Tai Ji Men & UN Day on the Elimination of Violence against Women
CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, and Human Rights Without Frontiers organized on November 25, 2022, one of their bi-monthly webinars discussing the Tai Ji Men case, with a special focus. The proposal by Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the Shifu (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men, to institute October 16 as a World Prayer Day , was presented as an antidote to all kinds of violence.
By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Fronties
HRWF (08.12.2022) – In October, I was invited to a hearing by the European Parliament to share our expertise on the issue of violence against women as an abuse of power by men in a dominating position.
It is a worldwide phenomenon against which no country is immune whatever its political system and the dominant religion or belief system.
Violence against women is a violation of human rights and a form of gender-based discrimination. Rooted in inequalities between men and women, it takes many forms. Estimates of the scale of the problem are alarming.
The instruments put in place by the United Nations and Council of Europe, including the latter’s ‘Istanbul Convention’, to which the EU plans to accede, are benchmarks in efforts to combat violence against women.
The EU is tackling the problem in various ways, but has no binding instrument designed specifically to protect women from violence.
Although there are similarities between national policies to combat violence against women, the EU Member States have adopted different approaches to the problem.
Abuse of physical, psychological or social power leading to violence, including to sexual violence and rape, has many facets and can take place in many contexts. Within a couple, in the professional context, in a religious context, in the world of sports, in the economic and political world.
I will now explore some of these specific areas such as:
- domestic violence in the EU,
- sexual abuse of power, violence and rape by politicians,
- sexual violence and rape in war time.
and I will hereby highlight several aspects of the issue.
It is in 2014 that the EU Fundamental Rights Agency published the most comprehensive survey on violence against women at EU level but a new report is in preparation. It was then based on interviews with 42 000 women in all 28 then EU Member States on their experiences of physical and sexual violence, sexual harassment. The survey data show that one woman in three had experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. One in 10 women had experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15, and one in 20 had been raped. Over one in five women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from either a current or previous partner.
At the most extreme end of the spectrum, Eurostat data on the number of reported incidents of intentional homicide, rape and sexual assault show that in many Member States over half of all female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner, relative or family member. According to a scientific study, there are approximately 3 500 domestic violence-related deaths in the EU every year.
Sexual abuse of power, violence and rape by politicians
The first case concerns the former president, Yahya Jammeh, of Gambia, a country of Western Africa.
Ms Toufah Jallow, crowned in a beauty pageant in Gambia, was invited several times by former President of Gambia to the presidential palace under various false pretexts and raped. It was not an isolated case as Human Rights Watch published an excellent report about the multiple rapes perpetrated by Yahya Jammeh during his presidency. After a new president was elected, he fled to a dictatorial country to avoid prosecution on a huge amount of counts.
It took several years to Ms Toufah Jallow to come out of her silence as she and her family did not want her honor to be publicly tarnished. She now lives in Canada and fights for justice, unfortunately without any success up to now.
The second case concerns a prominent politician in Thailand. Prinn Panitchpakdi, 44, a former deputy leader of the Democrat Party, the oldest party in the country, is the son of a former deputy prime minister, who was already accused of similar charges by two women in 2003 when he was living in London.
The charges were later dropped but there has been speculation that the alleged victims in London withdrew their complaints after they received financial compensation.
He was again accused a few months ago of having raped three women in total impunity. Others are said to be about to lodge complaints.
Third case. A minister in France was accused of rape by two women several months ago. Damien Abad, now Minister for Solidarities and persons with a handicap, was first accused by one woman of sexual violence. A few months later, another woman accused him of rape attempt in 2010 when he was a member of the European Parliament. Mr Abad is himself physically handicapped.
This example also shows that when a victim comes out of her silence, other victims also have the courage to raise their voices and to file a complaint.
Sexual violence and rape in Russia’s war on Ukraine
Another area of sexual abuse of extremely brutality is in wartime. We currently have a concrete example of it with Russia’s war on Ukraine. A foreign occupation army uses its power to commit massive exactions, including sexual violence and rape.
For 280 days, allegations of sexual violence by Russian troops in Ukraine have been dramatically mounting. At this stage, it is difficult to have even a rough estimate of the number of cases due to several factors, despite the intense work of the ICC and UN bodies.
It is already difficult for a victim in times of peace to reveal such a traumatizing experience. So, you can imagine the mindset of such victims in wartime. It means that testimonies collected by the UN, the ICC or the Red Cross will only represent a tiny portion of the magnitude of the tragedy. A huge number of cases will fall through the cracks as many women fled to EU countries, were displaced internally or were deported to Russia in unknown conditions. Moreover, the war is still raging in the occupied territories on Ukraine.
The fraught nature of sexual atrocities, which are historically underreported, means that in Ukraine it will be a long time before the full scale of the problem is clear. The small towns in the suburbs of Kyiv that are already known to the world for the widespread killing of civilians — Bucha, Borodyanka and Irpin — are haunted by tales of rape, too. Ukrainian officials and activists have also heard many accounts of sexual atrocities from regions that remain under occupation today.
In such conditions, collecting reliable data is extremely hard. In Ukrainian society, and especially in rural areas, sexual crimes are so stigmatized that victims fear being judged by their social environment. It is usually the victim’s relatives and friends who seek help on the victim’s behalf.
Position of the UN and other institutions on sexual violence and rape in Ukraine
Despite all the difficulties that have been mentioned, it is obvious that Russian soldiers are using rape as a tactic of war. This was clearly confirmed by Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, when she briefed the UN Security Council on 6 June after her visit to Ukraine in early May.
Since 24 February, Pramila Patten has issued three public statements “to ensure that this issue is not shrouded in silence or normalized by impunity”. She has also urged all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians from sexual violence.
“Too often have the needs of women and girls in conflict settings been side-lined and treated as an afterthought,” she said.
She also warned against waiting too long to act, saying
“An active battle-ground is never conducive to accurate ‘book-keeping’ […] if we wait for hard data and statistics, it will always be too late,”
How to prevent and respond to sexual violence
The UN has elaborated an instrument meant to prevent sexual violence and respond to it in wartime. It is named “Framework of Cooperation with the United Nations on the Prevention and Response to Conflict Related Sexual Violence” Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna signed it on 3 May last. What does it say?
Five critical areas are highlighted in the Framework and the first four are also valid for any situation of sexual violence in peace times.
- First, strengthening rule of law and accountability as a central aspect of deterrence and prevention of crimes of sexual violence.
- Second, strengthening the capacity of the security and defence sector to prevent sexual violence.
- Third, ensuring that survivors of sexual violence, as well as their children, have access to adequate services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychological, legal, socioeconomic services and reintegration support.
- Fourth, ensuring that sexual violence is addressed in the framework of any ceasefire agreement, and ensuring that amnesties for sexual violence crimes are explicitly prohibited. It means no impunity, which is also be a guideline for crimes committed in peace times.
- And fifth, addressing conflict-related trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation or prostitution.
In conclusion, impunity cannot and should not prevail even if it takes years or decades to identify, hunt and arrest the perpetrators of sexual violence and rape.
Tai Ji Men and the UN principles for the elimination of violence against women
Dr Hong’s teachings about the relations between men and women are based on equality, mutual respect, mutual trust and fidelity, transparency, responsibility and non-violent settlements of domestic conflicts.
Tai Ji Men is not a patriarchal society in which men and boys would have a dominant position. Girls and boys, men and women are treated in the same way and share responsibility in the movement based on one’s will.
Tai Ji Men is a microcosm and a laboratory where the UN principles for the elimination of violence against women are constantly being put in action. Their good practices are beneficial to Taiwanese society and to the image of the country. Their achievements deserve to be highlighted and lauded.