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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 181
March 13, 2005

This week's issue:
Human Rights Analysis
Star Law Analysis
Law Alter Views
Star Law History
Human Rights Advocacy
Rights Column
Human Rights Monitor
Fact File
Law Event

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Women's Day Special

Fact file

Women, war and peace

Women around the world experience conflict differently. While each
conflict situation is unique, with particular historical, political,
social and cultural factors, many of the phenomena and issues are
common. The issue briefs provided here cover some of the key cross cutting issues that women face before, during and after violent conflict.

The impunity that prevails for widespread crimes against women in war must be redressed. Accountability means being answerable to women for crimes committed against them and punishing those responsible. The failure throughout history to deal with crimes committed against women in war has only recently begun to be addressed. The jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993 and of the Rwandan Tribunal (ICTR) have begun to treat crimes against women as war crimes and crimes against humanity. The newly established International Criminal Court (ICC) is one of the most significant examples of gender mainstreaming in an international treaty. From the ICC to regional, national and traditional justice systems, gender must be taken into account and women must have full access to the rule of law.

With few exceptions, perpetrators of violence against women in war are rarely held accountable for their acts, nor are women granted redress. Many state agencies are themselves guilty of gender bias and discriminatory practices.

Many women opt not to report cases of violence to authorities because of:
*The lack of adequate legal mechanism;
*Fear of being ostracized and shamed by communities that tend to blame victims of violence for the abuses they have suffered;
*Fear of reprisal;
*The general climate of indifference towards violence against women in the society;
*The tacit acceptance of sexual abuses as an unavoidable part of war;
*Amnesty granted to perpetrators as a part of peace agreement.

Obstacles that prevent women from seeking justice include the lack of knowledge about their rights and legal process, financial difficulty to travel to a trial or the lack of ability to take time off from work or to leave their families. Also, they may be intimidated or disillusioned by the justice system, which may have collapsed or become corrupted before, during or after conflict. Support services and legal aid are rarely provided to women, and gender bias within the judicial process prevents women from receiving fair treatment as witnesses, as complainants and in investigations.

Under-representation of women's view in judicial processes is another reason that crimes against women are prone to be unrecorded and un-addressed. Women been rarely consulted about the form, scope and modalities for seeking accountability. No more than three women have served at any one time among the 14 permanent judges of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR). In this light, the election of seven female judges among 18 judges for the ICC is a critical achievement.

Impunity weakens the foundation of the post-conflict societies and prolongs instability and injustice and continues to expose women to the threat of violence. Accountability on the part of states and societies for crimes against women is not just about punishing perpetrators but about establishing the rule of law and a just social and political order where such violence is illegitimated and prevented.

Women are psychologically and economically affected by the injustice of the separation of families as well as "disappearance" of family members as a result of conflicts. The Additional Protocol I of 1977 expressly recognizes the right of families to know the fate of their relatives (Article 32 and 33). (ICRC)

The reconstruction phase, where elections are held and the government systems, institutions and legislations are reformed, is a critical opportunity to enhance women's rights in the society. Greater attention should be paid to enshrine gender equality and women's rights in the new constitution and legislation.

Source: UNIFEM

Photo: Unifem


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