Dear President Musharraf:
We appreciate the government's prompt response to the recent Mukhtaran Bibi case in Meerwala, Punjab. However, we write to express a number of concerns about the role of the police in this case and, more generally, the exercise of authority by tribal councils.
On June 22, during a Mastoi tribal council meeting in the village of Meerwala, in southern Punjab province, four men, including one of the tribal council members, allegedly raped Mukhtaran Bibi, a thirty-year-old member of the Gujjar tribe. The rape, which occurred in the presence of a large number of villagers, was intended as "punishment" for the conduct of her brother, Abdul Shaqoor, who had been seen with an unchaparoned woman, Salma Bibi - who is now reportedly in police custody along with her mother - from the Mastoi tribe. After the rape, Mukhtaran Bibi's attackers forced her to return home naked, passing before a crowd of Mastoi villagers. Mukhtaran Bibi did not initially file a complaint with the police because she and her family feared further reprisals by the Mastoi tribe.
Earlier in the day, members of the Mastoi tribe reportedly abducted Mukhtaran Bibi's brother, Abdul Shaqoor, who is between thirteen and fifteen years old, and sodomized him over a period of several hours. Although the police negotiated the release of Shaqoor from his abductors, they failed at that time to launch a criminal investigation or arrest those implicated in his abduction and rape. Shaqoor's family alleges that the police released their son from custody only after the family paid the police a bribe of 11,000 rupees (U.S. $180).
We understand that the local police have arrested a number of individuals identified as perpetrators in the assault against Mukhtaran Bibi. The investigation into this and other related cases should ensure respect for due process and accountability for the offenses committed, and provide for the full protection of the victims and their families.
Human Rights Watch requests clarification of the following matters:
· Have Mukhtaran Bibi and her family been provided with police protection from reprisals for reporting the assault?
· On what legal basis have the local police detained Salma Bibi and her mother?
· Has a police investigation into the assault against Abdul Shaqoor begun? Is an investigation being conducted into reports that police officers demanded bribes from the family of Abdul Shaqoor to secure his release from police custody? On what legal basis was Shaqoor, a victim of sexual violence, detained? Are Shaqoor and his family now receiving police protection from further reprisals by the Mastoi tribe?
We also remain concerned about the broader role of tribal councils in Pakistan and the authority they effectively enjoy to mete out punishments properly reserved to the state.
The authority wielded by these councils has come under strong criticism from national and international human rights organizations. In its 2001 annual report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan stated that tribal councils in the North West Frontier Province enforced legal punishments with official sanction, including imposing death sentences. Abusive exercise of authority by tribal councils is not confined to remote rural areas, though. In 1998, an Afridi tribal council in Karachi decreed that a young couple, Riffat Afridi and Kunwar Ahsan, should be killed because they married against the wishes of Riffat Afridi's family. Kunwar Ahsan was permanently disabled after being shot by his wife's relatives. The tribal council members vowed to find and kill the couple.
Human Rights Watch believes that it is imperative that government authorities ensure that tribal councils act in accordance with the law and in a manner that respects women's rights, and do not usurp the proper judicial authority of the state. We request that you identify mechanisms by which local administrations in Pakistan can monitor the conduct of tribal councils, and intervene in instances where they have exercised jurisdiction belonging to the state.
We appreciate your attention to these urgent matters and look forward to your response.
LaShawn R. Jefferson
Women's Rights Division
Cc: Chief Justice Sheikh Riaz Ahmed, Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights Division Governor Khalid Maqbool, Provincial Governor of Punjab Province Minister Khalid Ranjha, Federal Minister of Law, Justice, Human Rights and Parliamentary Affairs
Dr. Attiya Inayatullah, Federal Minister of Women Development, Social Welfare, Special Education and Population Welfare
Justice Majida Razvi, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, Ambassador of Pakistan to the U.S.