Item 12: Integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective: (a) violence against women

(Note: The following oral presentation was made by Rita Kolibonso of ALRC on April 10, 2001, at the 47th meeting of the 57th session of the UNCHR.)

Presented by: Ms. Rita Kolibonso

Mr. Chairman, I speak on behalf of the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC).

In our written submission to this commission (UNCHR) [E/CN.4/2001/NGO/72] on violence against women, ALRC highlighted the lack of legal and institutional remedies for women who are victims of gender violence.

We cited a number of cases to support this contention and identified the following main causes for the failure of governments and the judicial system in most Asian countries to protect the rights of women victims:

1. Discrimination through customary laws regarding divorce and alimony, the social stigma and women’s lack of independent economic resources, which make it difficult for women to leave abusive situations;

2. Inadequate understanding and interpretation of the law that encourages further violence as domestic violence is generally considered a private matter;

3. Malfunctioning of the legal system and the corruption of law enforcement officials that prevent women from filing charges against their abusers because they fear the costs of lengthy processes and additional humiliation at the hands of the prosecuting authorities;

4. The attitude of judicial authorities – the most insidious cause of the lack of remedies for women who are victims of violence.

One example from South Asia involving rape illustrates a dismal insensitivity and lack of understanding of the nature of the crime of rape and its consequences for women victims. In a court case in Sri Lanka, the Court of Appeal recently overturned a rape conviction by a High Court judge (the Kamal Addaratchchi case). The essence of this judgement is that there was doubt whether the woman had consented because there was no physical evidence of her having resisted. Moreover, the Court of Appeal judges made observations as to the credibility of the victim, implying that she had “consented” because she went into the room “without making any fuss” and because of the “normal conduct and behaviour patterns of women and girls in Sri Lankan society” and “the yardstick of accepted and expected behaviour of women in society,” illustrating a deep male prejudice about women’s sexual behaviour.

We also wish to draw the attention of the commission in particular to the violations of women’s rights in Indonesia where the present combination of political instability, communal conflicts and deep economic problems have led to an increase of violence against women.

Despite positive changes towards democracy in Indonesia, human rights violations have continued, and violence against women in many parts of Indonesia remains a major concern. Violence has been used to intimidate individuals in cases of labour conflicts and domestic problems as well as to intimidate certain groups or communities. This has happened particularly in conflict areas like Aceh and West Papua where military personnel guilty of sexual harassment and the rape of civilians have not been prosecuted. Increasing numbers of women in refugee camps, displaced by internal conflicts and natural disasters, are extremely vulnerable to violence and sexual harassment. The economic crisis has increased the trade in women and children.

The government has significantly failed to protect women from violence and to implement legislative reforms to improve the position of victims. The high level of impunity, especially in Aceh and West Papua, leaves many women in a vulnerable position.

In particular, the government has been slow in implementing the important and concrete recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in 1999. There is an urgent need to accelerate the legal reform process, to amend the criminal code to reflect the latest international standards in cases of violence against women and to facilitate prosecution for rape and domestic violence.

Presently, there has been little change and no systematic efforts undertaken by the Indonesian government that indicate a political willingness to improve law enforcement, particularly to enhance protection for victims. Therefore, we would like to request the commission to urge:

1. the Indonesian government to expedite legal reforms to improve the situation of women, especially through amendments to the criminal code and a victim and witness protection program and the training of law enforcement personnel in the areas of human rights and gender sensitivity;

2. the Indonesian government to end impunity and prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations against women and to pay special attention to the vulnerable groups in situations of displacement;

3. the Indonesian government to involve women in the process of conflict resolution taking place in Aceh, West Papua and other places since their central position in society justifies this response.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.


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The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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