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Archives for : Conflict

Wartime Violence against Disabled Women Often Ignored

By Juhie Bhatia

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Disability rights activists called for a variety of remedies during a panel of a major London conference last week. “If you have reduced mobility, it makes it that much harder to run when everyone else is fleeing from the village, you may have less chance to run away,” said one speaker.




Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Flickr, under Creative Commons


LONDON (WOMENSENEWS)–International rights activists here recently pressed for the needs of women and children with disabilities to be addressed in international efforts to curb sexual violence in conflict zones.

“Disabled individuals are at least three times as likely to be experiencing sexual violence in conflict situations or in non-conflict situations,” said Judith Heumann, special advisor for international disability rights at the U.S. State Department, adding that baseline levels of violence get greater during conflict. “The data has been relatively minimal because in many areas, I think we can say in the U.S. and Great Britain and countries around the world, the issue of sexual violence in the area of disability is only a newly emerging discussion.”

Heumann participated in a panel discussion that was one of 175 public events at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflictwhich was hosted here by U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, the special envoy for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, from June 10 to 13. The meeting drew a mix of activists, politicians, survivors, faith leaders and other officials. With representatives from more than 100 countries, summit organizers said it was the largest gathering on the issue. 

While delegates worked on tackling the impunity around sexual violence in conflict zones through an released during the event and changing global attitudes to these crimes, Heumann’s panel highlighted the various ways in which women with disabilities may be at greater risk of violence, including gender-based violence, during pre-conflict, conflict and post-conflict times.

“Conflict in violence, whether it’s sexual gender-based violence or intimate-partner violence, is of course a significant cause of impairments [disabilities] in and of itself,” said Maria Kett, assistant director of theLeonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre in London, during the panel. “Persons with disabilities may have been born with disabilities or they may have acquired them.”

Panelists called for such remedies as including women with disabilities in post-conflict peace-building processes, more research, sensitivity training for judges, social workers, police and others in the community and improved support and services.

Compounded Risks

“If you have reduced mobility, it makes it that much harder to run when everyone else is fleeing from the village, you may have less chance to run away. If you have a hearing impairment you are less able to hear if someone is coming behind you to attack you,” said Kett.

However, she added, that’s not always the main factor. When this group is overlooked the risks can be compounded. “Even when there are initiatives in place to protect men and women, girls and boys, from sexual and gender-based violence, oftentimes certain groups are excluded. That may not be deliberate. But if you don’t put your message across and make information accessible in all formats, languages, if you don’t make sure your venues for your meetings are accessible, if you don’t reach out to disabled communities themselves, then you won’t necessarily be including those people.”

Rates of violence may be 4-to-10 times higher among those with disabilities than their non-disabled peers, found an April report from the Women’s Refugee Commission. Women, children and older persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and violence, said the report, and women and girls were more likely to report sexual violence, with those with intellectual and mental disabilities among the most at risk.

Factors that can make women and girls with disabilities more vulnerable to sexual violence, according to the report, include stigma and double discrimination for being a woman and having a disability, isolation, poverty, service providers questioning their credibility, a lack of knowledge about gender-based violence and insufficient support and services.

The State Department’s Heumann said women with new disabilities may be especially isolated. “One of issues has been that many women’s groups have not really been including disabled women in the work that they’ve been doing,” she said. “You have women not from the disability community who are acquiring disabilities, where the primary groups they would go to, maybe women’s groups, aren’t sensitive to the disability issue.” As a result, Heumann said, such women can be left “kind of out there on their own.”

Post-Conflict Situations

This exclusion can also happen in post-conflict situations. A 2008 Women’s Refugee Commission report showed that female refugees with disabilities often found themselves in refugee camps that were ill-equipped to meet their needs, with problems with the camps’ physical layout and infrastructure. A different report, prepared by the Violence Against Women with Disabilities Working Group in 2012, said that justice and post-conflict reconciliation activities rarely include women with disabilities.

Heumann said the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2006, is a step in the right direction to addressing some of these issues. The international treaty, she said, has been ratified by more than 145 countries, though not the United States.

Lee Webster, head of policy and influencing at Womankind Worldwide, an international women’s rights charity based in London, said right now is an especially significant time to discuss next steps, with the deadline for the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, a set of international commitments to improve global living standards, coming next year.

“Violence against women and girls was a gaping hole in the MDGs,” Webster said during the panel. “What comes next and what is in the post-2015 framework in terms of overall goals, targets and indicators is vitally important because what’s there is what gets measured and what gets measured is what gets funded. So we need to make sure that persons with disabilities, and particularly violence against disabled women and violence against  women and girls, is firmly in that framework so we do have a framework for action moving forward.”

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July 25, 2012


Shri Tarun Gogoi
Hon’ble Chief Minister of Assam



Dear Sir,

We, citizens of India committed to its deep secular and peace loving ethos appeal to you as head of the government in Assam to take all steps to ensure that violence stops, security is given to all displaced and dishoused by the violence so that they may return to their homes forthwith; adequate reparation for the lives lost and homes and other properties destroyed is paid and more than anything else a Fair and Time Bound Judicial Investigation by a Sitting HC Judge is conducted into the build up and fallout of the violence.

What concerns us deeply is the divisive discourse that seeks to create legitimacy for the violence by words and phrases like “infiltrators.” Since the mid 1990s tensions have simmered between the majority Bodo Councils and Muslim settlers despite the fact that the latter status was recognised in the Assam accord. Yet under the guise of discriminating between the two a small skirmish blew into a full blown communal conflagration; while the ethnicity of the 32 persons who lost their lives does not matter, the fact that the five persons who lost their lives to police bullets are from the minority has generated fear. There are already 1,70,000 persons in relief camps and they must be assisted with due security to return to their homes immediately. Dialogue must begin between the majority Bodo villages and the Muslim settlers for integrated rehabilitation.

Respecting your commitment to intra community peace we appeal to you to respond to this anguished appeal.
Teesta Setalvad, Mumbai
Javed Anand, Mumbai

Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, Mumbai
Ram Puniyani , Mumbai

Irfan Engineer, Mumbai
Hasan Kamal, Mumbai

Zafar Agha, Mumbai

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai

MM Tirmizi, Ahmedabad

Rupa @Tanaz Mody, Ahmedabad
Sairabehn Salimbhai Sandhi, Ahmedabad

Salimbhai Noormohammed Sandhi, Ahmedabad
Tanveer Jafri, Surat

Rajendra Prasad, SAHMAT, Delhi

Ram Rahman, Delhi

M K Raina, Delhi

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Mr. Minister, my name is Sunanda Deshapriya. I am not a terrorist.

5 Feb, 2012,  Sunanda Deshapriya      

Tamil rebels in a pickup truck in Killinochchi...

Image via Wikipedia

An Open Letter to Srilankan Minister Keheliya Rambukwella

Mr. Minister, I don’t know whether you have seen the film called ‘my name is Khan. In it, the main character played by popular actor Shah Rukh Khan Repeats the lines ‘My name is Khan. I am not a terrorist’ at different points in the film, in order to affirm his innocence. I too am about to tell you a similar story. ‘My name is Sunanda Deshapriya. I am not a terrorist’. This is my theme.

The story of ‘My name is Khan’ centres around the harassment a Muslim man with the name of Khan has to endure following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, USA. These attacks on the Twin Towers generated both fear and anger in the minds of the American people. Some extremist groups tried to unleash the feelings of anger against ordinary Muslim people living in the US. The film’s narrative is set against this background.

You are trying to do the same thing today. You are trying to use the fear and anger generated in the minds of the Sinhala people because of the brutality of the LTTE against those of us who have been advocating respect for human rights in Sri Lanka, including respect for the rights of the Tamil people of our country. When I say ‘you’ I do not only mean you as an individual, Mr. Minister. I include the entire gamut of people who do your bidding, including those media persons who sing your praises with no shame.

Do you know what baseless and venomous lies the media under your control has spread about me in the past few weeks? Have either you or your acolytes ever tried to behave in accordance with universally accepted media ethics and asked me for my comments on your revelations? Isn’t your talk about media ethics therefore to be understood as mere political hogwash?

In the film, Sameer, the young son of Khan and his wife Mandira is brutally killed by a gang of boys of his own age. This act of savagery became possible only because the feelings of anger and hatred that I described earlier had been let loose in their community. There can be nobody who watches this film whose heart and mind are not captivated by the tragedy of the child’s murder and the subsequent events. In the past weeks I too have read newspaper reports about your children. How disturbed you would have been after reading such stories? Can you imagine how many deaths my family, my children, have gone through as a result of the vicious campaign being carried out against me by you and the media that serves your will?

I fervently hope that one day you will be able to think about others as you think about yourself; this is the preaching of the Lord Buddha.

You talk over and over again about media ethics. You order news websites to be shut down because they are acting without respect for these ethics. You warn us that you will bring about a Code of Ethics for the Media that will be very special to Sri Lanka.

You are levelling charges against a group of journalists, accusing them of receiving money from the LTTE and carrying out a traitor’s agenda. You say that these media persons and journalists are now living abroad. You say they cannot be prosecuted because the Sri Lankan law does not permit it.

Mr. Minister, while your media people broadcast your words on this subject, they project images of me at various media freedom demonstrations on the screen behind them. With respect to which Code of Ethics are you displaying my photograph to illustrate baseless allegations? You say that it is because you cannot prosecute these persons who have obtained money from the LTTE under existing Sri Lankan law that you are not revealing their names. But your media institutions carry my photograph as an illustration to this statement. What is the intention behind this? Is it NOT to implicate me in your statement? Why is it that your acolytes have permission to do what you don’t dare to do? It must be that you think you do not need to be bound by any ethical standards because you are in power.

You advise the media about the use of language. Yet the media under your control continue to use the vilest forms of hate speech against me, shamelessly and without any proof to back up whatever they are saying. You reward these acolytes of yours with awards of media excellence.

Is it your theory and your practice that only your opponents should be held responsible for respecting media ethics? Is this how you devalue your own use of the media?

Wasn’t it your media that repeatedly broadcast the canard that at the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September last year, the Maldivian President said that ‘Sunanda Deshapriya is a traitor to the nation’ even after it had been proved to be false and inaccurate? Where were the media ethics that you preach, then? The first ethical consideration of any journalist or media person is that of respect for the truth. Doesn’t the media under your control break this principle every day? Is the proverb ‘Practise what you preach’ not applicable to Ministers of this government?

Since a while ago I have publicly challenged your government to prove that I have received even one cent from the LTTE. The truth of the matter is that neither you nor your government nor anyone else holds on shred of evidence to prove this. If your government is capable of indicting members of the military and the Police for having accepted money from the LTTE, why should we believe that you are not able to do the same in the case of journalists who have received money from the LTTE? I accuse you of trying to unleash the same forces of extremism that Khan and Mandira faced on the murder of their son Sameer against me and all others working for the defence of human rights and media freedom in Sri Lanka today.

It is no secret that I hold an extremely critical view of the Rajapakse regime. As Media Minister, you are obliged to defend my right to hold those views. Instead, you are engaged in taking away that space from us and terrorizing us. Please remember that the right to hold dissenting views is one of ethical bases of media freedom.

On ITN, in the ‘Athulanthaya’ (Interior) programme, you said something ridiculous: That because you cannot take these charges before the law, lacking evidence, you are instead placing them before the people. What does this mean? Why must you take information that has no basis and therefore would not stand scrutiny in a court of law into the public arena? Doesn’t this show us that you are trying to build a hate campaign against me in the minds of the people?

In June 2009, award-winning journalist and Secretary of the Working Journalists’ Association, Poddala Jayantha, was abducted and brutally assaulted because of a similar hate campaign. You who are levelling the most absurd of charges against media persons fighting for media freedom today, what have you done to bring the perpetrators of the attack on Jayantha to justice, almost three years after the attack? Tell us if there is even one example where you and your government have brought any of those responsible for killing, beating and harassing journalists and media persons to justice.

As Media Minister, you are raising against unfounded allegations against us. But the allegations we raise against you as media freedom fighters are completely factual.

When cartoonist and media activist Prageeth Eknaligoda was abducted three years ago, it is you who confidently told us that he would return in two weeks time.

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