New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

28 March, 2011

Big Brother is watching

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

When organisers of an election meeting in Kerala turned up at the venue on Saturday they found a camera team at work. The team was recording the scene at the instance of the Election Commission’s observers.

Elsewhere in the state, observers, acting on a tip-off, stopped a truck and seized election posters of a political party. The posters bore the name of a press in Thiruvananthapuram but were probably printed in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

In Assam and West Bengal, tax officials seized more than Rs 75 million in cash from six persons. They were acting on information that the money was to be used for election purposes.

These incidents are indicative of the unprecedented measures taken by the Commission in the states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal and the union territory of Puducherry, which are going to the polls next month, with a view to ensuring free and fair elections.

It has set up an elaborate monitoring system to keep track of what the parties and the candidates are doing. But for the country’s democratic framework and the context of the elections, the eagle-eye watch may have raised Orwellian fears.

The Commission has already deployed General Observers and Expenditure Observers. It plans to post Micro Observers to observe the proceedings at the polling stations on the day of the poll.

In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, it has appointed Police Observers to keep a watch on the law and order situation. While polling in Kerala and Tamil Nadu is to be completed in one day, in Assam it will be held in two phases and in West Bengal in six phases.

West Bengal, which has 294 assembly constituencies, is the largest state figuring in the election calendar. Polling in the state has been spread over a period of more than three weeks to facilitate tighter control over the process than elsewhere, taking into account allegations that the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which heads the Left Front that has been in power continuously for more than three decades, had been resorting to rigging.

The Commission has ordered that all critical election-related events be videographed. The district election officers have been asked to arrange a sufficient number of camera teams and video and digital cameras for the purpose.

The expenditure an Assembly candidate can incur is fixed by law. After the elections each candidate is required file a statement showing the expenditure he incurred. In the past, many candidates are known to have spent more than the permitted amount and withheld items of expenditure to keep his spending within the ceiling.

The scheme devised by the Commission seeks to address complaints of laxity in enforcement of the law. It has asked the candidates to open separate bank accounts for election purposes. It has also suggested that they appoint ‘expenditure agents’ to keep track of all poll-related spending.

Video teams deployed by the Commission’s observers are moving around recording campaign scenes. A ‘shadow observation register’ on spending by each candidate is being maintained. It will be available to be produced as evidence in the court if there is an election case.

District-level media certification and monitoring committees are poring over newspapers and scrutinising television programmes for evidence of ‘paid news’.

The Election Commission started looking at the ‘paid news’ phenomenon following allegations that during the 2009 elections in Maharashtra some candidates bought space in the news columns of dailies.

The Big Brother is watching. But will the new election regime work? The Bharatiya Janata Party has complained that a news channel in Assam, of which the wife of a state minister is the managing director, is doing propaganda for the Congress and that this comes within the mischief of ‘paid news’.

While the Commission has met with some success in dealing with ‘paid news’, it is aware that the problem is a complex one. Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi has stated that self-regulation by both the media and the political parties offered the best chance of eliminating it altogether.

The camera crew at the meeting venue in Kerala were thrashed by party workers. A politician with business interests caught with cash in West Bengal claimed the money was meant for his business.

The real problem is the high level of political dishonesty and low level of democratic decency, which are problems which do not admit of easy solutions. --Gulf Today, March 28, 2011.

21 March, 2011

WikiLeaks puts Manmohan government in tight spot

By Brp Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Indian parliament was paralysed last week as the highly regarded newspaper, The Hindu, began dishing out reports based on United States embassy cables obtained from WikiLeaks.

The very first installment contained juicy material like differences between the prime minister and the national security adviser on relations with Pakistan and differences between India and the US on matters such as sharing of information relating to the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.

One report drew said the US ambassador had informed his principals that a just concluded cabinet reshuffle was “likely to be excellent” for US goals.

Both the Right and the Left came down heavily on the government. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh, who was external affairs minister in the AB Vajpayee government, wondered whether India’s foreign policy was drafted in the US.

He demanded that the government either deny the reports or take action. The opposition cannot be faulted for seeking political benefit from the leaked cables. However, it cannot be said to have assessed their worth properly.

The media probably contributed to the emergence of an exaggerated view of the importance of the cables by the way it handled them.

While the team of experienced journalists who produced The Hindu’s reports demonstrated good professional judgment, its Editor-in-Chief N. Ram hyped them as “a series of unprecedented insights” into India’s foreign policy and domestic affairs, “encountered, observed, tracked, interpreted, commented upon, appreciated, and pilloried by US diplomats.”

He observed that “the trained diplomat’s eye is almost always on the ball” and went on to elaborate: “These American diplomats have been trained to listen, probe and prod, massage egos, milk sources, report, and write (supplying accessible and, at times, witty and elegant headings and sub-headings) to inform, analyse, and amuse — as though they were full-time journalists.

“Many of them work like wire service beavers: long lunches, yes, but very often, same day reports of important meetings. Few things escape their notice.”

However, some readers, in letters published by the newspaper, revealed sound understanding of the nature of diplomatic intelligence.

“Should our media, the public and MPs spend so much time over such news?” asked one.

“The observations pertain merely to interpretations of what diplomats heard and gathered from small talk and gossip,” remarked another.

The most damaging document to emerge from the India cache was not about foreign or domestic policy as such but alleged use of bribery by the Congress party to save the last United Progressive Alliance government after the Left parties had withdrawn their support in a bid to block the Indo-US nuclear deal. The cash-for-vote charge was not new.

In 2008, three BJP members had created a sensation by bringing into the Lok Sabha currency notes which they said were part of Rs30 million offered to them to vote with the government.

A parliamentary probe into the incident was inconclusive. It ended with a recommendation for further investigation.

The leaked cable said a Congress minister’s aide had shown a US embassy official two chests of currency notes kept ready to buy MPs’ votes.

The BJP and the Left parties were not impressed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s argument that the parliamentary committee which probed the matter had found no evidence of payments. The BJP demanded his resignation.

The next day it was the BJP’s turn to squirm with the surfacing of a cable which said its leaders had told US diplomats not to read too much into their criticism of the UPA government for subservience as it was political rhetoric meant to score points.

Only about 50 of 5,100 cables accessed by the newspaper have seen the light of the day so far. It is not known how many more weeks of titillation lies ahead and how much embarrassment is awaiting whom.

While the authenticity of the cables can be questioned, the government cannot use it as an excuse to evade its responsibility to investigate crimes like vote-buying. It is another matter whether the system has the capacity to bring high-level bribe givers and takers to justice. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 21, 2011

18 March, 2011

December 9 to be Human Rights Defenders Day

Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, Executive Director and Secretary General of Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), Varanasi, has demanded that December 9, the day on which the United Nations adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, be designated Human Rights Defenders Day.

He made the suggestion at a meeting of human rights defenders from different parts of India held in Varanasi under the aegis of European Union, Research and Rehabilitation Centre on Torture and Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights.

He said protection of human rights defenders was a need of the hour. The state cannot evade its responsibility to take care of rights activists in the light of Article 2 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, he added.

Mr. Chitaranjan Singh, National Secretary of Peoples Union for Civil Liberty, who presided over the meeting, asked the National Human Rights Commission to strive to be an independent investigating mechanism that can promptly and impartially investigate cases of rights violation.

Many human rights defenders like Budhiram Toppo, a young tribal activist from Sonebhadra, Govidsharan from Allahabad, Mangal Singh from Mahoba, Parvez from Kaushambi, Sanjay Singh from Jalaun, who were all victimized for their activities, narrated their experiences.

Budhiram Toppo was sent to jail in false cases, tortured and threatened for working on land rights and other rights of the tribal communities.

Sanjay Singh, who had worked with his father Lalla Singh who was killed in the course of his work as a human rights defender, was presented the Jan Mitra Samman’ at the function.

Harishchandra alias Bhothu Musahar, a victim of police torture, was also honoured and given a shawl and a cash award of Rs. 5,000.

Anil Parashar, Joint Registrar of NHRC, who was present at the meeting, said the NHRC was aware of the plight of human rights defenders and was sending its recommendations to the Central and State governments from time to time regarding steps to be taken to protect the rights of victims by way of compensation or action against the perpetrators.

Sunil Sahasrabuddhe, a reputed Gandhian activist, said it was ironic that human rights defenders faced hostilities. They were being harassed and implicated in false criminal cases. As for right to life, the situation was going from bad to worse day by day.

It was decided to convene a national level meeting on Varanasi on December 9 this year to mark the Human Rights Defenders Day and raise awareness about the rights of human rights defenders.

17 March, 2011

AHRC's new website

The following is a communication from the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Dear Friends,

Following the introduction a few months ago of the new website of the Asian Human Rights Commission we wish to inform you that the AHRC will discontinue its old website at www.ahrchk.net with effect from today. We invite all friends, partners, activists and interested persons to visit the AHRC's new website at
www.humanrights.asia



The new online portal about the human rights situation in Asian countries features search specific RSS feeds, improved content integration, a live search and the AHRCs' new podcasts together with many other new features. A complete review of the page's design, content structure and facilities makes information and contents more easily accessible and the site one of the most resourceful places about human rights in Asia in the internet with updates and new cases every few hours.

What this change means for visitors:
• You will find all past and future updates about the human rights situation in Asia on www.humanrights.asia
• Visitors to the old site be automatically redirected to www.humanrights.asia
• The old site will not be updated and no content additions will be made there
• You will be able to find your content much faster with the search box in www.humanrights.asia
• You can follow us via news feeds on the themes and countries you are interested in
• Other websites under subdomains of ahrchk.net will still be available under their old address such as material.ahrchk.net
• You can follow AHRC on twitter and facebook at http://twitter.com/humanrightsasia and http://www.facebook.com/asianhumanrightscommission

For any feedback and questions about www.humanrights.asia, please contact us at http://www.humanrights.asia/contact-us and Select Department: Webmaster in the form. We will add more features in the coming months to the site.



Please subscribe to our weekly digest newsletter, which summarises all of the human rights news from the AHRC of the last 7 days in one convenient email. To subscribe click here and select Weekly Digest.

The website of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, the sister organisation of the AHRC remains available at www.alrc.net.

14 March, 2011

Marching into old age

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

About half of India’s population is younger than 25 years. According to some experts, between 2010 and 2030 the country’s working-age population will grow by 241 million while China’s will grow by only 10 million. This is supposed to give India a distinct advantage in the perceived economic competition with its neighbour.

There is, however, no room for euphoria. The old age population — those aged 60 years and above — which registered only a small increase in the last century, from 5.06 per cent in 1901 to 7.70 per cent in 2001, is set to grow at a fast pace. It is expected to soar to 23 and 30 per cent by 2050.

Some parts of India are already facing the problem of an ageing population. The problem appears to be more acute in the villages than in the urban areas. A national sample survey held a few years ago showed that 84 out of 1,000 aged persons in rural areas could not move and were confined to the bed or home as against only 77 out of 1,000 in the urban areas.

Ageing has assumed serious proportions in Kerala, which boasts of social development indices comparable to those of the West. The state had an old age population of 8.2 per cent at the time of the 2001 census. While the 2011 census data is still being processed, it is estimated that the state’s old age population is now around 11 per cent and may rise to 20 per cent in a decade.

Kerala, which accounts for only about 3.5 per cent of India’s population, already had about 11 per cent of its old age population of 77 million in 2001. An expert group of the Planning Commission has estimated that, life expectancy in the state, which is 71 years for men and 76 years for women, may rise to 75 years and 79 years respectively in 20 years. This means the state is close to the stage where it will have to take care of two generations of old people.

Kerala’s predicament is the result of a successful family planning programme. Tamil Nadu, which has the best record in population control after Kerala, also has a growing geriatric population.

1n 1999, the Indian government formulated a National Policy on Older Persons to ensure the well-being of senior citizens. It envisages provision of state support for financial and food security, health care, shelter and other needs of older persons, an equitable share in development, protection against abuse and exploitation, and certain services to improve the quality of their lives.

Although the Centre advised the states to formulate separate policies of their own to supplement its efforts, few has done so. At present the Centre is reviewing the working of the national policy. This exercise is likely to result in some changes in the policy.

In 2007, the Centre enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act to cast on the younger generation an obligation to provide need-based maintenance to parents and other senior citizens. If children fail to discharge their duty, parents can seek relief from a tribunal set up for the purpose. The law provides for protection of life and property of senior citizens, revocation of transfer of property and award of penalty in case of negligence or abandonment by relatives.

Almost all states have brought the law into force but many of them are yet to take follow-up measures like framing of rules, appointment of maintenance officers and setting up of maintenance tribunals.

The increasing number of cases of neglect of parents reported from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which have taken follow-up measures, indicates that the law is not yielding the desired results. Last November Tehelka magazine reported that in some villages of Tamil Nadu family members use the services of quacks to extinguish the lives of senior citizens by administering some poisonous stuff as they are not able to bear the burden of looking after them.

The law is failing as it does not address some critical issues. A comprehensive social security system is needed to ensure that the old do not become a burden on the young. The limited geriatric care facilities available in the country are located in the cities. Such facilities must be available at the primary health centres which serve the rural population. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, March14, 2011

08 March, 2011

AHRC: Unabated violence against women impedes social change

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of International Human Rights Day:

For 100 years now, a strong struggle for equal rights between genders has been taking place in the world. International women's day is the opportunity to celebrate women's economic, political and social achievements. It is the day to acknowledge the enormous potential of women in service of the prosperity of their communities and the core societal role they have to play for peace and political and economic development in their countries. Having educated and empowered women actively participating in every sphere of the public life of their country has for long been acknowledged as the key to development and prosperity in all the countries of the world. Discrimination against women has been formally recognized as a violation of human dignity and as riding roughshod over the concept that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. Nevertheless, in numerous corners of the Asian region, direct and indirect violence and discrimination, under various forms continue to oppress women and prevent them from fully achieving their potential for change. Through 2010 and since the beginning of 2011, the Asian Human Rights Commission has been aware of numerous cases of such oppression. The diversity of Asia clearly illustrates that the formal recognition of equal rights without discrimination based on gender and criminalization of gender-based violence has failed to materialize in practice. Violence against women is sometimes justified through the evocation of tradition and religion and is exploiting the weak rule of law framework of numerous Asian countries to the advantage of the male-dominated society. It is used to control the behaviour of women, prevent them from freely taking part in public debate and continuously undermines the expression of women's potential for change in Asia.

The Global Gender Gap Index of 2010 offered a clear overview of the disparities which exists in the Asian region with regard to the country level of advancement in terms of equality of rights and opportunities between genders. The Philippines and Sri Lanka rank respectively as 9th and 16th out of 134 countries in terms of gender equality, mostly due to the achievements of those two countries in reducing the gender-gap in education and health while Pakistan ranks the third worst country in the world in terms of gender equality. Thailand ranks 57th globally but ranks among the best countries in terms of maternal health and 36th in terms of economic opportunity for the women, with women representing the majority (51%) of the non-agricultural labour force, a rarity in the Asian context. The gender situation in Bangladesh and Indonesia is less optimistic: ranking respectively as 82th and 87th. The scores of both countries are increased only by the fact that they have women as their head of State, but their scores in terms of economic empowerment, access to education and health are very low. Closing this ranking are India (112th), Nepal (114th) and Pakistan (132th) with extremely important discrepancies between genders in all spheres of life.

In a number of Asian countries patriarchal cultural and religious traditions are invoked to systematically control women's lives, their free will and even their bodies and hamper the full realization of their potential. In India, discrimination rooted in gender prejudices that foster stereotypical roles for the girl child and women is one of the reasons for the poor state of affairs of women. The concept of purity and submission superimposed upon women by cultural and religious practices, restrict their access to education and limits their freedom to choose the employment of their choice. The continuing practice of demanding and paying dowry, though prohibited by the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 limits the parents' interest to educate a girl child.

Another example is the common practice in some communities in Pakistan that at the time of birth of a girl, she is declared engaged to be married to a boy which will prevent the 'engaged' girl from freely choosing her future as her fate is sealed from the day of her birth.

Similarly, honour killings remain a strong issue in South Asia. The women being seen as carrying the honour of the family can be murdered if a family or the community considers that she is following a path different to what was expected of her. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 5,000 women die each year in honour killings worldwide. However, the actual number is likely to be much higher as the cases largely go unreported.

Another example of religion or tradition being invoked by the community to control the lives of the women was seen in a case reported in August 2010 from Sri Lanka. A husband was forced by community members of the local mosque to sign a document agreeing to the punishment of his 17-year-old wife for having given birth to a child as a result of an extra-marital relationship. The woman, who was sick, was then beaten 100 times with the hard centre stem of a coconut frond.

Similarly, in Bangladesh, the Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women expressed its concern in February 2011 that "despite the High Court's decision that the extra-judicial punishments, fatwas, are illegal, there are reports of illegal penalties being enforced through shalish rulings to punish "anti-social and immoral behaviour". In January 2011, a 14-year-old girl was "lashed to death" following a punishment given by a village court consisting of elders and clerics under the Shari'ah law, after being accused of having an affair with a married man.

In some countries the "traditions" invoked to maintain the women in a state of oppression benefit from the support of the authorities, like in Pakistan, or are even reflected in the legal framework like in Aceh where some of the criminal laws are based on the misinterpretation of the Shari'ah. A 2010 report by Human Rights Watch "Policing morality" on the law related to "seclusion" which makes association with a unmarried member of the opposite sex a criminal offense punishable by caning and a fine and to public dress requirement, two of the five Shari'ah laws in Aceh, revealed that these laws are abusively implemented by the authorities and document cases of aggressive interrogation, including beating of the suspects, forcing the suspects to marry and forcing women and girls to submit to virginity examinations as part of the investigation.

The Jirga courts in Pakistan oppress women's rights and, though illegal, are tolerated or even supported by the authorities. Jirgas deny the equality between women and men, apply corporal or capital punishments upon women whose behaviour is seen as deviating from traditional standards and lack standards of fair trial. In July 2010, a woman was condemned to stoning to death by a Jirga merely for having been seen as walking alone with a man. In May 2010, a young couple was marked for death by a Jirga that included police officers because the woman had denied a suitor selected by her family in favour of her husband, who came from outside of the tribe. Despite an eventual Sindh High Court ruling in favour of the couple, community members and police continued to persecute the couple and the groom's family. Legal and social complicity results in near impunity for those who continue to abide by the Jirga rather than law and perpetrates honour killings. The government has not been seen to take any sort of action to pronounce the Jirgas' ruling as illegal and to dismantle them by taking action against the individuals engaged in running them.

Those cultural and religious representations remain strong obstacles in the way of women who want to take an active part in the future of their communities. Even in countries which are trying to achieve a 33% representation of women in the Parliament, such target remains very hard to reach; Nepal being the only Asian country to have achieved that goal so far. Women seeking emancipation are the target of those who want to maintain the patriarchal order of the society and see female emancipation as a direct threat to their own power and social status.

Acid attacks in Bangladesh and Pakistan against women who dare to say "no" to a marriage or a relationship are a case in point. Threats and harassment against women human rights defenders in Nepal further show the society resistance to those seen as challenging the established social order.

In some countries, women are considered as simple chattel that can be exchanged to maintain the relationship between families; to settle conflicts or a commodity that can, more simply, be sold. In February 2011, the AHRC documented a case of marriage which was opposed by the 70-year-old father of the bride in Pakistan. As "compensation" for the marriage and the loss of his daughter, the father demanded the barter of a girl from the groom's family.

In South Asia, cases of dowry disputes and dowry deaths also reveal the value placed upon a woman's life. These are cases where the groom's family claims that they had not received enough material benefits to accept the woman into the family. Those claims may result in assault, mental and physical harassment of the bride, and ultimately, in her killing.

Further, Asia continues to suffer from a massive phenomenon of trafficking in women. In many cases the authorities cooperate with trafficking rings and brothels were women are kept, effectively imprisoned for sex work. Due to the irregular immigration of trafficked women, the victims often have no legal status in the country where they are trafficked to and risk detention should they try to escape or lodge a complaint with the local authorities. In Thailand, sex workers are particularly at risk of exploitation and stigmatisation with cases of arrest and humiliation commonly reported, while rape cases of women sex workers are not properly dealt with.

All the cases mentioned above clearly show a pattern that, although the attitude of state actors is primordial in dealing with cases of violence against women, the functioning of law enforcement agencies in practice reflects the patriarchal values of the society and further contribute to oppress the women. The systematic failures of the criminal justice systems have been exploited by perpetrators to deny justice and protection to the victims of gender-based violence and to maintain the women in a situation of vulnerability. For instance, in almost all the countries in Asia, authorities at all levels of the judicial system have denied assistance and justice to rape victims and protected the perpetrators, resulting in a de facto "decriminalisation of rape". Victims of rape and gender-based violence seeking legal redress face harassment, threats from the authorities and community members and often the courage required to confront such obstacles to get justice is only rewarded with impunity for the perpetrators. This starts from the moment the victim makes the complaint of rape. In almost all of Asia there are incidents of police officers refusing to accept the complaint, forcing the victim to negotiate a settlement with the perpetrators or in specific countries even to marry the perpetrators.

Collusion between the perpetrators of rape and police officers is common. Further, the social stigma surrounding rape and women filing cases in the police station and economic dependency of women are the most important of all obstacles hampering the women's access to redress.

In a case in Nepal last July, the police took the rape victim in custody twice at the demand of the perpetrators which resulted in having all the physical traces of rape disappear. In Sri Lanka, in January 2011, the family of a 23-year-old physically and mentally disabled rape victim was forced by the police to accept monetary compensation from the perpetrator as a settlement for the case. In Pakistan, in December 2010, a woman was raped by a local gangster with the help of two police informers and was forced by the police to withdraw her complaint. In India, women face additional risks at the hands of law enforcement officers than their male counterparts due to the risk of sexual harassment and even custodial rape. In a case reported on 1 February this year, once again from Assam state, the police officers assaulted and sexually abused a woman and her mother when the officers came to their house in search of a male suspect. In this case too, the police have refused to register a case against the accused despite written complaints.

These cases, from different corners of Asia, illustrate that protecting the right of women is intrinsically linked to the state of rule of law in the country, in particular to a sensitisation of the police and to the introduction of accountability within the ranks of law enforcement agencies.

All over Asia, the situation of women belonging to communities which are traditionally marginalized and discriminated against deserves a special mention as those women will be exploited at several levels with even less access to judiciary and state institutions than women belonging to the dominant majority in the country.

In India and Nepal for instance, women belonging to the Dalit or tribal communities are more vulnerable to rape as their lives and dignity are seen as less valuable and they have less access to judicial institutions. Nepal has also recently seen an increase in cases of isolated women, often widows and often from the Dalit community, being trashed, violently beaten, tortured and forced to eat human excreta after being accused of "witchcraft" by villagers. The Women's Rehabilitation Center (WOREC) has documented 82 such cases within two years. In Pakistan, women from religious minorities are targeted, abducted and forcibly married to convert them to Islam. It is estimated that 20 to 25 Hindu girls are abducted each month and forcibly converted to Islam. In March 2010, the family of a 17-year-old Hindu girl who was kidnapped by three influential Muslim brothers and raped by one of them, was pressured into accepting her wedding to her rapist and her conversion to Islam by a jirga. Judicial and police inaction went as far as arresting the victim's father under a fake case and intense pressure from ruling party members and local landlords prevented the family from seeking further assistance.

The targeting of women from marginalized castes or classes or religious and ethnic minorities is not an aimless and insignificant act; on the contrary it has calculated implications and impact. Raping or abusing the women aims at not only destroying the victim but also, through her, the community. Rape and violence against women has become an instrument of power in the hands of the dominant majority. The victimization of women from marginalized castes or classes contributes to the maintenance of power and the domination of "upper" classes or castes while the victimization of women from minorities, religious or ethnic, aims at destroying the whole structure of that community, integrating them into the "mainstream" majority through the destruction of their identity. This aspect is particularly evident in the case of Burma, where women from ethnic minorities are the target of systematic, state-induced campaigns of rape and other forms of sexual abuses by soldiers in order to "spread the blood" of the ethnic majority and to humiliate and oppress. "Licence to Rape", a June 2002 report by the Shan Women's Action Network documented 173 cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence, with 625 Shan girls and women victimized by Burmese soldiers from 1996 to 2001 and showed that rape was condoned as a weapon of war from the Burmese state in order to subjugate and control ethnic minorities. Documentation by women's groups shows that such cases of rape; torture and killings of women continue unabated in other areas of ethnic conflict.

More generally speaking, women in areas of conflict suffer from specific abuses and often find themselves deprived of any legal remedy; in the South of Thailand, women are facing unrest and loss but have not been provided any kind of remedies. The Victim Protection Scheme is inappropriately implemented, which deprives the victims seeking justice with any kind of remedy. In Nepal, during the decade-long conflict, the women faced gender-based violence and sexual violence but such victims have remained invisible and absent of the government relief programmes and compensation schemes for conflict victims, a joint report by Advocacy Forum and the International Center for Transitional Justice found.

Gender bias is also visible in larger issues like poverty and malnutrition. For instance, in South Asia and South-East Asia, in both urban and rural poverty, often the direct victim of poverty and malnutrition is the women and/or the girl child. In most cases reported by the AHRC, the pattern shows that it is the mother and the girl child which face the worst brunt of poverty.

Women therefore suffer from multi-layered, multi-facetted discrimination and forms of violence in Asia. The malfunctioning of the rule of law framework is exploited by those who want to prevent women from playing a major role in the public sphere.

Nevertheless, throughout Asia, women continue to gather, organise and defend their rights and the rights of their community. The fight of those thousands of anonymous women not only contributes to the promotion of the "rights of women" but also to the advancement of democracy in their community as a whole.

In countries where reservations were made to ensure the representation of women in elected bodies, especially at the local level, women have been able to make use of such arenas to raise concrete issues of tremendous importance for the community, such as access to water.

In Nepal, women have played a tremendously important role in the popular uprising of 2006 which lead to the end of the conflict and the establishment of democracy in the country. Similarly in India, it is a woman, Ms. Iron Chanu Sharmila of Manipur, who has today become the beacon of hope and peace. Sharmila has undergone a ten-year-long fast in protest against the ongoing violence and impunity in India, committed both by the state and non-state actors. The state attempted to stifle her protest by keeping Sharmila in arbitrary and solitary detention in a hospital room for the past ten years in which she is force fed through a nasal tube. In Burma, it is also the fight of a woman, Aung San Suu Kyi that has become the incarnation of the hopes for peace, human rights and democracy of the people. In Sri Lanka, women activists and lawyers are taking a great role in the fight against torture and support to the victims. In Pakistan, it is a woman parliamentarian who had the courage to deposit a law in the Parliament seeking to amend the Blasphemy law under which religious minorities face persecutions.

On Women International Day, the AHRC calls for comprehensive action, from all forces of the society, to create the conditions for women to fully express their potential for better change.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

07 March, 2011

Justice won and lost as corruption cases drag on

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Two Indian court verdicts of last week bear out the old dictum “You win some, you lose some.”

First, the success: the Supreme Court eased out of office the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, PJ Thomas, who was installed at the top of the anti-graft machinery while he was an accused in a corruption case.

Now, the failure: a Delhi magistrate’s court allowed the Central Bureau of Investigation to close the case against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, an accused in the Bofors case, which was the country’s biggest corruption case until the 2G scam surfaced.

In March 1986 the Swedish Radio reported that arms manufacturers AB Bofors had paid kickbacks to Indian politicians and middlemen to obtain Rs14.37 billion order the previous year for the supply of 400 howitzers.

The government’s claim that there were no intermediaries collapsed when the media published documents relating to transfer of funds by the company to several unknown entities, and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had to quit.

Bofors representative Win Chadha, the Hinduja brothers with business interests in India and abroad, and Quattrocchi, a family friend of Rajiv Gandhi, were said to be among the beneficiaries of the deal.

The CBI caught up with Quattrocchi twice - in Malaysia and Argentina - but could not get him to India.

Inability to apprehend foreign offenders is a glaring weakness of the Indian judicial process.

Apart from Quattrocchi and Martin Ardbo, both of whom figured in the Bofors case, former Union Carbon Company chief Warren Anderson, accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy case, and Jean Claude Pingat of the Canadian SNC-Lavalin Group, wanted in the Lavalin case in which Communist Party of India-Marxist state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan is also an accused, are among the foreigners who have dodged legal proceedings.

In 2004, nearly 13 years after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the Delhi high court quashed the charges against him in the Bofors case.

So far, the government has spent Rs 2.5 billion on the investigation of this case.

“How long can we allow the hard-earned money of the aam aadmi (common man) to be used for this case?” asked Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav while allowing the CBI to end the Quattrocchi chase.

The Edamalayar case had dragged on for 25 years before the Supreme Court last month awarded a year’s rigorous imprisonment to former Kerala minister R. Balakrishna Pillai and two others.

The palmolein case in which the ousted Chief Vigilance Commissioner is an accused has been around for 20 years without going beyond preliminary hearing.

The Lavalin affair, dating back to 1998, is still in the investigation stage.

Against the background of inordinate delays, a decision in the case of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner within six months of Thomas’s assumption of office is a refreshing change.

However, questions about the quality of justice remain.

The Supreme Court quashed Thomas’s appointment, as he is accused No. 8 in criminal case CC 6 of 2003.

The case was registered 12 years after the palmolein deal took place but the trial could not be continued during the past four years as the apex court had stayed the proceedings on a plea by the main accused, former chief minister K. Karunakaran.

The stay was vacated two months ago after Karunakaran died at the ripe old age of 93.

The pending case did not prevent Thomas from moving up the ladder and becoming chief secretary under Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who had been pursuing the case since he was Leader of the Opposition.

This strengthens the suspicion that his was a case of collateral damage in the war between two political potentates.

If the criminal justice system was reasonably fast the case might have been disposed of years ago and Thomas would have ceased to be accused no. 8.

He might have been found guilty and sent to jail or found not guilty and cleared of all charges.

In the latter case, there would have been no bar to his becoming the Chief Vigilance Commissioner.

Was this then a case where justice was done? Or was this a case where justice was delayed, and consequently denied?

As these lines are written, the “law” is waiting helplessly outside the home of former Kerala State Electricity Board chairman S. Ramabhadran Nair, who was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment along with Balakrishna Pillai.

Aged 81, he is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and does not know he has been convicted.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 7, 2011.

03 March, 2011

Centre criticized for granting clearance to POSCO project

The following is a statement issued by a group of concerned citizens:

We the undersigned condemn the brazenly illegal and unjust clearance granted by the Environment Ministry to the POSCO project in Orissa. The actions of this Ministry and the government of India with respect to this project show total disregard for the basic norms of law, democracy and environmental protection. This project will destroy the livelihoods of more than 20,000 people and threaten the homes and lives of tens of thousands more. In particular:

• This project is repeatedly described as one of "strategic importance." Strategic importance for whom? Studies have shown that the project will destroy at least twice as many livelihoods as the jobs it will create. They have also shown that the tax revenues projected are the stuff of fantasy. Both the employment and tax projections come from studies paid for by POSCO. This project will benefit no one except the company in question and enable huge amounts of smuggling through the proposed private port. Is this what our government calls "development"?

• The plant and port site is the home of more than 4,000 families, who cultivate betel vines and other cash crops on the land in question and also depend on the forests of the area for forest produce and other livelihood activities. This is a thriving agricultural economy in which even a tenth of an acre is enough to sustain entire families. There is a sizable community that is dependent on pisciculture and the proposed port will destroy the lives and livelihoods of the fisherfolks. All of this is to be destroyed permanently to make way for a company's super profits.

• As established conclusively from government records by the Ministry's own POSCO Enquiry Committee, these people have rights to this land under the Forest Rights Act of 2006. As such the forest land in question cannot be taken for the project except if their rights are finally recognised and their consent taken.

• Three separate official bodies - two enquiry committees and the Ministry's own statutory Forest Advisory Committee -- agreed that the Orissa government has not implemented the Act and lied about the eligibility of the people of the area. All three also agreed that the forest clearance given to the project must be withdrawn. Yet now the Ministry says the project can go ahead if the Orissa government gives it a "categorical assurance" that the people of the area are not eligible under the Act. Is this the manner in which the UPA government intends to implement its "landmark legislation"? By telling officials caught lying that all they need to do is "categorically" repeat their lies?

• In the words of the POSCO Enquiry Committee, the project risks "potentially disastrous impacts" not only on the immediate area but on the entire surrounding district, which have “not even been assessed, leave alone planned for." This includes the potential catastrophe in case of a cyclone as well as the enormous water usage of the plant, which will harm agriculture in the entire surrounding area. In the clearance we find these impacts dealt with in a completely farcical manner. On water, the covering letter says the company should "voluntarily sacrifice" water in case of a shortage – but even this ludicrous "condition" is not mentioned in the clearance itself. On most other aspects, the clearance requires the company to simply “ensure” that the possible impact will not happen. Without assessing what that impact is, without deciding on whether it can in fact be dealt with or not, the Ministry has transferred its entire regulatory responsibility to the company. If this is the kind of "conditions" that are going to be imposed, why do we have an environment clearance process at all? Is this how the Ministry intends to fulfil its responsibilities?

• The POSCO project is not confined to the plant and the port now cleared; the government has committed to providing POSCO with mammoth captive iron ore mines, the lease to which has been struck down by the Orissa High Court. This robbery of natural resources is guaranteed to generate massive profits for POSCO while destroying huge areas and displacing even more people including one of the most traditional tribal communities, the Paudi Bhunyan who have been inhabiting the Khandadhar mountains since time unknown. If the plant and the port are allowed to come up without the mine, POSCO will resort to blackmail, threatening that its activities will not be“viable” if it is not granted a mining lease and the requisite environmental and forest clearances instantly as per its desire. Since the viability of corporate super profits is clearly more important to this government than either law or people's rights, we can imagine the consequences.

Therefore we condemn this decision and, in accordance with the findings of multiple enquiry committees, call for the immediate withdrawal of this clearance and a criminal investigation into the actions of officials involved and their brazen violations of law. We join the people of the area in opposing this project and support their democratic struggle to ensure that it does not go ahead.

Signed by


Ashok Agrawal, Lawyer, Supreme Court, Delhi
Ashok Choudhary, National Forum of Forest people and Forest Workers, India
Manoranjan Mohanty, Council for Social Development, New Delhi
Madhuresh Kumar, National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements, India
Surya Shankar Dash, Independent Filmmaker, Bhubaneswar
Madhumita Dutta, Corporate Accountability Desk, The Other Media, Chennai
Nityanand Jayaraman, Independent Journalist, Chennai
Anil Tharayath Varghese, Programme for Social Action, New Delhi
Manju Gardia, Nawa Chhattisgarh Mahila Sangathan, Pithora, Chhattisgarh
Mamta Kujur, Adivasi Mahila Mahasangh, Jashpur, Chhattisgarh
Bipin Chandr Chaturvedi, Update Collective, New Delhi
Joe Athialy, Delhi Solidarity Group
Prafulla Samntara, President, Lok Shakti Abhijan & Convenor, NAPM India
Ranjana Padhi, Pune
Sanjiv Pandita, Director, Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) , Hong Kong
Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group, Bangalore
Vijayan MJ, Delhi Forum
Kanchi Kohli of Kalpavriksh, New Delhi
Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity, New Delhi

For more details, please contact,
Bipin Chandra Chaturvedi
New Delhi
Delhi Forum: +91 11 26680883/11 26680914

01 March, 2011

FORUM-Asia defends Teesta Setalvad's right to contact UN body

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) has described the Supreme Court order barring Teesta Setalvad of the Citizens for Justice and Peace from communicating to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)as a clear case of reprisal against a woman human rights defender who cooperated with a UN agency.

In a communication, Forum=Asia refers to the Supreme Court order asking Ms. Setalvad to stop communicating to the UN OHCHR regarding the investigation of the Gulbarg Society massacre, in which 69 people were killed, and says:

On 5 October 2010, Ms. Setalvad wrote a letter to Mr. R. K. Raghavan, the Chairman of the SIT, regarding the lack of protection for Mr. S. M. Vora, a senior advocate appearing for eyewitnesses and survivors of the massacre. She informed him that Mr. Vora has received threatening phone calls. The copy of this letter was sent to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

On 7 October 2010, Ms. Setalvad wrote another letter to Mr. Raghavan regarding the lack of protection for herself since she has also been facing false allegations filed by a Mr. Rais Khan Pathan, a former employee of the Citizens for Justice and Peace. Mr. Pathan and the SIT alleged that she had tutored several witnesses to give false testimony before the court. She furnished a copy of this letter too to the UN OHCHR.

An amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court by Mr. Harish Salve On 17 February 2011 drew its attention to Ms. Setalvad’s practice of furnishing the OHCHR copies of her letters. The Court asked her to explain this. Ms. Kamini Jaiswal, counsel of Ms. Setalvad, said she had the right to do so since the OHCHR can keep information on all matters pertaining to human rights from all over the world.

On 3 March 2011, the Court issued the written order saying Ms. Setalvad should not send any communication anymore to the OHCHR in Geneva regarding information on the proceedings surrounding the investigation of the massacre.

FORUM-ASIA believes Ms. Setalvad has every right to communicate with any UN agency including OHCHR. Article 5(c) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international level; to communicate with non-governmental or inter-governmental organizations”.

FORUM-Asia asks human rights organizations to write letters to Chief Justice of India S. H. Kapadia (supremecourt@nic.in ) and the National Human Rights Commission of India (covdnhrc@nic.in, ionhrc@nic.in and hrd-nhrc@nic.in) voicing their deep concern over the Supreme Court order and requesting them to recommend the court to drop the order and allow Ms. Setalvad to communicate with OHCHR.

For more information, please contact the Human Rights Defenders Department of FORUM-ASIA at hrd@forum-asia.org.