Press Release from the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) on International Women's Day
Wednesday, March 09, 2005 9:55 AM

On the occasion of International Women's Day, 8 March, OMCT would like to expresses its concern over the worldwide prevalence of violence against women. In spite of some encouraging signs of progress to address violence against women through legislative measures and policies, in every society in the world, women and girls continue to suffer from gender-based forms of violence perpetrated with impunity at the hand of the State, the family and the community.

As the world's largest network of NGOs fighting against torture, summary executions, forced disappearances and all other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, OMCT notes that gender has a significant impact on the form that torture takes, its circumstances, consequences, and the access to justice and redress. The prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of women is a peremptory norm of international law (jus cogens) and cannot be suspended under any circumstance, including armed conflict -

whether international or internal - or in situations of public emergency, or for other reasons relating to national security.

However, inasmuch as international definitions of torture have been narrowly interpreted, women have been denied equal protection against torture under both international and national law resulting in widespread impunity for its perpetrators.

Torture and ill-treatment of women often has a sexual nature. In 2004, OMCT issued several urgent appeals denouncing rape or other forms of sexual violence against women and girls in Bangladesh, Colombia, Greece, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Sudan. In not one of these cases have the perpetrators been punished. In most of the cases, the perpetrator has not even been arrested and in several of the cases no investigation was opened at all. OMCT also notes that many victims of sexual torture are reluctant to report out of fear and shame. In certain societies victims of sexual violence are threatened with expulsion from their home or community, are at risk of being killed or subjected to further violence at the hands of members of their family or community, or are forced into marriage. In other countries, women victims of rape may run the risk of being charged and punished with adultery or fornication.

This happened, for example, in Sudan to 22-year old Razaz Abekar who was sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip on charges of adultery on 13 March 2004. However, the man who was charged with having had sex with Ms. Razaz was acquitted by the same court on the basis of insufficient evidence against him. This case was brought based on claims that Ms. Razaz gave birth to a child three years ago outside of marriage. A policeman brought the case to the attention of the Attorney General on 13 March 2004. On the same day, the Attorney General interrogated Ms. Razaz and she reported that she was raped by the man in question and that he had promised to marry her. On the same day, Ms. Razaz was convicted by the court and sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip, which was carried out immediately, with no possibility of legal assistance or appeal.

OMCT observes that punishments such as flogging and stoning, particularly by religious and ad hoc courts, which are indisputably in violation of international standards that prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishments, are disproportionately applied to women, largely as a result of laws that criminalise adultery and sexual relations outside of marriage. In addition, evidentiary requirements which provide that pregnancy constitutes irrefutable "evidence" of adultery, or that give less weight to the testimony of women, reinforce the gender discrimination in the administration of justice.

While women are victims of gender-specific forms of violence at the hands of state officials, much violence against women takes place in the private and community sphere such as domestic violence, marital rape, trafficking, rape, violence against women in the name of honour, and female genital mutilation.

In 2004, OMCT issued 7 urgent

appeals concerning crimes against women committed in the name of honour, particularly in Pakistan. But also in other parts of the world, perpetrators of crimes against women committed in the name of honour, often go unpunished, receive reduced sentences or are exempted from prosecution on the justification of "honour". Deeply rooted social and cultural prejudices underlie the "honour" defence, which is accepted as an exonerating or mitigating circumstance.

OMCT would like to conclude by stating that all forms of violence against women are human rights violations and therefore have to be addressed with a human rights-based approach, which imposes on States an obligation under international law to exercise due diligence in the prevention and investigation of the violence and in the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators as well as in the access to remedies and redress for the victim.

For more information about OMCT's Violence Against Women Programme, please contact Carin Benninger-Budel at cbb@omct.org or Alexandra Kossin at ak@omct.org.

Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT) World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT)
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