Dr. Al Qassim: “The refugee and migrant crisis has become the symbol of the world’s inability to live up to the ideals of the Founders of the UN”

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Dec 10 2017 (Geneva Centre)

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim has called for the promotion of a value-driven human rights system to guide international decision-makers in their endeavours to address the impact of the migrant and refugee crisis.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Dr. Al Qassim made this statement in relation to the observation of the 2017 International Human Rights day which is observed annually on 10 December.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman said that the “refugee and migrant crisis have become the symbol of the world’s inability to live up to the ideals of the Founders of the UN and the Signatories of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights to promote peace and justice worldwide. The forced displacement of people from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe” – he said – “calls for concerted efforts to reduce the instability and turmoil which spreads across borders forcing people to be on the move.

Dr. Al Qassim deplored recent attempts by decision-makers to deny refugees and migrants the right to freedom of movement and liberty as these distorted efforts “are contradictory to the founding principles of human rights. Over-securitization of migration and the fortification of countries of intended destination will not provide a long-term solution to address the current situation.

I appeal to decision-makers in the Arab region and in Europe must work jointly to address the root-causes of forced displacement. The human rights and the fundamental freedoms of displaced people follow the denial of the right to peace, the right to development and the right to security.

It is only when these human rights and fundamental freedoms are violated and infringed that people decide to take on the long and dangerous journey to seek a safe environment where human rights are expected to be protected and to flourish.

Migrants and refugees are the symbol of brave and courageous individuals who stand up for their human rights and fundamental liberties and decide to put their lives at stake to enjoy the highest level of freedom,” remarked Dr. Al Qassim.

In relation to these observations, Dr. Al Qassim noted that the Geneva Centre will hold a panel debate on 14 December 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva on the theme of “Migration and human solidarity, a challenge and an opportunity for Europe and the MENA region.

In this regard, the Geneva Centre has invited distinguished representatives from IOM, UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council, International Catholic Migration Commission and the European Centre for Peace and Development to offer their insights on the need to promote a value-driven human rights system to address the adverse impact of the protracted refugee and migrant crises.

Violence and insecurity as well as climate change migration have adversely affected millions of people in the MENA region and their fate has become a politically charged issue of high importance for the neighbouring countries in the MENA region and in Europe. We aim at promoting a discussion of these issues in their Europe-Middle Eastern interactive dimensions rather than through focussing on the two regions separately. This will enable the panel debate to identify holistic solutions to respond to the causes and consequences of the protracted migrant and refugee crisis,” highlighted Dr. Al Qassim.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman also added that the panel debate will “adopt a Declaration that reiterates the importance of promoting a value-driven human rights system to promote and to advance the human rights of displaced people. Joint dialogue between decision-makers from the Global North and the Global South is required so as to respond with one voice to the challenges associated with the protracted refugee and migrant crisis.

Dr. Al Qassim concluded his statement stating that “people on the move are entitled to have their human rights protected and restored. They cannot be denied both the right to life in their country of origin and the right to be migrants and refugees. Bedrock democracies that oppose ethnic cleansing, racism and violation of freedom of opinion cannot at the same time refuse shelter to their victims.”

Pakistan Gets Its First One-Stop Shop for Women Fighting Violence

Station House Officer Nazima Mushtaq speaking to a survivor at the VAWC. Photo courtesy of VAWC

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Dec 10 2017 (IPS)

Sliced noses, broken ribs, fractured fingers, slashed arms, bruised and bloodied faces with teeth missing and eyes swollen… Sana Jawed, 30, has been witnessing these brutalities for over a decade.

“You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is currently managing the new state-of-the-art all-women Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Multan, in Southern Punjab. Before this she was working in the Punjab government’s social welfare department and managing shelters for women across the province.”We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof.” –Sana Jawed

A 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll found Pakistan to be among the three most dangerous countries for women, where they faced a barrage of violence from rape to murders in the name of honour. The other two were Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of Congo. On the gender equality index of the Global Gender Gap, Pakistan scored dismally, coming second lowest (143 out of 144). On a more recent Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security‘s Women, Peace, and Security Index, Pakistan was ranked 4th among the worst countries for women to live in.

The VAWC has been set up in an agricultural belt which is particularly dangerous for the Pakistani woman, who are treated worse than cattle. It is the same region infamous for the Mukhtaran Mai gang rape case that shook the world and where after nine years of relentless pursuit for justice by Mai, five of the six accused were acquitted.

“In some villages, until just a few years ago, women were not allowed to wear any footwear. That meant they wouldn’t be able to walk with ease  around the village. If that happened, it would mean they would become more confident and not remain mere doormats. They would eventually find a tongue…and men certainly didn’t want that happening,” said Jawed.

Women, she said, are used as bargaining chips to settle family feuds, living in constant fear of being forced to marry, wedded in exchange, or punished for having spurned a marriage proposal. Even when married, she may find no peace or respect in her husband’s home where she may be punished at the slightest of provocation.

“Women have come to us with severe burns on their face, with scalding tea thrown at them,” said Jawed.

But all this is about to change and men will have to mend their brutal ways or face serious repercussions.

In what can only be termed as groundbreaking, the Punjab government has come up with a law to protect women. But unlike laws that have come with great fanfare and been forgotten just as quickly, this one comes complete with a mechanism for strict adherence to implementation.

The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act (VAWA) passed in 2016 covers sexual, domestic, physical, economic, cyber, or psychological abuse.

To breathe life into the act, the Punjab government has set up what it calls a “one-stop shop” VAWC in Multan.

It began functioning in March this year with the aim of providing legal, medical and psychological counselling to survivors.

Salman Sufi with the fashion designer Diane Van Furstenberg. Photo courtesy of Vital Voices

“It was a conscious decision to open the first centre in Multan because women are the most vulnerable and meted with the most violent attacks there,” said Salman Sufi, the director general of the Punjab Chief Minister’s think-tank, the Strategic Reform Unit who drafted the law and who conceived of this centre.

“In the first six months since we opened the centre, we received over 1,000 cases from Multan district alone,” said Sufi. The number of violence-related cases is far more. Overall, in Punjab, according to data gathered by the Aurat Foundation, in 2017, of the 5,979 reported cases of violence, 178 were of women killed in the name of honour, 1,086 were raped/gang-raped and 1,626 were kidnapped.

“Even these over 1,000 cases are the tip of the iceberg,” said Sufi who was recently honoured with the Voices of Solidarity Award 2017 by Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organisation under the chairmanship of Hillary Clinton, in his pursuit to end VAW.

By March 2018, three more centres will start operating in other big cities of Punjab including Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi. “The idea is to eventually have one centre in each of the province’s 36 districts,” said Sufi.

Jawed explained that the VAWC aims to eliminate the lengthy process of registering a complaint about violence. “We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof.” In addition, there is a toll-free 24-hour help line where women can register any complaint of violence immediately.

“This is excellent and this will encourage more women to come and record their complaints,” said Sheraz Ahmed, programme officer at War Against Rape, a Karachi-based non-governmental organisation. Currently, the method in which sexual violence cases are handled in Pakistan at police stations and government health facilities is highly problematic, he said.

“This centre is ideal so that they do not need to go running from one place to another to get assistance, treatment, investigation and shelter,” said Maliha Zia, associate director at Legal Aid Society, adding: “If effectively run, it would cause a lesser degree of humiliation to the survivors.”

For the past ten years, WAR has noticed a discrepancy in the data it gathers from Karachi’s three public sector hospitals, which oscillates between 340 to 380 cases per year, and the complaints registered at the city’s police stations that come to not more than 110 in a given year. “That is because the woman or her family retracts either due to family pressure or the trauma that they have to go through before the case reaches the court,” he said.

“From the time a survivor enters the police station where she’s eyed and questioned by not less than four to five police officers and asked to repeat her story that many times, to the time she goes through medical investigation, valuable evidence is lost,” explained Ahmed. He said for a city of over 20 million, Karachi has only two female medico-legal officers (MLOs) and if the woman comes to the hospital after their duty hours, the delay may cause loss of solid evidence. The same sorry situation, he said, was found all over Pakistan, which has 14 female MLOs and the same misogynistic mindset at police stations.

Back in 2016, when the law for the protection of women was presented to the parliament, it was met with much ire from the  religio-political parties as well as members of the legal fraternity who termed it “un-Islamic”. Many found it an affront to a male ego in this patriarchal country and insisted it would lead to breaking up families.

“We addressed each and everyone’s concerns but not a single clause was amended to appease anyone,” said Sufi, who found the furor caused by the law “exciting” and pointed to the fact that they were doing “something radical”.

The law seems to have everything covered — a monetary order ensures a woman’s earnings are safe and another order sees to it that the woman is not kicked out of the home by her husband or the family.

And yet, despite there being a series of “good legislations” that have been promulgated in recent past, Zohra Yusuf, a council member of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says violence against women continues because of “weak enforcement” of those laws.

But more than laws that provide “potential tools for survivors”, Zia said until attitudes and bias inherent not only in society, but also within our institutions, change, VAW will continue. “There is social impunity and lack of recognition of many practices as VAW.”

To which Yusuf added: “Coupled with that is the misogyny that the administration and justice systems suffers from.”