Archive for February 15th, 2008

Hundreds of sub-Saharan Africans rallied Monday in Burkina Faso against the abuse of women infected with HIV/AIDS.

“There is no doubt that lots of human rights violations characterise the (HIV/AIDS) pandemic,” said Bernice Heloo, president of the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa (SWAA).

“Women are the ones who most severely bear brunt of human rights abuse, have been prone to violences and other atrocities related to their gender and seropositive status.

“Many women have been driven from their marital homes, stripped of their hard-earned possessions and separated from their children and people they love,” she told a conference attended by Burkina Faso Prime Minister Tertius Zongo.

She urged the international community to lend their technical and financial support to “strengthen the battle against gender inequality in Africa, a key factor in the spread of the pandemic and to contribute to the promotion of human rights for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.”

Around 500 women from some 30 sub-Saharan countries are taking part in the four-day meeting debating violence against women and HIV/AIDS, their rights and access to treatment.

Although sub-Saharan Africa is home to just over 10 percent of the world’s population, it is the most ravaged by HIV, carrying more than 60 percent of all people living with the virus that causes AIDS.

The conference has been organised by SWAA and its branch in Burkina Faso with the help of UNAIDS, the Burkina Faso government and a host of anti-AIDS non-governmental organisations.


The Alliance of Mayors and Municipal Leaders in Africa, Uganda Chapter, has called for more action to eliminate violence against women and girls.

AMICAALL Uganda Chapter Executive Director John Mugisa said in a statement that because violence against women continues to be widespread, Uganda has adopted a declaration on “no violence” against women and HIV/Aids.

The declaration, Mr Mugisa said, was made by African mayors and municipal leaders at their annual general assembly in Pretoria, South Africa, recently.

“In pursuance of the above declaration, AMICAALL Uganda Programme in collaboration with its partners will undertake a number of activities during the year 2008 to address issues of violence against women and girls that increase their vulnerability to HIV/Aids and continue to deepen the global crisis of the epidemic,” Mr Mugisa said.

He said that violence against women is not only a gross violation of human rights but also a global health crisis of epidemic proportions and often times accelerates the spread of HIV/Aids.

According the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV, more than 50 percent of new HIV infections occur among women.

The leaders promised action “recognising that all forms of violence against women increase their vulnerability to HIV/Aids”.

The declaration says that violence often prevents women from accessing vital HIV prevention care and treatment or disclosing their status.

As part of its commitment to address evils of domestic violence against women, AMICAALL says it will support community based training and information campaigns to change harmful norms and behaviours that perpetuate violence against women and reinforce its social acceptability.

Uganda ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985.

To this day, however, there is no specific law prohibiting domestic violence.


Some states have made attempts to battle the paucity of funds, but West Bengal is yet to set the stage for the Act to be implemented.

Over a year after the Act came into force in October 2006, the Centre and the states are yet to work out the funds allocation. So far, the West Bengal Government has released funds only on an ad hoc basis.

The funds crisis was the refrain of all participants in the workshop on PWDVA organised by the Lawyers Collective, National Commission for Women and the West Bengal Commission for Women.

“We have been lobbying for a reasonable allocation of funds for the implementation of this Act,” said Malini Bhattacharya, member of the National Commission for Women. The NCW wants the Planning Commission to create a corpus fund to implement the Act.

Law minister Rabilal Moitra admitted that lack of infrastructure has crippled the implementation of the Act. It is also a hurdle for recruitment.

Even if the states have appointed a “Protection Officer” (PO), there is no infrastructure to enable the POs to perform their task. A PO has to be supported by assistants. She should be provided with at least a vehicle and an office from where she can operate. Even “service providers” like registered NGOs are entitled to an honorarium, which has to be borne by the governments – the Centre and the state. The state, though, has plans to create separate posts for POs to be appointed on contract basis with a monthly salary of Rs 10,000.

Jasodhara Bagchi, chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women, shot off a question to a state government representative. “We have given our recommendations to the NWC to raise the question of funds with the Planning Commission. We (state women commission) have done our homework. Have you done yours?” she asked.

One Day Conference to be held at London South Bank University
Friday 7th March 2008 from 9.30am – 4.30pm

The main aim of this conference is to present and discuss some of the key issues associated with prostitution.

Following the murder of five women involved in street prostitution in Ipswich, issues have been raised about the nature of the services and support offered to these women by the key agencies, as well as the role of legislation that criminalises those who work on the streets.

The growing number of foreign women, particularly those that have been trafficked, has drawn attention to the operation of the off street trade which by all accounts appears to be expanding considerably.

In addition, attention has recently turned to the male clients who pay for sex. There have been calls for the introduction of the ‘Swedish model’ whereby the purchase of sexual services is made illegal.

Overall, the debate around prostitution is gathering pace and the issues are becoming more widely discussed and contested. However, there appears to be a widespread consensus that the current policies relating to prostitution are in urgent need of review.

The main benefits of attending include;
• To gain a better understanding of recent research and current debates
• To identify the major issues associated with both on street and off street prostitution
• To consider in more detail the available policy options Who Should Attend

This conference will be of interest to people working directly or indirectly with prostitution in its different forms. In particular it will be of interest to practitioners, activists, policy makers and academic researchers. It should also be of significant interest to those involved in either providing support services for those involved in prostitution or those engaged in the policing of prostitution.

• Vera Baird QC, MP, Solicitor General
• Professor Jalna Hanmer -Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Sunderland – Conference Chair
• Professor Liz Kelly -Director of CWASU, Roddick Chair in Violence Against Women
• Julie Bindel -POPPY Project Consultant and Guardian Journalist
• Marianne Eriksson – Swedish MEP
• Ann Hamilton -General Manager, Policy & Development, Glasgow Community & Safety Services
• Professor Roger Matthews -Professor of Criminology, London South Bank University
• Hannah-Jo Besley – Community Safety Officer, Ipswich CDRP

* £95 per person, including lunch, tea & coffee
* N.B. A discounted rate of £65 is available for charities, NGO’s and other eligible parties – please telephone 020 7815 6934 to enquire about this rate.

For information please contact the Enterprise Support Unit:
T: 020 7815 6944 / 34

Domestic violence soared on the night Scotland lost to Italy in the Euro 2008 qualifier, figures show. And an MSP yesterday blamed the binge-drinking culture.

Between December and April last year, there were an average of 92 domestic abuse cases reported to Strathclyde Police each Saturday.

But on November 17, the day Scotland’s Euro hopes were dashed in the 2-1 defeat at Hampden, there were 126 cases reported. Nearly two-thirds of the incidents were alcohol-related. Unofficial reports suggested five million pints were consumed on the day of the game.

Yesterday, the SNP’s Sandra White, MSP for Glasgow region, said: “This was promoted as the biggest football feast of the century and one the whole of Scotland looked forward to.

“Sadly, for so many, these figures clearly show that for them there was nothing to cheer about. There is no doubt the binge drinking culture was evident. This cannot be tolerated in any decent society and must be tackled.”

A 13-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped in a brutal bid to force her parents to honour an arranged marriage. But the Irish Independent has learned that the girl’s 16-year-old-rapist, who had been selected to become her husband, and her abductors may never face prosecution as her parents have accepted a €10,000 payment after an independent mediator brokered a deal between the two families.

In a case that highlights the complexities of applying Irish laws to those with different customs and traditions, the Roma family – who arranged their daughter’s marriage when she was just eight – no longer regard the incident as a rape despite the fact that the child’s husband-to-be has admitted to gardai that he had sex with the girl.

Details of the hush-money payment emerged one month after a coroner ruled that a British teenager who opposed her parents plan for an arranged marriage died after she was strangled or smothered. The 17-year-old had previously been admitted to hospital after drinking bleach when she was introduced to her suitor and no one has been charged in relation to her killing. It was believed that once the Roma girl’s “husband” had sex with her, regardless of her consent, she and her family would have to accept and honour the original arranged marriage agreement.

A file has been sent to the Director of Public prosecutions and several people have been questioned in connection with the kidnapping, but the row between the two families has been resolved by the €10,000 payment. The case may prove difficult to bring to court as the families came to a new agreement following intervention by a mediator who recently travelled from England to Ireland to broker a deal. Other youths employed to kidnap the girl have also been compensated for their role in the abduction.

“Some Roma have their own customs when dealing these type of issues,” said a senior gardai who is involved in the ongoing investigation. “In this case a mediator was brought in from England to broker an agreement between the two parties.”

The young girl was at the centre of a major garda search last September after she was abducted from Dublin’s Molesworth Street where she had been begging. The boy and girl were to be married when she was 13 but her family later reneged on the deal. They girl’s family were unhappy with the boy because he had started to get into a lot of trouble and they refused to let the wedding go ahead, but the boy’s family were outraged that the original marriage agreement had been dishonoured.

“They felt that once the arrangement had been made there was no going back on it and decided to proceed and force the girl into the marriage,” said the investigating gardai.

The 16-year-old’s father is suspected of having organised the abduction plot then left the country and went to Romania once all the plans were set in place. A number of youths, many of them already known to gardai, were tasked with taking the young girl who was bungled into a car and whisked to Rathmines. She was then transferred to a second car and taken to a disused building on the outskirts of Drogheda, but gardai received reports of the kidnapping and managed to piece together some of the gang’s movements. They also learned the name of one youth, who is in his late teens, and believed to have been involved.

Mobile phone tracing technology, similar to that used to track the movements of convicted wife murderer Joe O’Reilly, was used to help locate the kidnappers and intercept the gang. That led investigators to concentrate their search to Co Louth. In the meantime, gardai in the area also provided intelligence on the presence of a suspicious gang and alerted their Dublin colleagues. After a surveillance operation was set up, one of the gang members was spotted and followed to a disused building They had planned to keep the girl there where the teenage boy was to have sex with her. A raid was then carried out and the girl was found in a locked room with her so-called husband-to-be, the 16-year-old boy.


The number of convicted rapists who are spared jail has doubled, new figures have revealed, fuelling claims that the criminal justice system is soft on sex offenders. The latest official statistics show that over three years nearly 90 rapists were given community sentences, introduced by Labour in response to prison overcrowding.

The official data from the Ministry of Justice also shows that when rapists are jailed, the average prison sentence imposed has fallen by more than 10 per cent. The revelations have angered campaigners, who fear judges are not sending a tough enough message on rape when they set sentences.

In 2004, of the 742 rapists convicted in England and Wales 713 were sent to jail and 29 were spared prison. Those who avoided jail included 16 who were given community sentences and others who got conditional and absolute discharges.

The following year, 746 of 794 convicted rapists were given immediate custodial sentences. Thirty-two of the others got community sentences.

In 2006, there were 862 rape convictions but only 803 of the offenders were sentenced to jail, meaning 59 remained free. Of the 59 rapists spared a prison sentence, 40 were given community sentences.

A total of 88 rapists received community penalties between 2004 and 2006. Offenders given community sentences typically have to “make amends” by doing unpaid manual work on local community projects.

Ministers insisted that community sentences are a tough alternative to jail time, but that claim was undermined last month by a National Audit Office report showing that some offenders are allowed to skip community work simply because they slept in and others are never required to carry out the work because of bureaucratic failure.

The Government’s own figures show less than six per cent of cases reported to police lead to a guilty verdict. Women’s campaigners are concerned that the increasing numbers of non-custodial sentences imposed on rapists could deter victims from reporting attacks.

By some estimates, only around 15 per cent of rapes are ever reported to police, suggesting that up to 80,000 rapes are committed each year.

The ministry’s data also suggests that rapists’ jail terms are becoming shorter, reversing the trend of earlier years.

In 2004, the average length of fixed-term sentences imposed on rapists was 93.9 months.

By 2006, that had fallen to 84.1 months, just over eight years. The figures do not include life sentences.

Julie Morgan, a Labour backbencher and rape campaigner, said the figures were “worrying” and could deter more victims from coming forward.

David Davies, a Conservative member of the Commons home affairs committee, said the figures were “horrendous” and proved that ministers were “soft on crime”. He said: “Anyone who commits rape deserves to go to prison and to stay there for a very long time. There can be no excuses made for rapists. These horrifying figures are more proof that Labour makes tough-sounding promises on serious crime but completely fails to take action.”

Officials could give no clear explanation for the rise in rapists spared jail, but one theory is that an increase in the number of cases brought to court has led to more convictions for non-violent rapes, particularly of men having sex with girls under the age of 16.

The Ministry of Justice said the Government has made rape laws tougher. A spokesman said: “A substantial number of convicted rapists have been sentenced under these provisions. The number of offenders convicted of rape who can be detained indefinitely more than tripled between 2004 and 2006.

“The courts decide sentences in individual cases and would have the discretion to impose a community sentence if mitigating factors made that appropriate. But the guidelines are clear that the starting point for offences of rape is a custodial sentence.”


See also comment: Rape victims are being let down by the law

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke to judges, lawyers and academics and journalists on “Civil and religious law in England, a religious perspective” on 7.2.08. In a Radio 4 interview previously that day he agreed that aspects of sharia law were ‘unavoidable’ in Britain. This acknowledgement was naturally warmly welcomed by the unrepresentative and reactionary Muslim Council of Britain. Ibrahim Mogra said “We’re looking at a very small aspect of Sharia for Muslim families when they choose to be governed with regards to their marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children and so forth.”

Rowan Williams discussed human rights and how to deal with religious minorities. The role of the secular law should be to prevent mutually isolated communities and should capture the legal right of human freedom with a market element allowing for competition for loyalties under different religious jurisdictions. Muslim courts, under the civil law could deal with matters for example of the family by alternative dispute resolution. By these procedures subject to appeal in the Higher Courts alternative beliefs in relation to God could relate to other believers and to individuals in the rest of the community.

Rowan Williams and Ibrahim Mogra may regard sharia-based family law as a ‘small aspect’, but the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), like many activists of Muslim countries with sharia laws’ background, identifies sharia family law as the fundamental basis of the discrimination against women in the Muslim world, including communities in the United Kingdom. Sharia law is deeply and irrevocably discriminatory against women; it is for this reason that no country basing its legal system in sharia law may sign CEDAW without reservations. Ibrahim Mogra’s statement is deceptive in the extreme: ‘when they choose’ he says, as if it is a simple matter to leave Islam, when in fact we know that many of those people born into Muslim households who give up their parents’ religion are harassed and rejected by their Muslim communities and families. Thirty-six percent of Muslims in Britain believe that leaving Islam should be punished by death. The percentage of young Muslim men taking a hard line on Sharia is increasing. In this context, there is no choice involved whatsoever: women will, inevitably, be coerced into accepting judgements which discriminate against them, and women of Muslim background, who already suffer the most within their communities and within British society will have their second-class status embedded in law. Sheikh Michael Mumisa, an Islamic scholar, theologian and academic at Cambridge University believes that the introduction of special courts “to consider personal status laws, such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, within the UK will undermine the rights of Muslim women, the poor and anyone who doesn’t really understand Islamic laws. The people who interpret these laws are male scholars and I know from experience that they always disadvantage women. Moreover, some senior Muslim clerics in the UK want more than just the personal status laws and would prefer that the penal laws were introduced as well”. (The Archbishop was considering only civil law and civil society.)

What sharia-based personal status law could mean for British Muslim women:

* The woman in a marriage requires the permission of a guardian. This prevents a couple from contracting a marriage without parental approval and only worsens the problem of forced marriage.
* Marriages can be conducted without the presence of the potential bride, as long as the guardian consents.
* Under age and early marriage
* Muslim women may only marry Muslim men.

* Men can divorce simply by repudiation.
* Men have no obligations to support their former wife or her children after divorce.
* Women cannot be divorced without the consent of their husband.
* Abuse is not valid grounds for a woman to end a marriage.
* Sons will inherit twice as much as daughters.

Child custody:
* Women who remarry lose custody of their children, so a divorced woman is forced to remain single or give up being a mother.
* Child custody often reverts to the father at a preset age, even if the father is abusive.

Islam is already used to justify and excuse the sufferings of women subjected to domestic violence, forced marriage, “honour” killings, forced child-bearing and endless drudgery. Rowan Williams does not appreciate that these women, already suffering the most in society, will loose their rights to marry divorce and raise their children with the same rights as other British women.

The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation deplores giving formal status to any form of faith-based arbitration. These Boards will be dominated by men with patriarchal authoritarian attitudes. The real choice of women and their protection as the weaker party are almost impossible to envisage given the informal and domestic arrangements that are the reality in the lives of these women. I and the volunteers have been refugees and have experienced the inequities and miseries of sharia law in our own lives, in the lives of our friends, our sisters and our mothers. We escaped to the UK and set up the Organisation five years ago to help the oppressed women we understand so well. Some cases deal with the experience of wives being locked in their homes which the husbands go to work, others with a level of verbal abuse and physical violence to women and property and of greatest concern “honour” crimes with the ultimate threat or commitment of murder with men of the immediate family, the extended family and even contract killers on the hunt for them. Rowan Williams suggested procedures unwittingly give legitimacy to these practices, most of which take place in the fearful privacy of the home. When they become a matter of criminal law, it is too late for our clients. If formal courts are ‘inevitable’ that this oppression will become as common-place in the United Kingdom as it is in the Middle Eastern countries from which we originate.

We have a message to Rowan Williams: it is not inevitable. We will fight against it with every means necessary to ensure that there is one law for all British citizens, and that law is based in the principles of universal human rights, including the principles of UNCHR and CEDAW.

The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation stand for women’s rights and it hereby establish the campaign to say “NO to Sharia Law in Britain”. We urge everyone who cares about human and women’s rights to stand up against sharia law however it is administered. The secular state is the only guarantor of women’s equality before the law.

Diana Nammi
Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
International Campaign Against Honour Killings

“No to Sharia Law in Britain” Campaign Petition

There is one law for all British citizens, and that law is based in the principles of universal human rights, including the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR). The secular state is the only guarantor of women’s equality before the law.

We urge everyone who cares about human and women’s rights to stand up against Sharia law however it is administered.

Please email us to say you / your organisation wishes to have your name/s added to our petition.

See also the following articles:

Failed by religious law
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments have opened the closet on those most let down by faith community justice – women

British women are already suffering from Islamic law
The Archbishop of Canterbury says sharia courts could rule on family issues, but this is exactly where they can cause most harm