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The United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights on Tuesday called for measures to help India rid itself of the “scourge” of rape, while rejecting the death penalty for six men facing gang rape and murder charges.
Amid vigils and protests over the death of a 23-year-old student in a rape case that has caused international outrage, UN rights chief Navi Pillay said she hoped the incident would mark a turning point.
“However terrible the crime, the death penalty is not the answer,” the high commissioner said.
“What is needed is a new public consciousness and more effective and sensitive enforcement of the law in the interests of women. India has shown through its social reform movements of the past that it can rid itself of a scourge like rape.” The unidentified medical student was repeatedly raped on a moving bus in New Delhi on December 16 and violated with an iron bar before being thrown from the vehicle.
She died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital on Saturday.
“I join Indians in all walks of life in condemning this terrible crime. Let us hope that 2013 will be the year the tide is turned on violence against women in India and all women can walk free without fear," Pillay said.
“The public is demanding a transformation in systems that discriminate against women to a culture that respects the dignity of women in law and practice.”
Pillay added that the case was the latest in a series of rape cases that have sparked public concern and debate. "In October, a 16 year-old Dalit girl committed suicide by self-immolation after being gang-raped in Haryana, a state from which an alarming level of sexual violence has been reported," she said.
"This is a national problem, affecting women of all classes and castes, and will require national solutions. "Now is the time to strengthen India's legal regime against rape," she added.