UN Special Rapporteur on VAW to request for AFSPA repeal

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New Delhi, May 2:

Addressing the media at the UN Building at 55 Lodhi Estate in New Delhi on May 1, Ms. Rashida Manjoo the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences read out a statement based on her official country mission to India.
“During my visit, I held meetings in New Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Manipur, and gathered information from other states, including Tamil Nadu,” Rashida Manjoo said while expressing her thanks to all the women who shared their personal experiences of violence and survival. “The pain and anguish in the testimonies of loss, dispossession,
and various human rights violations, was visceral and often difficult to deal with,” she said in her report. Going on to add that even as there are numerous laws in the country including amendments, to existing laws to address various manifestations of violence against women including the Indian Penal Code which broadly includes crimes against women, she expressed her appreciation over the speedy response of the Government of India to the rape incident in New Delhi in December. Commending the legislative reforms following the Justice Verma judicial committee, she expressed regret that the amendments have not fully reflected the Verma Committee recommendations.  “It is unfortunate that the opportunity to establish a substantive and specific equality and non-discrimination rights legislative framework for women, to address de facto inequality and discrimination and to protect and prevent against all forms of violence against women, was lost,” Rashida Manjoo said.

The situation in Manipur also found mention in her address when Rashida Manjoo  said, “On the issue of conflict-related sexual violence, it is crucial to acknowledge that these violations are occurring at the hands of both state and non-state actors.” Pointing out that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations, she said that the law (AFSPA) protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights. “In testimonies received, it was clear that the interpretation and implementation of this act, is eroding fundamental rights and freedoms – including freedom of movement, association and peaceful assembly, safety and security, dignity and bodily integrity rights, for women, in Jammu & Kashmir and in the North-Eastern States. Unfortunately in the interests of State security, peaceful and legitimate protests often elicit a military response, which is resulting in both a culture of fear and of resistance within these societies.” Rashida Manjoo noted.
She then went on to add, “In consultations in Manipur, I heard anguished stories from relatives of young women who have disappeared without trace or who were found dead shortly after going missing. The lack of response from the police is the norm in such cases, with the attitude being that these are mostly elopement cases. I am deeply concerned about other consequences of such disappearances of young women, including exposure to sexual abuse, exploitation or trafficking.” 

The fate of many tribal and indigenous women in the region being subjected to continued abuse, ill-treatment and acts of physical and sexual violence in her statement which went on to say, “They are denied access to healthcare and other necessary resources, due to the frequency of curfews and blockades imposed on citizens. Moreover, the chronic underdevelopment prevalent in the region, coupled with frequent economic blockades, is having an impact on the overall cost of essential items, and is exacerbating the already vulnerable situation of women and children living in the region.”

In the media interaction that followed, Rashida Manjoo took questions from the journalists. Answering this IFP reporter on her comments on not being able to meet Irom Sharmila during her Manipur visit, she said, “The State Government was not averse to the meeting but the process for meeting her could not be completed in time.”

Asked what had made her week in her visit to Manipur, she said that the sense of loss that the mother of a young woman who had undergone brutal violence and subsequent death deeply moved her. “The grief of the mother was visceral and the photos that she had shown would have moved anyone,” she said.

When another journalist wanted to know whether she would demand for the repeal of AFSPA, Rashida Manjoo said that she would “request that an act that takes away the fundamental rights of a person under the guise of national protection needs to be taken off.”

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