Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Paul Knox

'Torture' now includes domestic violence

Rape, wife assault, sex slavery as damaging Mas state-inflicted outrages, Amnesty says

Torture: The word calls forth images of truncheons and cattle prods wielded by uniformed goons serving ruthless potentates.

But it also describes much of the routine private violence suffered by millions of women around the world, says a new report from Amnesty International.

Broadening its traditional concern with state-sponsored acts, Amnesty says rape, wife assault, genital mutilation, sex slavery and the use of violence to intimidate women often constitute torture as defined by international treaties.

"The severity of the harm inflicted upon women by private individuals can be as damaging as that inflicted on women who are tortured by agents of the state," says the report — titled Broken Bodies, Shattered Minds — released yesterday.

But instead of upholding the treaties, authorities encourage, condone or ignore brutal attacks on women — and allow the use of torture against prisoners, it says.

Amnesty calls on governments to pass tougher laws against domestic violence, step up enforcement, order police to take women seriously when they report attacks and punish guards for prison torture.

"Governments around the world have failed to fulfill their duty to secure legal redress for abused women," the report says.

The report, released two days before International Women's Day, is a litany of abuse, assault, mutilation and murder compiled from United Nations, government and news reports, as well as Amnesty's own investigations.

The report included descriptions of the following atrocities: The wife of a Congolese army officer was regularly beaten and kicked by her husband in front of her children, but could not complain to police because of the man's political connections. She was denied asylum in the United States.

In Bangladesh, the number of women disfigured each year by jealous boyfriends, suitors or husbands who throw acid in their faces is estimated at about 200.

Tens of thousands of women are sold into slavery, prostitution or marriage every year. Many are beaten to force them to perform sex acts.

A radio station in Mali, a West African nation, broadcast curses against a woman working to eradicate the practice of ritual genital mutilation of women.

Poverty stops many women from fighting back, the report says.

"Economic dependence and inadequate welfare provision in many parts of the world force women to bear continued abuse," it says.

"Abused women often have nowhere to go, no money to sustain themselves or their children, and no funds to seek legal counsel in order to pursue redress."

Amnesty International has worked since 1961 to oppose the use of torture, as well as the death penalty and the jailing of people for their ideas or beliefs. Only recently has it widened its scope to focus on private acts of torture, and those ordered by authorities.

The report argues that physical intimidation and persistent attacks against women fit the definition of torture contained in United Nations treaties such as the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"What Amnesty is trying to do is apply that framework to women's experience of life," said Cheryl Hotchkiss, co-ordinator of the women's action network for Amnesty's Canadian unit.

"It gives it [anti-torture campaigns] a great deal more credibility in the eyes of people who are decision-makers, and are in a position to make a difference."

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Created: March 8, 2001
Last modified: September 1, 2001
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