By Sophie Edwards
The United Nations has warned that progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals for women and girls is “unacceptably slow,” and has called for better data as well as a special focus on unpaid care work and ending violence against women to drive change.
The monitoring report from UN Women, “Turning Promises into Action,” released Wednesday, assesses progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, specifically looking at efforts to achieve gender equality — a prominent and cross-cutting issue across all 17 goals, the report states, as well as a standalone goal in itself.
“Progress for women and girls remains unacceptably slow,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in the report, adding that this “new data and analysis underlines that, unless progress on gender equality is significantly accelerated, the global community will not be able to keep its promise.”
While there has been some progress in recent years, the report concludes that the focus on women and girls provided by the SDGs is yet to turn into practice in most countries. For example, 15 million primary school-aged girls are out of school globally, compared to about 10 million boys; women hold only 24 percent of parliamentary seats; the gender pay gap stands at 23 percent; and gender-based violence is still a “global pandemic,” the report states.
It shines a light on huge disparities in the opportunities offered to women and girls living in the same countries. In India, for example, a woman aged 20–24 from a poor, rural household is 21.8 times less likely to have attended school, and 5 times more likely to have married before the age of 18, compared with a woman of the same age from a rich, urban household. Such disparities in education and opportunities also persist in developed nations, the report finds.
Furthermore, new and re-emerging challenges, such as conservative attitudes towards women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as climate change and environmental degradation, which are undermining “the livelihoods of millions,” are putting increasing pressure on women’s opportunities, the report warns.
It points to a number of key challenges holding back progress and concludes that “making every woman and girl count will require a revolution not only in gender data but also in policies, programming and accountability,” and offers recommendations to help member countries translate positive rhetoric about equality into practice.
Better data, statistics, and analysis on gender can be used to hold governments, companies, and other stakeholders accountable for their commitments to gender equality, UN Women advises. Additional financing and policies are also needed, it says.
Katja Iversen, head of Women Deliver, said the report contained “stronger messages, findings, and recommendations than we normally hear from a U.N. agency,” which she said is “very appropriate at a time when conservative winds are blowing” and threatening women’s health and rights.
She also commended the report for promoting an “integrated approach — looking at the whole girl and the whole woman and how the different dimensions of the SDGs are deeply intertwined with women’s well-being.”
“The evidence is clear: If we want to solve the world’s biggest problems, we need to break down the silos and work together across issues, sectors, and geographies — with women at the center,” she added.
Despite increasing attention to gender statistics in recent decades, effectively tracking and monitoring progress against the global goals is challenging in many countries for a number of reasons, including “uneven coverage” of gender indicators across the targets.
For example, UN Women finds that only 10 out of 54 gender-specific indicators are collected with enough regularity to be classified as Tier 1 by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group, which means they can be monitored in a reliable way at the global level. For another 24 gender indicators, “coverage is patchy and insufficient to allow global monitoring,” the report states, while 17 indicators are still being developed.
The report also points to a lack of internationally-agreed standards around how the data is collected as another fundamental challenge to effective monitoring.
Tanvi Jaluka, program coordinator for gender and development at the Center for Global Development, said the report was right to focus on the need for more and better data to monitor the SDG’s progress on women and girls.
“Holes in gender data exist because methodologies are not clear or because data standards are not actively being practiced by countries,” she said.
New areas of focus
Ensuring gender-equitable access to financial services is another major priority highlighted in the UN Women report, and one which Jaluka said currently receives too little attention.
“Unfortunately, a lot of attention is paid to the creation of jobs in the private sector and not to reducing the gender gap in financial services,” she said, adding that “countries should work with financial institutions to invest in and test innovative financial products, as well as deliver products that are specifically targeted toward women.”
“Taking these steps will promote productive labor activities, small and medium enterprise business growth, and savings and investment,” the CGD expert added.
The report also makes specific recommendations for change around unpaid care work which experts say is one of the key reasons why women, as the default providers of care, are less likely to have quality jobs, attend school, participate in political life, and become financially independent.
In South Africa, for example, providing free and universal child care for children aged 0 to 5 would “at least in part” pay for itself, the report suggests, by creating between 2.3 million new jobs and bringing 10 percent more women into the workforce. The associated tax and social security revenue from these new jobs would cover more than a third of the costs of investing in free early childhood education and care, it says.
The report also takes an indepth look at the issue of violence against women and girls, noting that despite the prevalence of violence against women inflicted by an intimate partner, there are still no laws to protect victims from such abuse in 49 countries. It offers a range of recommendations, including pushing countries to adopt and implement comprehensive legislation, and overhauling services for victims in order to reach the most marginalized.
Published on Devex on February 15, 2018
Vast numbers of Venezuelans are starving, deprived of essential medicines, and trying to survive in a situation that is spiralling downwards with no end in sight, according to a group of UN human rights experts*. They made an urgent plea to the government to take action to tackle the crisis, and called on the international community to adopt measures to avoid an unfolding tragedy of immense proportions.
“Millions of people are suffering a lack of food and essential medicines, a shortage of goods including those for personal hygiene, power cuts, and dire housing and living conditions. Conditions are worsening by the day putting many lives at risk,” the experts said in a joint statement.
“2016 estimates pointed to over 50 percent of the population facing extreme poverty, a figure that has undoubtedly increased when taking into account the reported 2,400 percent inflation of 2017.
“Venezuelans are suffering multiple breaches of their human rights,” the experts said. “Many people are suffering from lack of food and malnutrition, while the health situation has reached unbearable levels, especially for patients with chronic and terminal diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and cancer.
“Health centres continue to report serious shortages of medicines, basic equipment and medical supplies causing many preventable deaths. Even essential health services like kidney dialysis are unavailable in many parts of the country, affecting the health and putting at risk the lives of 15,000 people with kidney disease.
“By the end of last year, a family needed to earn the minimum wage 63 times over, simply to buy basic food. Other statistics suggest that the country now has 1.3 million undernourished people, and an average of five to six children dying every week from malnutrition,” said Hilal Elver, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
“Financial constraints, do not exempt States of their core obligations and needed austerity measures should not affect the minimum content of economic, social and cultural rights,” said one of the experts, Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to health.
“In terms of the right to health, States must ensure, at the very least, essential primary health care for everyone and the provision of essential medicines, especially for medically vulnerable groups.”
Leilani Farha, the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, drew attention to reports of forced evictions, adding to the dire circumstances people were already facing.
“We have received information that individuals and families have been forcibly evicted from their homes with excessive use of force, and rendered homeless,” she said. “Many homes have been demolished and personal belongings confiscated or destroyed. Due process and rule of law have been abandoned in these cases.”
The experts noted that a lack of updated official data on food, health and power cuts made it impossible to assess the full scale of the crisis and whether the Venezuelan Government was protecting and fulfilling its international obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“We call on the Government to address the appalling living conditions, tackle the food and health crisis, and to restore electricity,” the experts said. “If necessary, the Government should seek international cooperation to ensure the rights of Venezuelans are protected.
“We also urge the Government to re-examine the policies and decisions that have been taken that have brought Venezuela, a wealthy country, to this critical human rights situation.”
The experts added: “We cannot fail to note that these violations of economic, social and cultural rights come in parallel with the weakening of democratic institutions, the persecution of political opponents and an overall disrespect for civil and political rights in the country.”
In December 2017, several UN experts wrote to the Government of Venezuela, raising concerns over the situation regarding extreme poverty and economic, social and cultural rights. Their letter and the Government’s reply will be made public in the following link: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/ before the 37th session of the Human Rights Council, which starts on 26 February.
Published on February 9, 2018
By Stefan Armbruster
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called on Papua New Guinea to tackle a long list of abuses in the country.
Praising PNG’s “welcomed openness” after inviting him for a one-day visit, the high commissioner issued a to-do list and emphasised the eyes of the world would be on the country during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in November.
After meeting with prime minister Peter O’Neill, Mr Zeid said PNG needed to tackle corruption, strengthen the rule of law and hold business accountable for human rights abuses. He also raised the issues of refugees on Manus, resource industry land leases, and associated police brutality, gender-based violence and sorcery.
“Papua New Guinea appears to be a country of contradictions. There are exemplary laws and policies in place to protect human rights, but they are reportedly often not enforced,” he said.
“It is a resource-rich country, but much of its population lives in abject poverty, with acute malnutrition rates in some areas comparable to Yemen and minimal access to quality healthcare and education.
“It has strong civil society activists but there is little room for them to influence Government policy.”
'Committed' to Human Rights Commission
In a statement issued before the High Commissioner’s visit, Mr O’Neill’s office thanked him for visiting PNG for the first time.
“The observations of the High Commissioner are comforting as this government has made a concerted effort to engage with all stakeholders, particularly civil society,” Mr O’Neill’s statement said.
“Our Government is committed to establishing a Human Rights Commission in our country. We are working through the details required to establish this important office and look to making an announcement soon before the matter is put to Parliament for discussion.
“As our country continues to advance, we will still experience the same human rights issues that are experienced by countries around the world.”
Reported actions 'shameful'
The creation of National Human Rights Track Court and a planned independent national human rights commission by the O’Neill government were praised by the UN commissioner.
“I was, however, troubled to hear about attacks against human rights defenders and journalists working on sensitive issues, particularly relating to land rights and corruption,” Mr Zeid said.
“I call on the government to protect the important watchdog function of civil society, and indeed treating them as partners in tackling difficult human rights challenges, including the endemic gender-based violence and horrific attacks against those accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea.”
Mr Zeid condemned as “unacceptable” leases to the resource industry that trampled on the rights of landowners, especially the Special Agriculture Business Leases (SABL) and forced evictions.
“The reported actions of some major corporations engaged in the extractive industries in Papua New Guinea are shameful,” Mr Zeid said, citing also incidence of sexual violence with impunity in some cases.
“States have a responsibility to prevent, investigate, punish and redress human rights abuses within their territory, including abuses committed by private corporations. And business enterprises have an obligation to avoid infringing on the human rights of others and to address adverse human rights impacts of their activities.”
“States and businesses can flourish without trampling brutally on people’s human rights – but in Papua New Guinea, human rights advocates report that local communities rarely get any benefits from the extractive operations carried out by large corporations on their land,” he said.
Call to end death penalty
He also called for an end to the death penalty. There are currently eight men on death row, down from 12 after two were acquitted on appeal and another two died in prison.
PNG authorities have not carried out any executions due to lack of equipment and training.
During his visit the High Commissioner met with the prime minister, government officials, judiciary and civil society organisations.
PNG's nearest neighbour Australia is its largest aid donor and when elected to the UN Human Rights Council late last year said it would champion issues on behalf of the Pacific.
Published on SBS News on February 10, 2018
Read the full paper here.
Published on People's Policy Project on January 30, 2018
By Jason Rezaian
In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to officially abolish slavery. It took another 26 years for its government to pass a law enforcing abolition. So it's perhaps no surprise that slavery continues to plague the nation of roughly 4 million people in northwestern Africa.
Now a landmark ruling by an African Union court, which requires the Mauritanian government to compensate two escaped child slaves and punish their former master, is offering hope to thousands of still-enslaved Mauritanians.
Said and Yarg Salem were born into slavery and escaped in April 2011. Soon after, they brought charges against their former master, Ahmed Ould El Hassine, who was found guilty in the Criminal Court of Nouakchott — Mauritania’s capital — of enslavement and depriving the boys of schooling. It was the first and, so far, only successful prosecution under Mauritania’s 2007 anti-slavery legislation. Advocates considered it a crucial step forward in eradicating slavery there.
“The anti-slavery law is good, but it’s a useless piece of paper if you don’t put it into practice,” said Lucy Claridge, the legal director for Minority Rights Group International, in an interview with The Washington Post.
But Hassine's sentence in the case — two years in prison and compensation amounting to about $4,700 — was far below the suggested penalty. The state prosecutor appealed the overly lenient ruling, while Hassine filed his own appeal against the decision itself — and was released from custody pending a further decision. All of this took place in 2011, but the Mauritanian legal system has taken no further action in the case, which remains pending at the country's Supreme Court.
Seeing no prospects for justice in Mauritania itself, the Salems' local lawyer, in coordination with Minority Rights Group International and SOS Esclaves, a Mauritanian NGO that supports current and former slaves, took the case to a regional court called the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, or ACERWC. They argued that Mauritania failed the boys by not enforcing its own anti-slavery laws.
The ACERWC ruled in their favor on Jan. 26. Mauritania's government, the court said, is responsible for providing the brothers with financial compensation as well as psychological support and legal protection for not enforcing the slavery ban. Claridge is hoping the ruling “will have a positive bearing on the ongoing appeal before the Mauritanian Supreme Court and other criminal complaints of slavery which are currently stagnating in the Mauritanian courts.”
There are 19 other lawsuits against slave owners working their way through the Mauritanian judicial system, as well as many others at the investigatory stage. The ACERWC ruling could offer the incentive needed for the courts to get tough on slave owners.
Pressure from abroad may also play a role. The United States looks set to downgrade Mauritania's status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade pact with the United States, because of Mauritania's lack of action on forced labor.
But the ultimate goal is systemic change in a society and governing system that do not consider slavery a problem.
There are no reliable statistics on how many people are enslaved in Mauritania — the government does not include slaves in its census, and its official stance is that there are no slaves in the country because of the anti-slavery law passed in 2007. But the World Slavery Index estimates that Mauritania has one of the highest rates of enslavement on Earth, with more than 1 percent of the population engaged in forced labor. That number may not account for other, less-formalized types of indentured servitude.
Forced labor of all kinds has a long history in Mauritania, driven by centuries-old social divisions. Most slaves have been members of the Haratine tribes, indigenous West Africans who make up the country’s largest ethnic group — about 40 percent of the population. They are known locally as Black Moors. “White Moors” are Arab-Berbers from North Africa who took control of the region in the 17th century and have been enslaving Haratines ever since.
Slavery passes from one generation to the next, and Mauritania's government — long run by White Moors — has been reluctant to challenge the status quo.
“When I was in Mauritania we worked closely with some anti-slavery NGOs. But there were so many crosscurrents, it was a difficult issue to deal with,” John Limbert, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mauritania from 2000 to 2003, told The Post. “It was also hard to get the Mauritanian court system to deal with slavery cases. The White Moors dominated the legal system and were not about to take decisive action against themselves.”
Between the Salems' case and Mauritania's hosting of the upcoming session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in April, anti-slavery crusaders such as Claridge hope it will become increasingly difficult for Mauritania to ignore its ugly history of slavery.
“We are taking a holistic strategy in the hopes of creating real change,” she said.
Published on The Washington Post on February 7, 2018
See the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child's decision below.
Bahraini authorities have deported eight stateless Bahrainis, whom they had previously stripped of their citizenship, since January 29, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. The deportations followed an appeals court decision to uphold a 2012 ruling that ordered the deportation and stripping of citizenship of nine Bahraini nationals for “damaging state security.”
Since 2012, Bahraini authorities have stripped 578 nationals of their citizenship, leaving many stateless. In the most recent cases, on January 31, the Fourth High Criminal Court stripped 47 people of their citizenship on terrorism related charges, and on February 1 the same court stripped another 25 people of their citizenship. Bahrain should immediately put an end to these arbitrary deportations and restore citizenship to those who have been left stateless or whose citizenship was revoked unfairly or arbitrarily, Human Rights Watch said.
“Bahraini authorities have dropped all pretense of pluralism and tolerance for dissent and are clearly stripping away the citizenships of people whom they find undesirable,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Right Watch.
On January 24, the First High Court of Appeal upheld a November 7, 2012 ruling to strip citizenship from the nine people and to deport them, according to a news report citing their lawyer.
Authorities deported four of them to Najaf, Iraq – two brothers, Ibrahim and Ismail Darwish, on January 29, and Adnan Kamal and Habib Darwish on January 30, a human rights activist in Bahrain told Human Rights Watch. Due to concerns for their safety, the human rights activist requested to remain anonymous. Bahrain deported another four to Najaf on February 1: Abdulnabi al-Mosawi; his wife, Maryam Ibrahim; and his two brothers, Mohamed al-Mosawi and Abdulamir al-Mosawi. The ninth person, Adnan Ahmed Ali, was not in Bahrain when the judgment was delivered. The human rights activist said that Ali had agreed to voluntarily leave Bahrain for Iran some years ago.
These nine people were part of a larger group of 31 people, including opposition political activists, lawyers, and rights activists, whose citizenship an Interior Ministry decree revoked on November 7, 2012. The ministry based its decision on Article 10 (3) of the Bahraini Citizenship Act of 1963, claiming the 31 were “damaging the security of the state.” Only 18 of the 31 were in Bahrain at the time. Only an estimated five had dual citizenship, leaving the majority affected by the 2012 decision stateless.
The activist also told Human Rights Watch that the High Appeal Civil Court had moved up a session to consider the group’s appeals from December 31, 2017, to October 26 without informing the legal teams. Though the lawyers were not at the hearing and had no opportunity to present their cases, the court refused to rescind the order. The court action deprived the 31 people of their chance to exhaust all legal means to challenge the charges against them, the activist said. The Appeals Court used this decision in its ruling to uphold the deportation orders for the nine members of the group.
Since 2012, Bahrain’s courts have on several occasions issued mass sentences that included stripping of citizenship and prison terms. The 47 people stripped of citizenship on January 31 were among 60 the Fourth High Criminal Court sentenced that day on charges of forming a terrorist group.
Bahrain’s Supreme Court on January 29 also upheld a one-year prison sentence for Sheikh Isa Qassim, a Shiite spiritual leader of the now dissolved main opposition group al-Wefaq, and confirmed the revocation of his citizenship.
On July 24, 2014, Bahrain’s Official Gazette published amendments to the Citizenship Law of 1963. Article 10 permits the Interior Ministry, with cabinet approval, to strip the citizenship of a person who “aids or is involved in the service of a hostile state” or who “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.” The July 2014 amendments to Bahrain’s citizenship laws grant the Interior Ministry additional authority to revoke the citizenship of people who fail in their “duty of loyalty” to the state.
Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality. Article 12 of the declaration states that, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” In 1999, the Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has signed, stated that “The scope of ‘his own country’ is broader than the concept ‘country of his nationality,’” and that it would apply to people who have been stripped of their nationality in violation of international law.
Article 29 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, states that “Every person has the right to a nationality, and no citizen shall be deprived of his nationality without a legally valid reason.”
“By slapping human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, and religious scholars with arbitrary citizenship revocations and deportations, Bahraini authorities are reducing courts to rubber-stamps on their quest to stifle dissent completely,” Whitson said.
Published on HRW on February 4, 2018
Economic development in the world’s most-disadvantaged countries – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa – is stalling against the background of a lukewarm global recovery, risking widening inequality, new analysis from UNCTAD has revealed (see report below).
Data suggests that the 47 least developed countries (LDCs), a long-established category of nations requiring special attention from the international community, will fall short of goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development unless urgent action is taken.
“The international community should strengthen its support to LDCs in line with the commitment to leave no one behind,” Paul Akiwumi, Director of UNCTAD’s Division for Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes, said.
“With the global economic recovery remaining tepid, development partners face constraints in extending support to LDCs to help them meet the Sustainable Development Goals.”
GDP growth rates will likely continue to fall short not only of their 2002–2008 average, but also of their 2010–2014 levels, Mr. Akiwumi said.
“Inequalities between the LDCs and other developing countries risk widening.”
The analysis highlights that LDC growth averaged just 5% in 2017 and will reach 5.4% in 2018 – below the target of 7% growth envisaged by target 1 of Sustainable Development Goal 8 on promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
By Alan Travis
Appeal court judges have ruled the government’s mass digital surveillance regime unlawful in a case brought by the Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson.
Liberty, the human rights campaign group which represented Watson in the case, said the ruling meant significant parts of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 – known as the snooper’s charter – are effectively unlawful and must be urgently changed.
The government defended its use of communications data to fight serious and organised crime and said that the judgment related to out of date legislation. Minister Ben Wallace said that it would not affect the way law enforcement would tackle crime.
The court of appeal ruling on Tuesday said the powers in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, which paved the way for the snooper’s charter legislation, did not restrict the accessing of confidential personal phone and web browsing records to investigations of serious crime, and allowed police and other public bodies to authorise their own access without adequate oversight.
The three judges said Dripa was “inconsistent with EU law” because of this lack of safeguards, including the absence of “prior review by a court or independent administrative authority”.
Responding to the ruling, Watson said: “This legislation was flawed from the start. It was rushed through parliament just before recess without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
“The government must now bring forward changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are innocent victims or witnesses to crime, are protected by a system of independent approval for access to communications data. I’m proud to have played my part in safeguarding citizens’ fundamental rights.”
Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said: “Yet again a UK court has ruled the government’s extreme mass surveillance regime unlawful. This judgement tells ministers in crystal clear terms that they are breaching the public’s human rights.”
She said no politician was above the law. “When will the government stop bartering with judges and start drawing up a surveillance law that upholds our democratic freedoms?”
The Home Office announced a series of safeguards in November in anticipation of the ruling. They include removing the power of self-authorisation for senior police officers and requiring approval for requests for confidential communications data to be granted by the new investigatory powers commissioner. Watson and other campaigners said the safeguards were “half-baked” and did not go far enough.
The judges, headed by Sir Geoffrey Vos, declined to rule on the Home Office claim that the more rigorous “Watson safeguards” were not necessary for the use of bulk communications data for wider national security purposes.
The judges said the appeal court did not need to rule on this point because it had already been referred to the European court of justice in a case which is due to be heard in February.
Watson launched his legal challenge in 2014 in partnership with David Davis, who withdrew when he entered the government as Brexit secretary in 2016. The European court of justice ruled in December 2016 that the “general and indiscriminate retention” of confidential personal communications data was unlawful without safeguards, including independent judicial authorisation.
Security minister Ben Wallace responded to the ruling saying: “Communications data is used in the vast majority of serious and organised crime prosecutions and has been used in every major security service counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade. It is often the only way to identify paedophiles involved in online child abuse as it can be used to find where and when these horrendous crimes have taken place.”
He said the judgment related to legislation which was no longer in force and did not change the way in which law enforcement agencies could detect and disrupt crimes.
“We had already announced that we would be amending the Investigatory Powers Act to address the two areas in which the court of appeal has found against the previous data retention regime. We welcome the fact that the court of appeal ruling does not undermine the regime and we will continue to defend these vital powers, which Parliament agreed were necessary in 2016, in ongoing litigation,” he said.
Published on The Guardian on January 30, 2018
A Malaysian court on Monday said the religion of a minor could only be decided with consent from both parents, a landmark ruling ending a near decade-old case that widened religious and racial divisions.
The judgment is seen as a victory for ethnic and religious minorities in the Muslim-majority nation who are pushing for greater recognition of their rights, amid what critics see as growing Islamic conservatism in its government.
Five judges of Malaysia’s Federal Court said it was unconstitutional for just one parent to convert a minor to their religion.
“Both parents have equal rights,” the Star Online news site quoted one of the judges, Zainun Ali, as saying.
“The word ‘parent’ - is a case of being lost in translation,” she added, referring to a Malaysian constitutional provision.
The decision upholds a lower court ruling in favor of Indira Gandhi - who challenged the conversion of her three children by her Muslim-convert former husband in 2009.
The conversion of her three children was null and void, the judges added.
Until now, the unilateral conversion of minors by Muslim converts had left women with little recourse, as their complaints would be referred to a sharia religious court, where non-Muslims have no standing to make claims.
“It’s a great victory for many, because finally these unilateral conversions will stop,” said Kulasegaran Murugeson, Indira’s lead lawyer.
Muslims make up about 60 percent of a population of about 30 million, although Buddhists, Christians and Hindus account for a significant minority.
The ruling leaves police with the responsibility to locate and return Indira’s youngest daughter, taken away by her ex-husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, in 2009, when she was 11 months old, Kulasegaran said.
Muhammad Riduan has yet to return the child and is believed to have gone into hiding, despite a 2010 high court order that awarded Indira custody of all three children.
However, police have not acted on that order until now, because of a conflict in the jurisdiction of civil and sharia courts.
“The police must go aggressively (to retrieve the child),”
Kulasegaran said. “Locating Muhammad Riduan is not impossible, and any extra day that goes by will only add to the pain of Indira and her family.”
The police will now obey the court order to track down Muhammad Riduan and the girl, media quoted the inspector-general of police, Mohamad Fuzi Harun, as saying.
The verdict was a “huge victory for all Malaysians” and for women like Indira who have faced “grave violations” of their rights, said Malaysian rights group the Women’s Aid Organisation.
The opposition and civil society groups have criticized Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration for taking a more conservative tack, such as backing a bill to widen sharia courts’ jurisdiction over Muslims in northern Kelantan state.
The government also faced criticism for dropping, as being unconstitutional, a family law change that would have brought cases of unilateral conversion within the purview of civil law.
Published on Reuters on January 29, 2018
By Annie Kelly
Victims of slavery who have acted as witnesses in the prosecution of their traffickers are ending up destitute and homeless on the streets of Britain, campaigners have warned.
Other potential whistleblowers, left without accommodation or access to support services for weeks after being identified as victims of slavery, have been forced to return to their traffickers simply to keep a roof over their heads.
“We know that once they have been formally identified as victims of slavery, most victims are not given a secure immigration status or right to remain and so find themselves almost instantly destitute and without anywhere to live,” said Kate Roberts of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
She said there was a lack of reliable data on what happened to people following positive identification as victims of slavery under the government’s national referral mechanism (NRM).
“Anecdotally, we know that some victims who have done everything they have been asked to by the authorities are actively re-entering exploitation just to get a roof over their heads. Others who have helped secure the prosecution of their traffickers are finding themselves on the streets,” said Roberts.
“At a time when the government and police services are under fire for failing to use the Modern Slavery Act to secure more prosecutions, the failure to provide victims with basic support services immediately is utterly counterproductive.”
Hope for Justice, which provides pro bono legal support to victims of slavery, said that in 2015, 70% of their clients faced homelessness and reported problems accessing welfare support.
“If someone disappears or is homeless and potentially re-trafficked, we have not only failed in a basic moral duty, we have also lost them as a potential prosecution witness,” said Phillipa Roberts, the organisation’s legal director.
Roberts said that while funding shortfalls since 2015 have meant the charity could only take on the “most at need” cases, the situation facing clients has become increasingly desperate.
Last year, a highly critical report by the House of Commons work and pensions committee said there was an “inexcusable” lack of support for the estimated 13,000 modern victims in the UK.
The committee recommended the introduction of a system to give all confirmed victims of slavery at least one year’s leave to remain, with recourse to benefits and services.
Currently, the Home Office provides victims of trafficking with 45 days of support while they go through the NRM process, with an additional two weeks if they receive a positive identification. Last October, the government announced it was extending post-identification support to 45 days.
“Obviously we welcome any extension but, while this is some help, it is still not sufficient to ensure that victims are not falling off a cliff-edge at the end of this period,” said Roberts.
Anti-trafficking charities have formed a new coalition, Free for Good, to support new victim support legislation written by Lord McColl of Dulwich, aiming to implement the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee in law.
“The government does not have an understanding of what happens to victims of modern slavery once they have been rescued, leaving them impoverished, homeless and often deported to a country where they have no friends or family,” said Frank Field, the Labour MP taking the bill through the House of Commons.
In a statement, the Home Office said: “In October 2017 we announced a package of reforms to the national referral mechanism, the system for identifying and supporting victims. Confirmed victims of modern slavery will receive a minimum of 90 days’ specialist support, including accommodation, subsistence, counselling, access to mental, physical and dental health services, and signposting to legal support.”
Published on The Guardian on January 25, 2018