Joint Statement: Calling for the Resignation of Minister of Child Development and Women’s Affairs Tissa Karaliyadde
It is with disbelief and outrage that we read the Sunday Leader article of 13th April titled ‘New Anti Rape Laws Proposed’, where the Minister of Child Development and Women’s Affairs Tissa Karaliyadde has said that proposals on new laws to respond to the large and growing number of rape cases will ensure that rapists are bound by law to marry the victim if she gives her consent to court. This news report indicated that this proposal will be forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for necessary action.
Neither Minister Karaliyadde nor the Ministry of Justice or their officials have refuted this report.
It is truly appalling that the government which has publicly stated its commitment to end acts of violence against women and its Minister in charge of women and children’s concerns thinks a solution to rape is that a woman or child victim/survivor marries the perpetrator of what our law describes as a grave criminal offence. This is tantamount to legitimizing acts of rape and giving society the message that women must pay the price for rape, even by marrying the perpetrator of this serious crime. This proposed law will grant impunity to perpetrators, who instead of being punished now have the option of ‘marrying’ the women or girl they abuse. This in effect encourages rapists to continue with their sexual violence against women and girls. There is plenty of documented evidence that when women do marry rapists it is because the marriage is a forced marriage contracted due to family pressure. The woman or girl has to endure an abusive relationship which often ends in domestic violence and suicide. This is why the Committee on the Women’s Convention (Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) has consistently asked countries to repeal laws that permit such marriages. Morocco abolished a similar law in January 2014 after a public outcry over the suicide of a girl who was forced to marry her rapist
Minister Karaliyadde is on record to have stated in Parliament that there were 2,150 rape cases reported in 2012 and 4,317 rapes reported in the period 2009-2011. The Minister admitted he had no information about the age of the victims or how many cases had actually resulted in convictions. If the Minister did look for this information he would have realized that the vast majority of rape cases before the courts rarely result in convictions due to weaknesses in law enforcement. He should as a responsible Minister review the implementation of current laws and ensue enabling conditions for their strict enforcement – eliminating delays in the law, the current practice of suspended sentencing and adversarial, gender insensitive legal and law enforcement processes that prevent women from obtaining justice.
The Minister’s lack of knowledge about the causes and consequences of the violent crime of rape and Sri Lankan commitment under national and international law to prevent and prosecute it is equally astounding. Does he not know that women of all ages, including girls: infants and toddlers and elderly women are victims of rape in Sri Lanka? Recent media reports have highlighted rape of tourists, a subject included in travel advisories to tourists. How does he propose to implement his law on mandatory marriage to a rapist? Is a government constantly referring to family values, admitting that ‘marriage’ is a convenient institution that can legally hide crimes of rape, and legalize sexual violence within marriage? What does he propose to do with rapists who are themselves married or who rape multiple times? Is he proposing a new law that will permit polygamy?
We wish to remind the Minister that his personal views on women’s and girls’ right to equality and protection from violence are irrelevant for public policy. Article 12 of our Constitution incorporates a standard of gender equality and non-discrimination on the ground of a person’s sex. Sri Lanka, recognizing its contribution in improving the lives of women by giving equal access to health and education, and desiring further progress, became a State Party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1981. In 1993 it adopted a policy statement known as the Women’s Charter and which reinforces the Convention standards on gender equality between men and women. In 1995 the Sri Lankan Parliament amended the Penal Code to ensure enhanced sentencing for the crime of rape. The Sri Lankan government has binding obligations to implement our Constitution, National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) and the Women’s Rights Convention, CEDAW. The President is now chair of CHOGM and is committed to the core Commonwealth values that have been incorporated in the Declaration of CHOGM. The President has a responsibility to ensure that these values on gender equality are upheld by his administration.
We have in the past had several women cabinet ministers such as Renuka Herath, the late Srimani Athulathmudali, Amara Piyaseeli Rathnayake, and Sumeda Jayasena who took their role and responsibility as holders of cabinet office seriously. They tried to work towards achieving the standards of gender equality and improve the lives of women and men. Many Sri Lankan men, including professionals and politicians have supported initiatives to achieve gender equality in our society. It is a shocking indication of the breakdown in values of holders of public office, that the first male minister of Women’s Affairs can make public statements which undervalue Sri Lankan women.
Minister Karaliyadde has in the recent past made statements that abuse and seek to humiliate identified groups of women, including women in responsible positions of leadership within his own Party. Some of these statements have been repeated by other holders of high public office. These statements make it abundantly clear that the Minister and other holders of public office are ignorant of their responsibilities, to respect these values on gender equality in their public life. On the 28th November 2013, 168 individuals and representatives of a range of civil society organizations made a call for the immediate resignation of Minister Karaliyadde from the office he holds in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Child Development for sexist and abusive statements he made in public including in Parliament.
We reiterate this demand and call for Minister Karaliyadde’s immediate resignation or removal from the Cabinet office he holds. We demand that a gender sensitive Minister is appointed immediately to the post of Women’s Affairs. Mr. Karaliyadde’s gender insensitive statements and irresponsible behavior indicate that he can no longer be permitted to function as head of a Ministry whose core purpose he undervalues and publicly denounces.
We also call upon all local, foreign and UN agencies that support projects of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs to review their partnership with this Ministry, and demand accountability in regard to promoting gender equality standards that bind our government. We call upon all citizens to recognize the growing denial of women’s safety and security in the family and the community and the lack of effective leadership from government in addressing violence against women and girls. We must make this an issue on which we hold accountable all those who we vote into public office.
Women & Media Collective; Viluthu; Muslim Women’s Research & Action Forum; Home for Human Rights
25 April 2014