is doubtful that a parliamentary approval of the bill would have really made a difference to the outcome of the president’s American trip. At best the president could perhaps have an easy time with the American media, the rights groups and the plethora of boisterous and volatile Pakistani associations in the US. In fact, possibilities are that the president will be grilled much more on the North Waziristan situation than on the proposed changes in a law that few even on Capitol Hill or among the US media have any idea about. Whether the law in its final form will really conform to the original aim behind the women’s rights bill remains to be seen, but the plain fact is that the government has shown an appalling lack of political sagacity and its vacillation in tackling the forces of obscurantism which claim for themselves the sole right to interpret Islam in the 21st century.
Pakistan rape reform fails after Musharraf caves in
By Jerome Taylor In a setback for women's rights in Pakistan, the ruling party in Islamabad has caved in to religious conservatives by dropping its plans to reform rape laws.
Statutes known as the Hudood ordinances, based on sharia law, currently operate in Pakistan. They require a female rape victim to produce four male witnesses to corroborate her account, or she risks facing a new charge of adultery.
The ruling party in Islamabad, made up of a coalition of groups allied to President Pervez Musharraf, had hoped the new Protection of Women Bill would place the crime of rape within the country's secular penal code, which works in tandem with sharia.
But the government said rape would remain a crime punished by Islamic law yesterday after conservatives in an opposition group, Muttahida Majlis-I-Amal (MMA), threatened to walk out of parliament in protest if the government pushed ahead with reforms.
"If there are four witnesses it will be tried under [Islamic law], if there are not, it will be tried under the penal code," said the law minister, Mohammad Wasi Zafar. "In the case of both adultery and rape, the judge will decide how to try the case." A new amended bill will now be presented to parliament on Wednesday.
The news is a significant victory for the MMA, which have vehemently opposed any attempts to lessen the influence of sharia.
The Hudood ordinances were enshrined in Pakistani law in 1979 by General Zia ul-Haq in an attempt to appease the country's powerful religious elite following his military coup. They have been routinely criticised by local and international rights groups. Previous governments under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have tried to repeal the laws but failed.
General Musharraf had told rights groups he was willing to back plans for rape to be tried in the secular courts as part of his much trumpeted "enlightened moderation" ideology. The timing of the amended bill will be embarrassing for the President, who is touring Europe and the United States. Pakistan's Western allies have pressured General Musharraf to improve the rights situation in his country, particularly for women.
The failure of the new bill will be also be a bitter disappointment to women's groups in Pakistan, whichhave campaigned against the Hudood ordinances. Most women refuse to report a rape for fear they will be treated as a criminal. Under current laws, a victim risks courting punishment if she reports a rape allegation as the Hudood ordinances criminalise all extra-marital sex. A woman who fails to prove that she was raped could then be charged with adultery under the same legislation.
According to a 2002 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a woman is raped every two hours and gang raped every eight hours. However, because of social taboos, discriminatory laws and victimisation of victims by police, campaigners say that the scale of rape is almost certainly higher.
Despite the dangers, Pakistani women had begun to fight back. In 2002, a woman named Mukhtar Mai forced the government drastically to reassess women's rights in Pakistan after she dared to speak out publicly. She had been gang-raped by a number of men on the orders of a village council.
The Protection of Women Bill was, until yesterday, part of the government's attempts to reform Pakistan's laws following her rape.