Month: May 2012

Pakistan offers little justice for victims of acid attacks

May 29, 2012 Source : http://www.latimes.com

FAISALABAD, Pakistan — The cherub-faced 10-year-old girl was standing at a bus stop, saying goodbye to visiting relatives, when her mother noticed two motorcycles approaching, one coming down the street and the other from a graveyard behind them.

She recognized someone on one of the motorcycles: her older daughter’s former fiance. He was clutching two liter-sized metal jugs.

As two men armed with a pistol on the second motorcycle kept the cluster of relatives from running away, the ex-fiance handed one of the jugs to a fourth man riding with him. Without saying anything, they flung the contents at Parveen Akhtar and her little girl, Zaib Aslam.

The jugs contained sulfuric acid bought at a local market for 88 cents.

“It felt like someone had flung fire on me,” Akhtar said. “When I turned to look at Zaib, her face didn’t look like a face.”

In that terrible instant, much of Zaib’s face was seared away and her eyelids sealed shut. The acid splashed into her mouth, severely scarring her throat.

Six months later, Zaib always keeps a pink shawl draped over her head. She doesn’t want anyone — not even her family — to see her face.

She can’t see. Her throat remains badly swollen, so she eats only soup or bread dipped in milk or tea to soften it. There are days when she tells her family she no longer wants to live. And there are days when she sobs and begs for someone to turn back time.

“She’ll tell us, ‘I want my old face back!’ ” said Akhtar, whose right arm, neck and torso were burned in the attack. ” ‘All of you have normal faces! Why can’t I look like you?’ “

***

When Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar this year for “Saving Face,” her documentary on victims of acid attacks, Pakistan’s struggle to eradicate the crime drew worldwide attention, and horror.

A law enacted in December has established tougher penalties for acid attack convictions: from 14 years in jail to lifetime imprisonment, and a fine of up to $11,000 — a large sum for most Pakistanis. And yet every week, victims show up in emergency rooms nationwide, their faces and bodies horribly scarred.

No database exists that catalogs acid attacks in Pakistan, but the Acid Survivors Foundation, a Pakistani advocacy group for victims, estimates that 150 occur each year. The majority of the victims are women, and attacks are often an escalation of domestic violence.

“And at some point, the level of violence rises to a point where the husband wants to punish the wife by throwing acid at her to teach her a lesson and disfigure her for life,” said Valerie Khan, the group’s chairwoman.

Awareness about the crime has improved, Khan said, but Pakistan remains a patriarchal society where, particularly in rural areas, women’s rights are routinely ignored. Many attacks go unreported, and even when victims lodge complaints, police and judges often halfheartedly pursue the cases.

“The main trend in the Pakistani justice system remains that too few perpetrators are being convicted,” Khan said. “With local police and judges, the level of sensitivity and attention that they give to this issue is clearly insufficient.”

Here in Punjab province, women are often treated like chattel. Cases persist of teenage girls forced to marry men in rival families to settle blood feuds. Women who marry against their families’ wishes often become victims of honor killings. In a part of the country where local economies are driven by sprawling textile factories and sugar mills, women rarely own property or run their own businesses.

Victimization of women is especially prevalent within the underclass here, where education is lacking and large, extended families scrape by on a few hundred dollars a month. Zaib’s father is retired, and the eight children who still live at home rely on about $200 a month earned by Zaib’s 12- and 15-year-old brothers, who work as mini-bus attendants, and an 18-year-old brother who works at a bakery.

In the legislation passed in December, a loophole that once allowed acid attack defendants to avoid jail by reaching out-of-court settlements with victims was closed. That doesn’t give Zaib any solace, however. The attack that ended her life as she knew it occurred Nov. 25, just 17 days before it passed. A settlement reached in March between Zaib’s family and Ghulam Dastagir, the man who engineered the attack, is not affected by the new law.

TANZANIA – More than 640 ‘witches’ lynched in Tanzania last year

May 30, 2012 Source : http://universaltolerance.org

DODOMA, TANZANIA  — More than 640 people suspected of witchcraft were lynched in Tanzania last year, a leading local rights group said on Tuesday, expressing concern about the growing trend of killings. More than 3,000 people have been killed in similar incidents since 2005.

In its annual human rights report, the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC) said police statistics in the African nation show that at least 642 people suspected of witchcraft were killed between January and November 2011, a significant increase from the at least 579 witchcraft-related deaths in 2010.

“Thousands of people lose their lives in Tanzania because they are suspected of engaging in witchcraft,” the center said in its report, adding that many killings occur in the northern regions of Mwanza and Shinyanga. “Between 2005 and 2011, about 3,000 people were lynched to death by fearful neighbors who believed them to be witches.”

This makes for an average of 500 witchcraft-related deaths in Tanzania each year, but the actual figure is likely higher because many incidents are not reported. Most of the victims are elderly women with red eyes. “The red eye is believed to be a mark of a witch and ignites many of these tragic neighborhood witch hunts,” the LHRC said in its report.

There is a widespread belief in Tanzania that witches can cause poverty, disease, accidents, business failures, famine, earthquakes, infertility and childbirth difficulties. “Therefore, the tendency of witch hunt in Tanzania is highly associated with the occurrence of such predicaments,” the rights group explained.

In addition to the killings, witch hunts also result in discrimination, torture and other forms of violence. In October 2010, a mob of angry men in the Geita Region of Tanzania set fire to the homes of eight families because they were suspected of practicing witchcraft. Because of the witchcraft beliefs, the families were held responsible by the community for misfortune and deaths in the area.

A similar incident was documented by LHRC in the Kigoma Region in May 2010 when a mob burnt more than fifteen houses. “The mob demolished houses, destroyed property and crops such as banana groves, burning of cattle and livestock at Kibwigwa village,” the human rights group said previously.

Japan – Lay judges torn by death penalty

May 30, 2012 Source : http://www.japantimes.co.jp

Kyodo

The mental and physical burden that lay judges bear in hearing potential death penalty cases has become a key focal point in the review of the de facto jury system.

Contentious issues relating to lay judges’ participation in cases punishable by death include having to commit to long court proceedings, as well as the difficulty in deciding whether a defendant should live or die.

The lay judge system was introduced in May 2009 with the aim of involving ordinary citizens in court trials.

Together with three professional judges, six citizens randomly selected from eligible voters examine murder and other serious criminal cases at district courts. Lay judges also participate in determining sentences.

The system is now being reviewed three years after its debut, as required by law.

With the expectation that death sentences delivered in lay judge trials will ultimately be finalized as appeals are exhausted, how participants feel about their decisions is increasingly becoming a matter of public debate.

In April, two men who served as lay judges in a complicated murder case spoke at a news conference after they and their colleagues at the Saitama District Court sentenced the defendant to death. The high-profile trial dealt with a woman accused of committing serial murders.

The men acknowledged that the trial was mentally taxing and affected their work, but neither criticized the lay judge system itself. The trial lasted 100 days, the longest case so far examined by citizen judges.

“The trial was long and complex, and it led me to do some soul-searching,” one of the men said.

The other said that although the trial placed a heavy burden on him, he felt a sense of accomplishment after it was completed.

Meanwhile, a professional judge who heard about the men’s comments characterized the trial as more successful than expected. The trial indicated that the citizen judge system functioned smoothly, he said.

But there is concern that problems can be overlooked if attention is overly focused on the opinions of citizen judges who are willing to speak in public.

“The greater the burden people feel, the more reluctant they are to express their opinions,” said Kiichi Nishino, a former judge who is now a professor at Niigata Law School. “We should assume that fundamental problems with this system are hidden in voiceless opinions.”

With executions of death-row inmates sentenced by lay judges eventually to be carried out, unease is gnawing at citizens who have delivered such verdicts.

A company employee who participated in a trial in the city of Nagano of one of three men sentenced to death for murder, indicated he felt the victim may not have been beyond reproach.

“The defendant did not appear to be an evil man, and I felt as if I could have become friends with him under different circumstances,” the former lay judge recalled.

When he happened to see an execution chamber on a television program, the man said he wondered how the defendant would feel walking to the gallows. He said he is tormented when he draws a mental picture of the defendant.

Meanwhile, a man who participated in an arson and murder trial in Osaka stressed that cases punishable by death should be examined by lay judges. Citizens’ involvement encourages increased information disclosure, he explained.

A major bone of contention in the Osaka case was whether execution by hanging amounts to “cruel punishment” banned under the Constitution. After watching a video of a mock execution in the courtroom, the lay judges concluded that hanging is constitutional.

The man who emphasized the need for citizen involvement said he did not personally feel a moral burden about the death sentence against the defendant because the decision was made collectively.

He acknowledged, however, that after the real execution actually takes place, “I may feel different.”