FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
25 July 2011
Contact: NEW YORK: Karen Asare, (01) 212-586-0906, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lahore, Pakistan – On 22 July 2011, a sessions court in Lahore, Pakistan delivered the highest penalty to a father found guilty of raping his 15 year old daughter, showing that the justice system can work for vulnerable and typically voiceless victims of such unspeakable crimes. The case which began more than two years ago when a 15-year old Pakistani girl, Mariam (not her real name), was dragged out of the sleeping space she shared with her five siblings and brutally raped by her father, concluded with the judge pronouncing a death sentence for the father.
“While as a human rights organization we don't support the death penalty, we welcome this guilty verdict as sending a strong message to society that crimes of sexual violence, and especially those within the family, will not be tolerated” says Yasmeen Hassan, Deputy Executive Director, Equality Now, an international organization working on the rights of women and girls worldwide.
While the judgment has shown that the Pakistani legal system can work to protect its most vulnerable citizens, Mariam’s case has demonstrated the hurdles that victims of sexual violence have to overcome to get justice. Despite a positive medico-legal report confirming the rape, investigating officers did not initially believe her. The police were going to drop the case, viewing the motivation behind it as a desire for revenge by Mariam’s mother against her father. Additionally, the original prosecutor was suspended for mishandling the case, releasing the father on bail and trying to get the police report discharged. Once in trial, the judicial procedure had lengthy delays that wore out the young victim and her family who had to regularly appear in court. Legal procedures did not protect the victim from being exposed to her rapist outside and in court. The process also showed the lack of understanding of laws on sexual violence by the prosecutors and medico-legal personnel who testified in the case. All these hurdles were overcome with a great deal of effort and proper remedies were put in place by Mariam’s lawyers.
Mariam was supported throughout the process by Nasreen Welfare Trust, which provided free legal representation for her, counseling and court support from War Against Rape (WAR), Lahore, which provided expertise in addressing the needs of survivors of sexual violence, and technical support from Equality Now. “The judgment is a culmination of the work that we have been doing for the past 19 years in Pakistan, to ensure that victims of sexual violence have access to justice” says Sidra Humayun of WAR. As human rights organizations, Equality Now and WAR do not support the death penalty.
“We are pleased that the court has awarded the highest penalty in this case. However, much work has to be done to ensure that the legal system responds to the needs of such victims who do not have access to legal aid or support of organizations” says Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq, the lawyer from Nasreen Welfare Trust who represented Mariam. “Through this case we have identified and dealt with all the legal and procedural hurdles that a victim has to go through to access justice. We were extremely fortunate to have judges who understood and allowed us special measures and were sensitive to the nature of the issue. Although there is no express provision in Pakistan’s Penal code on incestual rape, we were successful in getting the highest penalty. This case establishes that there is hope for the future if cases are handled diligently and professionally.”
Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world. Equality Now’s Women’s Action Network comprises 35,000 groups and individual members in over 160 countries.