Today (31.03.18) marks three years since the death of Seeta Kaur.
Three years of heartache and no answers for her family. Three years of missed opportunities by the British state to seek justice for one of its own women. Three years of failure by the Indian authorities to mount a competent investigation into her death.
Today, we not only remember Seeta but remind the authorities that her family – together with Southall Black Sisters and many supporters – will not stop in our quest for justice.
On 31 March 2015, while on a family trip to India, Seeta (Saini) Kaur – a 33-year-old British national of Indian origin and the mother of four young British children – died in highly suspicious circumstances at the home of her husband Pawan Saini and her in-laws.
In the UK, Seeta had endured years of domestic violence: she refused her husband (an Indian national), and his family’s continuous demands to give up one of her sons to her husband’s brother and his wife in India, who were childless and wanted a male heir. Seeta’s husband viewed the matter as a question of honour: to fulfil a promise made to his brother and sister-in-law that they could adopt one of his sons. Seeta’s refusal led to violence and abuse inflicted by her husband and his family and ultimately, to her death.
There is considerable evidence showing that Seeta was killed in India for disobeying her husband and in-laws. He told her family that she had a ‘sudden heart attack’; but she was only 33 years old and had no heart condition or associated health problems, and there is no official medical confirmation as to the cause of her death. When her family flew to India, they saw her body wrapped in thick blankets (an unusual practice in their culture and religion) lying in a coffin. Having insisted on uncovering her, they saw considerable bruising around her neck and upper chest: this fuelled their suspicion that she had been strangled to death. Seeta’s family made clear to her husband and in-laws that they intended to take her body back to the UK, but without their knowledge, Seeta’s body was taken out of the house during the night or early hours of the morning and cremated in their absence. Seeta’s family was deeply shocked and distressed when they discovered what had happened: they were deprived of the opportunity to pay their last respects or arrange a post-mortem to establish her cause of death.
Seeta’s family has struggled to understand the events that transpired. They have repeatedly turned to the Indian and British authorities to have her death properly investigated but to little avail. Their struggle continues.
Court proceedings in India brought by the family to force the authorities to carry out a proper investigation into Seeta’s death are ongoing but have been plagued by delays and adjournments.
In April 2017, following sustained campaigning in this country – including the protest held outside Scotland Yard on the second anniversary of Seeta’s death – the Metropolitan police finally agreed to investigate offences that Pawan Saini may have committed in the UK in preparation for the murder of Seeta Kaur in India.
By coincidence, Pawan came to the UK in September 2017 to renew his residency visa and was arrested on his arrival. However, in December 2017, the police closed the criminal investigation stating that there was ‘insufficient’ evidence. They have refused to open a murder investigation in the UK, maintaining throughout that they cannot investigate the apparent murder itself as it took place in India. They cite the lack of so-called legal jurisdiction to do so. They say that Section 9 of the Offences Against the Person Act creates a legal bar to prosecuting a non-British national for crimes abroad.
Lack of jurisdiction; denial of justice
This antiquated criminal law provides that murder or manslaughter committed outside the UK can be prosecuted only if the suspect was a ‘subject of her Majesty’ (essentially, a British national or subject). So despite the fact that Pawan Saini was resident in the UK for ten years and has an ongoing right to residence, he cannot be prosecuted for the death of his British wife.
This legal loophole represents an anomaly in a globalised world and creates a serious gap in protection for abused British national women. It also creates a license for many perpetrators to enjoy impunity by removing their intended victim from the UK. It is inconsistent and contradictory when looked at against other criminal laws which allow for the British state to prosecute certain crimes against women and girls even when they are carried out abroad (known as ‘extra-territorial jurisdiction’). For example, forced marriage can be prosecuted if the perpetrator is a British national, habitually resident in England and Wales or even just present in the jurisdiction. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) can similarly be prosecuted where the act is committed outside the UK by either a UK national or a UK resident. Similar provisions apply for multiple other offences including bribery, hostage-taking, terrorism and child sex offences.
It is contrary to the principles of justice and equal protection before the law, that a woman in the UK has no recourse if she is taken abroad in order for a crime of serious domestic violence or honour-based violence (other than forced marriage or FGM) to be perpetrated against her– unless her perpetrator happens to be a British citizen! All this does is create transnational arenas for abuse, whereby perpetrators can take British women to a country with poor human rights and inadequate legal protection for women, and abuse or murder them with impunity. This legal vacuum has a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on BME women, who are more likely to be married to a non-British national from their country of origin.
An urgent need for legal reform
On 8 June 2012, the Government signed the Istanbul Convention, a “gold standard” for ending gender-based violence. The Istanbul Convention requires all state parties to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims, and prosecute perpetrators. It requires state parties to provide services for victims. The Convention means that state parties have to establish jurisdiction in relation to offences under the Convention carried out by one of their nationals or by a person habitually resident in their territory.
In almost six years, the Government has not ratified the Convention. That means it has no effect in law. The Government has finally proposed bringing in measures under a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill that would allow for extraterritorial jurisdiction in respect of certain crimes of domestic violence and abuse.
However, the list of offences does not include all crimes of domestic abuse or honour-based violence and does not include murder. That means cases like Seeta’s will remain unsolved and perpetrators remain unpunished.
We believe that this is wrong, discriminatory and contrary to human rights. In the coming weeks, we will be working with Seeta’s family and their lawyers in the UK to challenge the discriminatory nature of the criminal law and with MPs to seek the inclusion of a new legal provision to be included in the forthcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to replace the outdated Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The current law is incompatible with Articles 2 and 14 (the right to life and to non-discrimination) of the European Convention of Human Rights. We are calling on the Government to take urgent action to ensure that abusive perpetrators who are habitually resident in the UK can be prosecuted for any crime of violence against women abroad.
Will you join us?
Seeta’s family desperately need your support to continue their legal fight and campaign for justice.
You can support the campaign them in the following ways:
- Support SBS in seeking urgent reforms on law and social policy on honour-based violence committed against British nationals abroad. Please raise the issues within your organisations, Unions and in your workplace and with other relevant persons;
- Affiliate to this campaign; join the Justice4Seeta mailing list and follow us on Twitter and Facebook
- Please donate to the Seeta Kaur Justice Fund c/o of SBS. The family is in urgent need of funds to finance legal actions in India in the absence of any state support here or in India. You can donate via the Justice4Seeta Just Giving page