January 25, 2006

U.N.: Pakistani Gang-Rape Victim Will Be Brought Back To Speak

By BRADLEY BROOKS Associated Press Writer (FindLaw)

(AP) – UNITED NATIONS-A Pakistani woman who has gained global attention by speaking out about her gang rape ordered by tribal leaders will be invited back to speak at the U.N. after an initial appearance was quashed by Pakistani officials.

Mukhtar Mai was scheduled to speak at the U.N. last Friday, the same day that Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz visited U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Mai’s event, which had been scheduled well in advance, was hastily canceled the night before it was to take place.

“The day before, they called to say ‘we have a problem, that the Pakistani mission wants to have the event canceled,'” said Joan LaRovere, vice president of the Virtue Foundation, the group that was sponsoring the event.

The mission wanted the event canceled “because the prime minister was giving a press conference at the same time and it would be embarrassing,” LaRovere said she was told by U.N. officials.

The spokesman for the U.N. secretary general said Wednesday that the U.N. will contact the Virtue Foundation and reschedule the event.

“It was an unfortunate incident,” said Stephane Dujarric, who added that the decision was made by the Department of Social and Economic Affairs’ section that handles non-governmental organizations.

A spokesman for the Pakistani mission said Wednesday that the cancellation of Mai’s event “was basically a scheduling problem.”

“It would not have been appropriate because the prime minister was speaking right at that moment,” said Mansoor Suhail, press counselor for the mission.

Suhail said, however, that “it was a decision made at the lowest level. I will not go into specifics.”

Aziz, when asked about the cancellation of the event at last Friday’s press conference, said he knew nothing of it, and went on to praise Mai and her work.

Mai’s ordeal began in 2002, when tribal elders ordered her raped by four men to punish her for what they claimed was her 13-year-old brother’s alleged affair with a woman above his class. She and her family deny the affair.

In Pakistan, using rape to restore a family’s honor is not unusual. Victims sometimes kill themselves in shame.

Mai launched a battle against the practice, and against oppression of women. She has opened at least one school and plans to launch a women’s crisis center.

A book was written about her case, and last year she was named Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year.

Suhail said the Pakistani mission welcomes any event at the U.N. involving “a Pakistani of (Mai’s) caliber and distinction.”

“We have supported her heroic struggle … and would be happy to co-sponsor any event involving Makhtur Mai,” Suhail said.

LaRovere said that as of Wednesday evening the Virtue Foundation had yet to be contacted about rescheduling. But the U.N. spokesman said it would be done.

“It’s clear that Ms. Mai should have a platform to speak from,” Dujarric said.

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