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September 7, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

Asian Human Rights Commission: NEPAL: Women human rights defenders are facing threats and harassment for protecting a victim of domestic violence

3 September 2012
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NEPAL: Women human rights defenders are facing threats and harassment for protecting a victim of domestic violence

ISSUES: Human Rights Defenders, police negligence, threats and intimidation, violence against women, victim assistance and protection, women’s rights.
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that human rights defenders working with WOREC Nepal, a leading women’s rights organization, and Mitini Nepal, an organization working for the rights of LGBTI women, have come under threat after supporting a victim of domestic violence. Anita (name changed) filed for divorce after living through domestic violence for three years and has faced threats and attacks from her husband and her family for making this choice. The organizations and human rights defenders helping to protect her have themselves come under threat. Last week, the office of Mitini Nepal and the houses of its staff have been visited repeatedly by the police and the relatives of the victim and their director has been receiving threatening phone calls. The victim’s relatives have also forced their way into WOREC’s office, accompanied by police personnel. The AHRC is extremely concerned about Anita’s security and that of the women human rights defenders who have worked to protect her and of the apparent involvement of the police in their intimidation.

CASE NARRATIVE:

According to the information we have received from WOREC Nepal, Anita (name changed), (30) married in February 2001 and has been suffering from domestic violence for 3 years. She left her husband and filed for a divorce on 4 June 2012. As her parents refused to support her decision, she lived with a friend waiting for the court verdict. Her husband looked for her and threatened all those who had supported her in her endeavor to get a divorce, prompting her to seek the assistance of WOREC on 30 June to provide shelter to her and her 10 year old daughter.

The first court hearing of the divorce case was on 4 July in the Kathmandu district court. As she entered the court for the hearing, a group of 30 thugs came in a mini-bus and, after insulting her and the human rights defenders who were helping her, forcibly took her away. In spite of a heavy police presence in the court premises, the police did not react to the incident and allowed her to be taken away. For four days, her whereabouts were unknown. WOREC and the National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders, concerned about her safety, organized meetings with national stakeholders — including the National Human Rights Commission, the National Women Commission, the Office of the Prime Minister and the police to urge them to locate her. In a meeting organized with the Kathmandu District Superintendent of police on 7 July 2012, the DSP came to inform them that Anita had been kept in a rehabilitation center, Tek Bahadur Rayamajhi Arogya mandir, as she was judged to be mentally unsound.

MITINI Nepal, Blue Diamond Society, Nepal Women Commission, and the National Alliance of Women Human Right Defenders formed a taskforce committee to continue to defend her. It is only after a considerable amount of pressure that the police eventually let them meet with Anita at the rehabilitation center. There, she openly and freely told the human rights defenders that she was lesbian and told them that her family had tried to portray her as being mentally ill for saying so after many years of marriage. She requested for the assistance of the human rights defenders.

After leaving the rehabilitation center, she however returned to her husband’s house. Nevertheless, one month later she contacted her partner and Laxmi Ghalan the chairperson of Mitini Nepal, an organization working to defend the rights of sexual minorities in Nepal and told that she had been under threat from her husband and her family and that they had taken her to different “faith healers” to cure what they still portrayed as a “mental illness”, putting her under a lot of pressure. She fled her house again on 26 August and joined her partner. 

Due to the assistance they provided to Anita and her partner, the staff of Mitini Nepal and their president Laxmi Ghalan, have come under threat. Ms. Ghalan has been receiving threatening calls, threatening that if she raises the case of Anita, her office would be vandalized and she would be abducted. We are also concerned to hear that on 27 and 28 August, at 4 pm, the police surrounded the office of Mitini Nepal in Lazimpat, Kathmandu. After the police withdrew from Mitini Nepal’s office, several plain-clothes individuals stayed to watch the office. Due to the threats, Mitini Nepal’s staff looked for shelter in the premises of WOREC.

The police are also reported to have searched two rooms respectively rented by Mitini Nepal’s president and one staff on 28 and 29 August.

On the evening of 30th August 2012 at around 7.30 pm, about 40 persons claiming to be relatives of Anita’s forced their way into WOREC’s office, in Balkumari, Lalitpur, searching for Anita and Laxmi Ghalan, whom they were accusing of having trafficked Anita. They were accompanied by 7 police personnel but the police did not enter the office’s premises.

On the same day, four police officers visited the office of Mitini Nepal and accused their staff of hiding Anita. They visited the office several times on that day, accompanied by Anita’s relatives.

Anita’s relatives have also reportedly tried to evict Laxmi from her rented house by telling her landowner that she had tried to traffic their daughter.

After the raid of its office, WOREC informed the police headquarters about this situation and asked them to ensure their security. Following that the police visited the WOREC office the next day, asked about the threats they had been receiving and committed to regularly patrol the office to ensure its protection.

No complaint has been filed against Mitini Nepal or Anita and there is therefore no legal ground for the police to search Mitini Nepal’s staff’s rented rooms or to raid Mitini Nepal’s and WOREC’s offices.

The AHRC is concerned that the situation remains extremely volatile and that the security of Anita and the human rights defenders working with her remains under threat. Women trying to escape domestic violence by filing for divorce typically face rejection from their communities, including their own families, and are therefore vulnerable to reprisal and attacks by the perpetrators while the authorities are reluctant to intervene in what they continue to consider as a domestic issue. Deeply-entrenched prejudices against sexual-minorities women in Nepal further increase the pressure faced by Anita and her partner and the reluctance of governmental authorities to intervene to protect them. Activists working to protect the rights of LGBTI persons in Nepal are facing tremendous challenges and the authorities routinely turn a blind eye on the attacks they face.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please join us in writing to the authorities listed below to ask for their intervention in this case.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters to the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and its consequences and to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

To support this appeal, please click here: 

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