The Royal Bhutan Police and Media have started sharing the photos of those convicted for sexual offences against women and children in recent times, probably with the best intentions and justice for the victim and to deter others from committing similar crimes in future.  However, these actions are likely to further victimize the victims including damage to their reputation and violation of their privacy and their family in the society besides other legal implications. The enforcement agencies and media must conduct a careful and thorough study of such actions from both the angles of both the victim and perpetrator.   

Studies suggest that “after completion of the trial, the crime of rape victims still face many difficulties including social stigma, difficulty in dealing with family and friends, hate anything, withdraw/isolate themselves, nightmares and others and continues for weeks, months or even for the rest of his life, diet is difficult to deal with the public and his friends.” Therefore, there must be a victim-centred approach in any sexual violence by assessing the “individual needs” and ensure that it promotes rights of the victims and are in their best interests.” Preserving the victim’s identity, particularly in a society of such a close-knit society like ours, is not just important but one of the foremost necessities to protect the victims. To ensure such protection, Article 7 of the Constitution ensures the right to privacy of not only individuals but also their family members. Sections 46 and 47 of the Domestic Violence Act require that the media must respect privacy in reporting any domestic violence cases and write positive stories.  These legal mandates are clear that must protect the victims at all costs. Let’s take an example in one of the recent decisions. While describing the convict, the exact relationship between the rapist and rape victim and how this has happened were explicitly provided.  Would it not help so many others to identify the victim moment, if they know that she is the niece of that convict? Where is her right to privacy? Considering most of the rape victims are either known or related to or belong to the same community, any such public naming and shaming will significantly contribute to the easy identification of the victims. 

The posting the photos convicts have other consequences in a close-knit society. Should family members of convict suffer due to naming and shaming, is police or media willing to remedy the damage caused to family members of the convict? Further, Article 7 of our Constitution states that a person’s right to life and liberty can be deprived only by following the due process of law established by the parliament. This means every punishment especially in criminal cases must be authorized by the parliament through a law. His Majesty during the 114th National Day asked the nation and people to expose those involved in corrupt practices. This does not mean; it should be done in every crime as it will defeat the fundamental vision of His Majesty.  His Majesty repeatedly reminded and emphasized that “our immediate and foremost duty is the success of democracy. The failure of justice persecutes an individual, but the lack of adherence to rule of law persecutes an entire nation.”  If we must build a vibrant democracy envisioned by our great monarchs, the rule of law and protection of vulnerable groups must form the cornerstone of the democracy.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.