Cyprus rape case: on the day before sentencing Women Against Rape points to similar outrageous cases in the UK

We share the outrage of women in Cyprus protesting against the conviction of a 19-year-old British woman who faces prison after reporting gang rape by 12 Israeli men in Ayia Napa. We welcome the UK government’s concern at the unfairness of the trial. But where is the acknowledgement that rape victims in the UK also face prison if they are disbelieved?

The Cyprus police forced the woman to retract after nine hours of questioning without a lawyer; she was then charged for lying. The trial judge refused to hear evidence that the woman had been raped, stating “this is not a rape case, I will not consider whether she was raped or not.” 

We have worked with women in the UK who were prosecuted and imprisoned after receiving similar treatment at the hands of the British police. Some way through the investigation into their rape the police decided they did not believe them and turned the investigation against the women without even affording them any of the rights a defendant would have had, such as a lawyer. 

We raised this with Keir Starmer when he was Director of Public Prosecutions (2008-13) and was overseeing a review of prosecutions of women who are disbelieved. We insisted he meet the sister of a woman sentenced to three years in prison after being attacked on her way home by two strangers: there was compelling evidence of a biased police investigation and a biased trial. We also wrote to Starmer asking for the prosecution of a woman who was repeatedly raped, again by a stranger, to be dropped. Both women had been pressurised by the police to retract their allegations. The first refused, the second retracted – it made no difference, both were prosecuted and imprisoned.

We told the DPP and his successor Alison Saunders that the policy of prosecuting rape victims who are disbelieved skews police investigations and undermines women’s ability to report rape. It encourages the centuries-old institutional sexism of police and courts which has never gone away despite official pronouncements to the contrary. How else can we explain that 40 years since the birth of the modern-day anti-rape movement rape prosecutions are at an all-time low and still falling: 3% of reported rapes lead to a conviction granting rapists almost complete impunity.

Our warnings fell on deaf ears. Starmer, while claiming to stand with women against rape, refused to stand with victims once the police had disbelieved them. And so today, victims who are accused of lying face longer sentences in Britain than the woman in Cyprus does for the same ‘crime’ – often way longer than the average sentences given to convicted rapists.

We have helped to overturn some cases, proving how easy it is for victims to be treated as perpetrators. One woman had been raped at age 15 and charged with lying when police claimed to have found no sperm on her T-shirt where she’d said her rapist had ejaculated. Our support led to a second investigation by another police force who found the sperm and the man was prosecuted. The woman later sued the police for £20,000.  Another teenage girl who reported a sexual assault had her summary fine quashed – it had been issued when police decided they didn’t believe her. We don’t know how many other women are charged and fined similarly, and are too scared or unable to find the help to fight these injustices.

It is not only the criminal courts that are at fault. The family courts are even worse. Mothers who disclose rape and domestic violence by violent ex-partners risk having their children taken away and handed to the father, even when he has a record for rape or DV. The government is due to report on its review of family court treatment of DV victims.

Recent decisions by police and CPS that victims must hand over their whole mobile phone and social media history, medical and counselling records, and that these must be disclosed to their attacker has led to a further drop in rape prosecutions. Like in Cyprus, in most British cases it is not the rapists that are on trial but their victims.

It has been claimed that the Israeli men were let go because Cyprus wants to protect its political and economic relations with Israel. How much do politics influence court decisions in Britain and elsewhere? We don’t know. But we do know that powerful and well-connected men, like Harvey Weinstein whose trial in the US has just begun, are more likely to get away with it. On the other hand, whistle-blowers like Julian Assange whom governments want to silence because they expose rape and murder by the state, are assumed to be guilty of sexual offences even when they haven’t been charged. 

Women Against Rape can be contacted at 0207 482 2496 or war@womenagainstrape.net 

The Rohingya women traumatised by mass rape

by Cristel Amiss of Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape. Published 17 March 2018 in Morning Star (see morningstar.online.co.uk)

A new report, Rape by Command published by Kaladan Press Network, documents mass violence against women and girls by the Myanmar military, in its 2017 purge of Rohingya people across northern Rakhine State.

We met Pippa Curwen, a human rights defender, who helped publish the research. She has been involved in life-saving work on the Thai-Myanmar (formerly Burma) border for over a decade.

The chief researcher of the report is lawyer Razia Sultana, a former teacher. She interviewed 36 survivors – 24 women and 12 men who had just arrived on the border with Bangladesh having fled for their lives.  They described the torture they had suffered and what they had seen inflicted on others – horrific crimes committed by the military during their August 2017 campaign to ethnically cleanse the northern Rakhine state where many Rohingya had lived.  Eight were rape survivors.

Sultana is from the region and this is the closest we have to the authentic voices of the Rohingya themselves, uncensored by the interpretations of outside observers or academics.

Sultana had recorded earlier witness evidence of atrocities in 2016. The Background chapter tells how the Myanmar government had refused visas to independent international investigators, instead installing its own “Rakhine Investigative Commission”, which did not report any instances of abuses during the whole 2016 military operations. This impunity gave a green light to atrocities on an even larger scale in 2017.

“Women and girls were raped, mutilated and killed for their very identity as Rohingya. Rape is being used as a weapon of genocide.”

Sultana documents testimony that hundreds of women and girls were gang-raped in front of their loved ones by groups of Myanmar soldiers as their homes were ransacked and destroyed.  Often, these rapes were accompanied by other horrific violence using knives, burning and other forms of torture.  Women and children were brutally attacked in their homes, while fleeing, and in military camps where they were held prisoner.
She notes that particular acts of mutilation of women’s breasts and genitals, indicate that the violence was the result of a directive, rather than individual soldiers’ actions.  Atrocities were authorised by the military and the border police which systematically cleared Rohingya communities from the countryside and towns, razing their homes, leaving only non-Muslim villages intact.  They aimed to extinguish the very existence of the Rohingya.

As an immediate precursor to violence targeting women and children, Myanmar troops invaded the villages, rounding up men and boys for arrest, torturing and killing, often using allegations of “terrorism”. This left women and children alone and vulnerable and paved the way for mass rape.

Given the systematic organisation of the military raids, with were co-ordinated by the armed forces from the sea, air and on land, the report concludes that war crimes have been committed.  It calls for the military leaders at the highest level to be held responsible.

Myanmar has so far blocked any independent UN fact-finding investigation.  This is being used as a pretext for some governments to take no action at all, and to carry on supporting investments with the excuse that they are waiting for an official UN report.
The country’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to mention the Rohingya to the outrage of people around the world who supported her when she was under house arrest.  Some experts have avoided acknowledging that this mass rape and murder is genocide.

As anti-rape organisations with over 60 years of combined experience of working with survivors of rape, including historic child and domestic abuse in the UK, we know how hard it is to get justice.  Some of us have fled to the UK after suffering rape and torture by military or others in authority.  Our collective self-help with survivors, and our attempts to hold their attackers to account, addresses the trauma of rape, of witnessing loved ones killed, and the many barriers to recovery faced by victims of sexual and racist/Islamophobic crimes. These are compounded by losing your home and/or becoming a refugee.

There are now 900,000 Rohingya in the camps of Bangladesh who need our support and action. Rape by Command calls for:

  • Holding the military to account for systematic rape and other violence against civilian women and children. No impunity for the Myanmar military!
  • A place of safety for all the refugees to settle and rebuild their lives. They must not be forced back to Myanmar.  The majority who want ultimately to return must be guaranteed rights and safety.

The Sisters of Rohingya are demanding sanctions against Myanmar, not just military sanctions, and an end to foreign investment.  On International Women’s Day, 8 March, we joined a large and lively picket outside Unilever HQ, London, calling for the company to divest from Myanmar.


Unilever is one of the biggest foreign investors in the region, annually investing $667m.  It claims to respect the dignity and rights of women and girls, especially in its marketing of Dove products, and has been named “Impact Champion” by UN Women.  It’s time it put this into practice by withdrawing from Myanmar instead of enhancing the funds available to the military government.

The Unilever protesters handed in a letter to Chief Executive Paul Polman (who was paid £9.4m in 2015) urging him to divest.  The international movement against sexual violence, from Hollywood to #MeToo and Time’sUp, must be extended to the Rohingyas – women, children and men.

Corporations must be forced to put life before profit and to stop funding rape and genocide.  We are all sisters and brothers of Rohingya.

Cristel Amiss is a member the Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Lisa Longstaff is a member of Women Against Rape.

You can support the campaign by using the hashtags  #No Peace  #No Dove
For more information please email bwrap@rapeaction.net; follow @bwrap1; or email war@womenagainstrape.net ; follow @AgainstRape; or visit the Sisters of Rohingya blog sistersofrohingya.wordpress.com. You can see the full report Rape by Command at: www.kaladanpress.org

8 March: Protest Unilever, disinvest from Myanmar!

 

UNILEVER: disinvest from Myanmar!
End rape and genocide of Rohingya!

8 March 2018, International Women’s Day,5-6pm  PROTEST outside UNILEVER HQ UNILEVER House, 100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY

Why UNILEVER?
UNILEVER claims to embody principles that respect the dignity and rights of women and girls, especially in the marketing of Dove products. UNILEVER has been so successful in this that the company holds the title of “Impact Champion” appointed by UN Women as part of their campaign to advance women’s rights. As an Impact Champion UNILEVER proclaims that “UNILEVER aims to improve safety for women and girls in the communities where they operate.”

This is at odds with their $667 million investment in Myanmar where the military are committing systematic rape and other torture with total impunity as part of their genocide against the Rohingya people.

A new report details Myanmar Army’s use of rape as a weapon against the Rohingya:
UNILEVER is one of the biggest foreign investors in Myanmar and has the power to impact directly on the actions of the government. By withdrawing from Myanmar, UNILEVER can reduce the funds available to the military and encourage other corporations to put people’s lives before profits.

Sign the petition issued by Sisters of Rohingya:

Tell UNILEVERon Twitter: @paulpolman @Dove @UNILEVER
Tweet using hashtags: #nopeacenodove #boycottdove

More things you can do on the Sisters of Rohingyablog:

Called by Global Women’s Strike gws@globalwomenstrike.net 020 7482 2496 in support of the Sisters of Rohingya call for UNILEVER to divest