Men Getting Away with Rape as an Everyday Occurrence in South Asia

Throughout South Asia, women face rape at the hands of men who will almost certainly get away with it.  Rafia Zakaria, a columnist for Ms Magazine writes of one case in particular (worth clicking to read the whole article):

It is in this fraught atmosphere of political intrigue and crushing human need that Magdalene Ashraf worked as a nurse trainee. A member of the Catholic religious minority in Pakistan, 23-year-old Ashraf was receiving nursing training with the hope of obtaining a permanent job. She was on duty July 13 when a fellow nursing student, Sajida Fatima, approached her with a lead on a job. According to a statement given by Ashraf to the police, Fatima asked her to accompany her to Mess 96, a housing area for doctors, under the pretext of meeting two doctors who could help her with her career. It was outside this apartment complex that Ashraf was found hours later, lying face down and bleeding, her clothes torn and her body bruised.

She was treated for subdural hemorrhage–bleeding under the skull–and remained unconscious for two days. When she finally regained consciousness and was able to give a statement, she described the events leading up to her gang rape. When she and her friend reached the apartment, Dr. Abdul Jabbar Memon, a medical legal officer at the hospital, was present along with the two other doctors. Ashraf’s friend soon disappeared, leaving her with the three doctors, who then proceeded to brutally rape her. Witnesses reported seeing her being tossed from the balcony apartment onto the street.

The aftermath of Ashraf’s harrowing ordeal has been shocking. First, even as fellow trainee nurses protested against the rape and harassment of nurse trainees by doctors, the police made few efforts to register a report, begin an investigation or apprehend two of the accused men who had fled the scene. The room where the rape took place was not sealed as a crime scene for days. Jabar, the chief culprit, was arrested, but rape charges weren’t added to the police report until after the media began reporting on the case.

But this lack of justice for the victims of rape is not something that happens only in Pakistan.  Women in India and Bangladesh also face a criminal justice system stacked against them.  For example, Dalit women in India who are raped face a judicial system that weighs against he poor, unless it becomes a story in the media.  Let’s hope that the perpetrators of this rape will receive the punishment that they deserve for destroying the life of Magdalene Ashraf.

When Will the Horror End?

When I returned home this evening, I saw the gruesome pictures showing yet more innocent people killed while preparing to worship in Lahore, Pakistan.  The Data Ganj Baksh is one of the most prominent mosques in Pakistan’s second largest city.  As a human rights activist, these attacks on innocent civilians provoke the most outrage.  Given that it comes just days after the last despicable terrorist attack in Lahore, I’m left asking, when will the horror end?  Raza Rumi, a prominent writer on Sufism says it better than I can:

This is a barbaric attack and should serve as a wake up call. Data Saheb’s shrine is not just another crowded place – it represents a millenia of tolerant Sufi Islam which is directly under attack by the puritans.Last year, there were threats and the government had closed the place for a day or two. This time the worst of nightmares has come true.

And when I hear, as was the case in this terrorist attack “the bombers used devices packed with ball-bearings to maximise the impact of their attack” you cannot help but be angry about this attack and to grieve for the families whose lives were snuffed out for no reason.  Let’s not spend justify it by blaming “outside forces”, let’s find the perpetrators.  We must stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims and their families in seeking justice for this heinous act.

While We Read About Drones, Civilians Are Suffering in Pakistan

Amnesty International recently released a new report and website on human rights abuses in northwest Pakistan. This posting is part of our Eyes on Pakistan blogging series.

We have written extensively on this blog about the human rights crisis in northwest Pakistan over the last few weeks. The northwest region of the country is covered on a daily basis in the mainstream media. However, the focus in reporting is on counter-terrorism issues, and no attention is given to the impact of the conflict on civilian communities who live in the area. You just have to check today’s news to find that the top stories in regard to Pakistan are on a new drone strike and the five Americans who were recently convicted on terrorism charges.

To counter this trend and to change the debate about northwest Pakistan in the US media, we are launching the Eyes on Pakistan Writing Contest. Since this is such a frequent topic, we encourage you to challenge the current media reporting and raise human rights concerns in northwest Pakistan by writing op-eds, letters to the editors, blog entries or news stories on the human rights crisis in northwest Pakistan (Take a look at this example). The best entries will receive a Flip HD camera and get a chance to be re-published on this blog and the Eyes on Pakistan website!

We are providing enough resources to get you started, and you should especially check out our new website Eyes on Pakistan. Through the Eyes on Pakistan project, we have a powerful new tool to track and monitor the human rights situation on the ground. Policy makers from Islamabad to Washington would be well advised to heed the alarming trends it demonstrates. Eyes on Pakistan reveals the human toll of a conflict that is all too often described in the abstract. The site presents irrefutable proof that northwestern Pakistan has become the scene of a grave human rights and humanitarian crisis.

Change the debate now: Start writing and send us your published piece.

Of Pakistan and the Taliban

UPDATE: The BBC reports that the Taliban are “openly” raining money for terrorist attacks in the Pakistani province of Punjab.

Many of us on this blog have been writing on Pakistan lately.  I wrote a couple of weeks back about a horrendous attack on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore; Christoph (AIUSA’s crisis guru) wrote about using the latest in mapping technologies to visually describe the human rights catastrophe in tribal areas of northwest Pakistan; and Larry Cox, AIUSA’s Executive Director, wrote about how the international community, especially the United States, must pay attention to the human rights situation in Pakistan.

I would like to expand upon the brief piece about Ahmadis and link it with the Amnesty report.  The Ahmadis are Muslims that have been persecuted in Pakistan since the 1970s for their non-mainstream beliefs.  In 1974, they were declared “non-Muslims” and Pakistanis of any faith are forbidden to call their places of worship mosques even though that is exactly what the Ahmadis call their places of worship.  This discrimination has meant that Ahmadis face persecution by fundamentalist groups whose purported aim is to “purify” Islam.  These groups include Jamaat-i-Islami which is a legal political party, but espouses a radical form of Islam that would conflict with the rights of the Ahmadis to worship.  Another group, the Taliban (called Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP), does not have any apparent political aim expect to kill civilians in brutal attacks such as those carried out against the Ahmadis.

This violence against civilians like the one in Punjab against the Ahmadis is akin to that the Taliban have been perpetrating against those living in the tribal areas of Pakistan and this is one of the areas which the Amnesty report addresses.  The violence of the Taliban in the tribal areas comes in a vacuum of governance that has been the scourge of women, children and vulnerable communities since the British Indian government exempted the region Indian laws in the late 1800s under the so-called Frontier Crimes Regulations.  This has allowed the Taliban to operate with virtual impunity in the tribal areas.  Here is an example from the report, which talks about the destruction of schools by Taliban militants that has gone unpunished:

In 2008 and early 2009, as the Taliban consolidated their grip on the area, they destroyed more than 170 schools, including more than 100 girls’ schools. These attacks disrupted the education of more than 50,000 pupils, from primary to college level, according to official estimates.104 The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that after the imposition of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in April 2009, around 4,000 schools providing education to over 40, 000 girls were shut down.

There has also been a spate of reports in the media that has documented how elements of the Pakistani government, particularly the “shadowy” Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been accused of providing aid to the Taliban.  This is fairly common knowledge to many.  The perversity of an institution that is supposed to be part of the government, yet acting at cross-purposes to the government should be troubling considering the human rights violations perpetrated by the Taliban.

From a geopolitical standpoint, which is how a lot of the news about Pakistan gets to us, the violence by the Taliban (called Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) is threatening not just the state’s control of the NWFP and southern Punjab, but is also destabilizing the region.  But, more importantly to me, the Taliban’s continued violations of human rights in Pakistan means that a life of continued fear and of continued despair in a country that has seen so much fear and despair in the past several years.  From protecting the rights of Ahmadis in Lahore to the women and children forced to live under Taliban rule in the tribal areas, Pakistan must come to grip with its human rights catastrophe immediately.

Visualizing the Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan

Amnesty International recently released a new report and website on human rights abuses in northwest Pakistan. This guest-posting is part of our Eyes on Pakistan blogging series.

The Northwestern Pakistan region is remote and has a mountainous physical geography. Over the past several years it has become a dangerous place to collect data and conduct research. Relatively little is known about the overall situation in the region, as no one has gathered enough relevant data to make sense of the situation.  Using geographic information techniques, AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science) at the request of AI-USA, worked to visualize the ongoing human rights situation in Pakistan through Eyes on Pakistan. Focusing on the years 2005-2009, we have created a database of human rights incidents for the Northwestern Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This database is meant to increase understanding of the situation occurring in Pakistan, both in terms of its recent developments and to determine major trends in the events.

Screenshot of

Media outlets report daily on a wide range of events occurring in the area and were key to the creation of the site. Researchers gathered media reports from popular news sources such as BBC, the Dawn, and the New York Times and created a coding system to identify the main facts of each incident, including: the number of people killed or wounded, the agent of the incident (the group or source responsible for an incident), and the attack methods used (tactic or method employed by agents). Agent was an important category to include in the database so that incidents could be looked at for trends of particular groups acting in certain locations within the two provinces. Agents were parsed into 14 categories, ranging from air strikes, ground offensives, insurgency targeting civilians, collective punishments, to extrajudicial executions. The category attack method was a distillation of the various types of weaponry or attacks used in the incidents reported within the database. Again, it was important to derive spatial trends from the database of media reports, and the ability to see which types of attacks were prevalent in which areas were seen as a crucial set of facts for later data analysis and access by users of the website. Many attack methods were documented, including air strikes, drones, suicide attacks, arrests, and others.

US Must not Turn Blind Eye to Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan

This piece was originally posted on Huffington Post.

“I lost my sense when I reached the door of my house and saw and heard the crying of my close neighbors and relatives—as if hell fell on me. When I saw people putting the dead bodies of my children, parents, and other relatives in bed I couldn’t bear it anymore and fell on the ground…”

A 25-year-old man who lost nine family members when two shells fired by security forces hit his house during the battle of Loi Sam (FATA).

A young girl from Maidan flees her village carrying her younger brother on her back, they are trying to escape the fighting between the Taleban and Pakistani government forces in Lower Dir, North West Frontier Province, 27 April 2009. (c) AI

This shocking testimony by a resident of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) is a reminder that it is civilians who suffer as a consequence of the fighting between the Taleban and Pakistani government forces in northwest Pakistan. In the United States, this conflict is too often described from a pure counter-terrorism angle: “For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.” President Obama forgot to mention that this region is also home to millions of people, who do not support or take part in the violence and are simply trying to farm, raise livestock, weave fabrics, transport goods, raise families, build, repair, or teach.

We too rarely hear their stories. They give a human face to the suffering of millions of Pakistanis in the northwest tribal areas.

The consequence of this ignorance is that today many of the residents in northwest Pakistan live in a human rights free zone  where they have no legal protection by the government and are subject to horrific abuses by the Taleban. Unfortunately, many areas of northwest Pakistan now resemble the Taleban-ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s. The world should be alarmed by the way living conditions have deteriorated under the increasingly brutal control of the Pakistani Taleban and its allied insurgent groups; instead, the suffering of the people of this area has been largely ignored, sacrificed in the name of geopolitical interests. Most disturbing is the fact that civilians are increasingly hit on three different fronts: by the Taleban, by the Pakistani army and by U.S. Drone strikes.


Priorities, Priorities

Pakistan has been in the news lately for some completely horrific human rights violations, including one last week, where 70 Ahmadi worshippers were killed in their mosques in Lahore, allegedly by the Tehrek-e-Taliban.  So, you would think that the Pakistani authorities will be using all of their police resources to ensure that these types of attacks against civilians are prevented.  Suicide bombings have killed dozens of Pakistani civilians in 2010 and hundreds in 2009.  It’s really hard to imagine living in a place where you could be killed at a market while shopping for groceries.

But, apparently, that is not as important for some as a couple’s sexual orientation and what they do to celebrate their lives.


Ahmadi Mosques Attacked in Pakistan, 70 Worshippers Dead

I just wrote a post earlier in the morning about a Maoist attack and now I hear about another brutal attack, this time against Ahmadi worshippers in Lahore, the “cultural capital” of Pakistan.

Gunmen walked into two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore and started shooting.  At one mosque, three suicide bombers blew themselves up during the service and it is at that mosque where the death toll is so much higher.

When we hear news about Pakistan, we often hear about it in terms of what the United States is doing or not doing in the country.  But, keep in mind that almost all of the victims of terrorism  are Pakistanis.

Pakistan Tops the List in Number of Newly Displaced

A new study by the United Nations has found that Pakistan has the highest number of newly internally displaced people (IDP). According to the report, in 2009, approximately 3 million people were newly displaced.

Of course, Pakistan isn’t the only country with such depressing statistics. Pakistan’s internally displaced are only 3 million of 27 million IDPs worldwide. The country with the most internally displaced people continues to be Sudan with nearly 5 million. But what these numbers really show us is that the victims of war and conflict are always civilians and that the callous disregard of human rights on the part of warring factions, both government and rebel forces, exacerbates this human rights crisis.

Recently, we launched an interactive website, Eyes on Pakistan, which helps to visualize the trends of the conflict in Pakistan. Many IDPs in Pakistan do not have access to organized camps and often rely on host communities and already existing slums for their safety. And despite their attempts to flee the fighting, displaced communities still come face to face with the conflict every day. In April, two suicide bombers killed 38 people and wounded another 65 at a center for the displaced. These human rights violations are then exacerbated by concerns for public health, mental health, and food supplies, not only for those displaced but also for the host communities.

In a more positive note, the UN report also notes that 2009 saw the largest number of returnees. While this may mean that people feel safe enough to return home, we’re left wondering what it is that they are returning to. Too often, their communities have been left in ruin. The returnees are left to rebuild their shattered homes and communities, with little help from their governments.

More Deaths in Northwestern Pakistan?!

Up to 71 civilians have reportedly been killed this past weekend in the Pakistani region on the border with Afghanistan. Residents from the Tirah Valley village said that the dead and wounded were civilians with no connections to the region’s militant groups.

This is just one example of many reports of civilian casualties that have reached various media outlets, throughout the past few years. It reiterates the toll that the conflict in Northwestern Pakistan has taken (and is currently taking) on civilian lives.

The Northwestern region of Pakistan, which is on the Afghan border, is very difficult to access. However, via Amnesty’s just released Eyes on Pakistan project, experts and activists alike can “access” this isolated region. This site helps to visualize the trends of the conflict that prove that Pakistan is not purely a military playground. It’s a human rights crisis.

More information to follow, so please stay tuned.