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Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon Take Long-Awaited Steps Toward Protecting Victims of Rape

22 August, 2017
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This summer has witnessed significant changes in three countries in the Middle East and North Africa region that aim to benefit and protect victims of rape.

Jordan repealed Article 308 of the country’s penal code on August 1, a law that allowed rapists to marry their victims in order to escape punishment. The law was considered unjust for its protection of rapists, allowing them to use a loophole in the penal code in order to escape prosecution.

Following in Jordan’s footsteps, Lebanon also scrapped its version of the law in Article 522 of their penal code, which also saw rapists protected under the same circumstances. Activists and members of civil society in Lebanon have long lobbied against the law, arguing that it leaves victims of rape in the hands of their perpetrators without providing any protection.

Tunisia also took steps toward protecting women in late July when it abolished a clause in its law that protected rapists from prosecution if they married their victims. The decision came as part of Tunisia’s Law on Eliminating Violence against Women, which aims to clamp down on the country’s high rate of domestic violence against women. The law not only states that domestic violence is a crime, but will also embolden women to seek help in protecting themselves from their husbands or relatives in the event of abuse.

The decisions put forward by all three countries are seen as a big shift in the movement to bolster women’s rights in the region. On August 22, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein came out in support of the decision by all three countries to repeal laws that protect rapists.

“To punish a rape victim by making her marry the perpetrator of a horrible crime against her – there is no place in today’s world for such hideous laws. I warmly welcome the stand that lawmakers in Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan have taken towards eliminating violence against women and ensuring that perpetrators of such violence are held to account,” said Al Hussein.

Al Hussein called on all governments in the region “to build on this positive momentum, and to work towards the swift repeal of other legislation that condones sexual violence against women and girls and perpetuates discrimination against them in clear violation of international human rights law”.

Activists and members of civil society caution that while the abolishment of laws that protect rapists is a step in the right direction, it is a small part of a larger change that needs to happen in order to protect women’s rights.

Sadly, once again violence against women made headlines on August 20 when a video of a group of men raping a woman on a public bus in Morocco went viral. The video horrifically portrays the reality of violence against women, as onlookers cheer the rapists on while the woman screams and begs for help. Four have been arrested in connection with the assault, which allegedly took place on August 18, and a rally is set to take place on August 23 in support of the victim.

The viral video came out only days after a 16-year-old Moroccan girl hanged herself in early August after her four attackers were deemed innocent in court, according to the Manara Association for Human Rights in Marrakech.

These incidents are bleak and terrifying reminders that there is more work to be done in the region in order to protect women under law and in society.

Tags Lebanon Tunisia Jordan Morocco rape sexual assault women's rights Gender equality law