Strengthen ‘legal regime against rape’ in India: UN rights chief



United Nations: Expressing "deep sadness" at the death of 23-year-old Delhi gang-rape victim, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay asked the Indian government to strengthen the country's legal regime to get rid of the "terrible scourge".

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said rape is a "national problem" in India, affecting women of all classes and castes and requires national solutions.

Pillay expressed deep sadness over the death of Delhi rape victim and said she joined Indians in "all walks of life in condemning" the attack on the student, expressing confidence that India could emerge reformed in the wake of this "terrible crime."

"India has shown through its social reform movements of the past that it can rid itself of a scourge like rape," she said.

She called for an "urgent and rational debate" aimed at ending violence against women in India.

"What is needed is a new public consciousness and more effective and sensitive enforcement of the law in the interests of women," she said.

"Now is the time to strengthen India's legal regime against rape. I encourage the Indian Government to consult widely with civil society and to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women to visit the country to assist in this process," she added.

"Let us hope that 2013 will be the year the tide is turned on violence against women in India and all women can walk free without fear," she said.

Six men have been charged with both the rape and murder of the young girl and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Pillay cautioned against the use of death penalty, which she noted was among the demands being made by India's citizens to punish the accused. She called for "urgent and rational debate on comprehensive measures to address such crimes."

The young physiotherapy student was gangraped in a moving bus in national capital New Delhi by six men who also assaulted her and her male friend with an iron rod before dumping them on the road.

The girl suffered multi-organ failure and battled for life for almost two weeks. She was taken to a hospital in Singapore for advanced treatment but died on December 29.

"The public is demanding a transformation in systems that discriminate against women to a culture that respects the dignity of women in law and practice," Pillay said.

The UN official highlighted that the attack was the latest in a series of rape cases, a fact reflected in statistics showing that reported rapes increased by 25 per cent from 2006 to 2011.

Pillay also pointed out that attacks are occurring against women of all social classes. Pillay noted that "an alarming level of sexual violence has been reported" in Haryana.

"This is a national problem, affecting women of all classes and castes, and will require national solutions," Pillay said.

She also expressed serious concern about the number of rape incidents of children and called for "accelerated actions to address this."

Pillay also welcomed the Indian government's announcement that it would establish a Commission of Inquiry into public safety of women in New Delhi and a judicial panel to review India's legislative framework on violence against women.

Pillay said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stood "ready to support the Indian Government and the people of India during this difficult period."

"I am particularly heartened by the ground swell of energy of the young women and men on the streets of India and their resolve to turn the tide," she added.

In its focus on India, the OHCHR-supported Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recommended in February 2007 that the country should "widen the definition of rape in its Penal Code to reflect the realities of sexual abuse experienced by women and to remove the exception for marital rape from the definition of rape."

The Committee also recommended the Indian government "consult widely with women's groups in its process of reform of laws and procedures relating to rape and sexual abuse."

Made up of 23 independent experts on women's rights from around the world, CEDAW monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which the UN General Assembly adopted in 1979, and is often described as a bill of rights for women.

PTI