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Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia

Silence around the topic of sexual violence has increased in South Asian countries of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, even as its incidence has also increased in recent conflicts. The end of violence in Sri Lanka, for example, has not produced open discussion about the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal of 2009 makes no mention of rape, despite its widely acknowledged occurrence. Elsewhere in the world, rape is increasingly being discussed and accepted not only as a weapon of war but also as a crime against humanity and as an instrument of genocide. In South Asia, however, critical analysis of existing jurisprudence on sexual violence is a newly emerging area of scholarship in the region, and a solid community of practice has yet to emerge.

This project investigates why the issue of sexual violence remains taboo in South Asian discussions of nations and people caught in political conflict. It will bring together the collective knowledge of South Asian academics, researchers and activists on the subjects of sexual violence and impunity. The project aims to build a community of young and committed researchers who will bring new insights to bear on their work. In these ways, it will ultimately help open up a fuller dialogue on peace and justice in South Asia.

One aspect of the project's activities will consist in commissioning analytical research papers from expert researchers on the topics of sexual violence and impunity, justice and reparations, and legal practices and gaps. A second element will consist in oral histories with survivors of sexual violence. Finally, workshops on each of the research areas will bring together writers and researchers to share knowledge and build research capacity. Project findings will be shared through books and other media, and will be used to advance advocacy and lobbying work with states and governments.

Project ID
Project Status
End Date
36 months
IDRC Officer
Navsharan Singh
Total Funding
CA$ 612,600.00
Sri Lanka
Governance and Justice
Governance and Justice
Institution Country
Project Leader
Ms Urvashi Butalia
The trustees for and on behalf of Zubaan


Challenging impunity on sexual violence in South Asia : beginning a discussion


Despite many attempts by women’s groups to flag the
issues of sexual violence, there still is a legal silence
around the question of sexual violence and impunity.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and other
extraordinary legislations such as the Unlawful Activities
(Prevention) Act and Chhattisgarh Special Public Security
Act are seemingly “protective” legislations which were
put forward by states as necessary for security. In fact,
they have been violative of the basic human rights of
people in the areas where they are in force.
A small group of women activists have initiated a
discussion on these extraordinary laws of south Asia
which function to create some sort of consent to formal
obstructions to justice, and thereby, create a much wider
culture of impunity.

Author(s): Singh, Navsharan, Butalia, Urvashi

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