Women in conflict zones are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, states a report

While women everywhere are exposed to sexual repression and harm, women living in conflict zones are especially vulnerable. In situations of armed conflict, approximately 50 per cent of the uprooted population is women and girls whose life and personal freedom is continuously being threatened. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and often family structure, females are often particularly vulnerable, states a recent report ‘Sexual Crimes and Impunity in conflict zones of Assam’ by Anjuman Ara Begum, LLM, PhD scholar at Department of Law, Guwahati University.

In India, several legal provisions are enacted to address the issue of crimes against women committed at any situation whether in active armed conflict or not. Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act compile several provisions dealing with crimes against women.

“The sexual violence committed in Assam/Northeast region has been synonymised as a form of ‘collateral damage’, making the quest for justice against such crimes look as a casual endeavour. Social notions of women as the ‘honour and dignity’ of the family and community is a major hurdle that blocks the road to justice for women in cases of sexual violence cases,” according to the report.

Though India is a signatory to many international Conventions on issues of human rights and conflict agenda, such as the Geneva Convention and CEDAW, the ground reality remains something different due to poor implementation of the international standard protecting women in armed conflict situation, states the report.

The report also systematically documents and analyses several cases of alleged sexual violence by security forces. A fact-finding report on an alleged attempted rape case by a soldier in Dolopa, Assam, a compilation of cases of alleged sexual violence by security forces over the past decade and a research study on alleged sexual violence by state agencies in Assam were also released.

“Together, these reports not only re-visit the brutal rape and murders, of Manorama in Manipur (2004), Khairlanji rapes and killings (2006), of Nilofer and Asiya in Kashmir (2009) and the custodial torture of Soni Sori (2011), they also document several other cases not reported at all – (alleged) rape and murder of 15-year-old Meena Xalxo by Chhattisgarh police (2011), the (alleged) mass rape of several Pardhi women in Madhya Pradesh of whom one was murdered (2007), the (alleged) custodial gang rape of 50-year-old Janki Bai in MP (2009) and the (alleged) attempted rape by a soldier of the Indian Army in Dolopa. The reports describe the subsequent obstacles in the process of securing justice and in most cases no one has been held culpable,” according to a release by women’s groups.

The report recommends steps to be taken up for early completion of proceedings/trial on the pending cases/allegations of sexual violence by armed forces. Accused officials must not be transferred till the cases are disposed off, adds the report.

Government’s responsibility grows manifold when a woman is in the custody of the State. While financial compensation cannot erase the pain and suffering caused, it is the duty of the State to pay exemplary damages without any bureaucratic delays to survivors of custodial rape, states the release.

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