Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
15 October 2010
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered an exceptional report by India concerning the impact of the Gujarat massacres on women in that country.
The report is a follow-up to the State Party’s combined second and third periodic report, which was presented to the Committee on 18 January 2007. In its concluding observations on that report, the Committee requested a follow-up report on the impact of the Gujarat incident of 2002 on women, in which inter-religious violence resulted in deaths and injuries, damage to places of worship and businesses and led to the displacement of thousands of people. In particular, the Committee asked for additional information on, among other things, the number of cases of sexual assault and violence against women that had been reported and the resolution of such cases; information on victim protection measures and other measures to support victims that had been put in place and the impact of such measures; information on arrests made and punishments imposed, including on State officials who were found to be complicit in such crimes; information on the gender specific measures taken by the State party to rehabilitate and compensate women victims of such crimes and the number of women who have benefited from such measures; information on compensation awarded to women victims; information disaggregated by sex, on the 5,000 or so Muslim families displaced by the violence; and measures taken by the Government for their resettlement and rehabilitation.
Introducing the report, Achamkulangare Gopinthan, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that in terms of measures taken to rehabilitate women and compensate female victims of the violence, families of 338 women who died were awarded half a million rupees, or roughly $ 10,000, by way of payment to survivors. Also, 326 women were paid roughly $ 800 each as assistance for injuries. Some 480 widows were given widow pensions and over 200 widows were employed by the Government in its mother and childcare centres. In addition, extensive assistance was provided through cash doles, rations, medical care, trauma counselling, and loan and interest subsidies. The Government also extended assistance through non-governmental organizations for livelihood training for nearly 6,000 women.
Questions and issues raised by Experts during the discussion included the slow rate at which cases were being tried and the initial closing of thousands of cases that should have been investigated. Serious concerns were also raised about the gender sensitivity of the justice system and Experts cited reports of insensitive comments and treatment experienced by victims at the hands of judges. The question of impunity was also raised as there seemed to be few cases brought against police officers and other law enforcement officials who were involved in the violence. The delegation was asked a series of questions about the rehabilitation, protection and compensation of female victims of sexual violence, as well as the status of a sexual violence bill that had been under consideration for five years.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Gopinthan thanked the Committee Experts for their questions and assured the members that India had taken all judicious and other measures to address the issues that arose in the aftermath of the Gujarat violence
Also in concluding observations, Silvia Pimentel, Acting Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its report outlining the impact of the Gujarat violence on women and girls. There was much to commend in the report, nevertheless the Committee was deeply concerned and alarmed from many of the issues that resulted from the violence. Ms. Pimentel said in this case India had fallen short in extending all possible measures to promote and protect the rights of women and girls.
The delegation of India included representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, and the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Friday, 22 October at 4 p.m., when the Committee will adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports which it has considered this session and will then officially close its session.
Exceptional Report of India
The exceptional report of India (CEDAW/C/IND/SP.1) notes that the following measures had been taken to rehabilitate the victims: a scheme providing vocational training to the women riot victims in the relief camps was implemented by the State Government with the help of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation training programme and 5,731 women were provided with training for different trades.; a survey was undertaken of orphan children and widows who were victimized by communal riots and had taken shelter in the relief camps; 824,857 rupees were paid as financial assistance under the Scheme of Financial Assistance for widows to 480 women affected by riots and who were residing in relief camps; 2 riot affected children from the relief camps were covered under the foster-care scheme; 500 rupees per month had been sanctioned to them as assistance till they attain the age of 18 years; 334 children were covered under the scheme of assistance run by National Foundation for Communal Harmony, New Delhi; and 3 persons who had become disabled during riots and were taking shelter in the relief camps were provided with a disability card to make them eligible for free transportation in State Transport Buses. The communal riots caused severe mental distress and trauma, especially among women and children. To establish infrastructure for counseling of the affected women and children in relief camps in the State, the following steps were taken: counselors from various non-governmental organizations were volunteered to provide services to women; a training camp was also organized at the Gandhi Labor Institute for three days on 30 May-1 June 2002; and trauma counseling work was undertaken by 33 trained counselors from May to August 2002 (about four months), and a number of people benefited.
Under the topic of information disaggregated by sex, on the 5,000 or so Muslim families displaced by the violence and measures taken by the Government for their resettlement and rehabilitation, the report states that there were 86 colonies in different parts of Gujarat housing 3,644 riot affected families with a population of 19,107. In many of the colonies there was availability of varying levels of household and general civic amenities. However, a considerable amount of rehabilitative work was done in terms of providing individual entitlements in these colonies as per details given below: primary schools with midday meal centre in all the 86 colonies within a distance of 2 km; fully functional integrated Child Development Service Centers, providing services for health, nutrition and development of children in 85 colonies; public distribution shops in all the 86 colonies within a distance of 3 km providing subsidized food grains and most of the families were given ration cards, with 3,322 families getting Antodaya cards making them eligible to get food grains at highly subsidized rates.
Presentation of Report
ACHAMKULANGARE GOPINTHAN, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presenting the exceptional report of India, said that the violence that occurred in Gujarat in 2002 was to be deplored in the strongest terms. It was an aberration and should never have happened. As a nation, India had institutions, capacities and democratic maturity to own up to its shortcomings and problems, for introspection and to embark on course correction whenever and wherever required. It was in this spirit that the role played by the judiciary, media, civil society and the National Human Rights Commission was highlighted.
Mr. Gopinthan said that the Committee had requested information on the approximately 2,000 cases pertaining to violence that had been reopened on the orders of the Supreme Court of India. As mentioned in the follow-up report and the supplementary material to that report, the Supreme Court, in a 2004 order, had asked for further investigation into 2,017 cases that had earlier been closed. Upon scrutiny, the Committee found 1,958 cases fit for detailed review, while the remaining 59 cases were not found fit for re-opening and information about them was posted on the Riot Cell website. Since then, no objections had been received regarding those 59 cases. Of the 1,958 cases that were found fit for review, charge sheets had been filed in 104 cases and in connection with which 1,185 persons were arrested. Of the remaining 1,854 cases, 1,851 cases had been filed as “A” summary cases, meaning cases closed for lack of sufficient evidence, but which could be reopened as evidence became available. Three cases were pending investigation. Mr. Gopinthan noted that 15 new cases were also registered based on the facts which emerged during the scrutiny and tendering of evidence. Of these 15 new cases, charge sheets had been filed in 13 cases against 92 accused persons and the remaining two cases were pending further investigation.
Mr. Gopinthan then turned to the issue of the number of cases of sexual assault and violence against women that had been reported and the resolution of such cases. There were at present 120 cases registered under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code. These charges included, among others, unlawful assembly, rioting and rioting with deadly weapons, voluntarily causing hurt, rape, murder and criminal intimidation. Eight of these 120 cases involved sexual offences under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code on rape. About 200 accused persons had been arrested and were facing trial in these cases. Specifically, with regard to the status of these eight cases pertaining to sexual offences, two cases had ended in convictions and, in one case, the accused had been acquitted. Four cases were pending trial; one case had been closed since it had been filed in two police stations.
Mr. Gopinthan went on to say that the Government had taken steps to provide protection for witnesses as well as the victims of violence wherever required. Many of the victims later became witnesses and protection continued as required. A total of 80 women witnesses had been provided with protection by the State Government. Protection had been provided to individuals as well as on a group basis by posting teams for protecting areas by the State Reserve Police and even by the Central Industrial Security Force. The Supreme Court had also issued directions for elaborate victim and witness protection measures.
The Committee had also requested information on action taken against officials who had been found complicit in crimes. Mr. Gopinthan informed the Committee that action had been initiated against police enforcement officials who were found guilty or responsible for dereliction of duty during the riots. As of June 2010, criminal cases, departmental proceedings, or both had been initiated against 167 investigating and supervising police officials. Punishments had been levied against 46 officials, 33 had been acquitted and proceedings were pending against 86. Two officials had died. In the nine cases of major offences of violence investigated, departmental action was initiated against 26 police officials of whom four had already been punished. Further, 11 criminal cases were lodged against police officers and other government employees in connection with the Godhra riots. One case had resulted in a conviction, two cases ended in acquittals and the remaining cases were pending trial.
In terms of measures taken to rehabilitate women and compensate female victims, the head of the delegation told the Committee that families of 338 women who died were awarded half a million rupees, or roughly $ 10,000, by way of payment to survivors of persons who had died. Also, 326 women were paid roughly $ 800 each as assistance for injuries. Some 480 widows were given widow pensions and over 200 widows were employed by the Government in its mother and childcare centres. In addition, extensive assistance was provided through cash doles, rations, medical care, trauma counselling, and loan and interest subsidies. The Government also extended assistance through renowned non-governmental organizations for livelihood training for nearly 6,000 women.
Mr. Gopinthan then addressed the issue of rehabilitation of Muslim families displaced by violence and the economic rehabilitation of affected communities. The affected families had settled mainly in 86 sites/colonies in different parts of Gujarat. There were 4,122 families with a population of 21,461 people residing in these colonies. Of these, 3,353 were riot affected families. To address the social, economic and infrastructural needs of the people residing in these colonies, considerable work had been done in providing facilities such as public health centres, schools, child development centres, public distribution centres, drinking water, electricity, roads and sanitation facilities.
Mr. Gopinthan concluded his remarks by reiterating the Government of India’s firm resolve to ensure that justice was served and the guilty punished for the repugnant crimes committed in Gujarat in 2002. They were equally determined to make sure that what happened in Gujarat should never be repeated in any part of India. In carrying forward that resolve, they were aided by an independent judiciary, autonomous and robust institutions like the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission on Minorities and the National Commission on Women, free media, a vibrant civil society and non-governmental organizations. Moreover, the new measures and new legislation that was in the pipeline would ensure added institutional frameworks of safeguards to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents.
Questions by Experts
A Committee Expert explained that CEDAW had taken the extraordinary measure of requesting a special report because of the seriousness of the violations, the large scale of the violence and the alarming reports that the Committee had seen at the time of the incident. According to this Committee member, the State had failed to honour its obligations under CEDAW because of the very slow action taken to address the needs of women victims and cases were closed and reopened; justice delayed was justice denied seemed to be a fitting saying in this case. The victims had not received justice in this case. There was a lack of gender specific statistics and an alarming lack of action and fulfilment of the State party’s obligations under the Convention.
Another Committee member noted that out of 4,000 cases, 2,017 were wrongly closed until they were ordered reopened and supervised by the Supreme Court. What had been done to the law enforcement officials responsible for the wrongful closing of these cases, which was more than poor police work but a gross dereliction of duty? Why did the Government wait until March 2008 to appoint a special investigative team, six years after the incident and when a lot of material evidence had disappeared? Why weren’t all the pending cases tried outside Gujarat? The delegation was asked to clarify the number of sexual assault cases that had been filed because there seemed to be contradictory numbers concerning the State response to gender based violence. The delegation was also asked about reports that powerful men accused of crimes related to the violence were allowed to post bail and were free in the community even as their trials resumed. There was also a gross lack of sensitivity displayed by the justice system toward women in the form of sexist and insensitive remarks and poor treatment. Were there plans to provide training to those working in the justice system? Also, what measures were being undertaken to combat violence against women, including policy and legislative remedies?
Response by Delegation
Responding to questions, the delegation said the Supreme Court of India was seized of the situation with regards not only to the criminal trials that were ongoing, but also in regard to rehabilitation. Rehabilitation, resettlement and compensation were being monitored by the Supreme Court itself.
The delegation then said that they were acutely aware of their obligations under CEDAW and while they were behind in their reporting, they took their obligations seriously and that was why they continued to present their reports, even if they were late.
In terms of service delivery, the delegation said that India had always used the help of non-governmental organizations to deliver social services so this was not specific to Gujarat and it did not mean the State was abdicating its responsibility to address these matters. The delegation said the State had tried to provide as much gender specific information as it had available up until this point, but it could provide additional information via correspondence at a later date.
With regards to changing the venue of trials, the delegation said that when circumstances warranted trials were moved to other locations and there was no resistance to doing so. The delegation said that it was true that things probably could have been done faster in terms of administration of justice and the question of rehabilitation, but it was easier to look back now and identify how things could have been done better, but what the delegation could say was that now these things were being monitored by the Supreme Court and were well underway.
Regarding the draft bill on violence against women, the delegation said that it was true this bill had been under consideration for more than five years now. But this length of time spoke to the fact that the State wanted to adopt as wide ranging a bill as possible that was written after an open and consultative process with all stakeholders. So rather than feet dragging, this was really an attempt to craft a strong law.
Questions by Experts
In a second round of questions and comments, Experts asked about the families who were displaced by the violence, why they were still living in colonies or camps, and what were the sanitation conditions in these communities. How many of these colonies where displaced people lived were actually built by the Government, versus non-governmental organizations?
Experts also asked what psychiatric help was available to women and girls who had experienced violence and if it was confidentiality guaranteed? How many medical doctors, lawyers, judges and other actors had been prepared specifically to deal with victims of gender violence?
The delegation was also asked particulars about the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission on Minorities and the National Commission on Women; what was their makeup, how were the funded and were they independent?
In terms of the penal code, a Committee member noted that the definition of rape was very restrictive and asked if the law could be modified to make the law more broad reaching.
Response by Delegation
Responding to those questions, the delegation said that there were 121 relief camps and they had all been closed down, but these were distinct from the colonies which the delegation would address separately.
Human rights training specifically related to Gujarat was not taking place, but there was a great deal of training in the area of human rights in general. In terms of life in the colonies, healthcare workers visited the colonies frequently and inhabitants of the colonies could also visit nearby households, widows in colonies who were eligible for pensions received them and most of the colonies had water, electricity and roads. Surveys had been carried out with a view to enhancing these colonies. The Government had not built the majority of these colonies, but the social and physical infrastructure was provided by the Government once they were built.
On the criminal code, the delegation said that it was correct that the term sexual assault was not included in the Indian penal code, but cases were charged under rape or other statues contained in the penal code. The delegation assured the Committee that once the Supreme Court was seized of this matter, the Government was scrupulous in following the edicts of the court.
An important feature of present day India, according to the delegation, was that people were now looking for jobs outside the Government and the private sector absorbed most of the workers so the delegation cautioned the Committee about looking at the makeup of the Government to determine the representation of different communities in the workforce in India and the diversity of the workforce as well. There was no systematic bias against anyone seeking to enter Government service.
Questions by Experts
In a further series of questions and comments, Experts asked whether there was a timeline for the closure of the colonies. Were surveys of the provision of services in the colonies done with regularity? Had there been a focus on the role women could play in the reconstruction of Gujarat?
On the question of rehabilitation, an Expert noted that the violence exhibited against women was extreme and unprecedented and it was the primary job of the Government to extend protection and relief to its most vulnerable citizens and provide resources for those who needed them. The report of the State indicated the assistance that was provided was for relief, not long term rehabilitation so what was being down to help these women and girls in the long term?
Would India be open to a country visit from the Committee?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation responded that to understand the colonies, one had to understand the environment in which they were set up. It would be unwise to talk about an artificial timeline of closure for the colonies. Time was needed to overcome the conditions that led to the establishment of the colonies in the first place, and over time the delegation believed people would leave the colonies of their own accord or be absorbed into the surrounding communities. The colonies themselves were also changing as people were finding productive employment and becoming economically independent.
Regarding rehabilitation of women, there were a number of training schemes for women and widows who had experienced violence to teach them skills and livelihood training that would provide long term, sustainable skills to help them and their families. In addition to financial support, there was also emotional and psychological support and women gained newfound confidence after learning these life and professional skills. These programmes were implemented in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, but the Government of India facilitated these programmes and provided supervision, oversight, monitoring and follow-up. The delegation said that one could debate the adequacy of such resources, but it was unfair to characterize the activities that had been undertaken as solely the work of non-governmental organizations. Many groups had contributed, including the United Nations, bilateral organizations, multilateral organizations and other donors, but the Government had also played an important role.
In concluding remarks, ACHAMKULANGARE GOPINTHAN, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee Experts for their questions and assured the members that India had taken all judicious and other measures to address the issues that arose in the aftermath of the Gujarat violence.
Also in concluding observations, SILVIA PIMENTEL, Acting Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its report outlining the impact of the Gujarat violence on women and girls. There was much to commend in the report, nevertheless the Committee was deeply concerned and alarmed from many of the issues that resulted from the violence. Ms. Pimentel said in this case India had fallen short in extending all possible measures to promote and protect the rights of women and girls.
For use of the information media; not an official record