Archive for June 10th, 2008

In addition to the psychological trauma of sexual violence, Miriam Madziwa argues that the violence is likely to have an adverse effect on women’s participation in politics into the future. (*)

There is haunting weariness in Precious Zhove’s eyes as she recounts events leading to her fleeing her home in Mberengwa in Zimbabwe’s southern region. Clutching at her 18-month-old baby, she relives the horror of the day war veterans, ZANU PF supporters, and soldiers descended on her homestead looking for her husband Joab Gumbo, who contested to be a councilor under a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ticket.

“I was trying to tell them I did not know where my husband was since it was in the afternoon. They grabbed my baby, this one here and tied a sack around her waist then one of them started swinging her while holding her by the legs.”

“They said she was an MDC baby so they were going to take her away from me. They said that way me and my husband would have another baby, a Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) baby this time, because they don’t like MDC people, and they are sell-outs.”

While she pauses to catch her breath, she sighs, “Oh not again,” and shifts the baby on her lap. The baby has no nappy, so her skirt has become wet. She explains the baby has no nappies or warm clothing. “I didn’t have time to pack anything. The moment my husband returned home we left.”

Zhove’s story is just one of many I have listened to in recent weeks as more and more families in rural Matabeleland and Midlands flee from harassment, intimidation, and beatings characterising the post March 29 period in Zimbabwe.

Media show images of injuries caused by the brutal attacks. The footage and reports are frightening. Burnt buttocks, breasts severed, limbs broken, and backs festering with wounds from plastic burns. Stories of pregnant women having their stomachs cut open or men young enough to be their grandsons raping elderly women.

Yet, away from the cameras, audio recorders, and notebooks there is emotional and psychological trauma that victims endure in stoic silence. Zhove is lucky to be out of physical harm’s way. However, she is in continuous emotional turmoil. Her conscience gnaws at her heart over the fate of her two school-going children left behind in Mberengwa.

“I don’t know what they are eating. I don’t know whether they are going to school. I’m not even sure if they are still alive. I pray all the time that they are safe and that I will see them again soon.”

“I wonder sometimes whether I should have stayed with my children. If the war vets came back and killed me, at least my children would know my fate. Right now they don’t even know I am here.”

Broken bones heal with time if the victims are fortunate enough to access medical treatment. The verbal abuse and the psychological impact of the beatings, sexual abuse, and public humiliation will haunt these women forever. It reminds me of the ditty: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can hurt forever.” The violence inflicts deep emotional wounds among victims, their relatives, and friends.

An added repercussion is the effect that the violence is likely to have on women’s participation in politics. The post-election violence reinforces long held beliefs that “politics is a dirty and dangerous pursuit that only men can dabble in.” The violence gives politics a bad name and pushes women further onto the fringes of active politics.

The majority of women targeted are political activists who openly admit they are in politics to try to ensure a better future for their children. Women polling agents and candidates who contested in local council elections are key targets. Winning female councilors in rural areas are being hounded out of their homes and therefore, being denied the chance to work and help develop their communities.

Added to these politically active victims are hundreds of women who are killed, raped, harassed, humiliated and abused simply because they are mothers, wives, sisters and aunts of prominent MDC activists.

An elderly granny who had fled her home in Kezi tells of the shame she endured during a rally when “youthful war veterans” taunted her using abusive and vulgar language because her son is an MDC activist.

She confided that how unhappy she was to be living with her daughter in-law indefinitely. “I want to be home and not get in my daughter in-law’s way. But I am too afraid to go back.”

Mostly women carry the heavy responsibility of explaining the horrifying events to scared, confused and traumatised children. They also try to ensure life goes on as usual for the children amid all the upheaval and uncertainty.

Mothers have to answer questions of “Baba varipi? Ubaba ungaphi? (Where is daddy?)” from children whose fathers have fled their homes in the dead of night. These women have the daunting task of trying to make senseless reprisals make sense to their children.

Women are the people who have to make sure that even after houses and granaries are razed to the ground, children are clothed and fed. Moreover, these same women live with the unspoken scorn of close relatives for “allowing” themselves to be raped by war veterans.

Yet in communities where war veterans have set up the infamous “bases” everyone knows that women have no option but to “agree” to rape in desperate attempts to protect their families.

The true extent of humiliation that violated women are enduring became clear when a man from the Midlands narrated the extent of sexual abuse in his wife’s presence.

“Every woman who is still young is being raped by these brutes who threaten to destroy homesteads if women do not give in to their demands. We men, know it’s happening even though women don’t talk about it. We know they are desperate to spare their husbands and families victimisation. We are going to be raising children that are not ours, but AIDS is the real threat in the community now.”

While the man spoke, his wife was shaking her head silently, tears streaming down her cheeks. The effect of all these experiences is to traumatise Zimbabwean women into silence, and out of the political arena.

Ultimately, to quote writer Chenjerai Hove in Shebeen Tales, there is the long term danger that if the violence, harassment and abuse continues unabated, “women will remain of politics and not in politics.” And that will do liitle to make sure their needs are cared for in the future.

(*) Miriam Madziwa is a freelance journalist based in Zimbabwe. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news

http://allafrica.com/stories/200806060205.html

These remarks were delivered at the May 2008 Wilton Park Conference: Women targeted or affected by armed conflict: What role for military peacekeepers? By Stephen Lewis, co-Director of AIDS-Free World.

When my co-Director of AIDS-Free World, Paula Donovan, visited in November, and observed that the war being waged against women “may well be the most savage display of misogyny ever orchestrated in a conflict zone”, she was right. Terrible, unspeakable things have been done to the women of DR Congo, writes Stephen Lewis.

It isn’t enough to stop the shooting when the raping continues apace. The only worthwhile armistice restores peace for the entire population, male and female. There can be no satisfaction in claiming a truce or a peace treaty which is soaked in the carnage of the women of the land. If all the peacekeepers were women, and the men of a country were under pervasive sexual assault, do you think the women would simply observe the carnage?

Three days ago, I returned from Liberia. While in the country, I met with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, with senior officials of the Ministry of Health, with the Minister of Gender, with the leadership of the Clinton Foundation, with the consultant who drafted the legislation for the special court to try sexual offences, with the UNICEF Representative and significant numbers of the UNICEF staff. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to meet with UNMIL, but the UN Mission in Liberia and its peacekeeping forces were inevitably a part of every conversation.

The context of my discussions is encapsulated in the words of the Deputy UN Envoy for the Rule of Law in Liberia when she said, as recently as May 20th: “We cannot expect the future leaders of Liberia, the doctors, nurses, and engineers of Liberia to be brought up amongst men who are rapists and women who are angry, degraded, frightened, depressed, embarrassed and confused.”

She was speaking about the contagion of sexual violence that currently engulfs the country and causes such intense concern. The statistics are horrifying: a recent study by UNICEF indicated that more than fifty per cent of all reported rapes are brutal assaults on young girls between the ages of ten and fourteen. The gender advisor in UNICEF felt that the percentage was probably on the rise, and it’s feared that increases in the HIV rates among female youth will not be far behind. The Minister of Gender showed me figures for March, 2008, indicating that the majority of reported rapes in that month were committed against girls under the age of twelve, some under the age of five, and she narrated stories of gang rape so insensate and so depraved that it reminded me of exhibits in a Holocaust museum. A further survey, of all fifteen counties in the country, found that girls and boys were united in their conviction that young girls were the most endangered group in Liberia, and incredibly enough, that there was no place and no time of day or night where adolescent girls could be considered safe.

Predictably, President Johnson-Sirleaf is thunderstruck by the force of the sexual violence. In a very real sense she is staking the integrity of her tenure on her ability to confront and subdue the war on women.

But how did it come to this? UNMIL has been in the country since 2003 … it has a large contingent of women peacekeepers: it has an Office of the Gender Advisor and of the Advisor on HIV/AIDS; it has gender mainstreaming built into the mandate; both the UN Envoy and the Deputy UN Envoy are women; and the resolution of 2003 which constituted UNMIL incorporated Security Council Resolution 1325 which — you will agree — was supposed to guarantee the involvement of women in the peace-keeping processes, but more important, guarantee women protection and security from gender-based violence and violations of human rights.

Clearly all that hasn’t worked in Liberia, where things for women and girls are getting worse. Where did we go wrong?

My own view, and the view of the organization to which I belong — AIDS-Free World — is that peacekeepers and force commanders alike have to take sexual violence much more seriously. It is simply untenable to argue that the responsibility to keep the warring parties at bay transcends every other human imperative. It doesn’t. You may succeed in manufacturing a semblance of peace, but for the women of the country, the conflict continues in the most painful and eviscerating of ways.

In the case of Liberia, it isn’t a matter of a contentious mandate: as I said, Resolution 1325 is built into the obligations of peacekeeping. Anyone would argue that when a peacekeeper in the field knows of acts of sexual violence having been committed, or has reason to believe that acts of sexual violence have been or will be committed, then he or she has the obligation to intervene or, to use the language of the day, the ‘responsibility to protect’.

But let me be even clearer about this. Peacekeepers aren’t mere passive observers of the human family. Peacekeepers move into a country; they learn its social architecture; they watch the roiling political terrain on a day-to-day basis. They come to know the foibles, to know the extremes, to know the anomalies. More often than not, they can tell when trouble is brewing. They can intuit when men might hurtle out of control. They have the pulse of the culture. When it unravels, they’re there to bear witness. I’m saying that when patterns of sexual violence emerge, peacekeepers are rarely surprised. In some cases, they alone have anticipated the atrocities in the offing. And with that knowledge comes obligation. With that insight comes responsibility. It isn’t enough to stop the shooting when the raping continues apace. The only worthwhile armistice restores peace for the entire population, male and female. There can be no satisfaction in claiming a truce or a peace treaty which is soaked in the carnage of the women of the land.

Conventional wisdom says that it is the Security Council’s job to set policy, and the peacekeepers’ job to follow it. But that’s too easy. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and its military contingents in-country, should be hollering from the rooftops whenever they feel that their role is somehow constrained. If you need more troops, ask for them. If you need more training, ask for it. If you require a larger contingent of police officers, insist on it. If, in the field, you see sexual mayhem in place, then after intervening, take the names of individual soldiers and witnesses and seek investigation and indictments from the International Criminal Court. If the UN’s Member States won’t comply, then call a press conference and tell the world that women are being sacrificed on the altar of myopic parsimony, or perhaps more accurately, on the altar of Pavlovian sexism.

There is nothing facetious in this; I’m absolutely serious. The United Nations cannot allow the terrible assault on women to continue, while crouching behind the ambiguity of mandate. That, I remind you, is what the Department of Peacekeeping Operations did between January and April of 1994, in the perverse struggle with UN Force Commander General Romeo Dallaire over “rules of engagement”. And there followed the deaths of eight hundred thousand Rwandans and the start of the war in the Congo.

In the DR Congo, it is now estimated that 5.4 million people have died since the end of the Rwandan genocide. That conflict was finally supposed to have been resolved by a peace engagement of January last. To some extent, the battles stopped. But as always, just as in Liberia, the war never ends for women.

In the case of DR Congo, the role of peacekeepers could not be clearer. The words of the Security Council resolution of December 21st, 2007, extending the mandate of the UN Mission in the Congo, MONUC, were absolutely unequivocal: Paragraph 18 “Requests MONUC, in view of the scale and severity of sexual violence committed especially by armed elements in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to undertake a thorough review of its efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence, and to pursue a mission-wide strategy, in close cooperation with the United Nations Country Team and other partners, to strengthen prevention, protection, and response to sexual violence, including through training of Congolese security forces in accordance with its mandate, and to regularly report, including in a separate annex if necessary, on actions taken in this regard, including factual data and trend analyses of the problem …”.

That sounds very much to me as though the Security Council knew full well that things were off the rails where sexual violence was concerned, and this was an explicit instruction to MONUC to get its act together. In that regard, it’s significant that the Security Council went even further: the final clause of the resolution requires the Secretary-General himself to report on the issues covered in Paragraph 18.

To be sure, I can’t pretend to know exactly what lay in the minds of the Security Council members, but these things I do know: Dr. Denis Mukwege, who heads the Panzi Hospital for survivors of rape and sexual violence in the Eastern city of Bukavu, told me when we met in New Orleans three weeks ago, that although the steady flow of raped women has slowed somewhat since the January accord, it continues in shocking numbers; the UNICEF staff in the field agree that things are still in the realm of nightmare for women, who live lives haunted by the fear of being violated, tortured, mutilated, infected with HIV. And who expected anything different, when the countless women who have suffered such demonic sexual violence were not sitting at the peace table last January, and were not signatories to the agreement … a direct violation of Resolution 1325? Who can claim to be surprised by reports from Congolese NGOs on the ground, who say that in the country’s so-called peacekeeping period, women are still too frightened to leave their homes?

When Under Secretary-General John Holmes said the Congo was the worst place in the world for women, he was right. When Eve Ensler, the noted author of the Vagina Monologues wrote of the Congo that she had just ‘returned from hell’, she was right. When my co-Director of AIDS-Free World, Paula Donovan, visited in November, and observed that the war being waged against women “may well be the most savage display of misogyny ever orchestrated in a conflict zone”, she was right.

Terrible, unspeakable things have been done to the women of DR Congo. I want simply to argue that MONUC has it within its mandate to end the reign of terror. If it so chooses, MONUC can also have it within its power to end the reign of terror. Whatever MONUC feels it lacks to protect the women of the Congo — numbers, police, equipment, training, time, leadership, resources — let them demand it. And if those demands aren’t met, let them tell the world that madness is at work and it knows no end.

Normally, one would turn to the Secretary-General of the United Nations for help in this difficult situation. But how can we have trust?

The Secretary-General gets commendably engaged when it comes to Burma or the price of food, but where is the same sense of throbbing agitation when it comes to sexual violence? This is a Secretary-General who should be insisting on the invocation of the “Responsibility to Protect” in the Congo, but fails to do so. The defense and protection of the rights of women do not come instinctively to him. This is, after all, a Secretary-General who granted immunity to the former High Commissioner for Refugees, when a claim of sexual harassment against him reached a New York court. I remember that when the Secretary-General was first appointed, he told a group of NGOs that his learning curve on gender was virtually vertical. A year and a half later, the upward climb appears to have stalled at the bottom of the graph.

No, if we are to turn things around, with or without the help of the Secretary-General, the peacekeepers must lie at the heart of the transformation. How excellent that would be. Resolution 1325 would finally be liberated from the dustbins of the Security Council, and women, without fear, could take hold of their collective destiny. You can be sure there would be no vacillation.

If all the peacekeepers were women, and the men of a country were under pervasive sexual assault, do you think the women would simply observe the carnage? Not a chance. And they wouldn’t need a Security Council Resolution to tell them what to do.

http://allafrica.com/stories/200806060207.html

The 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report on 170 countries is the most comprehensive worldwide report on the efforts of governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons. Its findings will raise global awareness and spur countries to take effective actions to counter trafficking in persons.

The annual Trafficking in Persons Report serves as the primary diplomatic tool through which the U.S. Government encourages partnership and increased determination in the fight against forced labor, sexual exploitation, and modern-day slavery.

The Tier Rankings for countries of interest to http://HumanTrafficking.org are:
» Australia: Tier 1
» Burma: Tier 3
» Cambodia: Tier 2
» China: Tier 2 Watch List
» Hong Kong SAR: Tier 1
» Indonesia: Tier 2
» Japan: Tier 2
» Lao PDR: Tier 2
» Malaysia: Tier 2 Watch List
» Mongolia: Tier 2
» New Zealand: Tier 1
» Philippines: Tier 2
» Singapore: Tier 2
» South Korea: Tier 1
» Taiwan: Tier 2
» Thailand: Tier 2
» Vietnam: Tier 2

To download the full Trafficking in Persons Report, visit: http://www.state.gov/g/tip

“We are pleased that in the seven years since the creation of the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the United States and our friends and allies have made important strides in confronting the reality that human beings continue to be bought and sold in the twenty-first century. It has been gratifying to witness the determined governments, human rights and women’s groups, faith-based organizations, and many brave individuals who are dedicated to advancing human dignity worldwide. Trafficking and exploitation plague all nations, and no country, even ours, is immune.”
–Secretary Rice, June 4, 2008

http://www.humantrafficking.org/updates/778

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See also: US Human-Trafficking Report Finds Key Criminals Often Go Unpunished

Campaigners claim Russia’s economic boom is fuelling a rise in human trafficking – with particular concern over the number of women being coerced into prostitution.

They are ‘recruited’ from former Soviet Union countries and end up working in Moscow or St Petersburg.

In the Russian capital there are a number of street markets where women can be bought for the night.

Human rights campaigners call it modern day sexual slavery.

The gang masters who control the rackets sell the ‘girls’ for anything between R90 and R300 a night and, of course, they keep most of the money.

The International Organisation for Migration – which is funded by the European Union – has rescued a number of women who have been press ganged into prostitution.

Project coordinator Alberto Andreani says the gangs’ methods are becoming more and more sophisticated.

“A person with a lack of education, a person with a lack of opportunities and who is in serious need of changing their life will fall victim to traffickers,” he says.

“They will end up in Moscow or another big city in the hands of these groups and these groups withhold documents so they just cut their freedom.”

Unofficial estimates suggest there are as many as 200,000 women trapped in a life of prostitution in Moscow alone.

The problem is also concerning health officials who say the rise in prostitution is fuelling an epidemic in sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV.

According to health worker Sergey Dubovsky: “We have a 100% growth in HIV infections in Moscow in just over a year.

“And the problem is that Moscow is a transit point that sees 20-25 million people on any given day.

“That means that clients contracting HIV from sex workers are spreading it across the country.”

It is estimated that 1 in 25 prostitutes in Moscow is infected with the HIV virus and women forced into becoming sex workers say it is extremely difficult to stay protected.

Sveta was recruited in Ukraine and is now working the streets of Moscow – she is candid about the dangers.

“It has not happened to me but other girls were taken to a construction site or army barracks. Sometimes they were kept there for two days and had to serve 60 clients,” she says.

“Others had cigarettes stubbed out on their bodies and sometimes clients are drunk and beat them.”

http://www.myfoxgulfcoast.com/myfox/pages/News/Detail?contentId=6707624&version=1&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.4.1

Thousands of young girls in India are forced into prostitution every day. Some of them are as young as ten years. NDTV met one such victim, who was lucky enough to escape. She narrates her plight and that of many others like her still languishing in brothels.

”I was kidnapped from Hyderabad and sold here. I was physically assaulted and forced into prostitution. I was injected so I do not suffer from pain,” said the victim of prostitution.

Over the last 11 months, this girl, has been sold to about 11,000 customers. She is just 15. Kidnapped by an organised gang from her hometown Hyderabad, she was sold in Budhwar Peth, the red light district of Pune for Rs 35,000.

What followed was a nightmare.

There seemed no exit from the hell she was living in but then quite luckily a customer agreed to let her use his mobile phone and she immediately called her family.

Within days, the police had found her.

She was rescued but she says there are thousands of girls like her still trapped inside.

”There are girls even as young as 7-10 years old. As they grow up, they are pushed into this trade,” she added.

Off camera, she also tells us, many police raids are stage managed because most brothel owners are tipped off about the raid.

So the success of the rescue operations are limited.

”In the last one year, we have rescued some 330 girls. Whenever we get information, we conduct a raid and free the girls,” said V T Pawar, Senior Inspector, Faraskhana Police Station.

”It’s true that now more and more young girls are being forced into this profession, as it has been always, because of the demand,” said Tejaswini Sevekari, Director, Saheli.

What is lacking is very close monitoring of such brothels without which thousands of young girls slip through the cracks many of them never to be found.

http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/story.aspx?id=NEWEN20080051942

Despite predictions by women’s rights groups that a “watered-down” indictment of former president Moshe Katsav would deter sexual harassment victims from reporting their attackers, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI) has found the opposite is true, with reports of sexual abuse to crisis centers throughout the country on the rise in the past year.

According to group’s annual report, while Katsav and the state attorney’s office were discussing the terms of a plea bargain in June and July of 2007, the number of reports against sexual harassment crimes rose 30 percent, with 1,640 people filing reports. In 2007 as a whole, the number of complaints rose 5% from the year before.

Speaking to Army Radio, the director of the Rape Crisis Center in the Sharon region, Noah Be’eri explained that the increase in reports most likely derived from the public attention of the issue of sexual harassment generated by such a high-profile case.

“Men and women who went through sexual abuse [had the memories jogged] in light of the injustice of the plea bargain,” Beri said. “The experience of no one believing them brings back memories of the pain, and of the day-to-day coping with hurt, which unfortunately isn’t recognized.”

While applauding the study, women’s rights groups said that it was important to note that the number of women who filed complaints to the police actually declined in recent years.

“One must differentiate between reporting to the authorities, which will probably result in an indictment and imprisonment, and calling a crisis center that is able to give emotional support to victims,” the ARCCI said.

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1212041462151&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Yemen’s Ministry of Education launched an extensive summer campaign in May to raise awareness of girls’ education.

The campaign targets seven out of 21 governorates, in addition to Socotra, Yemen’s biggest island in the Indian Ocean.

The campaign has been launched through a UNICEF initiative – Business Partnership for Girls’ Education – formed in 2006 with private sector partners.

More than 30,000 stickers and 400,000 flyers will be distributed in the targeted areas. About 1.5 million short mobile messages will be sent to subscribers, especially those in rural areas.

More than 10 million water bottles will carry “Let Me Learn” messages on their labels. Also, 50,000 notebooks will be given to schoolchildren at the beginning of the next academic year.

According to UNICEF, Yemen is facing a serious challenge to bridge the education gender gap: 63 girls for every 100 boys were in primary school in 2006.

Abdul-Salam al-Jawfi, Minister of Education, said at the launch ceremony: “Females represent 51 percent of Yemen’s 21 million population and 75 percent of the population live in rural areas. By looking at these figures we understand that girls’ education faces a lot of problems.”

Al-Jawfi said his ministry needed the support of donors, the private sector, local councils, and civil society organisations to bridge the education gender gap.

He added that educated women could help tackle Yemen’s development challenges, which include water shortages, population growth, poverty and deteriorating health conditions.

“Uneducated women cannot evaluate the importance of water. Only an educated woman can understand health issues,” he said.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report for 2007, Yemen ranked bottom out of 128 countries. [lhttp://www.weforum.org/pdf/gendergap/rankings2007.pdf]

A report, Women’s Status from a Gender Perspective 2007, issued by the National Women’s Committee, a government body, in March 2008, stated that 51 percent of girls aged six to 14 were not enrolled in elementary schools. Furthermore, the rate of enrolment for girls was 54 percent against 72 percent for boys.

Fawziah Noman, deputy minister of education for girls’ education, told IRIN that the low female education level had an adverse impact on development.

“The high female illiteracy [rate] is due to the high school dropout [rate] and low enrolment. This in turn leads to their weak participation at the social, economic and political level,” she said.

Noman added that in rural areas, women took on big burdens as they performed a very important role in agriculture, grazing, gathering wood and fetching water. “But these are not considered work in terms of the economy. Female education contributes to the enhancement of the economy,” she said.

Early marriage also affected education as it led to girls leaving school. “We suffer from female dropout and enrolment in the rural areas,” she said.

Mutahar al-Abbasi, deputy minister of planning, said Yemen was classified among the off-track countries in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“MDGs cannot be achieved unless efforts are made in girls’ education. The main problem facing girls’ education is the rapid population growth,” he said.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/346f5720440d54c40202d22ced3dfde2.htm

Uzbek human rights defender and government critic Mutabar Tojibaeva was released from the Tashkent Women’s Prison, where she was serving an eight-year prison sentence for her human rights activities, said Human Rights Watch said today. Tojibaeva was paroled on June 2, 2008, after serving two years and eight months of her eight-year prison sentence. Although released, Tojibaeva was not amnestied and will continue to serve a three-year suspended sentence.

“We are thrilled that Mutabar Tojibaeva has been released from prison,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But she should never have been imprisoned in the first place. Her conviction should be annulled, and she should be allowed to do her human rights work without further government persecution.”

Tojibaeva told Human Rights Watch immediately after her release on June 2 that she believes she was paroled because of her medical condition. She was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and underwent surgery on March 18, 2008, at the Tashkent Oncological Hospital. She described her condition as very weak and stated that she is suffering from anemia.

Tojibaeva, 46 years old, has been a fearless critic of the Uzbek government and openly spoke out against the massacre of mainly unarmed civilians by government forces in Andijan in May 2005. She is also the head of the Burning Hearts Club, an unregistered nongovernmental organization (NGO) in the eastern Uzbek city of Margilan, and has long helped ordinary people seek justice.

On October 7, 2005, in clear retribution for her criticism of the government following the Andijan massacre, Tojibaeva was arrested in her home on 17 counts of criminal activity, including slander, extortion, tax evasion, polluting the environment, and membership in an illegal organization. On March 6, 2006, Tojibaeva was sentenced to eight years in prison in a trial that Human Rights Watch said violated fair trial standards; she was denied the right to prepare an adequate defense or cross-examine several key state witnesses. Her conviction was upheld on appeal.

At least 11 human rights defenders remain in prison (one of them in a closed psychiatric ward) for politically motivated reasons. Seven human rights defenders have been released from prison or amnestied since January 2008. Some were amnestied only after they signed statements promising to abandon their human rights activism. Human rights defenders, who have been fortunate enough to avoid imprisonment, as well as their families, are under constant threat and harassment.

“While we celebrate each release of an imprisoned human rights defender, the treatment of Uzbek human rights activists remains abysmal,” said Cartner. “Uzbekistan’s international partners should insist on the release of all remaining human rights defenders, and for them to be able to work freely. That would truly be something to celebrate.”

On May 15, 2008, Tojibaeva was awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/HRW/b031c7f4b6786b535ce7d26250fb5e82.htm

Lawyers for a Muslim couple whose marriage was annulled over her lie about being a virgin rapped the French government for deciding to appeal the ruling widely denounced as an insult to women’s equality.

Both said their clients accepted the ruling and criticized the emotional debate that has raged in France since it was reported last week. A Lille court agreed to end the union because the husband said the marriage was based on a lie.

Their statements added further confusion to a debate struggling to reconcile a vague law, changing morals and concerns about religious demands. Justice Minister Rachida Dati defended the ruling last Friday but ordered an appeal on Monday.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the case could go to France’s highest appeals court, while Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot argued it was for parliament to debate and legislate.

The lawyer for the wife said she was furious and did not want a new trial. “She told me: I refuse this. I don’t agree with this appeal,” Charles-Edouard Mauger told Europe 1 radio.

“I have to get on with my life,” he quoted her as saying. “I don’t know who decided that they would think for me. I haven’t asked for anything. It feels like I’m hallucinating.”

The lawyer for the husband, who sought the annulment after discovering his wife was not the virgin she had claimed to be, expressed his surprise that the case would be reopened.

“First the Justice Ministry said the ruling conformed to the law, now it’s appealing it,” Xavier Labbee told RMC radio. “It’s a contradiction, probably due to the uproar in the media.”

The ruling came in for ferocious criticism over the weekend. Fadela Amara, state secretary for urban affairs, called it “a real fatwa against women’s liberation” and said it seemed more like “a ruling handed down in Kandahar.”

Dati at first defended the ruling as protecting the woman but changed her mind and justified the appeal by saying the case “concerns all citizens of our country, especially women.”

Fillon said France could not let the ruling make virginity a “key element in consent to marry.” If the appeal failed, he said, the government would take it to the highest appeals court “so this ruling does not create a precedent for all judges.”

Concern about traditional Muslim views creeping into French jurisprudence echoed through the debate, but the lawyers insisted religion had no part in the ruling based on a lie about what the husband saw as an “essential quality” in a bride.

Bachelot said virginity may have been an “essential quality” for a marriage “in the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th.” But a court could not decide if that applied today.

“Morals have changed, and that’s fine,” she said. “So I want parliament to pass a law to define these characteristics.”

This case was apparently the first to cite virginity as an “essential quality” for a marriage. Other annulment cases have cited lies about a previous divorce or criminal record.

Critics of the ruling say these are acceptable criteria but a woman’s sex life must remain strictly private. Lawyers said drawing that distinction in a law could be difficult because male impotence is accepted as a reason to annul a marriage.

http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSL0379602220080603?sp=true