Posts Tagged ‘Ehrenmord’

BRD: Geschlechtsspezifische Tötungen – “typisch Islam”?

Samstag, Juni 23rd, 2012
 

Manjoo

 

“Geschlechtsspezifische Tötungen in Deutschland: Tödliche Partnerschaftsgewalt gegen Frauen

Eingabe an die UN Sonderberichterstatterin gegen Gewalt gegen Frauen, Rashida Manjoo, Feb. 2012

Geschlechtsspezifische Tötungen von Frauen und tödlich endende Partnerschaftsgewalt sind auch in Deutschland Realität. Tötungen von Frauen durch Partner bilden dabei häufig die Spitze einer Gewalteskalation und jahrelanger Gewalt in der Beziehung (WAVE 2011: 7).1 Besonders gefährdet sind Frauen während oder nach einer durch sie veranlassten Trennung. Eine repräsentative Umfrage unter Frauen in Deutschland zeigt, dass 14 % der gewaltbetroffenen Frauen von ernstzunehmenden Morddrohungen als einem Teil ihrer Gewalterfahrung berichteten (Schröttle/Müller 2004: 40)2.

Geschlechtsspezifische Tötungen von Frauen in (Ex)Partnerschaften geschehen in Form von Mord, Totschlag, Vergewaltigung und sexuelle Nötigung mit Todesfolge sowie Körperverletzung mit Todesfolge. Erfahrungen aus der Praxis von Fachberaterinnen legen nahe, dass auch so genannte “erweiterte Suizide” als eine Form von geschlechtsspezifischer Tötung betrachtet werden müssen. In diesen Fällen werden vor einem (versuchten) Suizid des Täters zunächst die Frau und/oder Kinder umgebracht.

Der vorliegende Bericht benennt Problemlagen und Lücken bei der Prävention und im Umgang mit geschlechtsspezifischen Tötungen von Frauen in Deutschland.

1. Mangel an Daten

Nichtregierungsorganisationen (NROs) fordern seit Jahren aussagekräftige Statistiken zu geschlechtsspezifischen Tötungen von Frauen in (Ex)Partnerschaften. Bis heute existiert jedoch keine bundesweite Statistik, die den Beziehungshintergrund zwischen Opfer und Täter aussagekräftig erfasst. In der polizeilichen Kriminalstatistik sind erst im Jahr 2011 entsprechende Voraussetzungen in der Datenerhebung geschaffen worden, so dass zu erwarten ist, dass zeitnah erste Daten vorliegen werden.

Tötungen von Frauen in (Ex)Partnerschaften werden – ohne die systematische Heranziehung von Daten als Einzelfälle bewertet, die nicht durch präventive Maßnahmen oder gezielte Interventionen verhindert werden könnten. Infolge dessen gibt es auch nur vereinzelt Konzepte und Instrumente zur Gefährdungseinschätzung und Identifizierung von Hochrisikofällen und keine gezielte Ausbildung von Polizeibeamten und Polizeibeamtinnen für Interventionen zum Schutz hochgefährdeter Frauen und ihrer Kinder.

2. Unzureichender Schutz: Erfahrungen und Fälle aus der Praxis von Fachberaterinnen
2.1 Auswirkungen des Umgangsrechts

Eine nähere Betrachtung der Reformen des Umgangsrechts (1998) und des Familienverfahrensgesetzes (2009) macht deutlich, dass ein verbesserter Schutz von Frauen und Kindern vor häuslicher Gewalt im Zuge der Reformen nicht im Mittelpunkt der öffentlichen Diskussion stand. Die Reformen zielten darauf ab, das Recht des Kindes auf Kontakt mit beiden Elternteilen zu stärken. Das gemeinsame Sorgerecht als Standard und das sogenannte “beschleunigte Verfahren” sind die Ergebnisse dieser Reformen. Gerichte sind damit angehalten, innerhalb der ersten 4 Wochen nach der Trennung eine vorläufige Entscheidung über das Umgangsrecht vorzulegen, um den fortlaufenden Kontakt des Kindes mit beiden Elternteilen zu gewährleisten. Dies ist für Familien ohne Gewaltvorkommnisse zu begrüßen. Die Regelungen sind jedoch problematisch für Frauen, die häusliche Gewalt erfahren haben, da die Tatsache außer Acht gelassen wird, dass sie vor allem in den ersten Wochen und Monaten nach der Trennung dem Risiko einer Gewalteskalation ausgesetzt sind. Dies trifft auch zu für die Phase, in der Umgangsregelungen getroffen werden bzw. im Rahmen der Ausübung des Umgangsrechts. Eine Studie des Bundesministeriums für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend zeigt, dass 41% der Frauen und 15 % der Kinder während des Besuchskontakts angegriffen wurden; bei 27-29% drohten die Väter mit der Entführung der Kinder und ca. 9% der Kinder wurden tatsächlich entführt. 11% der Frauen berichteten, dass der Angreifer versuchte, sie umzubringen und 27% berichteten über verschiedene andere Formen von Gewalt und Drohungen während der Besuchskontakte (Schröttle/Müller 2004:291f).

Die folgenden Beispiele aus der Praxis veranschaulichen die Risiken, denen Frauen infolge von Sorgerechtsentscheidungen ausgesetzt sind:

Frau C. und Frau D.: Die beiden Frauen freundeten sich im Frauenhaus an. Der Ehemann von Frau C. bekam das Umgangsrecht zugesprochen. Frau C. wurde verpflichtet, die Kinder zu ihm zu bringen und bei ihm zu Hause wieder abzuholen. Ihre Freundin begleitete sie, da Frau C. Angst hatte. Beide Frauen wurden in der Wohnung des Mannes getötet.

Frau E. floh mit ihrer Tochter in ein Frauenhaus. Der Vater der Tochter bedrohte sie weiterhin. Obwohl sie dies den zuständigen Behörden mitteilte, erteilte der Richter dem Vater das Umgangsrecht. Von einem Besuch kam das Kind nicht zurück. Der Vater hatte die Tochter ermordet.

Frau F. suchte mit ihren Kindern (Tochter 11, Söhne 4 &5) Schutz in einem Frauenhaus. Ihr Ehemann drohte (öffentlich), sie umzubringen, wenn sie nicht zurückkäme. Die Tochter hatte Angst vor ihrem Vater und weigerte sich, Kontakt mit ihm zu haben. Die beiden Söhne gingen ihn jedes zweite Wochenende besuchen. Unmittelbar nach einem Besuch beim Vater versuchte einer der Söhne, seine Mutter mit einem Messer anzugreifen. Der psychologische Gutachter hatte Umgangsrecht empfohlen, damit die Söhne ein männliches Vorbild haben.

2.2 Versuchte Tötungen

Nicht nur erfolgte Tötungen, sondern insbesondere versuchte Tötungen stellen ein Sicherheitsrisiko für Frauen dar; problematisch ist hierbei, dass diese häufig nicht als solche wahrgenommen werden. Eine Studie von WAVE (Women against Violence Europe) zeigt, dass die Risikowahrnehmung betroffener Frauen bzgl. einer neuerlichen Gewaltanwendung ihres Partners ein sehr verlässlicher Bewertungsmaßstab ist (WAVE 2011: 9)3. Auch weist dieselbe Studie darauf hin, dass sich “in einer Untersuchung von Femiziden in elf Städten (Campbell, 2003) zeigte, dass nur 47 Prozent der getöteten Frauen und 54 Prozent der Opfer von Tötungsversuchen zuvor die Situation so eingeschätzt hatten, dass sie tatsächlich in Lebensgefahr schwebten”(Roehl et al., 2005 in WAVE 2011:9f).

Fachberaterinnen aus Frauenberatungseinrichtungen und Frauenhäusern berichten von zahlreichen Fällen, in denen Hinweise auf Tötungsabsichten vorliegen insbesondere sind dies “Angriffe gegen den Hals” die jedoch häufig nicht als solche bewertet und verfolgt werden. Gründe dafür sind, dass sie entweder durch einen glücklichen Zufall nicht zum Tod der betroffenen Frau führten oder durch das Einschreiten Dritter oder durch ein Entkommen der Frau verhindert werden konnten. Selbst wenn Gutachter_innen bzw. Rechtsmediziner_innen bestätigen, dass die Frau nur durch einen glücklichen Zufall überlebt hat, ist dies kein Garant für die juristische Wertung als versuchte Tötung.

Fall I

X erlebte fortlaufende und massive Gewalt durch ihren Ehemann und Vater ihrer Kinder (3 und 4 Jahre alt). Nach verschiedenen erfolglosen Versuchen ihn zu verlassen, zog sie in ihre eigene Wohnung. Ihr Exmann stellte ihr weiterhin nach und konnte trotz einer Anzahl von polizeilichen Interventionen nicht gestoppt werden. Nachdem sie den Scheidungsantrag gestellt hatte, wurden ihm Umgangsrechte erteilt, um seine Kinder zu sehen. Im Mai 2011, als er seine Kinder abholte, griff er sie an und versuchte, sie in Anwesenheit der beiden Kinder zu erwürgen. Das ältere Kind griff in die Situation ein, indem es seinen Vater mit einem Spielzeug schlug und so der Mutter half, sich aus dessen Griff zu befreien. Ein Gutachten bestätigte, dass X ohne das Eingreifen des Kindes gestorben wäre. X´s Exmann wurde angeklagt und wegen Mordes vor Gericht gestellt. Die Anklage wurde fallengelassen, da nicht bewiesen werden konnte, dass er aufgrund des Eingreifens seiner Tochter von der Frau abgelassen hatte.
Deshalb musste das Gericht annehmen, dass er bewusst von seinem Tötungsversuch an X zurückgetreten war. Er wurde lediglich wegen schwerer Körperverletzung zu 3 Jahren Gefängnisstrafe verurteilt. Er ging in Revision.

Fall II

Y wurde von ihrem Expartner vergewaltigt und dann bewusstlos geschlagen. Der Gerichtsmediziner bestätigte bei Gericht, dass die Einblutungen in den Bindehäuten der Augen der Frau so massiv seien,dass das Stadium des Erstickens schon erreicht war. Er erklärte, dass er solche Verletzungen zuvor nur an Leichen gesehen habe. Y´s Ex-Partner wurde nicht für versuchten Totschlag verurteilt, da er mit strafbefreiender Wirkung von der Tat zurückgetreten sei. Er wurde lediglich für schwere Körperverletzung mit 5 Jahren Gefängnis bestraft.

3. Rolle der Medien

Da es keine aussagekräftigen Berichte und Datenerfassungen zu geschlechtsspezifischen Tötungen bzw. Tötungsversuchen an Frauen gibt, ist die Berichterstattung der Medien in der Regel die einzige Quelle um Informationen hierüber zu bekommen. Die Folge ist häufig eine Darstellung, die eher einer Mediendynamik als einer adäquaten Realitätsbeschreibung folgt. Sind zum Beispiel Migranten als Täter in Fälle tödlicher häuslicher Gewalt involviert, findet dies große Aufmerksamkeit in der Berichterstattung der Presse. In dieser Berichterstattung wird die Gewaltausübung häufig kulturalisiert und die Fälle werden zu sogenannten “Ehrenmordfällen” deklariert.
Im Jahr 2011 veröffentlichte das Bundeskriminalamt eine Studie zu Fällen, die als “Ehrenmorde” klassifiziert waren und kam zu dem Ergebnis, dass jährlich ungefähr 100 Frauen in Deutschland von ihren Männern getötet werden; nur 3 dieser Fälle könnten als “ehrbezogen” bezeichnet werden (Oberwittler/Kasselt 2011: 40 & 167)4. Reneé Römkens und Esmah Lahlah kommen bei der Analyse der holländischen Situation zu ähnlichen Ergebnissen, sie stellen fest, dass “von 603 Partnerinnentötungen zwischen 1992 und 2006 nicht ein Fall eines tatsächlichen Ehrenmords war”(Nieubeerta und Leistra 2007 in Römkens/Lahlah 2011: 87)5.

4. Instrumentalisierung des Themas zur Verhinderung von Migration

Es besteht die Sorge, dass in Fällen geschlechtsspezifischer Tötungen von Frauen in (Ex)Partnerschaften der Fokus weiterhin auf Communities gerichtet bleibt, die als muslimisch betrachtet oder konstruiert werden. Dieser Fokus kann zu einer politischen Instrumentalisierung und damit zu restriktiven Maßnahmen für Migrant_innen führen, die beispielsweise die Einwanderung bestimmter Gruppen beschränken – wie es im Rahmen der Gesetzgebung zur Bekämpfung der Zwangsheirat geschehen ist. Im August 2007 hat die deutsche Regierung Gesetze verabschiedet, wonach Heiratswillige nichtdeutscher Herkunft ein Mindestalter von 18 Jahren haben müssen. Aus einer menschenrechtlichen Perspektive ist dies problematisch, da Personen, die in Deutschland leben mit elterlicher Einwilligung ab dem Alter von 16 Jahren heiraten können; die Begrenzung der Einwanderung zur Eheschließung auf ein Mindestalter von 18 verletzt damit das Gleichbehandlungsprinzip. Auch wird nunmehr von Heiratswilligen gefordert, dass sie vor Einreise einfache Deutschkenntnisse erwerben müssen. Dies ist ein schwerer Eingriff in die freie Partner_innenwahl – ebenfalls ein Menschenrecht. All diese Maßnahmen wurden eingeführt, um Zwangsehen zu verhindern, tatsächlich verhindern sie jedoch die Einwanderung bestimmter Gruppen von Migranten und Migrantinnen.”

Fußnoten:

1 WAVE (Hrsg.) 2011: PROTECT – Identifizierung und Schutz hochgefährdeter Opfer geschlechtsspezifischer Gewalt. Ein Überblick.

2 Schröttle Monika/Müller, Ursula (2004) ” Lebenssituation, Sicherheit und Gesundheit von Frauen in Deutschland”, Berlin BMFSJ. http://www.bmfsfj.de/RedaktionBMFSFJ/Abteilung4/Pdf-Anlagen/langfassung-studie-frauen-teileins,property=pdf,bereich=bmfsfj,sprache=de,rwb=true.pdf (letzter Zugriff 15.2.2012)

3 WAVE – WOMEN AGAINST VIOLENCE EUROPE: PROTECT – Identifizierung und Schutz hochgefährdeter Opfer geschlechtsspezifischer Gewalt. Ein Überblick. Zweite, überarbeitete Ausgabe, Wien 2011.

4 Dietrich Oberwittler,/Julia Kasselt: Ehrenmorde in Deutschland 1996-2005; Studie herausgegeben vom Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Luchterhand 2011 in english: Honour related killings in Germany 1996 – 2005; study relased by the German federal Police (BKA), Luchtehand 2011

5 Reneé Römkens with Esmah Lahlah: Particularly Violent? The Construction of Muslim Culture as a Risk Factor for Domestic Violence. In: Thiara, Ravi K./Condon, Stephanie A./Schröttle, Monika (eds.): Violence against Women and Ethnictiy: Commonalites and Differences across Europe, Opladen, Berlin and Farmington Hills 2011

 

(Quelle: Der Der PARITÄTISCHE Landesverband Rheinland-Pfalz/Saarland e. V..)

Indien: Über die Alltäglichkeit von Ehrenmorden

Donnerstag, Mai 27th, 2010

“A Matter of Honor: Murder as a ‘Way of Life’

by Maureen Nandini Mitra

In March this year, a court in the northern Indian state of Haryana sentenced five family members to death for killing a young couple who married within the same sub-caste. It is the first time an Indian court has awarded such a harsh penalty in an honor killing case. But, even as women’s rights activists are hailing the decision as a landmark judgment, honor killings continue unabated and defiant khap panchayats – village councils that order such killings – are calling for an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act to fit their beliefs regarding sub-caste and inter-caste marriages.

Honor killings are almost a way of life in northern India. Perpetrated under the garb of saving the ‘honor’ of the community, caste or family, such killings include public lynching of couples, murder of either the man or the woman concerned, public beatings, rape, humiliation, incarceration and social boycotts.

A few years ago in an attempt to understand the impulse behind such killings I made a trip to the remote interiors of Uttar Pradesh, one of the most populous and caste-ridden states of the country.

Accompanied by Carlos Reyes Manzo, a documentary photographer and poet from London, I went searching Alinagar ka Majra – a tiny village in Muzzaffarnagar district where in 2001, a teenage couple was lynched by their families. Carlos had read media reports about the murders of Vishal, a 15-year-old Brahmin boy, and Sonu, a 16-year-old Jat girl, when he last visited India and he wanted to see the village where the killings took place.

As we rattled toward Muzaffarnagar on a dusty state bus I had some inkling the trip wouldn’t be trouble free. A white man and an Indian woman traveling alone, we would be the cynosure of all eyes. But I wasn’t quite prepared for what followed.

After a long day’s journey we stopped for the night at Shamli, a small town en route to Alinagar. We checked into the town’s only hotel and walked to a local shack for some tea. Soon enough we were surrounded by a crush of men who began plying us with questions. Suddenly one of them spoke up: ‘It’s not safe for you to stay here at night. Take the bus back to Delhi.’ The words weren’t meant to caution. They threatened. There was a banked rage in the gaze of the young man who uttered them.

I was taken aback by the hostility in his face as well as in the eyes of the other men gathered around us. Their collective gaze produced a vague sense of humiliation in me. I knew at once that in their eyes I could only belong to the oldest profession – bought by a ‘rich’ Westerner to serve his pleasure.

‘Any particular reason why?’ I asked, trying to stare the man down. ‘All I can tell you is it’s not safe here for you and that man,’ he replied. The rest of the men murmured in agreement. Like me, Carlos, who’d been observing the byplay closely, sensed danger. We quickly collected our things and beat as dignified a retreat as we could.

Back in the dingy, dorm-like hotel, we both tried to pretend we weren’t too shaken. But I didn’t have the guts to go back to my room with its rickety door. So Carlos and I stayed in his room, sitting on the only available furniture – a huge bed, full of grit and rank with the sweat of innumerable customers.

The hours trickled by at an agonizing pace. Three times during the night loud bangs shook the tall iron gates of the hotel and angry male voices pierced the darkness, asking to be let in. Carlos and I tried to talk but my whole being was focused on the street outside. Now and then blasts of devotional music blared from a vehicle as it crawled around the pre-dawn town. It was the night before Shivratri – the festival of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer.

Stuck in the musty darkness, I couldn’t help but reflect on the resonance between our situation and the Alinagar murders. Sonu and Vishal too, had been locked up in one room for several hours the night they were killed. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what black, hopeless, helpless, terror they must have felt.

Sonu and Vishal’s families hung them from a ceiling. When the ceiling proved too low to do the job, they dragged the teenagers down, strangled Vishal with the noose and crushed Sonu’s throat by stomping on it. The entire village helped burn the bodies in a joint pyre at the local cremation ground and then went home to sleep, ‘honor’ restored.

Truth be told, this skewed idea of honor isn’t totally alien to me. As a woman growing up in India, it had been fed into me by cultural osmosis that we are the repositories of family honor and the ideal Bharatiya nari (Indian woman) was always chaste and pure. While this may no longer hold true for urban, middle and upper class India, in much of the rural north a woman’s chastity still equals caste and family honor and is worth killing for.

The National Crime Records Bureau in India doesn’t list honor killings as a separate crime. It lists it under murder. But the All India Democratic Women’s Association says these killings comprise more than 10 percent of all murders in India. UP, Bihar, Haryana and Punjab are the worst offenders. And the district I’d traveled to, Muzaffarnagar, tops the list in UP. According to a 2007 survey by the Delhi-based Indian Population Statistics Survey, 25 percent of the murders reported here are honor related.

Following sustained campaigns by womens’ and human rights groups, the Indian government is currently contemplating new legislation to make honor killing a separate offense.

Early next morning as we were settling our bill, Rajbir, the hotel’s lone waiter and security guard, told us the men rattling the gate last night had offered to pay him 200 rupees if he let them in. We tipped Rajbir handsomely, took the first bus out to Jhinjhana, the closest town to Alinagar accessible by public transport, and breathed a little easier.

At Jhinjhana we ran into a local journalist, Vinod Jain, who had covered the murders for a Hindi language daily. Jain introduced us to Ashok Kumar Sharma, a distant uncle of the murdered boy, Vishal. Sharma walked with us to Alinagar – a tiny cul-de-sac of six brick houses around a main square, surrounded by lush sugarcane and mustard fields.

Vishal’s house, a modest, un-plastered brick affair, lies abandoned. His brother and sister-in-law are serving life-sentences for their hand in the killings. The rest of the family has moved to a town further up north. Sonu’s extended family sold off their home to a neighbor. Sonu’s parents are in prison for life. But the khap panchayat members who had ordered the killings got away. Lack of substantial proof the courts said.

Not unusual. The conviction rate for murder in India is two to three percent. Getting witnesses to testify for the prosecution is next to impossible. Most fear retribution or are bought off with bribes. The record of acquittals in honor killings cases is especially high since the views of local authorities on the subject of honor are often not too different from that of the community.

I walked around the village wondering how this green, peaceful, friendly place could harbor people with thoughts of murder so foul? ‘We carry a lot of love in our hearts, but an equal amount of anger too,’ Jain told me. ‘When honor is at stake, people will do anything.’

I turned to the genial Sharma, who has a college-going daughter. ‘What if your daughter falls in love with someone outside your caste? Would you let her marry the man of her choice?’

‘That won’t happen,’ he replied firmly.

There it was again. Beneath the smiling face, the same proprietary hostility I’d seen in the men’s eyes at Shamli. It spoke of a patriarchal culture that suffers from a compelling need to control women’s sexuality. Over seventy years of democracy and social reform measures hadn’t subdued it.

Carlos and I were lucky it cost us only a sleepless night in a small town hotel with a chair pushed against the door. But for the thousands of young Vishals and Sonus for whom escape is impossible, this cycle of violence is part of everyday life, festering beneath a serene rural landscape.

Yet love is stubborn and headstrong and heedless. It continues to blossom again and again and again on such blood-soaked soil. Maybe therein lies the defeat of this demon.

About the Author
Maureen Nandini Mitra is an independent journalist of Indian origin who divides her time between Berkeley, CA, and Calcutta, India. A journalism graduate from Columbia University, her work has appeared publications such as The New Internationalist, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, The Caravan, Economic and Political Weekly and Down to Earth magazine. Her website is maureennandinimitra.com.”

(Quelle: The Whip.)

Menschenrechte und Identitätspolitik

Mittwoch, Mai 26th, 2010

“Conflict and Custom in the New World Order : a conversation with Gita Sahgal


“There is a struggle to be had. It is time to challenge the hegemony of the formal human rights movement and its uncritical embrace of identity politics”. Gita Sahgal in conversation with Deniz Kandiyoti. Part two.

Deniz Kandiyoti:  In  Part I of our conversation ‘Soft law’ and hard choices you concluded that the “war on terror” had a deleterious effect on women’s rights issues. Can you provide some illustrations of what you meant by that?

Gita Sahgal: One of the examples that shocked me most was what happened in Iraq where, as you know, there has been a massive slaughter of women since the US-led military intervention. This has been underreported by the human rights movement and existing reports often focused on so-called “honour killings” i.e. women being killed by their families and kinsmen. This, of course, totally obscures the fact that the victims were often professional women, active in public life and that the perpetrators were militias and armed groups’

Now there are two  ways in which the human rights movement has dealt with the issue of ‘crimes in the name of honour’. On the one hand, UN experts such as Asma Jahangir, who was Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, started to present ‘honour killings’ in Pakistan as a form of extra-judicial execution. Even though the actual crime may be committed by the family, the state is often directly or indirectly responsible for colluding in the crime (for instance by imposing very low penalties, or by being  either complicit with or directly implicated in the killing – by having police or government officials present at the council ordering the killing- or by sheer failure to prosecute). This analysis stems from a very important legal judgement known as the Velasquez Rodriguez case in the Inter-American Court.

Even though this legal foundation had already been laid by the time systematic killings of women who are active in public life or who transgress in their private lives began on a large scale in Iraq and Afghanistan (and indeed in other centres of the ‘War on Terror’ such as Somalia), much commentary, even in human rights reports, reverted to seeing ‘culture’ as a driver for women’s deaths. So militia killings, a classic form of extra-judicial execution, are referred to as ‘honour killings in one UN report on Iraq.  Killings of officials and others are referred to as extra-judicial executions but in gender neutral terms, so that the fact that women are targeted as women is completely buried.

DK: In post-conflict contexts, and in others where the provision of justice as a public good is deficient, there appears to be a consensus among powerful donors that devolving bits of the legal system to the local level and having recourse to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms is the answer. Furthermore, these types of decentralization and devolution are presented as forms of democratization and bottom-up participation. What is the moving force behind this consensus? And what are the implications for women’s rights?

GS: There are a number of forces behind this consensus. One is the reluctant recognition that most societies already operate in a legally plural world and that the most ‘just’ law is not necessarily delivered by the  formal courts – either because the law is often normatively more conservative than actual customs and norms that people live by, or because the formal court system is simply overloaded, unwieldy, slow and expensive. So there have been numerous movements calling for the recognition of other legal systems – perhaps most powerfully in Latin America as a result of the indigenous rights movements gaining a voice and even political power as in Bolivia. Women’s rights advocates have also been involved in a number of processes from resolving domestic disputes through what is known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to peace processes where they have negotiated across conflict lines. Sunila Abeysekera has been involved in such processes through her organisation Inform which has mapped ‘disappearances’ during the conflict in Sri Lanka but also negotiated with sympathisers from different sides.

Now these movements have been taken up in broadly two ways –  in human rights discourses and by powerful international organisations and donor governments as part of their aid agenda, particularly in what are known as post-conflict countries. These appear to be different approaches, but they converge precisely over negotiating away women’s rights and the rights of minorities – since these get ignored and submerged within purportedly homogenous identity-based groupings. Therefore those who are already marginalised may be further marginalised in informal justice systems which are controlled by local elites. Informal systems then use law to perpetuate or even re-invent a particular notion of cultural or religious identity.  A woman who may simply want to access a particular right – alimony in theShah Bano case in India, or inheritance in the case of Sandra Lovelace in Canada,  finds that she is challenging  the identity of the entire community who mobilise against her. Ironically in both cases, the law being applied was based on a colonial interpretation of religion and custom.

There is a growing human rights literature which discusses the competing demands of recognition of religious or cultural identities, on the one hand, and ‘balancing’ these with upholding equality and non-discrimination norms, on the other. When identity claims are smuggled in as part of non-discrimination norms, the goal of equality can easily be derailed. The debates over headscarves and the wearing of niqab are an example of this – see for instance the debate between Joan Scott andKarima Bennoune. It was in an attempt to bring a different view to international attention that WLUML and Amnesty International did a joint submission on issues arising from the Lubna Hussein case, a woman persecuted for her attire in Sudan.

Those promoting identity claims see themselves as offering a more culturally responsive version of human rights, but this approach all too often depends on being oblivious to women’s equality and to disputes within groups. Women’s rights advocates often refer to universal principles and the need to either protect existing law or to argue for new law such as relying on a civil code, rather than on different systems of family law based on religion in which people are seen as members of a religious community – as Amrita Chhachhi writes – a sort of forced identity that limits their entitlements rather than defining  their rights as citizens. However, most human rights bodies have hardly dealt with family laws and tend to condemn parallel courts or informal courts principally because of their lack of due process and their harsh punishments ( such as whipping and stoning). While these are valid arguments they fall short of fully grasping the range of violations caused not just by the conduct of these courts but by their very structure. Parallel or customary courts tend to  lend substance in law to religious or tribal identities that are themselves often the product of a colonial inheritance.  They undermine women’s access to civil law even in those countries, such as Ethiopia, where a civil code exists. The Human Rights Committee made a recent comment in which it tried to square this circle by suggesting that lower courts should only handle ‘minor civil and criminal matters’. In Britain, the Lord Chief Justice made a similar point about sharia councils. This leaves virtually all matters pertaining to women’s lives, including quite serious crimes against them such as rape, in the hands of bodies that are systematically biased against them. That is why it is so astonishing that a number of powerful international institutions have put a lot of effort, and more importantly substantial finance, behind the promotion of parallel or alternative courts while overlooking the consequences, particularly for women.

DK: So are you saying, in concrete terms, that this type of devolution often deprives women of justice? Because a disproportionate number of so-called “minor” cases-family, marriage, divorce or inheritance disputes – would potentially be devolved to unaccountable and gender biased institutions?

GS: Yes, it deprives women of justice and also people who are from any minority tradition whose norms are not reflected in the law being applied. They have access neither to universal norms which could protect their rights, nor to the specific norms and customs to which they might adhere in their everyday lives. For instance, in some groups women may have easier access to divorce through their community norms than courts allow. Often the mapping of custom through a formalised process in the service of setting up a parallel justice system enforces more restrictive and patriarchal norms than was previously the case. So a legal system which is created ostensibly as part of a broader democratisation effort may end up inadvertently disenfranchising many citizens in terms of their legal rights.

This is particularly likely in post-conflict settings where foreign governments or charitable donors are pushing for such systems to be adopted. One such case was seen in South Sudan, where both World Vision, a Christian charity and the UN have supported the mapping of customary laws. The South has changed irrevocably during a twenty year period of conflict, social systems have been disrupted, and a large population of urbanised migrants have returned from exile. So the purpose of the system is to help create a national identity which can challenge the Muslim dominated, Shari’a based law of Khartoum, to ‘restore’ the old order and create a new version of South Sudanese identity through law. Pushing for women’s equality is seen as a threat to this project, since it is precisely the social compact that would be created under a patriarchal order which is supposed to be a guarantor against the recurrence of conflict. In contrast, women’s rights advocates, have emphasised that they are struggling for a transformed social order, not one that simply restores the status quo ante.

That is also why the current discussions on Afghanistan, whether from the left or right of the political spectrum, are so frightening. All talk of ‘moderate Taliban’ or ‘light foot print’  of foreign forces leads to the same end – that is a political consensus in which the rights of some are traded for ‘peace’ and ‘security’. This is a false equation which will bring neither peace nor security as conventionally understood, even in military terms; and will certainly not assist those seeking to implant some genuine democratic values.

DK: Would it be possible to talk about two contradictory tendencies at work here? On the one hand there is a drive to expand and consolidate women’s rights through the institutions of global governance, like for instance the United Nations setting up a “super agency” to monitor gender equality or setting up various machineries for gender mainstreaming. On the other hand, you have an even better resourced movement pushing in the direction of opting out of the formal legal system in favour of decentralized “traditional” actors with little judicial oversight and with built-in patriarchal biases.

GS: Yes, that is true and no-one seems to have noticed, except of course, the women who are directly affected and who are fighting heroically all over the world. Quite often their first hurdle – and they never get any further –  is to convince those supposedly on their side (international NGOs, the UN and government aid agencies) to abandon approaches based on religion and tribal custom. There is a fascination with working within ‘Sharia’ by the British government, for instance, which may lead to regressive approaches which undermine not only secular values, but also the work that feminists have done to promote progressive readings of religion.

One example that fortunately failed to take root is the Asian Development Bank’s attempt to create an alternative dispute resolution system in Pakistan. It was backed by a huge budget and proposed a system that would by-pass the courts to resolve a whole host of disputes which included criminal as well as civil matters, with absolutely no safeguards as to process or judicial oversight. Naturally the Pakistani Judiciary and the lawyers hated it.  At a meeting of the project on plural legal orders a Pakistani human rights advocate who evaluated the system said the best thing about it was its complete failure. It was, in effect, an attempt to formalise the jirga system, which was a highly contested institution against which the entire feminist and human rights community has fought. It wasn’t considered particularly ‘authentic’ by ordinary people either.

Some of these programmes have quite Orwellian titles like ‘Legal Empowerment of the Poor’, and they appear to be dedicated to getting the poor out of the formal court system, quite as much as getting them before informal tribunals. The reason that a Bank would be interested in funding the provision of justice in a developing country may have to do with preparing the formal courts to implement laws on financial regulation (or deregulation) and relieve them from the burden of attending to a whole host of irrelevant matters (such as family disputes and abuses of women’s rights). Poor people, in short, should not clog up the court system.  Nor should they, particularly if they are women, entertain the notion that they have immutable rights; only negotiable claims – which they may win or lose depending on their negotiating power, money, support of community elders, and so on. Mapping customary uses of land, for instance, may help people secure individual title to land, which can then become a source of collateral and credit. The drive to formalize is in no small measure related to deepening market integration and commodification.

DK: A lot of commentary opposes an allegedly secular human rights establishment (which includes feminist groups)  to fundamentalist movements and tendencies of various stripes. What I find most interesting about the way you are framing your argument is that you are, in fact, suggesting that numerous mainstream secular organizations are trying to inhabit the space of religion – but they are doing so on their own terms and for their own instrumental purposes. Are they entrenching a normative vision of religion as the antidote to the presumed ills of  “culture”?

GS: Exactly. Everything that is debased is cultural and everything that is pure is religious. The slogan is: “it’s not religion, it’s culture”. In fact, religious practice is always culturally mediated and therefore variable. There is a world of difference between what Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) was trying to do – comparing civil codes, customary laws and Muslim personal laws, and therefore highlighting the existing room for manoeuvre, and agencies seeking to find definitive (often fundamentalist) versions of ‘Sharia’ law  and selling them as more ‘authentic’ than local cultural practice. What they don’t see is that these top-down interventions are narrowing the scope for flexibility and negotiation over women’s rights.

DK: To what extent is there also a confusion here between culture, religion and politics?

GS: The effects of this confusion were evident here in the UK. There was a period in the mid-1980s when the local councils and the GLC were funding Hindu Rights groups as “cultural centres”. They inadvertently legitimized an extremist political tendency that destroyed the Babri Masjid mosque, attempted to build a Hindu temple on its site and  has repeatedly committed atrocities against Muslims and Christian across India .Some people were undoubtedly contributing money in good faith, but there is no doubt that the diaspora acted as a powerful force bolstering the Hindu extremism. Activists in the US and Britain researched these groups and campaigned against them.

Today, we see that a range of fundamentalist organisations of the Islamic Right are being promoted by the state and by sections of the left and liberals. People who are members or suspected members of armed groups and who fled to this country and used it as a refuge were able to re-export militancy to their regions of origin. The British state and human rights bodies have legitimized many such groups including the Jamaat e Islami, the Muslim Brotherhood and salafis of various persuasions.

DK: When you did your work on the Hindu Right, this did not appear to create a great stir. However when you replicate this sort of work with Islamic groups and the Muslim diaspora it becomes more much controversial and divisive because of the “war on terror” and the human rights abuses committed in its name.

GS: Yes, the results are completely different depending on which fundamentalisms you tackle.  If you confront the Christian Right or the Hindu Right you are attacked by members of those groups and may be exposed to threats. But you do not get attacked by the Left.

Whereas those working on Jewish fundamentalism may be accused of anti-semitism, and the critique will come from the both the left and right relating to political positions on  Israel.  Likewise any critical stance on Muslim fundamentalism becomes tainted with charges of Islamophobia and will bring down the wrath of the so-called progressives upon you. So it must be challenged. And of course a large part of the Right will love you for it! It is therefore very difficult to steer a consistent and ethical path and to argue that when challenging abusive counter-terrorism, we should equally be looking at the state’s promotion of religious fundamentalists and the destruction of secular spaces as part of the ‘soft ‘counter-terrorism policy.

DK: What is quite challenging is that many groups and organisations that may have little truck with the concept of individual human rights in doctrinal terms are nonetheless using the vocabulary and mobilizing tropes of human rights to press their rights to religious freedom. What are the implications?

GS: It is one of the strengths of the human rights framework that everybody does use it. But there are risks of serious threats to existing human rights standards. For instance, there is an ongoing attempt to make the defamation of religion into a human rights violation, initially through the use of soft law such as Declarations at the Human Rights Council. Although Amnesty International has offices in Geneva and New York, they did not work on this issue until feminists in the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition pointed out what was happening and a statement was drafted for the Coalition. Human rights organisations in the Coalition are particularly nervous about taking up this issue, as they are of dealing with religious fundamentalism as a serious threat to human rights. So they cannot see that the attempt to legislate the defamation of religion as an offence may open the door to significant  threats to human rights today.

But there is some room to challenge these developments. The Organisation of Islamic States pushed for a Special Representative on Culture because they wanted to ‘protect’ cultural rights from attack. But a lot of people mobilized and a very good set of candidates were put forward as international experts. Farida Shaheed from Pakistan, who was appointed, has a very complex notion of ‘rights in the field of culture’ and is also a feminist  activist. One must not underestimate what can be achieved within the parameters of human rights and I think the game is not entirely lost.

DK: Are you optimistic about future prospects?

GS: I’m not overly optimistic but I think there is a struggle to be had. It is time to challenge the hegemony of the formal human rights movement and its uncritical embrace of identity politics. The  fault lines between those struggling on the ground and around the globe to uphold universal values in conditions of war and deprivation and the parochial narcissism of sections of the Anglo/American left is becoming more evident.

But I take heart from the rejection of the politics of the far right by large sections of the electorate in this country. So many working class voters – whether white or of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin decisively rejected the politics of fascism, whether represented by the BNP  or the front organisations of Islamist parties.  In that sense, they are way ahead of the so called progressives and the leaders of the human rights movement.

But domestically, there are many struggles ahead. The faith agenda so heavily pushed by Blair will be retained by the new government. Public spending cuts are going to increase the power of religious lobbies as providers of essential services. At home and abroad, it is becoming clearer that the ‘War on Terror’ is not about a clash of civilisations, but about the political uses of religion as an instrument of terror on the one hand, or of discipline and control on the other. People in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and so many other places understand this well. It is now time for others in the West to also wake up to these facts.

The first part of this conversation in which Deniz Kandiyoti and Gita Sahgal explore the challenges posed by the international conjuncture following the “war on terror” for gender justice and women’s rights,  ‘Soft law and hard choices’, can be read here.

Gita Sahgal is a former Head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International. She left Amnesty International on April 9th 2010 due to ‘irreconcilable differences’. You can read her statement on leaving Amnesty International here . The views expressed in this interview are entirely her own.”

(Quelle: openDemocracy.)