31 December 2012
GENEVA (Issued as received) - The High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed her deep sadness at the death of a 23-year old Indian woman who was brutally gang-raped on a bus on 16 December, as well as her hope that this terrible case would mark a turning point against violence against women in India.
"I join Indians in all walks of life in condemning this terrible crime. 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," Pillay said. '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' she said.
The High Commissioner noted this was the latest in a series of rape cases that have sparked public concern and debate.
"In October, a 16 year-old Dalit girl committed suicide by self-immolation after being gang-raped in Haryana, a state from which an alarming level of sexual violence has been reported," the High Commissioner said. "This is a national problem, affecting women of all classes and castes, and will require national solutions."
Noting escalating protests and calls for the death penalty against those accused of the recent rape/murder, the High Commissioner called for urgent and rational debate on comprehensive measures to address such crimes.
"However terrible the crime, the death penalty is not the answer," the High Commissioner said. "What is needed is a new public consciousness and more effective and sensitive enforcement of the law in the interests of women. India has shown through its social reform movements of the past that it can rid itself of a scourge like rape."
The High Commissioner welcomed the Government's announcement it would establish a Commission of Inquiry into public safety of women in Delhi and a judicial panel to review India's legislative framework on violence against women.
The High Commissioner observed that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had recommended in February 2007 that India "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 recommended the Government "consult widely with women's groups in its process of reform of laws and procedures relating to rape and sexual abuse."
India has since passed landmark legislation on the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences in 2012. The High Commissioner expressed serious concern about the number of rape incidents of children and called for accelerated actions to address this.
"Now is the time to strengthen India's legal regime against rape," Pillay said. "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. My Office stands 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";
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