May 8th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
All sessions courts in the country have been designated as special courts to try those accused of rape under the anti-rape ordinance promulgated in December last year. Women activists welcomed the constitution of the special courts to try rape offenders, saying it was the first step towards providing a conducive environment for rape survivors to plead their cases.
“In pursuance of the powers conferred by sub-section 3 of section 3 of the Anti-Rape (Investigation & Trial) Ordinance, 2020, the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in consultation with the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Pakistan has been pleased to designate all courts of sessions judges throughout Pakistan as Special Courts under the Ordinance,” read a notification issued by the Federal Ministry of Law and Justice on Friday.
This important development is a stepping stone towards the provision of speedy and expeditious dispensation of justice for victims of rape and sexual offences in a more humane and gender sensitised manner, the Law Ministry said.
According to the Law Ministry statement, the special courts will be equipped with a state of the art infrastructure besides special measures including audio and video recording and video link facilities. “A dedicated and gender-sensitised court room environment for trial of rape and sexual assault cases is now becoming a reality for women and children across Pakistan,” the Law Ministry said.
‘Trials must conclude within 3 months’
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Nida Aly, Executive Director of Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, said the specials courts will provide a conducive environment for rape survivors who are often stigmatised in court proceedings.
”Hopefully, facilities in these special courts like in camera trial, separation screens and recording of testimony through video links are some measures that will help rape survivors better plead their cases,” she said.
Secondly, Aly said, strict timelines need to be enforced and regulated through accountability measures for conducting investigation and medico legal procedures in order to improve the low conviction rates. “The three-month period for concluding the trials needs to be reinforced to avoid refiling of statements and Razi-namas that undermine the delivery of justice to survivors of sexual violence,” she added.
‘Utilise infrastructure of GBV, child courts’
In the opinion of Valerie Khan, Executive Director of Group Development Pakistan, the special courts will not be a parallel structure. “The Gender-Based Violence courts can be notified as special courts for rape cases and the child courts can be notified as special courts for rape cases of children,” she told Voicepk.net.
“The child courts -especially the ones established in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Lahore- have done an unprecedented good job and the GBV court results are also very encouraging,” she said.
Khan viewed that the ordinance should capitalise on these structures. “The idea is not to duplicate existing special structures which have delivered well,” she said.
Asked whether she foresees any improvement in the conviction rate, Khan said the special courts will surely help improve the 2% percent conviction rates in rape cases. “For instance, the conviction rates in seven GBV courts has increased up to 6-7 percent, meaning that these special courts/ procedures are making a difference.”
Khan called for training of more justice actors besides creating public awareness to promote gender equality and peace in order to prevent rapes and other sexual crimes.
WAF rejects anti-rape ordinances
Recently, the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and the Women’s Lawyers’ Association (WLA) rejected the practice of the current PTI-led government to legislate through ordinances.
In a position paper, the WAF said the anti-rape ordinances overlapped with amendments already enacted in 2016 by parliament.
“It is obvious to experienced activists and legal experts that operationalization of the 2020 ordinances will still be obstructed due to flawed and malfunctioning old procedures,” the WAF states in the position paper.
“The record reveals that both policing and prosecutorial systems are biased, technically inept; and that hundreds of thousands of rape/gangrape cases and sexual abuse crimes have either been compromised, or deliberately mishandled, or faced impossible bureaucratic and judicial hurdles.”
The WAF noted that the many flaws in the system yield no justice for the survivor/victim, nor do they serve to reduce the frequency of such crimes. The two ordinances do not address these systemic issues, the WAF said.