Despite the alarmingly high incidence of rape and domestic violence in Pakistan, the government appears to be uninterested in limiting impunity for these acts. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan at least eight women are raped every twenty-four hours nationwide. Estimates of the number of women who experience domestic violence range from 70 to 95 percent-the government's own Commission of Inquiry for Women reported that it "has been described as the most pervasive violation of human rights" in Pakistan. The statistical evidence notwithstanding, the state officials Human Rights Watch spoke to invariably denied the severity, indeed the existence, of the problem of violence against women. Moreover, on August 2, 1999, the upper house of parliament refused even to consider a resolution condemning the ritual practice of so-called honor killing that claims the lives of hundreds of women every year.
The dismissive official attitudes toward violence against women reflect institutionalized gender bias that pervades the state machinery, including the law enforcement apparatus. Partly as a result of deep-seated and widespread biases against women, the criminal justice system does not operate as an avenue for redress and justice for women victims of violence. Victims who turn to the system confront a discriminatory legal regime, venal and abusive police, untrained medicolegal doctors, incompetent prosecutors, and skeptical judges. The deplorable level of medicolegal services in the country is itself a sign of the government's lack of will to tackle the problem of violence against women. Medical evidence plays a unique and critical role in prosecutions of sex crimes, the majority of victims of which are women. Particularly in light of the requirements of Pakistani rape law, a well-functioning medicolegal system is a practical prerequisite for the successful prosection of rape and sexual assault.
A comprehensive program of concrete measures and a deliberate reversal of existing government attitudes and polices is required to afford women victims of violence an effective remedy and equal protection of law. At a minimum, the government must enact legislation that explicitly establishes domestic and other familial violence as crimes. The discriminatory Zina Ordinance should be repealed, and Pakistan's previous rape laws should be re-enacted with an amendment to make marital rape a criminal offense. Police, medicolegal doctors, and prosecutors should be trained in the proper procedures for handling rape, sexual assault and domestic violence cases in their respective professional capacities. The government should fund nongovernmental organizations to provide shelters, legal aid, counseling, and medical care for women victims of violence. The government of Pakistan is obligated, under its own constitution and international law, to take requisite steps to eliminate gender discrimination in thecriminal justice system and to put an end to impunity for violence against women, itself a form of such discrimination.