Pakistan's president approves new anti-rape law

Pakistan also approved tougher penalties for rapists last month, including chemical castration and hanging

FILE - In this Oct. 28, 2018 file photo, released by Press Information Department, Pakistan's President Arif Alvi speaks to journalists prior to departing to Turkey, in Islamabad, Pakistan. On Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, Alvi issued a much-awaited new law requiring the establishment of special courts to speedily conclude trials of people charged with raping women or children, a move hailed by rights activists. The law must be endorsed by Parliament to remain in effect. It also prohibits the disclosure of the identity of rape victims. (Press Information Department via AP, File)

A new law to tackle rape in Pakistan has been praised for trying to ensure speedier justice for victims, but condemned for decreeing that attackers face chemical castration.
The law announced by President Arif Alvi was brought in after widespread public anger at a series of high-profile sexual assaults in the country.
Imran Khan vowed to overhaul rape prosecutions and even touted possible public executions following outrage when a stranded female motorist was gang raped near Lahore in September.
The new legislation, which must be approved by Parliament to remain in effect, will establish special courts to conclude trials of rape suspects within four months.
"The ordinance will help expedite cases of sexual abuse against women and children. Special courts will be set up across the country to expedite trials and cases of rape suspects as soon as possible," President Alvi said on Twitter.
A sex offenders' register will be set up and it will be forbidden to identify rape victims, he said.
The president gave few other details, but the new law is also reported to give judges the option of ordering chemical castration for those convicted.
Mr Khan is believed to have backed down from bringing in the death sentence after being warned that the European Union would remove a preferential trade status in response.
Human rights groups said the castrations would do little to improve justice and amounted to torture. While the procedure is also carried out elsewhere, it is usually a voluntary part of rehabilitation schemes rather than a compulsory punishment.
The government would do better to fix the country's flawed justice system, where cases face huge delays and criminals often buy their freedom by striking deals with the victims' family.
"Chemical castrations are a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment," said Omar Waraich, head of South Asia at Amnesty International.
"They would violate Pakistan's international and constitutional obligations to prohibit torture, and they will do nothing to fix a flawed criminal justice system," he said.
"Instead of trying to deflect attention, the authorities should focus on the crucial work of reforms that will give women and girls the justice they deserve and the protection they need."
September's attack on a female motorist caused nationwide outrage, even in a country where violence against women is commonplace. The woman was driving to Gujranwala when she ran out of fuel in the early hours. She called relatives for help, but before they could arrive, two robbers approached the car and dragged her and her children from the vehicle.
Two men are currently awaiting trial.

Weeks later, a fresh wave of anger followed the abduction and rape of a woman and her five-year-old daughter. The pair had been lured to a house with offers of work, only to be attacked by the owner and his accomplice.
Saroop Ijaz, Pakistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, said chemical castration would do nothing to protect women if the system did not encourage them to report rape.
"Rape is under-reported in Pakistan due to social stigma, poor response by the criminal justice system and other structural and social barriers.

"Rather than allowing society to be exposed to continued violence and relying on human rights violating punishments such as chemical castration, Pakistan owes its women and girls to do the hard work by addressing these barriers and offering real protection."
He said that the expansion of the definition of rape, proposed speedy trials and investigations were "welcome steps".
"However, for them to have real impact, the entire criminal justice system needs to be reformed and overhauled to make it more equitable, transparent and efficient."