The death on December 29, 2012, of a 23-year-old student, who was gang raped and assaulted, should spur decisive action by the Indian government to combat sexual violence, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
The attack catalyzed massive nationwide demonstrations and re-opened public debate about reforming India’s inadequate laws and practices concerning sexual assault.
This was contained in a statement issued by Human Rights Watch, copied to the Ghana News Agency on Monday.
It said the woman, a paramedical student, whose name has not been made public, and a male friend, were traveling in a private bus in New Delhi on December 16, when five men and a youth under 18 raped and assaulted her and beat her friend.
The statement said the woman suffered severe injuries and was transferred to a hospital in Singapore, where she died, and the police have arrested the accused and are expected to file charges in the first week of January 2013.
“This murderous gang rape is a sobering reminder of the pervasive sexual violence that women and girls across India suffer; and the government needs to act now to prevent sexual assault, aggressively investigate and prosecute perpetrators, and ensure the dignified treatment of survivors,” the statement cited Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of HRW.
The New Delhi gang rape highlighted the widespread problem of sexual violence in India, the HRW statement said.
It said, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011, and experts say the number of unreported cases of sexual assault is much higher.
The statement said that following the New Delhi attack, the Indian Government formed a three-member commission headed by former Indian Supreme Court Chief Justice, Jagdish Sharan Verma, to “review the present laws so as to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault.”
While the government’s swift action to create a commission to review punishment for aggravated sexual assault is an important step, reform of the criminal law and procedure, plus improved treatment of survivors, is needed to ensure justice for sexual assault victims”.
According to the statement, India does not have a uniform protocol for medical treatment and examination of survivors of sexual assault, making responses ad hoc and unpredictable, and in the worst cases, degrading and counter-productive.
It called on the Indian government to establish national standards and a uniform protocol for the medical treatment and collection of medical evidence in cases of sexual assault, and to eliminate the use of finger tests on sexual assault survivors.
The statement said the Delhi gang rape reflects a much larger problem of sexual violence in India; while officials responded swiftly and promised speedy justice, the attack followed numerous reported sexual assaults against women, including those with disabilities.
It said after the December 16 gang rape, high-level government officials announced that they will pursue harsher penalties for those who engage in rape, including the death penalty.
The statement maintained that HRW opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.
It said: “A majority of countries in the world have abolished the practice. In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution by a wide margin calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions”. GNA