|By Mr.Sajid Hussain
March 28, 2009
PAKISTAN: Judge humiliates teenage rape victim in open court
The attitude of a Pakistani judge toward a teenage gang rape victim
has caused widespread outrage, throwing the training of the countrys
judicial figures into question. On March 25, 2008, additional district
and sessions judge Nizar Ali Khawaja conducted the trial of four men
who allegedly gang-raped 13-year-old Ms Kainat Soomro in 2007, over a
three day period in Dadu district, Sindh. The girl, who was expecting
an in-camera trial (one in the judge's private chambers), was asked
by the judge to describe and even demonstrate her rape in detail in
front of the accused, Mr Shahban Sheikh, Mr Sheikh Ehsan, Mr Roshan
Aleem and Mr Kaleemullah, all influential men who have all allegedly
threatened and bribed Somroos family to settle out of court. About a
hundred spectators were also present, according to court journalists.
The room was jam-packed, people crowding at the back because
everyone knew it was a rape case. noted an Investigative reporter from Writers Net Mr Sajid Hussain (Investigative Journalist)
Although public prosecutor Mr Maroof, asked that anyone unrelated to
the case be told to leave, the judge sided with the defense counsel,
which argued that he had no legal obligation to bar citizens from an
open court. According to many other journalists and the prosecution, the cross-examiners and judge started to ask a string of invasive
questions about the rape, which the teenager, who has had an
extremely sheltered, conservative upbringing, struggled with. Sources
at the trial noted that she was asked when certain items of clothing
were removed, and exactly what actions were done to her when. When
the girl replied, in a few instances, that she couldnt remember and
felt out of her senses (having fainted), the judge berated her;
speaking harshly about reports made by her family to the media.
Witnesses have noted that he appeared to enjoy the invasive nature of
the questions and the humiliation of the girl.
Objections from the special public prosecutor and assisting lawyers
triggered an argument with the defense; the judge simply quelled them
with a warning and adjourned the hearing to a later date, according to
the Daily Dawn. In the years leading up to this trial the family have
been forced to leave their home town due to threats, and have fought
fiercely to get the case this far (police originally refused to
register the FIR and public and media pressure saw it taken up).
Since the Womens Protection Act in 2006 reformed the law surrounding
rape cases, more women have been encouraged to use the legal system,
but the experience continues to be harrowing, partly due to the
attitudes of those within it. Pakistan is already a harsh,
patriarchal environment for women and this is no different within the
"Judges have not been trained or sensitized to gender issues," says
former Supreme Court Judge Nasir Aslam Zahid, who now runs the Legal
Aid Office for women and children in prison in Sindh. "They say: 'how
is this woman allowed to come to court?' The law has been made by men,
courts are men, police are all male and when a court case involves a
women, everything is against that woman." This attitude is a big
deterrent; judicial and police figures are often unresponsive to
female victims reporting crimes. Others go further: figures for the
physical abuse of women in custody are high (117 were reported last
by the Aurat Foundation but the number unreported cases are thought
to be much greater). Female victims of rape or domestic violence are
frequently too scared to go to court or seek redress, and so their
general situation gets no better.
Soomro's case is just another warning cry, reminding Pakistan's women
not to expect justice or fair treatment in court.
The cabinet of President Asif Ali Zardari considers itself committed
to women's issues in Pakistan, but to be truly committed it must
assess and take stronger measures. Just as police should be taught to
deal professionally with sexual and gender-based violence, judges
clearly need training so that they abandon old prejudices and are
able to act humanely towards victims.
This is an obligation, rather than a choice. States are duty bound to
protect and promote the rights of women and children under
international human rights law. Pakistan has ratified the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),
which among other things, obliges it to protect those under the age
of 18 "from all forms of physical or mental violence... negligent
treatment, maltreatment or exploitation" and "take appropriate and
effective measures to overcome all forms of gender-based violence,
give adequate protection to all women and respect their protection and dignity."
When a judge cannot or does not show himself able to do this in his court for the most vulnerable of plaintiffs, one wonders what he is doing in the profession in the first place.