Pakistan’s flawed forensic investigation in rape cases is the weak link in the justice system

Observing the low rates of reported rapes in Pakistan, a recent Dawneditorial rightly points towards the gross “inadequacies of investigators and prosecutors…” as a key contributor to this issue.

The role of medical examiners holds immense importance in investigations for rape, since their report can often make or break the case.

Despite this, the investigational techniques utilised by our medicolegal system tend to rely upon crude, insensitive, and often brutal methods.

Newsreels of crime scenes being mobbed by curious onlookers, rescue volunteers, and reporters, the place being hosed down and precious evidence washed away or trampled on, is nothing new to us.

Our methods are unprofessional, to say the least, in sharp contrast to the meticulous, and methodical approaches being adopted by investigators that impress us on TV shows like CSI Miami.

Advancements in forensic investigations have come a long way but have yet to reach our shores.

Lack of career opportunities

The domain of the medical examiner unfortunately does not present a very rosy picture either. Medical forensic is an orphan specialisation in this country with the brightest minds choosing more lucrative fields.

The forensic departments in medical colleges exist due to requirements laid down by the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, the governing body for undergraduate medical education in Pakistan.

While the subject is taught in all medical colleges as a compulsory course, it is treated by students as no more than a necessary irritant to be endured, rather than a discipline to be learnt and understood, since very few people want to make a career out of it.

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This is not surprising since the only employment that forensic specialists get in Pakistan are in understaffed, under budgeted police surgeon offices in casualty departments of government hospitals.

The medicolegal officers are the underpaid, unrespected and entirely unacknowledged foot soldiers of our medicolegal system that is known more for its failings rather than its accomplishments.

The necessary close linkage with the law enforcement system also exposes this cadre to corruption that is rife in our police force.

Hence we have very few people in this field, out of whom many are there due to a lack of alternatives rather than out of choice.

This dismal state of affairs translates into limited progress in the field, the result of which is the suffering endured by the hapless victims seeking justice.

Systemic backwardness

A prime example of this was highlighted by a recent Dawn articlelamenting the use of the archaic and useless two-finger test used to establish ‘consent’ in a sexual assault case.

This legal requirement for a two-finger test to determine the veracity of the complaint of a rape victim resides within the dusty archives of law books, as a relic of the medieval precedence on which British law of that time was often structured, and is not in practice in any modern legal system across the world.

Same topicIt’s time Pakistan banned the two-finger test for decoding consent in rape trials

Yet, the legal and judicial system of this country seeks the results of this humiliating and unnecessary examination, to be conducted on a victim who summons enough courage to seek justice from a system not renowned for its sensitivity.

Not only is this test regarded as scientifically invalid, it does nothing but to doubly curse the woman.

After getting brutally violated once by the perpetrator of the crime, her recourse for justice lies in submitting to what amounts to nothing less than the most dehumanising and humiliating invasion of a woman’s privacy.

And this is done at the hands of a medical practitioner, a messiah whose hands are supposed to heal.

Resource constraints

The Dawn editorial rightly applauds the Peshawar High Court’s decision to make it mandatory to include DNA evidence in rape investigations.

Whereas DNA forensic has been an established field across the world for years, enabling accurate linking of cells found at the site of the crime to the person they belong to, this technology has been introduced in Pakistan primarily to deal with cases of terrorism and has been very useful in identifying both victims and perpetrators.

Public sector hospitals can access these specialised labs to investigate rape investigations. However, the presence of a facility does not mean it will be used optimally.

Even though specimen collection using rape kits is no rocket science, and any trained person can do so, the lack of availability of trained staff often results in the loss of the window of opportunity to collect appropriate samples.

Due to the social taboo associated with rape and the psychological trauma, the victims may understandably present themselves to the investigation officer late.

Once this narrow window of opportunity is lost, there will be no second chance at collecting appropriate DNA samples.

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Even if the samples are collected and preserved within the designated time frame, lack of appropriate transportation to the labs presents another challenge.

The samples sitting on the dashboard of a van on a hot summer afternoon, while the driver stops for lunch and namaz on the way from Karachi to Hyderabad, where the DNA lab is located for the province of Sindh, is not the recommended way to handle these delicate specimens.

Another challenge is the costs involved in the examination. While the service lies within the public sector domain, there is a cost attached to every procedure.

The lack of budgetary allocations precludes free availability of this investigation.

While the test ought to be provided for free to the victims, the cost which typically amounts to Rs20,000 is generally passed on to the victims’ families.

This may serve as a further deterrent for low income families who may still want to seek justice but find themselves in a bind because of their economic situation.

With so little faith in the legal system, many may understandably choose to forgo this added expense.

Failing education system

Perhaps even worse than ignorance and poor training is apathy of those who matter: the medical practitioners.

While our medical system may train our students in the modern methods of medical care, there is hardly any attempt to inculcate within them the values of empathy, compassion and caring, all part of the largely ignored multidimensional field of bioethics.

Our students are not trained in communication skills, which form an essential part of a physicians’ work, particularly for a medicolegal officer who deals with highly sensitive cases including rape and attempted suicide, to mention a few.

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Most of our medical colleges either entirely ignore teaching bioethics, and even when it is included in the curriculum, according to a study conducted by one of the authors, the students believed that there was a disconnect between what was being taught and what they experienced in real life.

Another study has also previously indicated that a vast majority of the medical students expressed concern that instead of strengthening their moral values during medical schooling, the realities of the work environment may actually lead to erosion of their preexisting values.

In such a situation, easy availability and accessibility of advanced investigational techniques may not be enough.

Dealing with rape victims requires compassionate practitioners, equipped not only with advanced forensic knowledge and skills, and access to technology, but also armed with appropriate bioethics training with a focus on enhancing professionalism and communication skills.

A humane and ethical professional will make the best use of whatever technology is available and will provide the victim with the best chance at justice.

Nawaz, Maryam appear before accountability court in Islamabad

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, appeared before an accountability court in Islamabad on Wednesday as a hearing into three corruption references filed against the Sharifs by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) went underway.

Strict security arrangments were made in the areas surrounding the accountability court ahead of the former premier’s appearance there. Maryam’s husband, retired Captain Muhammad Safdar also appeared before the court today.

During today’s hearing, the prosecution presented two more witnesses before accountability judge Mohammad Bashir.

While recording his testimony in the court, Tasneem Khan, an officer at Inland Revenue, presented the income and wealth tax records of Nawaz and his children.

Speaking to the media after the hearing, Nawaz said that the judiciary had favoured Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan by giving him a clean chit in the disqualification case against him.

The former premier, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court on July 28, asked why Khan had made use of an amnesty scheme if he was innocent. Nawaz maintained that Khan had confessed to his crimes, yet the court had found him to be sadiq and ameen.

“I was disqualified for a having an iqama. They have not been able to prove any crime against me yet,” Nawaz added.

NAB references

A five-member bench of the Supreme Court on July 28 had directed NAB to file references against Nawaz and his children in six weeks in the accountability court and directed the trial court to decide the references within six months.

The Supreme Court also assigned Justice Ijazul Ahsan a supervisory role to monitor the progress of the accountability court proceedings.

The former premier and his sons, Hassan and Hussain, have been named in all three NAB references, while Maryam and husband Safdar have been named only in the Avenfield reference.

Trump’s ‘incomprehensible’ accusations contradict facts, negate Pakistani sacrifices: NSC

Participants of the seventeenth meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) on Tuesday expressed “deep disappointment” at the allegations levelled against Pakistan by US President Donald Trump, saying the accusations strike at the trust between the two countries and negate the sacrifices rendered by the Pakistani nation.

NSC meeting underway in Islamabad.— DawnNews
NSC meeting underway in Islamabad.— DawnNews

Chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and attended by high-level civil-military leadership, the meeting observed that Pakistan has fought the war against terrorism primarily using its own resources and at a great cost to its economy.

“… even more importantly the huge sacrifices made by Pakistan, including the loss of tens of thousands of lives … could not be trivialised so heartlessly by pushing all of it behind a monetary value – and that too an imagined one,” a press release issued after the meeting in Islamabad said, in a reference to Trump’s claim that the US has “foolishly” given Pakistan over $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years.

The committee members observed that President Trump’s allegations were puzzling because they stand in contrast to the “positive direction” US and Pakistani officials had been pursuing through close interactionin the wake of Trump’s South Asia policy announcement in August.

The US president’s allegations were “completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between [the] two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation”, the handout said.

‘Pakistan cannot be held responsible’

The NSC participants noted that it was due to Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts of the last several years that scores of terrorist organisations based in Afghanistan had been unable to expand — “a fact acknowledged by US authorities at the highest levels”.

They observed that Afghanistan-based militants had repeatedly attacked Pakistanis across the border with “impunity” by exploiting presence of millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, a porous Pak-Afghan border and ungoverned spaces inside Afghanistan.

Pakistan continues to support the US-led campaign in Afghanistan and is facilitating the effort through vital lines of communications for smooth counter-terrorism operations by the coalition forces, the committee members noted.

While observing that Pakistan cannot be held responsible for the “collective failure in Afghanistan”, the participants deduced that following are the “real challenges” in the Afghan conflict:

  • Political infighting

  • Massive corruption

  • Phenomenal growth of drug production

  • Expansion of ungoverned spaces inside Afghanistan holding sanctuaries for multiple terrorist organisations

The NSC participants reached the consensus that Pakistan “cannot act in haste” and despite all the allegations will remain committed to playing a constructive role towards an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Mehmood Hayat, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, Adviser to PM on Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs Miftah Ismail, National Security Adviser (NSA) Nasser Khan Janjua, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, and senior civil and military officials attended the meeting.

Shortly before the meeting commenced, the military had finalised its suggestions for Pakistan’s response to Trump’s allegations in a Corps Commanders’ Conference held at General Headquarters.

A meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security has also been called on January 5 to discuss the US’s allegations.

Audit of $33bn aid figure can reveal who is ‘lying & deceiving’: Asif

In his first tweet of the new year, Trump had accused Pakistan of basing its relationship with the US on “nothing but lies and deceit”.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he had said.

Following the NSC meeting, Foreign Minister Asif challenged President Trump’s claim that the US has given Pakistan “more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years”, saying verification by an audit firm would prove the US president wrong.

The foreign minister offered that Trump could hire a US-based audit firm “on our expense” to verify the $33 billion aid figure and “let the world know who is lying & deceiving”.

The Pakistan Army spokesman, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, had at a press conference last week asserted that the aid Pakistan received from the US was “reimbursement for support we gave to the coalition for its fight against Al Qaeda.”

“Had we not supported the US and Afghanistan, they would never have been able to defeat Al Qaeda,” he had said.

Worsening relations

The US president’s tweet had come in the aftermath of an increasingly terse back-and-forth between Washington and Islamabad since Trump announced his administration’s latest national security strategy.

During the announcement, the US president had been quick to remind Pakistan of its ‘obligation’ to help America “because it receives massive payments” from Washington every year.

“We have made clear to Pakistan that while we desire continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory. And we make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help,” the US president had said.

A Pentagon report to the US Congress, released to the media on Dec 17, had said Washington would also take ‘unilateral steps’ in areas of divergence with Pakistan while expanding cooperation between the two countries where their interests converge.

Subsequently, US Vice President Mike Pence had, in a surprise visit to Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase on Dec 22, warned that Trump has “put Pakistan on notice” in what was the harshest US warning to Islamabad since the beginning of the Afghan war over 16 years ago.

Official sources had told Dawn last week that the Trump administration was also considering withholding $255 million from a fund meant to provide military training and equipment to Pakistan, adding to already existing cuts on reimbursements.

US to announce further action against Pakistan in 24-48 hours: White House

A day after Washington confirmed suspending $255 million of military aid to Pakistan, the White House said that further action against Pakistan would be announced in the next 24-48 hours.

Addressing a daily press briefing on Wednesday, US Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that the actions being taken against Islamabad by Washington are a follow-up to Trump’s South Asia policy announced last year.

Also read: Pakistan’s measured response to Trump’s tweet is a step in the right direction

“The president is simply following through on a commitment that he made,” she said, referring to Trump’s speech in which he had accused Pakistan of “not fulfilling its obligations”.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations,” Trump had said in August last year, warning that vital aid could be cut.

“We know that Pakistan can do more to fight terrorism, and we want them to step up and do that,” the press secretary said on Wednesday, adding that Trump feels Pakistan “is not doing enough” to combat terrorism.

She said that information on further action against Pakistan would be made available over the next couple of days.

“In terms of specific actions, I think you’ll see some more details come out on that in the next 24 to 48 hours,” Sanders told the US media.

Worsening relations

The White House’s move to suspend military aid on Tuesday has been seen as the first step to implementing President Donald Trump’s pledge to tighten economic restrictions on Pakistan.

Military aid to Islamabad was cut after Trump, in a tweet, accused Pakistan of of being a liar.

The tweet had come in the aftermath of an increasingly terse back-and-forth between Washington and Islamabad since Trump announced his administration’s latest national security strategy.

Explore: ‘Pakistan needs to improve its narrative’: Politicians, analysts weigh in on Trump statement

During the announcement, the US president had been quick to remind Pakistan of its ‘obligation’ to help America “because it receives massive payments” from Washington every year.

“We have made clear to Pakistan that while we desire continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory. And we make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help,” the US president had said.

A Pentagon report to the US Congress, released to the media on Dec 17, had said Washington would also take ‘unilateral steps’ in areas of divergence with Pakistan while expanding cooperation between the two countries where their interests converge.

Subsequently, US Vice President Mike Pence had, in a surprise visit to Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase on Dec 22, warned that Trump has “put Pakistan on notice” in what was the harshest US warning to Islamabad since the beginning of the Afghan war over 16 years ago.

The Pakistan Army spokesman, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, [had at a press conference last week][8] asserted that the aid Pakistan received from the US was “reimbursement for support we gave to the coalition for its fight against Al Qaeda.”

“Had we not supported the US and Afghanistan, they would never have been able to defeat Al Qaeda,” he had said.

“The armed forces are working with friends and want to continue doing so, but there can be no compromise on our national honour. We do not want a conflict with our friends, but will ensure the security of Pakistan,” he had added.

His briefing was considered perhaps the strongest-ever reaction from Islamabad since US functionaries began alluding to the possibility of unilateral action.

Hitting back at the US, the civilian-controlled Foreign Office (FO) had also warned against the “malicious campaign” being “used to trivialise Pakistan’s achievements in the war against terrorism”, and noted that “allies do not put each other on notice.”

The FO had further complained that recent US statements are “at variance with the extensive conversations we [Islamabad] have had with the US administration”.

[8]https://www.dawn.com/news/1379345/it-is-time-that-afghanistan-and-the-us-do-more-for-pakistan-dg-ispr