Human Rights Watch: Palestinian women victims of systemic violence, authorities fail to protect them

Human Rights Watch: Palestinian women victims of systemic violence, authorities fail to protect them

A Stop-The-Presses Alert, and a Sharia Alert from AP:

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.’

Tradition, indeed. But one will see the most meaningful progress against such conduct only after confronting how deep and sacrosanct that “tradition” is in Islamic societies.

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.

The gap between incidents and complaints filed is undoubtedly affected by Qur’an 4:34, which sanctions beating one’s wife.

[…]

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.

[…]

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.

Arguments for a change in the law would likely be countered with Bukhari 4:54:560, where Muhammad himself states: “”If a husband calls his wife to his bed (i.e. to have sexual relation) and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning””

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.

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