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 Palestinian women victims of systemic violence, HRW report

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Number of posts : 114
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Registration date : 2006-08-21

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PostSubject: Palestinian women victims of systemic violence, HRW report   Palestinian women victims of systemic violence, HRW report EmptyTue Nov 07, 2006 9:22 pm

Khaleej Times, 6 November 2006 :

Palestinian women victims of systemic violence, authorities fail to protect them

RAMALLAH, West Bank - A new report paints an alarming picture of the abuse of women in the Palestinian territories, with police, courts and government agencies failing to treat violence such as rape and beatings as a crime.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch cited practices such as rape victims being forced to marry assailants and light sentences for men who kill female relatives suspected of adultery. It said families, tribal leaders and authorities, backed by tradition and discriminatory laws, often sacrifice victims’ interests for family honor.’

The problem is only getting worse with growing poverty and lawlessness in the West Bank and Gaza, the report said.

According to a survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics of more than 4,000 households in December 2005 and January 2006, 23 percent of the women said they had experienced domestic violence, but just over 1 percent filed a complaint. Two-thirds said they were subjected to psychological abuse at home.

Human Rights Watch called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, parliament and government ministries to make the protection of women a top priority. More can be done, the report said, despite the ongoing conflict with Israel and the cash crisis in the Palestinian Authority brought on by the rise to power of the Islamic militant Hamas.

We believe it’s quite a widespread and serious problem,’ researcher Lucy Mair said of violence against women. The main failing of the system is the failure to treat violence against women as a crime and to address it accordingly. We want to say, you can take some positive steps and its imperative to provide protection to more women.’

Mair said Human Rights Watch singled out the Palestinian territories _ as opposed to investigating abuses in another traditional societies _ because of concern that the abuse will increase and because some Palestinian government officials have signaled they are ready for change. This made us optimistic we have something to work with,’ she said.

Commenting on the report, Adnan Amr, a legal adviser to Abbas, admitted that Palestinian authorities are weak’ in enforcing the law because of the security and political situation we have been through over the past two years. All Palestinians, not only women, are paying a heavy price for the chaos,’ referring to struggles between rival Palestinian groups.

The report, based on dozens of interviews with victims, social workers, lawyers and police chiefs in the West Bank and Gaza, found that abusers are granted virtual immunity.

Rapists who marry their victims are not prosecuted, and such deals are often arranged by the families, tribal leaders and local police chiefs.

Even those assigned to protect the victims often push for such an outcome. The director of the West Bank’s only shelter for teenage girls is quoted as saying she arranged five such marriages in her six-year tenure.

The law is lenient with men who kill female relatives because of adultery. Yet it bars rape and incest victims from having abortions. Rape within marriage is not considered a crime, the report said.

Police and hospital doctors are not trained to handle abuse cases and often further humiliate victims, the report said. In one hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus, a doctor announced to a crowded waiting room that his unmarried 16-year-old patient was pregnant. The girl’s mother later cited that incident as the main reason for her decision to kill her daughter, according to a case documented in the report.

A premium is placed on female virginity, with rapists facing a lesser punishment if the victim is not a virgin. Virginity tests are imposed on sexual abuse victims against their will.

The women’s fate is increasingly determined by tribal leaders or Palestinian Authority-appointed governors, rather than overloaded courts. The informal justice system is often arbitrary and biased against the victims, the group found.

Victims are often afraid to come forward because of social stigma, the perceived futility of complaining and fear of inviting retribution by relatives, the report said.

However, Manal Kleibo, a lawyer at the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling in the West Bank town of Ramallah, told The Associated Press that she has detected a change in recent years, and that the authorities are increasingly willing to work with her group.

For example, she said, growing numbers of police officers are attending workshops on how to handle sexual abuse cases. Some families no longer force their daughters to marry rapists, she said, citing the case of a 14-year-old girl who instead was taken to a secret shelter in the West Bank with her family’s support.

Human Rights Watch made a series of recommendations.

It said Abbas should launch a public awareness campaign and make it clear he does not tolerate violence against women. He should also demand that those currently settling abuse cases informally, including tribal leaders and Palestinian Authority-appointed district governors, refer all cases to the proper authorities.

Police should establish special units to deal with victims of abuse, and the legislature should repeal the most discriminatory provisions, the report said.

Independent legislator Hanan Ashrawi said it’s unlikely more progressive legislation will be passed by a parliament dominated by the Islamic Hamas. We don’t have a majority for reforms on these issues,’ she said.
NEW YORK TIMES November 6, 2006 :

Palestinian Women Face Rising Violence, Report Says

JERUSALEM, Nov. 6 — Discriminatory laws, traditional practices and a severe shortage of emergency shelters combine to perpetuate violence against women by their family members and intimate partners in the Palestinian territories, according to a report to be issued on Tuesday by Human Rights Watcha New York-based advocacy group.

The report, based on interviews over the last year with victims, police officers, social workers and officials of the Palestinian Authoritysays that while there is “increasing recognition of the problem” of violence against women and girls, “little action has been taken to seriously address these abuses.”

In fact, the report says, “there is some evidence that the level of violence is getting worse, while the remedies available to the victims are being further eroded.”

The report acknowledges that there is a significant lack of comprehensive data on the scale of violence. Even so, studies and statistics compiled by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and by women’s groups, many of them aided from abroad, “record high levels of violence perpetrated by family members and intimate partners, aggravated during times of political violence,” the report states,

The offenses include domestic violence, rape, incest, child abuse and violent responses to so-called “honor crimes,” like adultery, that embarrass the clan, family or community.

The report says that laws left over from the days before the 1967 war when Jordan ruled the West Bank and Egypt administered Gaza fail to fully protect the rights of female victims, the report says.

For instance, it notes, the laws call for reduced penalties in cases where men kill or harm female relatives who have committed adultery; they allow only male relatives to file incest charges on behalf of minors; and they absolve rapists from criminal prosecution if they agree to marry their victims for three years.

Moreover, rape laws in the Palestinian territories distinguish between virgin and non-virgin victims. Husbands are allowed to divorce wives simply by saying so, while wives must obtain a judicial divorce, and can only initiate proceedings on the basis of inflicted harm.

The report also says that, given the traditions of male authority in Middle Eastern culture and the enclosed nature of the communities, it is difficult for a female victim to seek redress or help with any guarantee of privacy. Those who go public with complaints to the police or the courts sometimes put themselves in more danger from an embarrassed family or clan. With respect to the victims of sex crimes and abuse, the report says, the system “prioritizes the reputations of their families in the community over their own well-being and lives.”

So police officers, who lack sophisticated legal options, and clan leaders, who try to protect family reputations, “regularly ‘mediate’ and ‘resolve’ these cases, typically by returning the abused women to the ‘care and protection’ of her attacker, without ever referring the case to the courts or the woman to social or other services she might need,” the report says.

There are few women’s shelters in the West Bank, and none in Gaza. Some women who need the protection of such shelters are put in women’s prisons instead, despite regulations that authorize the police to detain only those who are subject to a court order.

The report, called “A Question of Security: Violence against Palestinian Women and Girls,” notes carefully that the Palestinian Authority is not a sovereign state, that the West Bank is under Israeli occupation and that the current fighting with Israel, which intensified in 2000, has only weakened the sway and reduced the resources of the Palestinian administration and police.

Still, the report urges the Palestinian Authority to overhaul existing laws or adopt new ones that define violence within families as criminal, and repeal provisions that perpetuate or condone such violence. It calls for surveys of the rate of violence against women, for government-run hotlines and additional shelters, for training and guidelines for the police, health-care and social workers and the courts on how to handle crimes of abuse, and for a program of public education.

Most important, the report says, is for the Palestinian Authority to pursue crimes commmitted against women and girls with “effective investigations and prosecutions.”

The report also urges Israel to ease travel restrictions for judges, emergency workers and social service providers, and to help Palestinian victims of abuse to use shelters in Israel, including those used by Arab citizens of Israel.

“The problem is that no one sees this abuse as a crime,” said Lucy Mair, a researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch who is one of the authors of the report. “It’s seen as a family or social problem, and some behavior is not even criminalized.”

The difficulties created by the current political situation, including travel restrictions and a cutoff of Western budget support and other funds to a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas she notes, “has led to the deterioration of existing institutions, erodes available remedies and makes the situation worse.”

Farida Deif, a researcher in the Women’s Rights Division, is the report’s other author.

See the report
in PDF

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PostSubject: Re: Palestinian women victims of systemic violence, HRW report   Palestinian women victims of systemic violence, HRW report EmptyWed Dec 06, 2006 2:10 pm

Abused Palestinian women failed by system, HRW says

RAMALLAH, 7 November (IRIN) - The Palestinian authorities have failed to deal with violence against women, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report out today.

The rights group said the Palestinians' current political and economic crisis was no excuse for inaction.

"PA officials across the political spectrum appear to view security only within the context of the ongoing conflict and occupation, all but ignoring the very real security threats that women and girls face at home," said Farida Deif, co-author of 'A Question of Security: Violence Against Palestinian Women and Girls'.

Almost a quarter of all married Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip suffer physical violence at the hands of their husbands, according to statistics in the report.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one 35-year-old Palestinian housewife told IRIN she was too scared of being divorced by her abusive husband to complain to the police.

"My husband beats me every time we have a quarrel and sometimes for trivial reasons. His beating sometimes causes obvious bruises on my face, around my eyes and on different parts of my body," she said.

"Despite all this, I never thought of filing a complaint against him to the police because I am scared of his retaliation and he might divorce me. I don't have a certificate or a profession that can help me find a job and support my six children in case he did that."

In its report, HRW interviewed more than 100 women across the West bank and Gaza, documenting dozens of cases of violence ranging from spousal and child abuse to rape, incest and so-called honour killings.

Discriminatory laws against women

Researchers found that laws discriminating against women and condoning and perpetuating violence against them combined with a lack of support for victims, left Palestinian women with little protection and has deterred them from reporting abuse.

According to a survey of 4,212 households by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 23 per cent of married Palestinian women had been treated violently by their husbands, while 61.7 per cent suffered psychological abuse and 10.5 per cent had been sexually abused by them.

Of those women, just 1.2 per cent filed a complaint with the police and less than one per cent sought counselling or police protection.

HRW criticised the Palestinian police, saying they lack the expertise and the will to address violence against women in a sensitive manner.

Police officers admitted to researchers that they encouraged victims of rape to marry their aggressors, sometimes with the assistance of influential clan leaders. They also often force women to return to their families even when there is a substantial risk of further harm.

"When confronted with cases of violence against women and girls, the Palestinian criminal justice system is more interested in avoiding public scandal than in seeing justice done," said Lucy Mair, the report's other researcher and co-author. "A woman's basic right to life and bodily integrity is seen as a secondary concern at best."

Few women dare report abuse

Palestinian Police Spokesman Adnan Al Dhamiri admitted few women dare report abuse and claimed that those who do complain usually solve the matter amicably without going to court.

"A small number of women who were subject to violence resort to police to file complaints against their abusers because [most others] are afraid of the husband or father's reaction and of a society that looks down on the woman who files a complaint against one of her relatives," he said.

"I know there are many women who are victims of violence but we cannot look for them in their houses. And we cannot force them not to give up their right to proceed in her complaint against her abuser," he added.

Despite the report's view that the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories was no excuse for violence against women, some Palestinian women did blame abuse on the conditions they live in.

"Violence against women is increasing because of the increasing rate of poverty and unemployment due to the Israeli siege of cities and villages and because of the unpaid salaries," said I'tidal Al Jariri, a consultant at the Palestinian Working Women Society for Development.

She referred to the 160,000 Palestinian civil servants who have not been properly paid since January after Hamas - considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union, the US and Israel - was democratically elected to power.

"Men find it difficult to find jobs and this increases fights at homes, which end by violence against women because they are weaker, according to men," she added.

Ma'an News Agency, 8/11/2006

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