December 12th, 2007
The International Association of Democratic Lawyers, (IADL) a non-governmental organization of lawyers and jurists in over 90 countries, in consultative status with the United Nations, ECOSOC, UNESCO and UNICEF has become aware that a Saudi woman known as the “girl from Quatif” who was the victim of a gang rape, was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison because she was found guilty of violating a rule regarding segregation of the sexes, and because she appealed her original sentence of 90 lashes and in the process of the appeal the public was made aware of her plight.
IADL in the strongest terms opposes the imposition of any sentence upon a victim of rape. IADL specifically protests the sentence imposed by a Saudi Arabian court upon the woman known as the “girl from Quatif”. IADL also deplores the Court’s action of disbarring the lawyer who, in vigorously defending his client, brought the actions of the court to light.
Rape is recognized throughout the world as a heinous crime. It is a crime not only of violence but against a person’s dignity. Women who are victims of rape must not be discouraged from reporting this crime otherwise rape will be a crime for which there is complete impunity. For a society’s courts and laws to subject a woman to potential criminal penalties for reporting and seeking to prosecute a rape is to endorse this impunity. When the laws or courts of a society support impunity for rape they are complicit in the crime itself. The right to dignity of persons is the cornerstone of all human rights law and instruments.
Saudi Arabia as a member of the United Nations is duty bound to respect and promote human rights and dignity. Saudi Arabia has also ratified the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Sentencing any person to lashes for a crime fits the definition of Torture under this convention. It is particularly outrageous for the Saudi Court to subject this woman to a punishment outlawed under the Convention on Torture after she has already been subjected to the degrading crime of rape.
The prohibition on torture is considered a jus cogens norm, that is one which is universally accepted, and for which there can be no derogation. As a result any country which tolerates punishments which amount to torture do so in violation of international law. IADL cannot condone a sentence of any sort placed on a victim of rape based on an alleged violation of a religious proscription requiring segregation of the sexes.
Women have the inherent human right to be part of the body politic without reprisal and to freely travel in society. Such rules requiring segregation contradict the language and spirit of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which Saudi Arabia has acceded to.
IADL also strongly opposes actions of the court for disbarring lawyer who has strongly advocated for the victim of rape and who has had the courage to expose to the world a sentence imposed on his client which, as torture, is both a violation of international law and anathema to civilized society. It violates fundamental principles of due process for the court to impose a harsher sentence on this woman because she rightly believed that the original sentence was in violation of law.
IADL condemns and expresses outrage at any attempts of the Saudi Arabian Government to justify the actions against the victim and her lawyer. IADL therefore urges the government of Saudi Arabia to:
1. Repudiate any provisions in its law which allow a victim of rape to be criminally charged when reporting the crime so as to end its complicity in allowing there to be impunity for the crime of rape;
2. Reverse the conviction and sentence of the victim from Quatif who has been found guilty of the law upon which she was convicted and sentenced.
3. Renounce the use of imposing lashes because it is a violation of the Convention Against Torture.
4. Renounce the Court’s decision to increase the penalty on the victim because the victim chose to appeal the sentence.
5. Restore the license to practice law to the lawyer who defended this victim of rape.
IADL also requests its affiliated organizations to file letters of protest with the Saudi government and its Justice Ministry.
Issued: December 12, 2007
Jitendra Sharma, President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Jeanne Mirer, Secretary General, International Association of Democratic Lawyers