In the backdrop of increasing violence against women in India and recent rape and murder of a 23 year old girl Damini, Amnesty International (AI) has recommended that strong political and judicial action is needed for the implementation of the recommendations of Justice Verma report to curb the violence against women.
“The Indian authorities must follow up on their promise to give top priority to considering the Verma committee recommendations. The government must also actively initiate public education and other measures that need to be taken to change discriminatory attitudes towards women,” said Head of Education for Rights and spokesperson, Amnesty International in India, Tara Rao.
A panel led by former Chief Justice of India J S Verma, appointed by the Indian authorities in December 2012 following widespread protests against the rape and killing of a young woman in Delhi made public its recommendations.
The panel also recommended an urgent review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – the draconian law that guarantees impunity for members of armed forces accused of violence against women in conflict areas, including in Jammu and Kashmir and north-eastern states. But just a day after Justice Verma panel made recommendations for changing laws to check crimes against women, Government of India on January 24, indicated it may not be able to implement them in relation to AFSPA and disqualification of lawmakers.
“The calls for review of the AFSPA are very welcome – this is a lawless law that is only increasing frustrations and suffering among people in the areas of conflict. AI has consistently demanded repeal of this legislation,” Rao said.
“The recommendation to appoint special commissioners, to monitor and initiate action for redress and criminal prosecution in all cases of sexual violence against women by armed personnel in conflict areas, in particular need to be studied in detail.”
Most reforms proposed by the Verma Committee are positive, but some may raise concern with respect to international human rights law. AI is particularly concerned that the committee appears to say that persons sentenced to life imprisonment should not have any possibility of release. Any such provision would amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
“Instead of pushing for harsh punishment for the few convicted, it is more important to keep the focus on reforming the systems of reporting of incidents, investigation, prosecution and sentencing. That will help to address the frustration at those responsible for rape and other sexual violence escaping justice.”
The Verma panel’s comprehensive report covered a number of proposed reforms of AI, which they submitted on January 5 which includes: review of existing legislation and practices affording impunity for members of police accused of torture and violence against women in custody; expanding the definition of rape to include marital rape; making rape laws gender neutral to include the rape of men and transgender individuals; framing a new protocol for medical examination of victims of sexual violence and their treatment during trial procedures; replacing outdated notions of outraging of ‘modesty’ with the crime of sexual assault; punishment of officials failing to report or register crimes of sexual violence; revising laws on trafficking aiming to bring them in line with international standards; and review of existing practices to trace those who may have been victims of trafficking.