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Rights groups urge India to reject new sexual violence law

Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy websites] called Tuesday for significant alterations [press release] to India's new criminal law on violence against women. The new law [text] was signed [JURIST report] by President Pranab Mukherjee [official website] in early February. The rights groups contend that the new law fails to meet current international human rights standards, noting it does not "criminalize the full range of sexual violence with appropriate punishments in accordance with international human rights law." According to HRW, the law fails to draw distinctions between different levels of sexual misconduct and assault. The press release also criticized the ordinance claiming certain provisions effectively grant immunity to members of police and military forces accused of sexual violence. South Asia director at HRW, Meenakshi Ganguly, condemned the new provisions, stating that "India's laws should not give the police and armed forces special privileges to commit sexual violence and other human rights abuses." The groups also criticized other facets of the law, including the increased age of consent and new definitions of "trafficking," which HRW believes would unfairly harm legal sex workers.

Reform of the criminal legal code in regard to sexual violence has been a serious issue in India since the gang-rape and death [BBC report] of a women in New Delhi in December. The incident sparked mass protests in India and led to the creation of the committee that recommended legal reforms in a report released in January [JURIST report]. The report recommended numerous reforms in the way the nation's legal institutions handle rape cases, many of which were taken into consideration in the ordinance. In December Indian authorities charged six suspects [JURIST report] with murder after the death of the gang rape victim. Also in December Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [official profile] called for peace [JURIST report] after a protest over sexual violence resulted in a clash between protesters and police.

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