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Civil society decries out-of-court settlements

Karachi: Civil society organisations expressed their dismay, during a meeting on Friday, over the number of rape cases being settled out-of-court.The meeting was headed by the War Against Rape (WAR), which shared an extensive set of data that it had compiled between January 2008 and December 31, 2011.

The data revealed that out of the 315 cases investigated by the organisation and the 60 cases taken up for prosecution, about 22 cases ended in an out-of-court settlement or a compromise that was brokered either by police, prosecutors or members of the lower judiciary.

Sarah Zaman, head of WAR, said that out-of-court settlements in rape cases were illegal as, according to sections 375 and 376 of the Pakistan Penal Code, “rape is a non-compoundable offence, in which matters cannot be settled privately between the accused and the aggrieved in exchange for financial compensation”.

She said police and judicial staff had been seen actively pressurising victims and their family members to accept settlements and forgo their right to a fair trial. Zaman recalled a case in which a medico-legal officer (MLO) was allegedly involved in raping a nurse. The case was closed when the nurse retracted her initial statement, after she was “pressurised and threatened with dire consequences if she did otherwise,” added a WAR member.

“In such cases, the accused and his accomplices usually target the victim’s initial statement. In others, MLOs are usually bogged down with work and susceptible to pressure, which leads to substandard medical reporting,” she added.

A fitting example, she said, was the recent case in which marks of physical abuse on a rape survivor were not mentioned in the medical report that was given to the judge. “It is a battle at every level. You go in with the sensibility of solving a single problem, but you end up with a truckload of them,” Zaman said.

She also highlighted another recent case, in which a 24-year-old domestic worker was allegedly raped by her employer. “The family is now being pressured by the police to marry off the girl to her rapist,” she regretted.

“It is even more disheartening to note that the superior courts are not immune from this problem. In a gang rape case in Rawalpindi of which the Supreme Court of Pakistan took suo motto notice, the survivor was offered Rs1 million to withdraw her case,” Zaman informed the panelists.

In another case, a mother whose three-year-old was raped by her uncle was asked to compromise and the accused was asked inside the court to “compensate the damages”.

In most cases, Zaman said that the accused use Section 265-k for their advantage. Section 265-k gives power to the judge to acquit the accused in case material evidence is not present.

“What happens is that the initial statement is already tampered with which already ruins the case to such an extent that the accused can easily ask for the section to be exercised by the court. The accused is let off and it is considered that the woman is lying or has a vendetta against the accused.”

Abdul Hayee of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan suggested that most of the accused were well-connected. “Hence, in order to take any action against them, we need to cover our bases as well as being organised in our efforts,” he said.

Meanwhile, Farhat Parveen of Nowcommunities said that civil society organisations should submit complaints to the Karachi Bar Council against people who pressurised victims to seek a compromise.

However, WAR called upon the Supreme Court to launch an independent inquiry into this issue, on the grounds that “the constitutional rights of the aggrieved are being revoked by state actors through malpractice and abuse of existing laws”.

“Not only does this undermine the safety and security of the citizenry and rob them off their dignity, it also makes a mockery of the criminal justice system which is responsible for protecting the rights of the citizens,” Zaman said.

The News