Archive for June 24th, 2008

How desperate would a woman have to be to abort her child, at the hands of a stranger, lying blindfolded in the back of car?

The dark days of the 1930s and 1940s, raised last week as cautionary tales by Family Planning, were frightful indeed.

The tales of women from that era are what made historian Barbara Brookes the staunch feminist she is today.

“I talked to women who’d had abortions under all sorts of horrendous circumstances,” Brookes says.

“One guy used to drive around in his car and women would meet him on a corner. They would be blindfolded so they never knew who he was and he’d do the abortion in the back of his car.”

She wrote her dissertation on 1930s’ abortion in 1976.

The following year, she was door- knocking in Christchurch, gathering signatures for a Women’s National Abortion Action Campaign petition.

By year’s end, Parliament had passed the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977, actioning the recommendations of a royal commission of inquiry into abortion.

The legislation made abortion illegal except in certain extraordinary circumstances. Women’s groups, and many men, were outraged by the conservatism of the law.

The Sisters Overseas Service flew women seeking a safe, legal abortion to Australia, where the procedure was more accessible.

Liberal National MP Marilyn Waring spearheaded a campaign to repeal the law. “They were heady days for the pro-abortionists,” Ms Waring recalls.

Progress was slow, however. Ms Waring’s 318,000-signature petition was rejected by Parliament.

In 1982, anti-abortionist Melvyn Wall failed in a bid for a judicial review of an abortion he considered unnecessary. It was a turning point for the interpretation of abortion law in New Zealand.

“The heat only died from the issue once doctors were secure that they could interpret the law liberally without fear of prosecution,” Brookes says in a forthcoming book.

That meant doctors taking women at their word when they said they needed an abortion for the sake of their mental health.

This is what has been challenged in last week’s ruling by Justice Miller.

More than 98 per cent of abortions are authorised on the grounds of risk to mental health, a figure the judge considers remarkably high.

He says the Abortion Supervisory Committee might take a more active role in reviewing the legality of abortions.

That does not worry the chairwoman of the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, Gillian Gibson.

An audit would simply prove the law is being faithfully followed already, she says. “What we have at the moment is a very safe and accessible service for women. It is a lawful service and legal abortions are being performed.”

Even if the committee takes a more vigorous approach, there are clearly defined limits to what they can ask. The confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship presents a big roadblock.

Youth health specialist Sue Bagshaw says it would be difficult to prove a doctor had acted in bad faith certifying an abortion on the grounds of mental health.

The mental health justification is a broad definition, she says. “Pregnancy is incredibly stressful if it’s not planned and not wanted.”

Protecting a woman’s mental health by allowing an abortion means protecting her “sense of complete mental wellbeing”.

An Australian study published this year in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry seems to support that view.

The study, in which 32 women were interviewed one year after having an abortion, found “the most important and frequent effect of abortion” was to make women feel more competent in managing their lives.

But there is a cost to a hands-off approach by the supervisory committee.

Concerns about the privacy of women seeking abortions stopped clinicians alerting authorities to botched sterilisations by Roman Hasil at Wanganui Hospital, exposed this year.

Contrary to the Australian study, a New Zealand study in 2006 by David Fergusson showed evidence of the emotional damage abortion can cause.

Even when previous mental health problems were taken into account, Professor Fergusson found, statistically, young women who had abortions had rates of later mental disorder that were about 1.5 times those of women not having an abortion.

Such data spurred independent MP Gordon Copeland to write a bill designed to improve the information given to women seeking an abortion.

His Abortion (Informed Consent) Bill is a rare modern example of a politician forcing the issue on abortion.

He says abortion is a political no-go zone these days. “Parliament should address it . . . But people have still got this view that it will be the death knell of your political career if you speak out about abortion.”

The silence from Labour and National after Justice Miller’s judgment last week proves his point.

If we can’t expect legislative change, where does that leave abortion law today?

A delighted Ken Orr, of the Right to Life group, which brought the case that the judge ruled on, is in no doubt of the result.

“We would expect a substantial reduction in the number of abortions done in New Zealand each year,” he says.

The Crown may yet appeal against the judgment.

But will practitioners toe the line?

“Well, I guess they’ll have to,” Family Planning’s Jackie Edmond says.

“If it’s in the law and the committee is asking them to do that, they’ll have to. But for us the worry is that it could make access to abortion more difficult for women.”

The judgment by Justice Forrest Miller found that:
* The Abortion Supervisory Committee had “misinterpreted its functions and powers under the abortion law”.
* “There is reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions”.
* NZ law says abortion must be authorised by two certifying consultants using a limited number of grounds.
* Some certifying consultants decline few or no abortions.
* Justice Miller said the committee was wrong to interpret the law as meaning it had no power to review or scrutinise consultants’ decisions.
* Statistics NZ figures show there were 17,930 abortions in 2006. Of those, 17,732 were authorised on the grounds that pregnancy posed a serious risk to the mental health of the mother.
* Justice Miller has not recommended that the committee take any particular action but he may do so in the future.

See also:
* Doctors in New Zealand face sack over abortions

Abortion is the second most commonly performed surgical procedure for women in Victoria and, according to the World Health Organisation, one of the safest in the world. However it is singled out to be the only medical procedure in the Victorian Crimes Act, making it a criminal offence.

Consecutive opinion polls have confirmed that the law is completely out of step with community attitudes, with 80% of Victorians supporting a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Women have access only under common law, through Justice Menhennitt’s 1969 ruling that permits abortion when it is necessary to protect the life or health of a woman.

The 2006 Victorian ALP state conference voted to decriminalise abortion, however efforts by individual MPs to put up a private members’ bill in support of a woman’s right to choose had been consistently thwarted by social conservatives in the ALP.

After mounting pressure from within ALP ranks and community groups, the state attorney-general commissioned a report in September, 2007, on abortion law reform, which was finally tabled in parliament on May 29. Parliament will vote this year on which of the three recommended models for decriminalisation in the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report will be adopted.

The three options advocated vary considerably in scope and the main difference lies with who will be the final decision maker in individual cases and which circumstances make abortion legal.

Leslie Cannold, bio-ethicist and spokesperson for ProChoice Vic, told Green Left Weekly that even though Model A would take abortion out of the Crimes Act, it essentially enshrines the Menhennitt ruling into legislation, keeping the decision about whether a procedure was “necessary” in the hands of the medical profession and the law.

While in Model B a women’s consent provides lawful authority for an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, after that point one or two doctors would have to assess whether the continuation of a pregnancy poses a risk of harm to the woman. According to the report, “risk of harm” would be defined in line with current law and legal decisions since the 1969 Menhennitt ruling.

As in Model A, a doctor who performed an abortion without being satisfied that the continuation of the pregnancy posed a risk of harm to the woman could be prosecuted.

Cannold argued that while Model B is an improvement to Model A, it is still totally inadequate: it treats the small percentage of Victorian women who require a termination after 24 weeks of gestation as incapable of being the ultimate decision makers.

The most progressive of the proposed options is Model C, which essentially makes the woman the decision maker throughout the entire pregnancy. An abortion would only be deemed unlawful if conducted by unqualified people and conducted without the woman’s consent.

Cannold agrees with Marilyn Beaumont, CEO of Women’s Health Victoria, who told GLW that abortions should not be put into in the Health Act but be subject to the same regulatory mechanisms that already exist for other medical and health service delivery.

“Abortion has to be understood for what it is. It is a safe and simple medical procedure, which is also what the World Health Organisation is saying. Therefore it should not be treated any differently to other medical procedures”, Cannold told GLW.

Victorian Socialist Alliance state convener Sue Bolton said that by defining abortion as a crime it has stigmatised the issue and subjected abortion providers and women to vicious harassment by vocal fundamentalist Christians, tragically resulting in the fatal shooting of a security guard at an abortion clinic in Melbourne some years ago.

Bolton also said that by making abortion illegal, the government has limited publicly funded abortion services, thereby adversely affecting women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and rural areas in particular.

Decriminalising abortion is an important step towards women achieving self-actualisation by giving them the right to fully control their fertility and their body.

However any legislative steps to bring abortion in line with other medical procedures has to come hand in hand with increased accessibility and affordability if we truly believe in women’s freedom. Even under Model C, the medical profession can impose clinical restrictions. Increased government funding will be absolutely critical to make sure all women will be able to access the service they need no matter where they live, how far advanced their pregnancy or what their socioeconomic background is.

“While it would be a victory to take abortion legislation off the Crimes Act, we have to judge the result not by what’s written on paper but by what actual difference it will make to the daily lives of women”, Bolton commented.

Even though the majority of Victorians are pro-choice, there is no guarantee that parliament will vote in favour of Model C, the most woman-friendly option. The Greens have already come out in favour of this model, but Labor and Coalition MPs will be able to exercise a conscience vote on the issue.

“We need a strong and vocal public campaign to pressure the ALP state government to vote for the best model for women, otherwise they might well capitulate to the influential minority anti abortion lobby, like they have done in the past”, Bolton concluded.

See also:
* Social factor key in abortion
* Australian MPs bid to cut Medicare funding of late abortions

Public at Odds With Their Country’s Laws in Half of Countries Polled finds that in 17 out of 18 nations polled around the world, majorities reject using criminal penalties, such as fines and imprisonment, as a means to prevent abortion.

Nations differ on whether the government should make any effort to discourage abortion. In nine nations majorities believe their government should simply leave these matters to individuals.

Seven nations favor government efforts to discourage abortions, but in only one–Indonesia–does a majority endorse their government using criminal penalties. The other six that favor government efforts are divided between minorities who favor criminal penalties and who favor only non-punitive government efforts to discourage abortion, such as education, counseling and adoption services.

In seven nations the public is at odds with their country’s laws. Contrary to their public’s preferences, there are criminal penalties for abortion in Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, the Palestinian Territories, Poland and South Korea.

On average across all 18 countries, 52 percent favor leaving the matter of abortion to the individual, while 42 percent think their government should try to discourage abortions. Those who back government efforts include 18 percent who support criminal enforcement, while 23 percent favor education, counseling, and adoption services but not criminal enforcement.

“While it does appear that many people around the world are uncomfortable with abortion, few think that the government should use punitive means to try to prevent it,” said Steven Kull, director of “Clearly many governments around the world using criminal penalties to try to prevent abortions are out of step with their publics.” is a collaborative research project of research centers from around the world, managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland.

Interviews with 18,465 respondents were conducted in 18 countries representing 59 percent of the world’s population. This includes most of the largest countries in the world–China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Russia–as well as Mexico, Britain, France, Poland, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, the Palestinian Territories, Thailand and South Korea. The survey was fielded between Jan. 10 and May 6. Margins of error range from +/-2 to 4 percent.

The survey asked respondents whether they thought “the government should be involved in trying to discourage abortions” or whether it “should leave these matters to the individual.” Those who said the government should be involved in discouraging abortions were then asked if it should “use methods of criminal enforcement, such as fines and imprisonment for people who give or receive abortions” or whether it should “use such methods as education, counseling, and adoption services, but not criminal enforcement.”

In nine of the 18 nations, a majority says the government should leave these matters to the individual. This includes countries where abortion is legal: France (95%), Great Britain (81%), the United States (69%), Ukraine (70%), Russia (62%), and China (67%).

But it also includes three countries with highly restrictive laws: two predominantly Catholic countries–Poland (66%) and Mexico (70%, though laws in Mexico have been liberalizing)–as well as South Korea (62%). In all nine of these countries, fewer than ten percent favor criminal enforcement.

Majorities in seven countries favor government efforts to discourage abortions, though only one supports criminal enforcement. The largest majority is in Indonesia, where nine out of ten (89%) back government efforts, including 60 percent who favor criminal enforcement.

In the other six nations majorities favor government efforts to discourage abortion, but not criminal penalties: Nigerians (84% government efforts/42% criminal penalties), Thais (66%/ 27%), Palestinians (57%/ 25%), Iranians (55%/ 11%), Egyptians (53%/ 45%), and Indians (53%/ 26%).

Views are divided between those who favor and oppose government intervention in Azerbaijan and Turkey. Small minorities favor criminal enforcement.

For the sample as a whole there is substantial variation by religion. Christians express the most liberal views: 65 percent favor leaving the decision to individuals while just 8 percent support criminal penalties. Muslims show the highest support for government efforts to discourage abortion (59%), including 31 percent favoring criminal enforcement.

The intensity of religiosity is also related to attitudes. Support for government involvement increases from 25 percent among those who are not at all religious to 65 percent among those who are very religious. Even among those who are very religious, however, just 32 percent favor criminal penalties. Only in Indonesia does this subgroup have a majority favoring criminal enforcement, though nearly half of very religious Palestinians (48%) do.

Support for leaving the matter to the individual rises with education, from 46 percent among those with less than a high school education to 60 percent among college graduates. Income follows a similar pattern: opposition to government intervention rises from 43 percent among those with low incomes to 63 percent among those with high incomes.

Interestingly, opposition to government involvement increases with age. Among those ages 18-29, views are divided between those who oppose government involvement (46%) and those who favor it (48%), though only 21 percent back criminal penalties. Opposition rises progressively so that 61 percent of those ages 60 and above oppose government involvement.

Interestingly, though abortion is often framed as a women’s rights issue, there are no significant differences between men and women.


Questionnaire/methodology (PDF)

Press Release (PDF)

Full PDF Version

Many adults in the United States believe pregnancy termination should remain legal, according to a poll by TNS released by the Washington Post and ABC News. 53 per cent of respondents would allow abortion in all or most cases, while 44 per cent believe the procedure should be illegal in all or most occasions.

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling gave American women the right to an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, and regulated the procedure during the second trimester “in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.” In the third trimester, a state can choose to proscribe abortion, except when necessary “for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”

In his campaign website, Arizona senator John McCain—the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party in this year’s United States election—discusses his views on abortion, stating, “John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.”

Polling Data

Do you think abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases or illegal in all cases?

Jun. 2008 Dec. 2007 Nov. 2007
Legal in all cases 18% 18% 19%
Legal in most cases 35% 35% 36%
Illegal in most cases 28% 27% 27%
Illegal in all cases 16% 17% 16%
No opinion 3% 3% 2%

Source: TNS / Washington Post / ABC News

Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,125 American adults, conducted from Jun. 12 to Jun. 15, 2008. Margin of error is 3 per cent.

Support for legal abortions is clearly high in the Czech Republic, according to a poll by CVVM. 75 per cent of respondents think abortion should be allowed at the woman’s request, while an additional 15 per cent think it should be permitted “for societal reasons.”

Support for on-demand abortion has increased by three points since May 2007. Less than 10 per cent of respondents think pregnancy termination should only be legal when the mother’s health is at risk, or that it should be completely banned.

Abortion is legal in the Czech Republic within the first 12 weeks of gestation. The procedure can also be performed for medical reasons in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, or at any time during gestation and if the fetus has defects.

Czechoslovakia was separated into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in the “velvet divorce” of 1993, a reference to the “velvet revolution” in 1989 when mass peaceful demonstrations led to the end of communist rule in the country.

The law allowing for abortion was introduced with some restrictions in 1975, when the Czech Republic was still part of Czechoslovakia. Since 1992, abortions for non-medical reasons are not covered by the state-administered health care system, but rates for this procedure are generally low.

Earlier this year, the Christian and Democratic Union – Czech People’s Party (KDU-CSL)—one of the three parties in the centre-right governing coalition—introduced a bill proposing new conditions for pregnancy termination. These included allowing the father to speak his mind before an abortion is conducted, and raising the age of parental consent from 16 to 18 years. The bill was rejected by the legislature, and was opposed by the senior governing Civic Democratic Party (ODS).

ODS lawmaker Boris Stastny, who serves as the deputy chairman of the Chamber of Deputies health committee, said about the proposed bill: “The Christian Democrats’ proposal is a step back and it can be compared with the denial of women’s suffrage.”

Polling Data
What is your opinion on abortion : May08 : May07
Abortion should be allowed at the request of the woman : 75% : 72%
Abortion should be allowed for societal reasons : 15% : 19%
Abortion should only be allowed if a woman’s health is at risk :  6% :  5%
Abortion should be banned :  1% :  1%
Not sure :  3% :  2%

Source: CVVM
Methodology: Interviews with 1,066 Czech adults, conducted from May 12 to May 19, 2000. No margin of error was provided.

A medical ethics panel in Romania refused to grant an abortion to an 11-year-old who had allegedly been raped by her uncle, a hospital official said.

“According to the penal code, after the 14th week of pregnancy, termination is only permissible if the mother’s life is endangered or if the foetus suffers from malformation,” said Vica Todosiciuc, head of the Cuza Voda maternity section in the northeastern city of Iasi.

“Having examined the girl, the panel observes that the pregnancy is proceeding naturally and therefore that termination should not be imposed.”

The girl’s parents discovered the pregnancy during a medical check-up two weeks ago after she complained of stomach pains. Police are hunting the uncle, who is said to have fled his home.

“The fact that the pregnancy stemmed from rape was not taken into account by the panel, for two reasons: one, because rape has not been proven; and two, because the penal code does not allow for any exceptions,” Todosiciuc said.

“This was a very difficult decision for the doctors to make. They searched for a medical reason which would allow them to authorise a termination, but none was found.”

An initial regional medical commission had recommended allowing termination, primarily because the girl is so young. But the law in Romania requires an ethnics panel to have the final say in cases which have gone past 14 weeks.

According to Romania’s health ministry, the number of under-15s giving birth is on the increase, reaching around 500 in 2006.

It’s the only way Tory Bowen knows to honestly describe what happened to her.

She was raped.

But a judge prohibited her from uttering the word “rape” in front of a jury. The term “sexual assault” also was taboo, and Bowen could not refer to herself as a victim or use the word “assailant” to describe the man who allegedly raped her.

The defendant’s presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial trumps Bowen’s right of free speech, said the Lincoln, Neb., judge who issued the order.

“It shouldn’t be up to a judge to tell me whether or not I was raped,” Bowen said. “I should be able to tell the jury in my own words what happened to me.”

Bowen’s case is part of what some prosecutors and victim advocates see as a national trend in sexual assault cases.

“It’s a topic that’s coming up more and more,” said Joshua Marquis, an Oregon prosecutor and a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. “You’re moving away from what a criminal trial is really about.”

In Jackson County, Senior Judge Gene Martin recently issued a similar order for the trial of a Kansas City man charged with raping a teenager in 2000. Despite the semantic restrictions, the Jackson County jury last week found Ray Slaughter guilty of forcible rape and two counts of forcible sodomy.

Slaughter’s attorney, who requested the pretrial order, declined to comment because she is preparing a motion for new trial. The judge also declined to comment.

Bowen’s case gained national notoriety and drew the attention of free-speech proponents after she filed a lawsuit challenging the judge’s actions as a First Amendment violation. A federal appeals court dismissed the suit, but Bowen’s attorney plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although he dismissed her suit, a federal judge said he doubted a jury would be swayed by a woman using the word “rape” instead of some “tortured equivalent.”

“For the life of me, I do not understand why a judge would tell an alleged rape victim that she cannot say she was raped when she testifies in a trial about rape,” wrote U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf.

Wendy J. Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law in Boston, is representing Bowen. She said the practice is “absolutely” unconstitutional.

“There’s no law anywhere that allows courts to issue these kinds of orders against private citizens,” Murphy said. “That doesn’t mean judges aren’t doing it.”

Prosecutors may object, but rarely do they have the time and resources to stop a trial midstream to appeal, she said.

But in cases where the defendant’s version of events is pitted against that of the alleged victim, “words are really important,” Marquis said.

“To force a victim to say, ‘when the defendant and I had sexual intercourse’ is just absurd,” he said.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar said juries are smart enough to understand that in the adversarial system of justice, the state is going to take one position and the defense is going to take another.

“These are common terms that are used both in and outside the courtroom,” he said. “If someone says something that one side feels is prejudicial, it can be addressed in cross-examination.”

The issue is a discretionary call with judges, said Jackson County Circuit Judge Brian C. Wimes, who did not preside over Slaughter’s trial. Wimes said he typically would not grant a pretrial order limiting certain words, but he would verbally tell the attorneys to avoid using words in a prejudicial or inflammatory way.

“You don’t want to create an unfair environment,” he said.

Those who defend the accused say the determination of whether what happened was rape or consensual sex is up to juries, not witnesses.

“They shouldn’t be able to use the word ‘rape’ as if it is a fact that has been established,” said Jack King, director of public affairs and communications for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “These are loaded words.”

But Bowen says there is nothing fair about allowing the defense to describe what happened as sex and forcing the victim to describe it in the same words, especially when jurors are not told that an order limiting speech is in place.

Bowen was a 21-year-old Nebraska college student in 2004 when, she said, someone incapacitated her with a rape drug. When she awoke, she was being raped, she said.

Though The Star typically does not name rape victims, Bowen agreed to have her name and photo used.

She said it’s hard enough to get up in front of 12 strangers and talk about what happened without having to worry about being found in contempt of court for saying the wrong thing.

“I think it’s unfortunate that I have to turn into a human thesaurus on the stand,” Bowen testified in a pretrial hearing.

Murphy said it’s disturbing that such “censorship orders” are entered almost exclusively in cases involving rape or sexual assault.

“If it’s about defendants’ rights, then why aren’t they used in other cases?” she asked.

Alison Jones-Lockwood with the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault said that there is a historical trend of doubting the word of a woman who says she was raped or questioning how she might have done something to put herself at risk.

She attributes that attitude in part to how the crime affects people’s sense of personal safety.

“If it happened to her, it could happen to me,” Jones-Lockwood said.

The jury in Bowen’s case deadlocked after one trial in 2006. The judge declared a mistrial because of pretrial publicity before a second trial in 2007.

Prosecutors dismissed the case before a third trial because of the judge’s orders on what words could be used and limits on evidence, including prior rape allegations against the defendant.

It would have come down to his word against hers, and as Bowen said, “The judge took my words away from me.”

“How can the jury make an educated decision?” she asked.

Marcella Alcala, president of the society, said yesterday that a breakdown of the cases since 2005 shows that acquaintance rape had increased significantly in 2007.

“During the course of 2007, a total of 92 cases of rape were counselled by the Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago. Thirty-nine of those persons were raped by someone they knew,” she said.

Sixteen of those persons, she added, were raped at the home of the perpetrator, six of them did not say where the assault occurred, but five of them indicated that it happened at their homes. Others were raped in cars, on the street, at school, a neighbour’s home or a canefield.

Alcala said many times a rape victim who knows their attacker would have extended some level of trust to him or her, but this does not mean that the person asked to be rape.

“No one asks to be raped. A rapist violates not only the body of another person but he or she also causes serious harm to the psychological and emotional well-being of the victim.”

There is also the possibility of the victim becoming infected with Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including HIV.

She said it is important to note that rape affects not just the victim but their family members as well, because the family unit is forced to face what is an unbelievable and unnecessary level of stress.

Alcala’s statement came one day after Inspector Sheila Prince, head of the Community Policing Secretariat, urged members of the public to report incidents of incest and sexual abuse, which she said was prevalent in the country but was not being reported.

– Be alert
– Arrange transport to and from your place of work before hand if possible
– Travel with credit on your cellphone
– When walking alone walk facing the oncoming traffic
– Do not engage in conversations with strangers through car windows
– Always tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to return
– Avoid unfamiliar and dark places
– Observe the taxi you are about to enter, colour, make and number
– Know where your car is or where you are sup posed to meet or get transport
– Don’t wait until you get to your car to look for your keys, have them in hand as you approach your car
– Drive with all car doors locked when stopping in traffic.

In Australia, the Queensland Supreme Court has overturned a district court judge’s decision not to impose custodial sentences on nine men who gang-raped a 10-year-old aboriginal girl. The Supreme Court jailed the oldest attackers for six years, placed two of the under-17s in juvenile detention and the remaining four on probation. All nine men will have criminal convictions on their records.

The case caused outrage after it was revealed that the prosecutor described the attackers as “naughty” and describe the rape as “childish experimentation”. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was appalled by the decision and a number of senior lawyers launched the appeal which led to today’s ruling.

The Queensland Supreme Court also found that Judge Sarah Bradley committed errors, “so serious as to produce a clear miscarriage of justice” when she heard the case in Aurukun Aboriginal Settlement in December 2007. The Supreme Court said that Judge Bradley, who was conducting a one-day sitting in Aurukun, rushed through the case in order to catch a plane back to Cairns. The court did note that she had already heard 20 cases before the rape trial began.

A programme specialist with UNIFEM in Abuja blamed the rampant incidence of rape on failure to enforce existing laws on it.

Ms Tolulope Lewis-Tamoka spoke during an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

She said there was the need to encourage the enforcement of many of those laws that try to address the issue of rape.

“Most times, it is not lack of laws on rape that is the problem but the non enforcement of these laws,” she said.

According to her, there is a gender policy in place while some states in the country enacted laws that addressed violence against women.

Lewis-Tamoka said institutions responsible for enforcing the rape laws do not have the capacity to bring offenders to justice.

She said women should therefore stand up and fight sexual violence against them, adding that some superstitious beliefs were also fuelling sexual violence against women.

The programme specialist cited as example, the belief in some quarters that having sexual intercourse with a virgin could cure some life-threatening ailments.

“Our culture does not promote such behaviour (rape) and it is not acceptable in the African tradition,” she said.

She advised parents not to send their female children to hawk or do other activities that might expose them to sexual violence.

Sudan’s Darfur crisis has exploded on many fronts – violence, hunger, displacement and looting — but United Nations peacekeepers say the biggest issue now affecting the region is the systematic rape of women and children.

Thousands of women as young as 4 caught in the middle of the struggle between rebel forces and government-backed militias have become victims of rape, they say, with some aid groups claiming that it is being used as a weapon of ethnic cleansing.

“That is one of the biggest issues in Darfur: the rapes, and crimes against women and children,” said Michael Fryer, police commissioner of UNAMID, the United Nations peacekeeping force deployed to try to tackle the violence.

Relief workers say they are powerless to stop the attacks and say that if they do speak out, they fear that the Sudanese government will tell them to leave the country.

Humanitarian group Refugees International said in a report last year that rape was “an integral part of the pattern of violence that the government of Sudan is inflicting upon the targeted ethnic groups in Darfur.”

Some relief workers say that almost every woman living in aid camps has been raped or become a victim of gender-based violence. Many teenagers, while out running errands such as collecting firewood, are raped multiple times by militiamen, the workers say. Watch women face dangers in Darfur »

They say the situation has now become so bad that many women are now resigned to rape as a way of life and men are unwilling to accompany them because they fear that they will be killed if they try to defend them.

But despite the extent of the abuse, the Sudanese government insists there is no problem, adding to the difficulties faced by the victims, who are often ostracized by their communities or fall afoul of a legal system seen as favoring their attackers. Share your photos, videos of Darfur

“There is no rape in Darfur,” said Mohammad Hassan Awad, a Humanitarian Aid Commissioner for West Darfur, who accuses foreign aid workers of persuading people in refugee camps to make false claims.

Although few aid workers dispute the extent of the attacks against women, they say survivors are unwilling to come forward. But those who do reveal shocking levels of abuse.

“She said they removed their scarves and used it to tie them up and were taking turns to rape them. One is 13 years old; the other one is 16 years,” Ajayi Funmi of the UNAMID police, who is trying to educate women, said after talking to two girls.

Making matters worse, aid workers say scores of babies conceived through rape are being dumped by their mothers.

“Abandoned babies are reported, but because of the stigma attached to it, there is no detailed report, because the women don’t come forward,” said Dr Naqib Safi of the U.N. children’s body UNICEF.

As many as 20 babies a month are being dumped in one camp of 22,000 people.

With U.N. officials calling for more female officers to better educate women against rape and women saying they won’t feel safe until the under-equipped and undermanned United Nations force is strong enough to protect them, the situation shows little sign of improving.

African women leaders vowed(*) to press for the deployment of more female peace-keepers to protect women in conflict and called on the African Union (AU) to appoint more female peace envoys.

The African women, who met to discuss the state of women affairs in the continent ahead of the African Union (AU) semi-annual conference convening in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh, also called for an urgent end to violence against women in Africa.

The pre-AU Summit meeting was sponsored by the Fammes Africa Solidarite (FAS) to discuss the state of women, with a special attention on the implementation of specific declarations by the AU over the last four years, seeking to improve the women welfare.

The talks also agreed on a raft of measures, touching on the health and economic welfare of women.

The gender rights activists sought urgent removal of school fees in primary schools and urged African leaders to work on a staggered plan to phase out fees in secondary schools to enable more women in the continent to access education.

The conference was attended by African ministers in charge of gender, legal experts within Africa and the Diaspora and regional institutions engaged in the campaign to improve the women welfare, among a host of other institutions to popularise the gender campaign.

It was convened to provide a platform for following up on the pledges made by the African leaders to improve the status of the women welfare in the continent and brought together women rights organisations, under the ‘Gender is My Agenda’ campaign network.

The participants urged the AU to strengthen its campaign against violence, noting that the women in the continent remained less active in peace negotiations, even though they were the worst affected by the conflict.

“Peace and security is a pre-requisite for development,” said Monica Juma, the Executive Director of the South Africa-based Africa Policy Institute.

She said the meeting agreed to push for the nomination of women in senior political positions and as lead envoys for peace in the continent.

The conference urged the African leaders due to meet here to consider nominating more women to lead conflict negotiations.

In particular, the women leaders urged the AU to appoint former Mozambican First Lady Graca Machel, who also joined the Kenya peace mission early this year, to lead the mediation efforts for an end to the political crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Other measures agreed upon by the women include the need to recruit more female soldiers for the peacekeeping operations within the continent to protect girls and provide specialised care to women; and for the AU Commission to tackle the crisis facing women in countries emerging from conflicts, especially Burundi and Liberia.

The AU Gender Directorate, the women said in their communique, should be strengthened to become the watchdog against violations of women rights.

Meanwhile, the AU has been urged to convene a round table discussion on women land ownership ahead of the 2009 land Summit, to enable African women make specific contributions on the issue of land ownership, still a major issue for most of the women folk in Africa.

Juma, who read the communique on behalf of the participants at the gender confab, said special focus should also be turned to the people living with HIV/AIDS.

She said the meeting agreed to push for women contraceptives to be available on demand.

(*) Sharm el Sheikh on Sunday 22/06/2008

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously in favour of a resolution classifying rape as a weapon of war.

The document describes the deliberate use of rape as a tactic in war and a threat to international security.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said violence against women had reached “unspeakable proportions” in some societies recovering from conflict.

The UN is also setting up an inquiry to report next June on how widespread the practice is and how to tackle it.

Human rights groups hailed the resolution as historic.

‘Silent war’

The BBC’s Laura Trevelyan said China, Russia, Indonesia and Vietnam had all expressed reservations during the negotiations, asking whether rape was really a matter for the security council.

But the US-sponsored resolution was adopted unanimously by the 15-member council.

It described sexual violence as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”.

The document said that the violence “can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security”.

During the debate in the council, Mr Ban said: “Responding to this silent war against women and girls requires leadership at the national level.”

“National authorities need to take the initiative to build comprehensive strategies while the UN needs to help build capacity and support national authorities and civil societies,” he added.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the world now recognised that sexual violence profoundly affected not only the health and safety of women, but the economic and social stability of their nations.

Other speakers identified the former Yugoslavia, Sudan’s Darfur region, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Liberia as regions where deliberate sexual violence had occurred on a mass scale.


The former commander of the UN peacekeeping force in eastern Congo, Maj Gen Patrick Cammaert, told the BBC he had personally witnessed its impact.

“It’s a very effective weapon, because the communities are totally destroyed,” he said.

“You destroy communities. You punish the men, and you punish the women, doing it in front of the men.”

In the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, some 40 women are raped every day, our correspondent says.

Sometimes women are even raped by peacekeepers who are supposed to be protecting them, she adds.

The question is whether those in conflict zones who use rape in war will be at all deterred by the new measures, she says.


Security Council Demands Immediate And Complete Halt To Acts Of Sexual Violence Against Civilians In Conflict Zones, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 1820 (2008)

* Caps Day-Long Ministerial-Level Debate on “Women, Peace and Security”,
* Calls on Secretary-General to Report on Text’s Implementation by 30 June 2009

The Security Council today (19th June 2008) demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians,” expressing its deep concern that, despite repeated condemnation, violence and sexual abuse of women and children trapped in war zones was not only continuing, but, in some cases, had become so widespread and systematic as to “reach appalling levels of brutality”.

Capping a day-long ministerial-level meeting on “women, peace and security”, the 15-member Council unanimously adopted resolution 1820 (2008), which noted that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”. It also affirmed the Council’s intention, when establishing and renewing State-specific sanction regimes, to consider imposing “targeted and graduated” measures against warring factions who committed rape and other forms of violence against women and girls.

The resolution also noted that women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including in some cases as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”. Stressing that such violence could significantly exacerbate conflicts and impede peace processes, the text affirmed the Council’s readiness to, where necessary, adopt steps to address systematic sexual violence deliberately targeting civilians, or as a part of a widespread campaign against civilian populations.

Further to the text, the Council demanded that all parties to armed conflict take immediate and appropriate measures to protect civilians, including by, among others, enforcing appropriate military disciplinary measures and upholding the principle of command responsibility; training troops on the categorical prohibition of all forms of sexual violence against civilians; debunking myths that fuel sexual violence; and vetting armed and security forces to take into account past sexual violence.

The text made several key requests of the Secretary-General, including that he submit by 30 June 2009 a report on implementation of the resolution that would include, among other things, information on conflict situations in which sexual violence was widely or systematically employed against civilians; and proposals aimed at minimizing the susceptibility of women and girls to such violence. It also requested him to develop effective guidelines and strategies to enhance the ability of relevant United Nations peacekeeping operations to protect civilians, including women and girls, from all forms of sexual violence.

Chairing the debate on behalf of the United States, which holds the Security Council presidency for the month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted that there had long been dispute about whether sexual violence against women in conflict was an issue the Council was authorized to address. “I am proud that, today, we respond to that lingering question with a resounding ‘yes!’,” she said, adding that the world body was acknowledging that such violence was indeed a security concern. “We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but the economic and social stability of their nations,” she said.

In his opening remarks to the meeting, which came eight years after the Council had adopted its landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that an increasing and alarming number of women and girls were falling victim to sexual violence in conflict and that the problem had reached unspeakable and pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from it. “But we can and must push back.” He announced plans to shortly appoint a Messenger of Peace tasked entirely with advocacy for ending violence against women. He also urged the Council to adopt resolutions with strong language on sexual and gender-based violence, so that “the UN can respond more forcefully”.

“We must do far more to involve women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and recovery after the guns fall silent,” he said, stressing that he needed Member States to come forward with more women candidates. Referring to the all-female Indian civil police unit in the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as a possible model, he said that, when Member States send qualified personnel, the United Nations could demonstrate the central role of women in restoring stability to war-ravaged countries.

On the issue of Untied Nations operations, the Secretary-General said: “Let me be clear; the United Nations and I personally are profoundly committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel.” By creating a culture that punished violence and elevated women to their rightful role, “we can lay the foundation for lasting stability, where women are not victims of violence, but agents of peace”, he added.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro also addressed the meeting, which featured the participation of nearly 60 speakers, saying that sexual violence had not only grave physical and psychological health consequences for its victims, but also direct social consequences for communities and entire societies. “Impunity for sexual violence committed during conflict perpetuates a tolerance of abuse against women and girls and leaves a damaging legacy by hindering national reconciliation,” she said.

Ms. Migiro added that tackling this complex problem on all fronts would require the combined effort of all, including Governments, the United Nations system, as well as civil society and non-governmental organizations. She called women “one of our greatest assets” in the fight against such horrific crimes. “If we promote the full and equal participation of women in the security sector, we can ensure that security services effectively identify and respond to their needs,” she added

Echoing that sentiment, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said that women must be assured equal and full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes, and represented in the structures and institutions realized from any peace dividend to ensure that it lasted.

He also noted that, while both the Assembly and the Council had adopted groundbreaking resolutions on the issue, stronger and more coordinated efforts were needed to address sexual violence against women. “Clearly, we all have to do more to prevent human rights violations against women and girls in situations of armed conflict, do more to punish the perpetrators and end the impunity of war crimes violators,” he said.

Among the other high-level speakers today, Olubanke King-Akerele, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Liberia, said the issue before the Council was of the utmost seriousness, and the powerful 15-member body and the wider international community must step up efforts to address that grave abuse of dignity and human rights. Much remained to be done to ensure broad implementation of resolution 1325 (2000), which needed accountability, measurement and benchmarks. And, it needed focal points within the United Nations system to follow-up on its implementation at national levels. To address those shortcomings, she suggested mechanisms similar to those included in Security Council resolutions on “children and armed conflict”.

Retired Major General Patrick Cammart, Former Division Commander of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), said that the current climate of impunity in most post-conflict contexts allowed the many forms of violence, including sexual violence, to flourish. Further, the political will to end the vicious cycle of impunity did not exist. That being the case, impunity remained a serious impediment for the prevention of sexual violence. “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict,” he said.

“You are the UN, you play an important role to ensure that the UN and the international community continue to intensify actions to end violence against women and girls,” he said, adding that everyone understood how many important issues were before the Council at any given moment, each needing great care and attention. But, women and girls were suffering. “You have the responsibility to protect them and to take real and effective measures to put an end to this,” he said.

Also participating in the debate were the Vice-Prime Minister of Croatia, and the Foreign Ministers of South Africa and Burkina Faso.

They were joined by senior ministers and Government officials from the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Italy, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Also speaking were the representatives of China, Libya, Viet Nam, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Panama, Russian Federation, Japan (in his capacity and as Chairperson of the Peacebuilding Commission), Liechtenstein, Ghana, Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union), Australia, Spain, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Netherlands, Israel, Iceland (also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden), Nigeria, Brazil, Switzerland, Ireland, Canada, Ecuador, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Austria, Argentina, Colombia, United Republic of Tanzania, Germany, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Rwanda, Philippines, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Tonga (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Myanmar, Tunisia, Benin, Mauritania and San Marino.

The Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union also addressed the debate.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and was suspended at 1:15 p.m. The Council reconvened at 3:10 p.m. and ended its meeting at 6:55 p.m.

The full text of resolution 1820 (2008) including this introduction can be downloaded from