Archive for April 2nd, 2009

Human Rights Watch released a report Tuesday finding that Los Angeles County has at least 12,669 untested rape kits sitting in storage facilities. Sarah Tofte, a researcher for that study, calls it a case of major injustice to rape survivors.

Catherine, who lives with her young son in Los Angeles, was awakened at midnight by a stranger who raped her, sodomized her and forced her to orally copulate him–repeatedly. When it was over, the police brought her to a rape treatment center. As with all rape victims, her body was a crime scene. She consented to the collection of evidence.

The lab said it would take at least eight months for it to analyze the evidence gathered from Catherine’s body, known as a “rape kit.” For the detective, that was too long to wait. He personally drove the kit to the state lab, where it still sat for months.

When it was finally processed, it generated a “cold hit”–the DNA matched someone in the offender database, and Catherine’s rapist was identified. During the months Catherine’s kit sat on a shelf, unopened, the same rapist attacked at least two other victims; one was a child.

In this age of advanced DNA technology, and a heightened public understanding of how DNA testing can help solve crimes, one might assume Catherine’s story wouldn’t happen.

We know that testing a rape kit can identify a potential assailant, confirm a suspect’s contact with a victim, corroborate the victim’s account of the sexual assault and exonerate innocent defendants. National studies have shown that cases in which a rape kit was collected, tested and contained DNA evidence are more likely to move forward in the criminal justice system.

But today, Human Rights Watch, for which I work as a researcher, released a 68-page report that measures the scale of the neglect in Los Angeles.

Through dozens of interviews with police officers, public officials, DNA analysts, rape treatment providers and rape victims, I found that as of March 1, 2009, there were at least 12,669 untested rape kits sitting in storage facilities. In those cases, officers never sent the kits along for forensic testing.

Of these untested kits, at least 1,218 are from unsolved cases in which the attacker was a stranger to the victim. And 499 kits are attached to cases that have passed the 10-year statute of limitations for rape in California, making it impossible to prosecute the alleged assailants even if they were to be identified. Under California law, if those 499 kits had been opened within two years of the attack, the statute would no longer apply. Thousands more rape kits were destroyed untested.

The backlog grew even as the police and sheriff’s departments received millions of federal dollars from the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant, a program the U.S. Congress created to address rape kit backlogs. But the effect of the program is blunted by the fact that grantees can use the money to test any kind of DNA backlog.

Los Angeles County has the largest known backlog in the United States.

These untested rape kits represent lost justice for the victims who reported their rape to the police, and consented in good faith to the four-to-six hour rape kit collection process.

What makes Catherine’s story unusual is that her rape kit was tested at all.

In New York City, rape survivors stand a much better chance.

New York eliminated its rape kit backlog in 2003 when city officials created a policy that every rape kit would be sent to the laboratory for DNA testing, and the lab built up its DNA testing capacity so that every rape kit would be tested within 60 days.

The lab also created a system in which every time a DNA profile from a rape kit matches a profile in the DNA database, the crime lab, prosecutor’s office and police department are simultaneously notified. To deal with the increase of investigative leads in rape cases because of the testing, the prosecutors and police created a special investigative team. The result has been an increase in arrest and prosecution rates.

Los Angeles officials need to move quickly and decisively to catch up and end its reputation, when it comes to prosecuting rape, as a judicial backwater.

Sarah Tofte is a researcher with the U.S. program for Human Rights Watch and the author of the new report, “Testing Justice: The Rape Kit Backlog in Los Angeles City and County.”

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

Human Rights Watch called upon the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to:

  • Enforce policy requiring every booked rape kit to be sent to the crime lab and tested;
  • Identify the crime lab resources necessary to test every booked rape kit – those currently in the backlog and those collected in the future – in a timely manner;
  • Identify the police department resources necessary to pursue the investigative leads generated from testing every booked rape kit;
  • Prioritize funding for the resources necessary to eliminate the rape kit backlog, test every future rape kit, and pursue investigative leads from rape kit testing;
  • Implement a system to inform sexual violence victims of the status of their rape kit test; and,
  • Preserve every booked rape kit until it is tested.

Human Rights Watch also called on the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Council, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to make funding for the testing of rape kits a priority in their 2009-2010 budgets.

Testing Justice
The Rape Kit Backlog in Los Angeles City and County
March 31, 2009

Table of Contents
I. Summary
II. Methodology
III. Recommendations
IV. Sexual Violence in Los Angeles County[4]
V. Untested Rape Kits in Crime Laboratories
VI. Untested Rape Kits in Police Storage
VII. Human Rights Law and Responses to Sexual Violence
VIII. Conclusions

The 68-page report reveals that the backlog of untested rape kits in Los Angeles County is larger and more widespread than previously reported. Through dozens of interviews with police officers, public officials, criminalists, rape treatment providers, and rape victims, the report documents the devastating effects of the backlog on victims of sexual abuse.

Read the Report online at

Or Get the Report as

  • Download report (PDF, 287.7 KB)
  • Download report with cover (PDF, 510.97 KB)
  • Summary and recommendations – Photo feature (PDF, 779.88 KB)
  • Purchase a printed copy of this report

by going to


Hamid Karzai has been accused of trying to win votes in Afghanistan’s presidential election by backing a law the UN says legalises rape within marriage and bans wives from stepping outside their homes without their husbands’ permission.

The Afghan president signed the law earlier this month, despite condemnation by human rights activists and some MPs that it flouts the constitution’s equal rights provisions.

The final document has not been published, but the law is believed to contain articles that rule women cannot leave the house without their husbands’ permission, that they can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands’ permission, and that they cannot refuse their husband sex.

A briefing document prepared by the United Nations Development Fund for Women also warns that the law grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only.

Senator Humaira Namati, a member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament, said the law was “worse than during the Taliban”. “Anyone who spoke out was accused of being against Islam,” she said.

The Afghan constitution allows for Shias, who are thought to represent about 10% of the population, to have a separate family law based on traditional Shia jurisprudence. But the constitution and various international treaties signed by Afghanistan guarantee equal rights for women.

Shinkai Zahine Karokhail, like other female parliamentarians, complained that after an initial deal the law was passed with unprecedented speed and limited debate. “They wanted to pass it almost like a secret negotiation,” she said. “There were lots of things that we wanted to change, but they didn’t want to discuss it because Karzai wants to please the Shia before the election.”

Although the ministry of justice confirmed the bill was signed by Karzai at some point this month, there is confusion about the full contents of the final law, which human rights activists have struggled to obtain a copy of. The justice ministry said the law would not be published until various “technical problems” had been ironed out.

After seven years leading Afghanistan, Karzai is increasingly unpopular at home and abroad and the presidential election in August is expected to be extremely closely fought. A western diplomat said the law represented a “big tick in the box” for the powerful council of Shia clerics.

Leaders of the Hazara minority, which is regarded as the most important bloc of swing voters in the election, also demanded the new law.

Ustad Mohammad Akbari, an MP and the leader of a Hazara political party, said the president had supported the law in order to curry favour among the Hazaras. But he said the law actually protected women’s rights.

“Men and women have equal rights under Islam but there are differences in the way men and women are created. Men are stronger and women are a little bit weaker; even in the west you do not see women working as firefighters.”

Akbari said the law gave a woman the right to refuse sexual intercourse with her husband if she was unwell or had another reasonable “excuse”. And he said a woman would not be obliged to remain in her house if an emergency forced her to leave without permission.

The international community has so far shied away from publicly questioning such a politically sensitive issue.

“It is going to be tricky to change because it gets us into territory of being accused of not respecting Afghan culture, which is always difficult,” a western diplomat in Kabul admitted.

Soraya Sobhrang, the head of women’s affairs at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said western silence had been “disastrous for women’s rights in Afghanistan”.

“What the international community has done is really shameful. If they had got more involved in the process when it was discussed in parliament we could have stopped it. Because of the election I am not sure we can change it now. It’s too late for that.”

But another senior western diplomat said foreign embassies would intervene when the law is finally published.

Some female politicians have taken a more pragmatic stance, saying their fight in parliament’s lower house succeeded in improving the law, including raising the original proposed marriage age of girls from nine to 16 and removing completely provisions for temporary marriages.

“It’s not really 100% perfect, but compared to the earlier drafts it’s a huge improvement,” said Shukria Barakzai, an MP. “Before this was passed family issues were decided by customary law, so this is a big improvement.”

Karzai’s spokesman declined to comment on the new law.


Iran: Twelve Women’s Rights Activists Arrested for Planned New Years Visit

Ten of those arrested are members of the One Million Signatures Campaign. The activists were arrested on 26 March 2009, on Sohrevardi Avenue in Tehran, while meeting up to go for New Years visits of families of imprisoned social and political activists. (Change for Equality

The Campaign members arrested are: Delaram Ali, Leila Nazari, Khadijeh Moghaddam, Farkhondeh Ehtesabian, Mahboubeh Karami, Baharah Behravan, Ali Abdi, Amir Rashidi, Mohammad Shourab, and Arash Nasiri Eghbali. Also Soraya Yousefi and Shahla Forouzanfar were also arrested. According to reports from family members of those arrested, these women’s rights activists were first transferred to Niloofar Police Station, then some were taken to Galoobandak Police Station, and later all were transferred to Evin Prison. Currently all these women’s rights activists are being detained at Evin prison’s general ward for female inmates.

According to reports from family members who were present outside the police stations and who had a few minutes to talk to those arrested, these women’s rights activists are facing two charges, including: disruption of public opinion and disruption of public order. Additionally a bail order for a third party guarantee by a government employee has been issued for these women’s rights activists in the amount of 50 million Tomans (roughly $50,000).

Iranian authorities should immediately release a dozen women’s rights activists detained arbitrarily in Tehran today, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said. “The paranoia and intolerance of the intelligence agencies have reached unbelievable proportions. There is no justification whatsoever to deny activists their rights to visit each other during New Year celebrations,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign’s spokesperson.

“We are seriously concerned about the fate of detainees and the absolute lack of transparency and due process demonstrated by this case. For what crime are they being held? Is observing New Year traditions now a crime in Iran? The Iranian leaders should step forward and explain why intelligence agents are given free reign to deprive citizens of their most basic rights,” Ghaemi said.[157]=x-157-564089

Update: Ten Women’s Rights Activists Released, Two Remain in Detention

Ten of the twelve women’s rights activists detained last week as they were planning private New Year visits have been released on bail. Two of them however, Khadijeh Moghadam and Mahboubeh Karami, remain in Evin prison.

The ten activists were released after judiciary officials set bail for them in the amount of 50 million toman ($50,000) that had to be posted by a government employee as a third-party guarantee.

The authorities refused to accept bail posted by Moghadam and Karami, without explanation. Those released have to report for interrogations on Sunday, 5 April. They have been charged with “disturbing public opinion” and “disruption of public order,” and a judicial case has been initiated based on these charges.

The Campaign called on the Iranian authorities to immediately release Moghadam and Karami, noting that there is no legal justification for these detentions.

WLUML, and its allies, demand that Saudi Arabia demonstrate its commitment to human rights and release Khamisa Sawadi, Fahd al-Anzi, and Hadiyan bin Zein and revoke the order of deportation.

On March 3, 2009 Mrs. Sawadi, a 75 year old woman living in Hail, northern Saudi Arabia, was accused, and found guilty, of ‘illegal mingling’ with two young men to whom she was not immediately related, and was sentenced to forty lashes and four months in prison. In April 2008 Sawadi met the two 24-year-old men after she asked them to bring her five loaves of bread. The two men, Al-Anzi, Sawadi’s late husband’s nephew, and bin Zein, al-Anzi’s business partner, were also arrested by religious police and found guilty and sentenced to prison terms and lashes.

The court based its decision on ‘citizen information’ and testimony from al-Anzi’s father, who accused Sawadi of corruption. Furthermore, the verdict cited the fact that Sawadi is not a Saudi national – although she was married to a Saudi man – and that she was without a husband as evidence of her guilt. Following the implementation of her sentence, Sawadi will face deportation.

As Saudi Arabia has committed itself to upholding human rights, evidenced by its candidacy to the Human Rights Council 2006, ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 2000, and claims to be dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, we ask that the Saudi authority fulfil its obligation and correct this breach of international law. In its own letter to the UN Secretary General in 2006 Saudi Arabia claimed to have “a confirmed commitment with the defence, protection and promotion of human rights. This commitment has been manifested in its performance as a member of the Commission on Human Rights. This commitment has been manifested in its performance as a member of the Commission on Human Rights. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia pursues the policy of active cooperation with international organizations in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Please see the Call for Action:[156]=i-156-564115

In solidarity,
Women Living under Muslim Laws
International Coordination Office

Women workers in Third World countries are being hit hardest by the global recession, according to research released by Oxfam ahead of the G20 summit in London on Thursday 2 April.

Female employees tend to be the first laid off as bosses make job cuts, the charity says, and because of their lower status in certain societies are sometimes forced by employers to sign redundancy agreements to avoid severance pay.

Research in 10 countries in Asia and South America showed women often work in the most insecure jobs and many are migrants from rural families depending on their wage.

In Asia sex traffickers were found to be approaching women who had lost their jobs asking if they wanted to go to work in the West.

Oxfam chief executive Barbara Stocking said: “Women in poor countries have been taking risks and working impossibly hard to provide for their families. They were already struggling to make ends meet. Now their lives, and those of their children, have become even harder. It’s not fair that women in poverty are paying the price for the rich world’s mistakes.”

She added: “It is hard enough for women in the UK who are losing their jobs but at least get some help from the government and from friends and family. In poor countries, there is often no unemployment benefit, and people are more likely to have nothing to fall back on. The G20 must help.”

The charity says the denial of basic working rights is increasing.

It quoted Xiao Hong from an unnamed factory in China as saying: “Now one person has to do three people’s work for the same wages and the employer is piling on the pressure – any small mistake is an excuse for dismissal. In this way it does not have to pay compensation and severance.”

Another example given was Ruth Cerna from El Salvador, who was one of 1,700 workers laid off in November when a factory closed.

She said: “Many women were pregnant, many are ill and are left with nothing. It’s been three months since the factory closed and we haven’t been paid anything.”