19 March 2007

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com Please.
Wednesday March 14, 2007

Impunity needs a knock on the head


THE other day I saw an extraordinary sight. A man was riding his motorcycle on a busy KL street and SMSing at the same time. He had one hand on the handlebars, and the other hand was tapping out a message.

No doubt he had only one eye on the traffic and the other on his phone. There was no policeman around to stop him.

I contemplated winding down my window to yell at him but was afraid I would cause a major accident if I did that.

The fact was that he felt comfortable doing this because he knew that nobody would really stop him.

This is known as impunity, or the exemption from punishment, harm or recrimination.

As it happened, “impunity” was a big word on the day I saw him, because it was International Women’s Day, the theme for which was Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls.

What this means is that although many countries, including ours, have enacted legislation to prevent violence against women, most however have not followed through with proper implementation.

According to United Nations country reports on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), no country has comprehensive data on violence against women or any plan of action to combat it.

Progress in policies has simply not been accompanied by implementation.

In other words, laws and policies against violence against women have no teeth.

Therefore, abusers can act with impunity with little or no fear of punishment.

In most cases around the world, as reported by our representative on the CEDAW Committee, Shanti Dairiam, the police are the first and most persistent obstacle to justice for abused women and girls.

We hear all too often of women being discouraged from reporting domestic violence by the police themselves, or made to feel so humiliated that they change their minds.

In some countries, rape victims suffer much more than rapists.

For every one courageous woman like Mukhtaran Mai of Pakistan, who went to the courts to seek justice, there are hundreds more that we never hear about.

Besides the police, judges and forensic doctors also need to implement these laws diligently.

In Malaysia, last year, there were 3,264 reported cases of violence against women, up from the previous year.

But there is no data on the number of cases prosecuted, nor how many were successful, nor how many could be classified as Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH), in which case the police have to prosecute.

The factors that contribute to impunity include non-reporting of cases, lack of cooperation from the victims (usually because they are fearful or made to feel guilty), lack of support for the victims, pressure on the victims, lack of victim and witness protection, lack of transparency in police action, lack of media attention and lack of NGO advocacy.

All these create an environment where impunity is supported, where people feel free to abuse because they don’t believe anybody will seriously do anything about them.

Needless to say, an environment of impunity is not limited to violence against women.

As long as people feel they can get away with breaking the law, they will continue to break it with impunity.

We are seeing so many cases of alleged corruption and abuse of power these days but very few of them ever have to face prosecution, let alone any form of punishment. Many are let off for supposed lack of evidence.

This only serves to allow these same perpetrators to carry on, as well as encourage others to do the same.

The same factors that contribute to impunity for violence against women can contribute here, too.

Hence perpetrators blithely carry on their crimes, secure in the knowledge that nothing will happen to them.

What we need to do, therefore, is to remove this culture of impunity, whether it is one that allows people to break traffic laws, abuse women and girls or demand bribes.

This means truly applying the law and coming down hard on offenders – not just one or two, but each and every single one.

Then people will believe that the law means something.

Doing that mostly takes political will and leadership. But, most of all, we need people and communities saying very loudly that the current environment of impunity is unacceptable, whatever the issue.

To do this, people must feel free, safe and secure to talk, and not find themselves in turn made to feel like criminals.

Impunity needs to be socially unacceptable.

We should not laugh off people boasting of giving bribes, no matter how small, nor for that matter, any racist comments.

It creates a culture that is tolerant of such things, normalising things that should not be normal.