The State Department declined yesterday to take a position on remarks last week by Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, suggesting that claiming rape in his country was seen as a route to riches, but it said world leaders should denounce violence against women.
"We encourage leaders around the world to speak out about the fact that violence against women is unacceptable," said Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman.
Musharraf told The Washington Post last week that claiming rape had become "a moneymaking concern" in Pakistan. "A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped," he said. He later denied making the comments.
Musharraf's remarks have stirred outrage in Pakistan. Hundreds of women demonstrated outside parliament Thursday in Islamabad demanding an apology.
Paul Martin, the Canadian prime minister, also protested the comments when he met with Musharraf last week at the United Nations.
McCormack, noting that Musharraf has denied making the remarks, said, "I'm not here to play judge about whether or not he was quoted accurately."
But the spokesman added, "Let me just state very clearly that the United States government speaks out very clearly that violence against women wherever it may occur is unacceptable. And around the world, where this is a problem, we make a point of speaking out against it."
Faced with the protests over his remarks that rape claims had become a way to make money, Musharraf subsequently told a women's group that he had been misquoted.
"These are not my words, and I would go to the extent of saying I am not so silly and stupid to make comments of this sort," he said during his visit to attend the U.N. General Assembly. He told CNN that the remarks were made by someone else in his presence.
The Post has posted an audio link to that section of the interview on www.washingtonpost.com. The link includes the full nine-minute discussion with Musharraf on the problem of rape in his country.
In the interview, Musharraf referred to the case of Mukhtar Mai, an illiterate 33-year-old-woman who attracted worldwide attention after she spoke publicly about having been gang-raped on the orders of a village council in 2002. Mai won sympathy and government support after she demanded that the men be prosecuted. The Pakistani government blocked her from traveling to the United States to publicize the case.
Musharraf said in the Sept. 12 interview in New York that Mai was now free to travel. He said she had come under the sway of organizations determined to harm the image of Pakistan, which he said should not be singled out "when the curse [of rape] is everywhere in the world."