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Torture of women in police/penal custody

Torture against women in police/penal custody is considered as a particularly severe
violation of human rights with heightened responsibility from the State for the
individual in its custody. Forms of custody include arrest, detention, preventive
detention, pre-trial detention, and court lock-up. The laws and the conditions of
these custody forms vary from state to state. Detention is particularly widely
interpreted. All kinds of arbitrary captivity can be included under this term. Custody is
Not clearly defined. In its narrow definition it can encompass police and penal
custody, but as the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women notes in her
report on State-violence, it can occur in psychiatric custody, in medical custody, in
educational custody. Custody can thus be defined broadly as situations where the
State physically keeps an individual by compulsory means for a specific purpose.
The purpose can be legal but also illegal.

Women are increasingly in conflict with laws and policies as they increase their
activities in the public as well as in the private sphere. Political activists and human
rights defenders are especially at risk of being tortured in custody. Research shows
that almost all female political prisoners are subjected to sexual torture (Allodi
1990.Lunde 1992). Women are tortured in prison with the purpose of extracting a
confession, and to punish, inflict pain and suffering, instill fear, and cause
psychological damage. A recent example of torture of human rights activists in police
custody in a European country.

“Two young Kurdish women – 16yr. Old, high school student NCS (full name withheld) and 19 yr.old
student Fatma Deniz Polattas – were detained for several days in March 1999 at the anti-terror branch
of Ilkenderun Police in Turkey, accused of being members of an armed opposition group. The women
were held naked and blindfolded and deprived of sleep, food and access to a toilet. During
interrogation, police threatened to rape their parents unless they confessed. NS. Was hit on the head,
genitals, buttocks and breasts, forced to roll naked in water. Fatma Deniz was punched in the face
breaking a tooth. She was then made to bend over and raped anally with an object…The young
women were seen at different times by five doctors, but none reported any signs of torture, instead the
women were subjected to degrading ‘virginity tests’. Although they lodged a complaint the Iskenderum
Chief Public Prosecutor decided not to prosecute the police officers. It was only after an appeal
against this decision that in early 2000 a trial was opened against four police officers charged with
torture”. (Amnesty International 2000).

Physical captivity in any form – where the power between the captive and the captor is
unequal as in police and penal custody –increases the risk for abuse of power and torture.
male prison officials increase the risk for sexual abuse and coercion of female prisoners.
So does housing of females in male prison facilities.

Gender-torture forms in custody documented in the latest report of the Special Rapporteur
On Violence against Women are: rape, threat of rape (perpetrated against women
detainees by male guards or by inmates at the instigation or consent of the guards).
(Albania 1994, Bahrain 1996, Bangladesh 1997, Tunisia 1995,Turkey 1997). Other forms
are forced impregnation and forced maternity (Bosnia) by soldiers and militias. Virginity
testing and defloration (Iran, Turkey) by police and prison doctors. These examples are
only indicative and not exhaustive.

Abuse of reproductive capacity in enforcing a State policy
Forced abortion, forced sterilization and forced miscarriages in late phases of pregnancy
by midwives, population-control officials and doctors are reported to take place in China
Colombia. (HRIC ref, the special Rapporteur on Gender Violence)

Population control policy in China puts women under tremendous social, economic and
administrative pressures to undergo unwanted abortions and forced sterilization and then
suffer the health consequences. Although the authorities have established Family
Planning counseling Centres, violence and other abuses have been reported in individual
cases. Though enforcement of the policy varies from region to region, patterns of penalty
can include fines, disqualification of benefits and subsidies, administrative demotion or
loss of job. Loss of state subsidies for child-care, health care and education and
deprivation of a child’s legal status. Women are subjected to peer pressure, and Unit
Officials and co-workers can loose their bonuses if they don’t keep the quota for the
permitted number of children and pregnancies in their district. Women are subjected to
psychological intimidation and humiliation, monitoring of menstrual periods, demolition of
property and property confiscation in case they become pregnant without permission.

There are disquieting reports on physical brutality of pregnant women, including beating
and horrendous descriptions of forced surgery and killing of fetuses. Human Rights
Organizations are concerned about the lack of prosecution of officials who authorize these
kinds of violations. (HRIC 1995, 1995, Special Rapporteur on Violence 1998, Special
Rapporteur on Torture 1998, Chen 1999)

Amnesty International has lab1elled the practices of forced abortion and forced sterilization
as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees or restricted persons by
government officials’ Amnesty International 1995, in the report of the Special Rapporteur
on Violence). A Chinese woman was granted asylum in Canada on the grounds that she
would risk sterilization if she were refouled to China (ref.rstal).

Posted on 2002-11-11

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