On April 16, 2015, Amanda Pinto, QC, a barrister at 33 Chancery Lane, wrote a letter to The London Times calling on the ICC to investigate Boko Haram for genocide.
Click here to read the full article.
On April 16, 2015, Amanda Pinto, QC, a barrister at 33 Chancery Lane, wrote a letter to The London Times calling on the ICC to investigate Boko Haram for genocide.
Click here to read the full article.
On April 14th, 2015, a year after the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, the Global Justice Center (GJC) is urging the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, to investigate whether Boko Haram, who recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is perpetrating genocide against the Christian community in Nigeria. The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, among others, in Nigeria is exactly the act of genocide, as defined in the Genocide Convention, called the “forcible transfer of children.” The essence of genocide is not mass killing but the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Removing children from a group destroys its future, and has been a tool of genocide for as long as the legal concept has existed.
If Prosecutor Bensouda examines Boko Haram’s gender-based abductions as genocide it would put all countries unequivocally on notice that genocide is occurring in Nigeria, propelling them to action. All states and the international community have the duty to prevent and halt genocide. It would also send a powerful message to other perpetrators, including terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria who are increasingly using the kidnapping of young girls and women as a tool in their campaign of terror, that genocide will not be tolerated.
Today marks the anniversary of one of the most infamous acts of violence against women and children within the past decade. Last year, the extremist Islamic group, Boko Haram, attacked the village of Chibok and abducted over two hundred school girls. Despite the popularity of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, the girls remain in captivity, suffering daily brutalities at the hands of their captors. It has become clear that the perpetrators of the kidnapping have specifically targeted Christian women and girls in an act of genocide.
Today, the Global Justice Center has submitted an Op-Ed to the Huffington Post about the Boko Haram abductions and posted a letter and brief to Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, of the ICC. It is imperative that the Nigerian school girls are not be abandoned by the international community. To put in perspective the efforts necessary for ending impunity and rescuing these girls, first consider the action taken to assist these women, and then compare with that which was taken after the downing of the Malaysia aircraft.
After the downing of the plane, multiple countries committed substantial resources and funds to the cause, even after the confirmed deaths of the passengers. This in no way lessens the tragedy of the downed plane, but the girls abducted by Boko Haram remain alive, suffering in captivity. What’s more is that the failure to act in response to the Boko Haram attack has led to a documented increase of abductions, as the initial attempt was so successful. Nigeria has failed to respond adequately to the situation and so responsibility falls to the international community and entities such as the United Nations and the ICC.
The Boko Haram attacks and abductions follow a long history of violence against women as a form of genocide, such as the atrocities of Rwanda and Armenia. It is thought that the abductees are being subjected to forced marriage, pregnancy, and conversion, in order to stamp out Christian beliefs. Rape is a highly effective, systematic method of genocide and therefore it must be appropriately addressed. GJC advocates the Boko Haram crimes be prosecuted, not only to bring justice for the survivors in Nigeria, but also as an example to other groups, such as ISIS, who also employ rape and abduction as a method of genocide.
Finally, Janet Benshoof of GJC asserts, “We live in a world where government agents can intercept electronic communications, and drones can find and target virtually anyone, anywhere, any time. Surely we have the means to find over two hundred girls in a forest. Unquestionably, we have the moral and legal obligation to try.”
Last night GJC attended the “Bring Back Our Girls Silent March and Vigil.” One year after their abduction, 219 girls are still missing. They just wanted an education.
On February 25th, 2015, George Clooney co-authored a New York Times Oped on the rape of women in Darfur. Internationally, the violence in Sudan, including mass rape, has been recognized as genocide since 2004, yet the attention to the area has died down since then, allowing the government to continue its abuses. The media is heavily restricted, humanitarian aid workers equally so and very little is known about the quality of life in Darfur. The peacekeeping mission to Darfur, a joint venture of the African Union and the United Nations, has been severely undermined by the government’s efforts, as the United Nations office has been shut down and investigations stymied. Since evidence cannot be gathered, the peacekeeping forces are required to rely on information provided by the government and have been encouraged to withdraw from areas that remain in need of assistance.
However, the facade can be undermined. Recent efforts have revealed the travesties that are the government’s attempts at peace and security. After documenting over 100 witness testimonies, it can be concluded that last October, the Sudanese Army raped hundreds of women and that investigations of those rapes were subsequently obstructed. The military had full control of Tabit when the mass rape took place, so the attack was not ultimately used as a weapon of conflict, but rather an atrocious and despicable intimidation tactic. It is stated in Clooney’s article, “The sexual violence has no military objective; rather, it is a tactic of social control, ethnic domination and demographic change. Acting with impunity, government forces victimize the entire community. Racial subordination is also an underlying message, as non-Arab groups are singled out for abuse.”
Clooney calls for renewed global attention to the crisis in Darfur as well as effective sanctions. This renewed attention on these women and children who were raped should also focus on a piece of U.S. legislation that will harmfully impact their lives. The Helms Amendment is a forty two year old piece of legislation that bans all U.S. foreign aid from going to organizations that perform abortions. This includes for women and children who are raped in times of crisis. Women who have been raped are much more likely to die in childbirth, and further, a large portion of the survivors are children, who are still more likely to die from pregnancy The United States restriction on foreign aid for abortion services, curtails the effectiveness of the Red Cross and other such organizations that rely US funding. GJC’s August 12th Campaign calls upon Obama to sign an executive order lifting the abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid and as we can see in Darfur, it is more urgent than ever that this outdated legislation is removed and that these women and children receive the medical care they need.
In a recent article about her home country of Liberia, Kim Thuy Seelinger, Director of the Sexual Violence Program of the Human Rights Center at the Berkeley School of Law, condemned the rape and resulting death of a Liberian child, saying, “the rape that left a 12-year old girl bleeding to death in a pickup truck must be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of Liberian law.” Her attacker was a former solider in the previous civil war and was inebriated when he assaulted her. It is thought that the man perpetrated similar crimes in combat, employing rape as a genocidal weapon.
The attack of this young girl was equally as atrocious, though perhaps what is most alarming the systemic failures of the state in providing aid, as she was denied medical care by several facilities and her family was apprehended by the police when traveling to a more remote hospital. Due to her profuse bleeding, it was thought that she had Ebola, and while her family explained the circumstances to officials, little was done to assist her. She died while her family was detained at a police check point.
The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has ordered a full investigation into the failures that allowed such an event to transpire, though Seelinger notes that the event is indicative of larger governmental issues, and cannot be considered as an individual case. For example, it has been alleged that several political figures, who still retain power in the government, were responsible for the mass rapes during the civil war. The ICC has little jurisdiction in prosecuting such criminals, as the violence occurred during domestic conflict.
However, there is hope for women and girls, as Sirleaf, the first female president to be elected in Africa, has shown commitment to the issue of sexual violence. She has instituted several programs to help survivors, though the institutions she seeks to improve—such as the health care system and the police force—are inherently flawed and her policies can fail, as they did for this young girl.
Seelinger advocates that attention be paid to the survivors of rape, an assertion which echoes the position of the Global Justice Center. Seelinger says, “Survivors have never received sufficient care or seen reparations. Perpetrators have never been punished or rehabilitated. Several nurses and community leaders we interviewed noted that sexual violence survivors hold onto their suffering, and perpetrators often struggle with substance abuse, continuing to hurt those more destitute or powerless.” GJC’s “Rape as Weapon of War” campaign is dedicated to ending impunity in states that allow and employ sexual violence for political ends. Soldiers must be held accountable and punished for using rape as a weapon during times of war. The injury and death of the young girl in Liberia is a sobering example of what happens when they are not.
Fighting against use of rape as a weapon of war is extremely difficult even when there are clear evidences proving the crimes. The task becomes more difficult when evidence is hidden and the investigation on behalf of the UN is rejected.
In Sudan a joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping mission knows as UNAMID was twice denied permission from Sudanese authorities to investigate rape. “The Sudanese military is deliberately making it hard for its peacekeepers to investigate the claims.” After Radio Dabanga reported a collective rape of “more than 200 women and girls“, the UNAMID had no access needed for a proper investigation of the situation. The authorities threaten the local population to avoid publicity of rape crimes. “None of those interviewed confirmed that any incident of rape took place in Tabit on the day of that media report,” says the official UNAMID report.
However, the leaked internal report shows the investigators concerns that the Sudanese military was preventing witnesses from coming forward. This only proves the failure of Sudanese authorities to treat the conduct of war as a war crime and protect women and girls from becoming rape victims. Sudan has even asked the UN to close its human rights office in Khartoum.
While Sudanese authorities refuse to follow international law in regard to rape, we see ISIS releasing a list of rules on treating females slaves, women and children once they captured by Jihadi warriors. That is how ISIS chooses to respond to the international uproar caused by ISIS kidnapping Yazidi girls and women and turning them into sex slaves. The published pamphlet reveals the horrifying truth of the way ISIS treat their female hostages: not only they see the illegal sexual intercourse with non-Muslim slaves, including young girls, to be a right thing to do, but they also allow to beat them and trade them in.
Rape is a prohibited weapon under the criteria set by the laws of war. It is illegal and inhuman. GJC urges the international community to give a strong response to these outrageous crimes conducted on behalf of Sudanese military, ISIS, and other authorities in war zones and prosecute those that use rape as a tactic of war. The time has come to go beyond the recognition that rape is being used as an illegal weapon/tactic of war – it’s time to start treating it like one.
Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Bosnia, and now South Sudan, each possess a history wrought with sexual violence. On January 22nd, The Huffington Post published a piece by Navabethum Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. After a recent trip to South Sudan, she offered her analysis of the human rights violations and was particularly explicit in noting the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, likening the situation to the atrocities in Rwanda during the late 1990s. Zainab Bangura, the UN’s envoy for sexual violence in conflict, described the violence as the worst she had seen in her 30 year career. In current conflict in South Sudan, women are being targeted based on their ethnicity or political ties and children have been raped and killed. Further, it is certain that sexual violence will escalate as long as the crimes remain unprosecuted.
Pillay cites the African Union’s Commission of inquiry as a means to forestall that escalation and demand accountability. The Commission’s final report is of particular significance, as it is said to detail innumerable human rights violations and possibly includes a list of individuals recommended for trial. It is hoped that the report–and ensuing prosecutions–will act as a deterrent to those committing rape crimes and ultimately assist in a peaceful resolution. Encouragingly, the Commission will present their report at the African Union Summit and advocate for the prosecution of guilty parties. Near the end of her piece, Pillay reiterates the importance of governmental involvement in ending impunity. If the government should oppose the prosecution of the perpetrators or prove incapable of providing a stable justice system, Pillay calls upon the international community for additional assistance in supporting the women who have been assaulted.
Of the assaults themselves, Pillay delineates rape as a weapon, a barbaric war tactic used to systematically devastate a group of people. The Global Justice Center has been explicit in condemning rape as an illegal method of warfare, though as of yet, places like South Sudan have failed to prosecute as such. Rape violates the parameters of legal warfare that state war tactics must not “cause superfluous injury, unnecessary suffering, or violate ‘principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience,’” yet it is employed more often than other prohibited tactics of war, such as biological weapons and starvation (GJC). Globally, not one state has faced prosecution for the use of sexual violence as weapon. The African Union’s Commission seeks to discipline the individuals responsible for the violence in South Sudan and GJC pursues a parallel global endeavor, demanding the confirmation of rape as a prohibited weapon and the prosecution of the states which continue to carry out sexual violence.
This year has been one of the worst years for children, according to the United Nations. “As many as 15 million children are caught up in violent conflicts in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the State of Palestine, Syria and Ukraine,” said the Unicef’s report. “Globally, an estimated 230 million children currently live in countries and areas affected by armed conflicts.”
“This has been a devastating year for millions of children,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”
In the Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, South Sudan, Nigeria millions of children are affected by ongoing conflicts. Young girls are being kidnapped, tortured, forcibly impregnated, forced marriages, withheld from education, raped and turned into sex slaves. Half the victims of rape in conflict zones are children.
The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict that took place in London this June recognized that rape and sexual violence in conflict often has a much bigger impact than the fighting itself, and that one should not underestimate the depth of damage done to individual rape victims. “Sexual violence in conflict zones includes extreme physical violence, the use of sticks, bats, bottles, the cutting of genitals, and the sexual torture of victims who are left with horrific injuries. Many die as a result of these attacks. But survivors can also face a catastrophic rejection by their families and may be cast out from their communities”.
Compounding the suffering is a US foreign policy that denies safe abortion services to girls raped in armed conflict. GJC’s August 12th Campaign challenges this routine denial of full medical rights to war rape victims as a violation of the right to non- discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols.
Young girls who become victims of rape used as weapon of war are forced to bear the child of their rapist. This also is an “unspeakable brutality”.
In the past several weeks, the world has witnessed the deliberate targeting of women and girls as a political and military tactic by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists. In Iraq and Syria, thousands women and girls, particularly from ethnic and religious minorities, have been kidnapped by ISIS terrorists. They are being brutally raped, used for sexual slavery, forced marriage and forced pregnancy. In other words, sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war.
In Iraq, Yazidi women and girls are a primary target for ISIS, falling prey to horrific acts of sexual violence and brutality as ISIS advanced through northern Iraq. Few managed to escape from their abductors. Adeba Shaker and Somaa are two such exceptions. Somaa was kidnapped, held hostage for almost a month, and together with her friend were sold to two old sheiks who ill-treated them. Abeda Shaker together with about seventy other women and children were abducted when militants took over their village. They were taken to an unknown destination where they joined around 1000 other Yazidi women hostages. Shaker was supposed to convert to Islam and to be forced into marriage. Fortunately, she and her companion were brave enough to try their luck and run away.
Nevertheless, these cases are rare exceptions. Many others kidnapped and held hostages are destined to suffer from ISIS brutality with no hope for rescue. What is worse, this is not a unique case. Kidnapping is a tactic of war conducted by militants, terrorists and soldiers in different conflict regions of the world.
As Nigeria’s Islamic extremist group – Boko Haram – has seized more towns along Nigeria’s northeastern border with Cameroon, more and more women and children are in danger. Last year, a group of women and girls was abducted and later rescued from Boko Haram. Some of them were pregnant. Others had been forcibly converted to Islam and married off to their kidnappers. The goal of Boko Haram is to impose their version of Sharia law across Nigeria, and they especially oppose the education of women. In April, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 girls from a boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Some of them seized the rare opportunity to escape when they were left alone in the camp and returned to their razed villages. However, more than 200 of them remain captive. This is yet another tragic example of young girls and women being violated to achieve military and political objectives. Yet the world continues to do extraordinarily little to recover those lost.
The Taliban also actively seeks to stop women and girls from attending school in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Malala Yousafzai, a women’s rights activist who campaigned against the efforts of the Taliban to violently stop girls attending school, was infamously attacked in 2012 while traveling home on a school bus. She was shot in the head, but luckily survived. Just last week, ten militants were taken into custody in connection with the attempted murder. This summer, Malala visited Nigeria and appealed to Boko Haram militants in Nigeria to lay down their weapons and free the kidnapped girls. Malala is a powerful example of women activists fighting back against violent extremism, and not just in their countries, but globally.
Combating sexual violence against women and promoting women’s rights is truly a global peace and security issue. The international community must treat it as such and act robustly to stop the rampant spread of violence against women in conflict zones around the world.
(*Unless otherwise cited, the information in this article is based on GJC Program Intern Isabella Szabolcs’ interview with Haitian human rights advocate Jocie Philistin on June 6, 2014. It has been translated from French to English with Ms. Philistin’s consent.)
Jocie Philistin is sitting in the conference room of the Global Justice Center before catching a flight to London, where she will represent the most critical voice at the UK Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict: women working on the ground in conflict zones. She is thousands of miles away from her home in Haiti, where she works as a human rights advocate for Haitian survivors of sexual violence. When asked about what event impacted her most in her work with female survivors, Jocie recounted a story of a thirteen year-old girl who has been raped:
Just minutes after her water broke in Port au Prince, Haiti, the thirteen year-old girl was refusing to go into labor. She was terrified of giving birth to her own flesh and blood, a chilling reality that was all too literal. Raped by her twenty-eight-year-old brother, a member of Haiti’s military force, the girl was one of the few survivors of sexual violence to see her perpetrator imprisoned. Although her brother was detained, her trauma was far from over. He terrorized her over the phone threatening to kill her for reporting the assault, and his fellow paramilitaries attempted to set her on fire. In spite of the imminent death threats, it was the idea of bearing a child born of rape and incest, a child she could not accept or care for, that was the more frightening reality for the pregnant girl.
Had it not been for the support from the International Civilian Mission—who Jocie worked for—the girl’s story would have ended like so many others, culminating in further abuse or even death. As Jocie points out, this young girl’s harrowing account is not unique. This is the experience of thousands of women and children who are victims of sexual violence in armed conflict zones around the world. The traumatizing effects of sexual violence remain with the survivor forever.
“A girl never forgets the daunting memory of being sexually violated.”
Her Haitian name, as she proudly recounts, means “God is gracious.” For Jocie, her name became an emblem and a source of her empowerment as she began her mission of helping rape and sexual assault survivors find hope, peace, and justice.
When Jocie was sexually assaulted three times by a senior member of the military, she experienced stigmatization and a lack of adequate access to care. It became clear to her that greater attention had to be given to sexually abused victims. “When you are violated or sexually assaulted, you never forget the experience or its lasting effects. I wanted to help these girls, give them hope and prevent such dehumanization from happening again. My similar experience to these victims allowed us to understand and psychologically help each other.”
For the past 16 years, Jocie has worked with Haitian victims of sexual abuse, a population whose numbers increased drastically as a result of the 1991 military coup d’état and the 2010 earthquake. After the coup d’état, Jocie began her work at the International Civilian Mission, which is run by both the UN and the Organization of American States. Through the mission, she helped victims of sexual violence find justice and faith, and pressured the government to take action and to hold the perpetrators accountable. She also helped pioneer a seminal 2005 law making rape a crime in Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake, Jocie worked for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, an international law firm that provided free legal and security assistance to survivors of sexual violence and KOFAVIV, a local grassroots organization whose acronym translates to the “Commission of Women Victims for Victims” and lends social, psychological, and medical support and empowerment to survivors.
Currently, Jocie works as an evangelical preacher and women’s rights advocate. She founded her own organization, the Yahweh-Rapha Foundation (“The Lord Who Heals” Foundation), where she trains youth groups to become knowledgeable activists in the church and community on the prevention and care of victims of sexual abuse. Her goal is to raise awareness about the reality of sexual violence in Haiti and reduce the stigmatization attached to these victims. By creating dialogue on a conventionally taboo subject, Jocie hopes to increase reporting for sexual violence crimes, end the vicious cycle of “victim-blaming” and ostracization, demand accountability, and ensure immediate medical attention within 72 hours of the attack.
Support and Hope for Survivors
Last week, the Global Justice Center had the privilege of bringing Jocie to attend the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London. Her presence at the Global Summit, like those of other survivors and those working with sexual violence survivors on the ground, is vital when the international community comes together to discuss ways to protect and respond to sexual violence against women in conflict zones. Jocie represents the voice of a victim and it is essential that policymakers give a platform to survivors to direct their own future. These are exactly the kind of voices that must be amplified and the Global Summit was the perfect opportunity.
Co-chaired by the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, and attended by 129 governments, foreign ministers, UN officials, and civil society, the summit was a milestone for women’s rights. This is the first global meeting to focus on sexual violence in conflict-affected areas. Yet this historical achievement is only the first step towards progress. The Summit raised many concerns and key areas for change that must be addressed in the struggle for ending sexual violence in conflict. One much-needed area for improvement in advancing these human rights is international support for civil society’s role in this fight for justice. However, the Summit, while ambitious in its scope, did not adequately incorporate human rights organizations and grassroots advocates in engaging “governments to take meaningful action…to stop rape and gender violence in conflict” and which limited the scope of the conversation. This effect was evident by the conclusion of the summit when only 46 of the governments made “any concrete commitment towards addressing the issue.”
As the Global Summit Chair’s report states, “survivors must be at the centre of the response to sexual violence in conflict, to ensure re-empowerment and to avoid further victimization.” The Global Justice Center aimed to do exactly that at the Summit by bringing experts such as Jocie, however as noted by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jody Williams, the opportunities to hear survivors’ voices were limited and many stories, such as Jocie’s, were never heard in the official sessions attended by ministerial policy makers.
Rape used as a Weapon of War & Structural Barriers to Justice
The purpose of the Global Summit was to address how to end impunity for perpetrators and bring justice to survivors. As concluded in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence Chair’s Summary, it is essential to “improve accountability at the national and international level, through better documentation, investigations and prosecutions…and better legislation implementing international obligations and standards.”
Rape “or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity,” as included in 2002 by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, was declared a crime against humanity when systematically committed against civilians during armed conflict. Despite the devastating consequences for states and entities engaging in sexual violence in conflict, “no state has ever been held accountable for the use of rape as a prohibited tactic.” The failure to penalize states for using rape as a tactic of war contradicts the laws of war, unequivocally violates human rights, and explicitly discriminates against and subordinates women and children.
In Haiti where Jocie works, the destabilization that resulted from the coup d’etat and the earthquake “unleashed a wave of torture, massacre and systematic sexual violence against women.” The weakening of state systems of security and political control, contributed to an epidemic of sexual violence that to this day, ravages the country. Furthermore, the aftermath of the attack poses a second trauma for the victims. Their attackers continue reigning terror with impunity because rape cases seldom are prosecuted in court or result in a conviction. Even in cases where a conviction succeeds, the survivor’s safety is constantly under threat. It is common for perpetrators to bribe their way out of jail or to use friends and family to terrorize the victim. For this reason, safe homes (hebergements) were created to ensure that the victims receive adequate care and protection from their abuser.
As stated by the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, civilians – especially women and children – suffer the most devastating casualties in today’s war-ravaged areas. Rape is used as a strategic political and military tactic to terrorize enemies, destabilize society, destroy families and communities, and traumatize victims. Perpetrators use rape to assert their control and achieve objectives such as ethnic cleansing and deliberate dissemination of diseases such as the HIV virus.
Another common and devastating result of sexual violence in war is the impregnation of rape victims. Forced with the prospect of carrying out life-threatening pregnancies to bear the child of their rapists, survivors often resort to unsafe abortions or in too many tragic circumstances, suicide.
The dire need for legislation in international and national policy recognizing and punishing rape as a tactic of war, cannot take effect without a change in attitudes towards victims of sexual violence.
It is essential to listen to the voices of these survivors when discussing ways to combat and respond to sexual violence in conflict, a greater emphasis that should have been placed during last week’s Global Summit.
Women, specifically survivors of sexual violence, play a critical role in engaging communities in response, reconciliation and prevention efforts of sexual violence in conflict. The contribution of these women in sustaining international peace and security is crucial, since they often are more accepted and have greater access to such conflict zones than government officials and representatives. For this reason, it is imperative that victims of sexual violence are given a voice to be heard, especially in high-profile venues such as the Global Summit.
The Global Summit Chair’s Summary emphasized, “this Summit is just the beginning.” We need to translate rhetoric into action. The International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council must take further action to punish those responsible for the illegal use of rape as a tactic of war. In addition, donor states such as the U.S. must comply with the Geneva Conventions to ensure that its humanitarian aid to survivors of sexual violence in war provides “complete and non-discriminatory medical care” including access to safe abortion services in life-threatening circumstances.
Beyond the necessary international role, advocates such as Jocie are critical in effecting change. In order for such international policies to take effect, a new attitude towards victims of sexual violence must be taken. The population needs to internalize the belief that “there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence [but rather,] the shame is on the aggressor.” Only then, can these victims be treated with the dignity and respect that they so rightly deserve.
There is a global consensus that the mass rape of girls and women is routinely used as a tactic or “weapon” of war in contemporary armed conflicts.1 Despite two decades of intense global efforts, rape used as a tactic of war continues undeterred. This is not surprising: rape is a cheap, powerful, and effective tool for military forces to use to kill and mutilate women and children, force pregnancy, terrorize families and communities, demoralize enemy forces, and accomplish genocide.
Rape used to further military objectives or the strategic aims of a conflict (“strategic rape”), constitutes a prohibited tactic or method of warfare under international humanitarian law.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 14, 2014
[NEW YORK, NY] – On the night of April 14th, 2014, 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted from their boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The abduction ignited worldwide outrage, sparked a vigorous social media campaign to #BringBackOurGirls, and drew condemnation from political leaders around the world.
On November 27, as part of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, advocacy group ABColumbia published a report on women, conflict-related sexual violence and the Colombian peace process. This report reveals the widespread and systematic use of sexual violence in Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict by security forces, guerilla groups and paramilitaries. Torture and mutilation, the killing of unborn children, rape in the presence of family members and gang-rape are used as a tactic to achieve military goals. This report sheds light on the strategic use of rape as an illegal weapon of war, a method of conducting hostilities that violate states’ responsibility as well as international law. This report also illuminates the economic and cultural systems that sustain violence against women and girls – pre-existing norms and patterns of discrimination, both inside and outside the conflict – that must be dismantled to establish an equality-based rule of law in Colombia. Massively underreported, these crimes are almost never prosecuted and the impunity rate for sexual-related crimes runs at more than 98 percent. According to the report, ending the almost total impunity for this crime is essential for the potential success of a peace process in Colombia.
A woman holds up a poster dotted with rose petals and a message that reads in Spanish; “Only a kiss would shut me up,” during a march to protest physical abuse of women and in support of Colombia’s peace talks in Bogota, Colombia on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013.
In 2012, Amnesty International said that in Colombia, “women are targets of sexual violence to sow terror within communities to force them to flee their land, wreak revenge on the enemy, control the sexual and reproductive rights of female combatants or exploit women and girls as sexual slaves.” While sexual violence against women is employed as a strategy of war by all armed actors in the Colombian conflict, different objectives are pursued using sexual violence by security forces, guerilla groups and paramilitaries.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armados Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) uses sexual violence strategically in the forced recruitment of female combatants. Though recruitment of children below the age of 15 is a war crime, young girls are either lured into the FARC or abducted, to serve “as companions for their leaders,” their forced sexual services as ‘payment’ to protect other members of their family. Furthermore, once ‘recruited,’ FARC imposes their policy of contraception and forced abortion to further control the sexual and reproductive rights of female combatants.
Oxfam wrote that “state military forces, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups have used sexual violence with the goal of terrorizing communities, using women as instruments to achieve their military objectives.” By terrorizing rural communities, most commonly inhabited by indigenous populations, these groups use women’s bodies to exercise forced displacement and advance their control of territories and resources. The use of sexual violence to induce terror is epitomized by the act being carried out in full view of the community, according to the ABColumbia report. This practice of forced displacement on indigenous communities puts them at risk of physical or cultural extinction – a campaign that looks a lot like genocide. Furthermore, with an increased presence of state military forces in regions characterized by large scale-mining, agribusiness and areas of strategic importance for drug trafficking comes an increase in the exploitation of women and girls as sexual slaves.
Sexual violence is also used to impose social control over the activities of women. This tactic is extensively used by paramilitary groups and occasionally by guerilla groups. Cultural attitudes and social codes are imposed on women and transgression from those roles result in punishment, often public and intended to shame the victim and cause social stigmatization against them. The use of sexual violence as a method of conducting hostilities identifies the ‘enemy’ as the civilian population rather than other armed combatants. Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman reported that “even if cases of sexual violence against women perpetrated by the Security Forces do not correspond to a war strategy (…), they constitute a generalized practice that takes advantage of the conditions of subordination of women, their precarious economic conditions resulting from lack of protection by the State, and the acceptance of existing ideas in the local culture, such as a woman’s body is an object that belongs to men.”
Protesters in Bogota chant “miniskirts are not an invitation.”
“(Rape) is one of the only crimes for which a community’s response is more often to stigmatize the victim rather than prosecute the perpetrator.” – UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict
According to this report, “impunity for these crimes acts to reinforce, rather than challenge, these pre-existing norms and patterns of discrimination against women, both inside and outside of the conflict.” Incidents are rarely reported because there are no guarantees for women in the justice system – either they are not believed, or the police took no action, refused to document their case or they feared for their safety. Also, the social stigma attached to sexual violence that fosters the practice of victim-blaming and encourages women to remain silent about their attacks. When Colombia’s security forces are themselves among the perpetrators of violence, it makes sense that women have an extreme lack of faith in their access to justice. Ending impunity for these crimes is essential for changing attitudes about conflict-related sexual violence.
Unlawful weapons violate states’ responsibility as well as international law. Peace talks between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were officially announced in August 2012, after five decades of conflict. The ABColombia report calls for Colombia to adhere to UN Resolutions 1325 and 1820. Colombia signed both these resolutions, which state that Governments must ensure sexual violence is on the agenda during peace talks, that there should be no amnesties for sexual violence crimes, and that women must play a major part in the peace process and in the construction of peace. Women’s issues cannot be dealt with ex-post, especially when mistreatment and abuse of women is deeply rooted in Colombian society. Women are being sacrificed for their country without their consent and their voices must be heard during the peace process.
Controversy erupted on Tuesday, September 17th, when US officials confirmed that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir submitted a Visa request to attend the United Nations General Assembly this month. President al-Bashir announced this Sunday that he does, indeed, have plans to travel to the US and has already booked a New York hotel, although the US has not yet stated whether or not he would be granted a visa.
As President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir is an accused war criminal. He has two warrants of arrest for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 and July 2010.
On September 18, 2013 the ICC published a press release calling on US officials to arrest al-Bashir and extradite him to the ICC, should he travel to the United States. Human Rights Watch has also issued a statement asking UN Members to oppose al-Bashir’s visit to the Conference.
This is a turning point in deciding the future power of the ICC. Pres. al-Bashir would be the first visitor to the United Nations (and the US) with a standing ICC warrant for his arrest. To give background on this, in 2005, the Security Council voted for SCR 1593, to refer the atrocities in Darfur to the ICC, and to hold Pres. al-Bashir’s government accountable. The US abstained from the vote because it does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction over states not signed onto the Rome Statute (which includes the US). However, the US must still adhere to any Security Council Resolution that passes, including SCR 1593, which urges all states, including those not signed to the Rome Statute, to “cooperate fully” with the Court in bringing Pres. al-Bashir to justice. Accordingly, the US should immediately apprehend and extradite Pres. al-Bashir to the ICC if he steps foot on US soil.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers called the potential visit “hugely inappropriate.” In response, the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying that the US has no legal right to stop a member state from attending the UN Conference. In the Agreement Between the United Nations and the United States Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations Sections 11, 12 and 13 effectively establish that the US is not allowed to hinder representatives of Members from travelling to the UN, regardless of their Government’s relation to the US, or the member’s status as an alien. The US is asked to grant Visas “without charge and as promptly as possible”. However, under Section 13 (f) of the same agreement, “The United Nations shall, subject to the foregoing provisions of this section, have the exclusive right to authorize or prohibit entry of persons and property into the headquarters district and to prescribe the conditions under which persons may remain or reside there.”
Because the UN Security Council referred the Darfur conflict to the ICC and requested all states to assist in bringing President al-Bashir to trial, the US would not be acting outside of its power as host country in extraditing him. In the past, the US has even encouraged other states to allow the transfer of war criminals to the ICC – such as when Bosco Ntaganda turned himself in to the US embassy in Rwanda.
An estimated 300,000 people died in the conflict in Darfur. The ICC holds al-Bashir allegedly criminally responsible for ten counts of individual criminal responsibility, including five counts of crimes against humanity (for murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape), two counts of war crimes (intentionally directing attacks against civilians and pillaging), and three counts of genocide (genocide by killing, by causing serious bodily or mental harm, and by deliberately inflicting harsh conditions of life). Attacks against the civilian population of Darfur (largely compromised by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups) were lead by the Sudanese Armed Forces and their allied Janjaweed Militia. As the President of the Republic of Sudan and the Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces since March 2003, al-Bashir must be tried for the crimes he had a role in organizing.
The Global Justice Center works to advance human rights, and in doing so, hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable. We recognize the dangers of inaction from the international community, and seek to end impunity.
One example of this is our Burma Initiative to challenge the amnesty clause in the Burmese constitution. Victims in conflict and postconflict countries, whether in Burma or Sudan, must not be denied access to justice through legal processes adhering to international law. In Syria, we have a recent example of the dangers of turning a blind eye to violations of fundamental international law, the chief among these being laws banning genocide and the use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians. These laws must not just be written on paper, but put into effective practice.
For there to be sustainable peace and rule of law, there must first be justice through international channels. President al-Bashir is not an exception to international laws. He must be brought to justice, and should he enter US territory, the US should surrender him to the ICC for trial.
Letter to Louise Arbour: RE: The International Crisis Group’s Policy Urging Unconditional Engagement with Burma’s Military Rulers Contradicts States’ Absolute Obligations to Respond to Burma’s Serious Breaches of Peremptory Norms of International Law, September 2011