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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Veil of Sexual Shame: The Impact of Sexual Violence and its Social Stigma in the Case of the Rohingya



It has commonly come to be known that sexual violence is integrally associated with shame and stigma. The logic that aggressors employ in using this tactic as a weapon of war is usually meant not only  to undermine the individual but also the collective identity of an entire community. In this way aggressors destroy social relationships and the fabric of a community that thrive on traditional religious and moral understandings of the institution of marriage and family. In a recent UN Security Council Meeting dealing with the repercussions of sexual violence in conflict situations, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary General of Sexual Violence in Conflict Adama Dieng stated that not only does sexual violence “turn victims into outcasts by fracturing families and corroding community structures but it also prevents justice from really being done.” In Dieng’s words it is the “stigma that kills and prevents victims from coming forward.  Much of the time it is this fear and cultural stigma prevents most survivors from claiming their rights and the proper legal assistance available to them.
Social stigma associated with sexual violence may in some societies be even more pronounced than in others. Research has, for example shown that in the MENA region while the rate of sexual violence is quite high the prosecution and conviction of rape is quite rare. This can be attributed to the fact that rape victims will probably face a plethora of stigma associated with the crime, part of which includes dishonour and accordingly a diminished prospect at marriage. The severity of the stigma that attaches is evident through some of the laws that are promulgated in some Islamic countries which go as far as forcing rape victims to marry their rapists in an attempt to restore family honour and dignity. In such situations it is believed that the woman who has been raped is better off being married to her rapist as a trade for her decency and honour. No doubt this is where some people err and confuse Islamic law by mistakenly equating rape with adultery or fornication. Interestingly the Quaran condemns the crime of rape classifying it as one of the violent and vilest crimes and clearly denotes it as a form of terrorism.
Considering the social stigma of sexual violence, often faced in some communities it may not be so far fetched in trying to understand the recent events surrounding Rohingya particularly the plight of Rohingya women and children who have fallen prey to and who have become victims of sexual violence in recent months. The massive displacement of this Burmese ethnic group has reached a climax as of last year where approximately half a million Rohingya have fled the country leaving those displaced living in refugee camps all across neighbouring Bangladesh .  Since 1824 the Rohingya as a Muslim minority in Myanmar have faced and continue to face a plethora of discrimination. This has been due to the fact that they have been rendered citizenless following applicable legislation regulating their status in Myanmar and are therefore seen as illegally residing in the country. As a result, many have been unable to get access to basic human rights some of which include proper access to education, religion, healthcare, and employment.  
As a further consequence, tensions emanating out of the relationship between Buddhist and Rohingya in Rakhine state has further exacerbated matters and has acted as a catalyst in the most recent humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. This has led to large-scale attacks against Rohingya including large- scale sexual attacks where women and children have been indiscriminately targeted. Increasingly evidence confirms that Myanmar’s military uses systematic mass rape and sexual violence as a form of ethnic cleansing, the impact of which is to arguably destroy this ethnic minority. Employing sexual violence as a weapon of war has evidently demonstrated that such violations are so powerful in Rohingya communities that it threatens to derail family life and family honour. From interviews conducted with Rohingya victims of sexual violence it has become apparent that many victims of rape much of the time keep the details of their sexual violations a secret fearing that their status as ‘soiled’ women will not only undermine their existing relationships with family and friends but more so, the relationships they hold with their husbands. In other words, there is a fear that once their husbands discover that they have been sexually violated they might face further rejection and dispossession. Single women also face a similar fear and stigma, namely that they will never be married or desired as a prospective partner should their ‘status’ as one who has been sexually marred, come out into the open. An explanation for this might be that the violation in question is deemed to be so shameful that erroneously part of the blame falls on the victim rather than on the sole perpetrator/s of the crime. Women in some instances may thus be seen as complicit in the act of rape and may therefore be perceived as having sex outside the boundaries of their marriage union and their religion
It is not surprising, that perpetrators of sexual violence also realize these benefits and therefore employ sexual violence methodically, as an alternative to weapons, but nevertheless still as a very effective weapon of war.  What may however come across unusual, in this particular instance could be however, the fact that Buddhists who are much of the time considered to be peace loving and non-violent have been the ones who have been pivotal in orchestrating these vicious and planned attacks. This goes to show that Western understandings of Buddhism tend to idealize and romanticize Buddhism and that Buddhism  itself like any other religion may be prone to corruption and used to promote violence and extremism if wrongly wielded. This raises a number of issues that I will address in a future post, namely  the origins of violence in Buddhism as a means to political ends; additionally, the role of women in Buddhism considering the inferior position that women hold in Buddhist culture and relatedly, the role of sex in Buddhism if one considers the use and value of women as sexual consorts in Tantric Buddhism. Finally the reasons why anti-muslim or anti- Rohingya sentiment has been spreading in Myanmar will be pondered upon to consider the deeper issues at play.

Posted by Ingrid Roestenburg Morgan

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A New Chinese Discourse on Human Rights





If you think that I intend to introduce my analysis of current Chinese discussions about human rights, you are mistaken, or at least not entirely correct. Human rights are being discussed intensely in China these days and the title of those debates is: ‘A new Chinese discourse on human rights’. The motivation for initiating such a debate at this particular moment should be easy to figure out. China is attacked on its human rights record from Western governments virtually on a daily basis. Whenever top Western politicians, e.g. my own Prime Minister and King recently, prepare for an official visit to China, fellow politicians and the local media vie for expressing the expectation that, while those envoys are discussing economic relations to ensure that we do no miss out on business opportunities, they will ‘mention human rights’. Those statements themselves are interesting material for discourse analysis. China will soon be the world’s largest economy and all nations want to cash in on that. China is liberally sharing its newly acquired wealth with other nations. The One Belt One Road initiative in combination with newly founded institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Bank, are linking the world’s fast developing high speed rail network (China’s, in case you are guessing) with the infrastructure of China’s neighbouring countries. These are all win-win projects. They benefit China’s economy and the economies of the neighbours alike.
This is a good point to return to the new Chinese discourse on human rights. The so called Universal Declaration of Human Rights is rooted in Western thinking. The very word ‘universal’ already indicates that the document is a product of universalist culture. The first clauses keep referring to the rights of the ‘individual’, similarly clearly showing roots in individualist cultureAs a result of China’s economic success, the one fifth of the world’s population living in China has access to sufficient nutrition, health care and education. The Chinese discourse regarding human rights so far was positioning that achievement as evidence of concern for human rights in China. This growing economic and political influence of former developing nations, led by China, is generating an increased pressure for a discussion about the conflicting rights of the individual and those of the social groups to which the individual is a member.
Many emerging economies are former colonies. They now find themselves frequently criticised by their former colonisers for ‘violating human rights’. However, the same former colonisers usually reject responsibility for causing the development gap. The new Chinese discourse on human rights addresses that issue by positioning the ‘right to development (RTD)’ as a prime human right. The commemoration of the proclamation of the RTD in 1986 was celebrated with a forum in Beijing in December 2016. An interesting detail is that only one nation opposed the proclamation of the RTD. That nation was itself a former colony and its Declaration of Independence contains a statement that ‘all men are created equal’.
Individualist – communitarian is not the only dimension for measuring national cultures, but it one that is best known by non-specialists. However, for people whose culture is on one end of that dimension, it is not so easy to grasp the way people on the other extreme makes sense of the world and their position in it. People who give priority to the rights of the group, when those rights clash with those of the individual, will have a problem with several of the clauses of the UDHR. Nations are large groups of people, and sometimes individual citizens need to cede part of their individual freedom for the benefit of their nation. The will, however, be able to share in that communal benefit, being the good citizens that they are.
The new Chinese discourse does not propose to replace the UDHR with another declaration but enrich it by adding a number of rights rooted in the cultures of the emerging economies. This also asks for a fresh approach to human rights in the developed, Western, world. A conflict between individual and group rights will be solved differently in strong individualist and strong communitarian cultures. Western nations need to stop interpreting the other approach as a violation of the UDHR, and instead see it as another way of implementing the same basic rights. Regional implementation of human rights needs to fit in the local culture and social practice.
In the coming months, I intend to contribute a number of posts to this blog, each based on another dimension of Trompenaars’ Seven Dimensions Model.

Guest Post by Peter Peverelli (Peter Peverelli is affiliated with the Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

When Children Rise, Societies Thrive!

For many people childhood memories are the best part of their lives, but unfortunately this does not stand true for the millions of children across the world. Picture yourself between the ages of 7 – 8 years, struggling to survive on the street; with poor health conditions; near absence of protection; without access to education; care and compassion and now multiply that feeling with 24 million. 
Yes millions…. Pakistan inhabits 24 million school age children[1] who are denied their fundamental constitutional rights of access to education. Nearly half of school children are destined to hazardous forms of child labor, which not only deprive them from their right to adequate development and participation, but pose severe threat to their protection and survival. Children in Pakistan have to cope with a plethora of challenges; poverty, illiteracy, low learning levels in schools, poor health conditions, early forced and child marriages, dismissal conditions in juvenile prisons, trafficking, exploitation are among critical issues faced by children.
Pakistan being the fifth most populous nation in the world with 65% of total population being under 30 years made only little progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and now agreed to Sustainable Development Goals, but the country stands 146th out of 188 countries on the UNDP’s Human Development Index[1] and 185th out of 188th countries on the United Nations Development Program’s Gender Empowerment Measure. Poverty is pervasive in Pakistan: Pakistan is at the 146th position out of 187 countries. One out of every fourth household is suffering with intense poverty, while three quarters of the household makes less than $2 a day.
It is significant that according to the Global Gender Gap Index Report in 2006, the first year in which the the report was published that Pakistan ranked at 112, and since then, its position has been steadily deteriorating every year. In 2016, Pakistan remained second last out of 142 countries. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded almost 3,000 cases of violence against women and girls, including murder, sexual assaults, domestic violence and kidnappings in 2016 and 2017. Besides poverty which contributes to 48% of child labor, other issues such as corporal punishment in schools, neglect by family and society, lack of access to quality of education and lack of vocational skills has limited their options and opportunities of empowerment which results in increased child labor, and a growing number of uneducated and non-skilled children, especially adolescent girls. This is becoming serious concern as children, adolescent girls, individuals from minority groups and people with disabilities experience the additional burden of such miseries.
Ifran, 13 years old, from Shekhupura Pakistan lost his hand in a fodder chopping machine when his employer pushed him for being inattentive. During another incident a 16 year old paid the price for her brother’s ‘crimes’ after men forcefully stripped her and paraded her around the streets of Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan. The incident occurred when she was returning home after fetching water when suddenly men surrounded her, stripped her and forcefully made her walk in the local community for an hour. The girl’s screams for help fell on deaf ears as no one came to her rescue. The witnesses’ claimed that nobody came to help her because they were scared.  Without a doubt civil society as well as the state considers child labor as worst form of slavery and as a result has promulgated legislation to eliminate child labor. Yet shockingly the enactment of legislation, budgetary allocation and child right reforms are still far from reality as child labor worsens over time.
According to a recent study by a child rights focused organization in Pakistan, an estimated 1.2 million street children live in Pakistan. These children end up on the streets due to many factors including, poverty, neglect, family problems, natural disasters and displacement, violence in homes and schools, lack of adequate employment, education and social welfare systems. It is no surprise that children on the street are more vulnerable to other forms of abuse including drug-addiction, trafficking and sexual abuse than children having the care, compassion and supervision of their parents.
Homelessness, malnutrition, physical, sexual and psychological abuses are devastating results for children living on the streets. Issues such as these do not stop here, but continues to involve children in commercial sex, drug abuse,  begging, violence and terrorism.
Nine year old Razaq for instance who belonged to an internally displaced family in North Waziristan in Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) said, “It is gravely disappointing to see our schools and houses demolished in blasts by terrorists and we continue to pay the price for the conflict we never created. I and many of my friends became homeless, left our childhood behind, and lost our schools and future”.
Denial of children’s rights is a threat to human development and calls for concrete actions. Commitment can be shown by ratifying the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Child and by adopting child right related laws and policies which is the first important first step to recognizing and realizing the rights of the child but this will remain an empty promise unless it is translated into resource allocation and the enactment of legislation pertaining to child rights.
Child Rise, a nonprofit organisation focusing on the rights of children, is working with communities, government line departments and other civil society actors to influence child protection, education (formal, non-formal and vocational), healthcare, social welfare, psychosocial and legislative reforms to enable disenfranchised and vulnerable children to live healthy, educated and secure childhoods in protective environments. Child Rise is also seeking to partner with communities, adolescents and youth groups, individual philanthropists and child rights focused international organizations, who intend to give back to communities, in order to create an enabling environment for children. Child Rise stands for the rights of children because all the children around the world have one thing common, their rights. We also believe that it takes a society to raise a child and when children rise, societies thrive. For more information please visit our facebook page.


[1] According to article 25 – A of the constitution of Pakistan it is state’s responsibility to provide free compulsory education to every child of age between 5 – 16 years.

Guest Post by Prem Sagar (Prem has an MBA in Management and 14 years of professional experience in mid to senior management level in the areas of education, economic empowerment, child protection in conflict affected areas, and youth empowerment. His expertise includes strategic management and leadership, lobbying and advocacy for policy reform, institutional strengthening, program quality advisory and implementation. In his current role he is the Founder and C.E.O. of Child Rise and NGO which influences policy reforms for the rights of the child in Pakistan)