Rape as a Weapon of War

In order for the rule of law to be truly just, there must be equal access to justice for women. GJC works to ensure legal rights for women victims of war, fight impunity and ensure accountability for crimes against women. GJC’s “Rape As a Weapon of War” project focuses on having rape as a weapon of war prosecuted as an illegal weapon under international law, thus increasing victim’s avenues for medical treatment, reparations, and access to justice.

The laws of war prohibit the use of all weapons or tactics of warfare that cause superfluous injury, unnecessary suffering, or violate “principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.’’ Rape is a prohibited weapon or tactic of war under the criteria set by the laws of war. Yet, despite the endemic use of rape as a weapon, no state has ever been held accountable for the use of rape as a prohibited weapon of war.

Rape is the most powerful, cost-effective weapon available for destroying the lives of “enemy” women, families, and entire communities. Rape is being used more than any other prohibited weapon of war including biological or chemical weapons. The failure to treat war rape like other illegal weapons removes the central protection of the laws governing the conduct of war from rape victims, mainly women and girls. It is time to punish states that use rape as an unlawful weapon in armed conflict.


Rape as a War Crime in South Sudan: Update

The African Union’s Commission of Inquiry has spent over a year investigating the human rights violations in South Sudan, calling for witness testimony and establishing a report to be presented to the Peace and Security Council. However, as recently as January 30th, the report was shelved and remains unpublished. Zainab Bangura, the UN’s envoy for sexual violence in conflict, stated that she’s “not witnessed a situation worse than South Sudan in her 30 years’ experience”(Pillay).

It is probable that the African Union is facing pressure from the leaders in South Sudan and therefore minimizing the issue in favor of other conflicts. For example, the AU has been praised from their attention to Boko Haram, which highlights the ultimate problem with the media surrounding this issue. Several hopeful articles were published before the supposed unveiling of the report, detailing the various ways in which the Commission might go about advocating for prosecution.

Now, multiple organizations are condemning the shelving of the report as a failure to demand accountability on behalf of the survivors, not to mention the betrayal of those who provided testimonials. With enough international pressure and press coverage, that the AU might reopen the report and make meaningful progress towards ending impunity.

“A Devastating Year for Children”

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.”

© UNICEF

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”.

End Torture

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture. By formally accepting this treaty 20 years ago, the U.S. Government made a commitment to end the use of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Yet to this day, the U.S. repeatedly fails to meet its commitments under the treaty with its abortion restrictions on foreign assistance to girls and women raped in armed conflict.

© UNHRN

In advance of the 53rd session of the Committee against Torture convening on November 3 in Geneva, the GJC and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) submitted a Shadow Report on “US Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Assistance that Deny Safe Abortion Services to Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict” to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) that monitors implementation of the Convention. Forty three other reports were submitted through the USHRN (U.S. Human Rights Network) to the Committee as well.

Rape is torture. Forcing women to carry the child of their rapist by denying safe abortion services to war rape victims results in extended and intensified physical and psychological suffering. It is a legal and moral imperative to provide all necessary medical care, including abortion services, to war rape survivors. Currently, as a result of the Helms Amendment, the US has a “no abortion” policy placed on all US foreign aid. GJC & OMCT in their Shadow Report urge the Committee Against Torture to call on the United States to reassess and change this policy that is in violation of the convention.

CAT Day of Action  © UNHRN

Today, GJC is participating in the CAT Day of Action. Next month, human rights activists will gather for the United Nations’ review of the U.S. Government’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture. Join GJC in urging President Obama to issue an Executive Order overturning the Helms Amendment on the 20th anniversary of US ratifying CAT.

Stop Violence. End Torture.

Combatting Violence against Women in War is not just a Women’s Rights issue; it’s a Global Peace & Security issue

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.

The Voices of “2014 Sister-to-Sister” Participants

Last Friday NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (NGOWG) held an informal meeting with three outstanding young women activists who are part of the Nobel Women’s Initiative “Sister-to-Sister Mentorship”. Maha Babeker, Alice Vilmaro, and Andrea Ixchíu do a fascinating job defending women’s rights in Sudan, South Sudan and Guatemala. Each of them shared with us their stories of everyday fight with violence and women’s rights abuse.

Maha Babeker has worked alongside Salmmah Women’s Resource Center in Khartoum, Sudan since 2010. Maha is currently a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and is coordinating a project to advocate for the reform of adultery laws in Sudan. She has a long history as an activist—including participating in “One Billion Rising” and “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence”. She is engaged with promoting social justice and equality, reproductive and health issues, leadership training and education. Her greatest concern is criminal law of Sudan which infringes upon human rights and women’s rights in particular.  Truly striking are examples of criminalized apostasy and adultery punishable by death. All Sudanese are subject to the government’s interpretation of Shari’ah (Islamic law). Apostasy from Islam is legally punishable by death under Article 126 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, same way as adultery is under Article 149 (by stoning!). Women are also bound by Shari'ah laws the way that men are not: while men can marry women of any religion, women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men. Women, unlike men, cannot choose. In connection with this, there is a significant issue of forced marriages which is a way for some families to get rid of a ‘burden’ daughter.  Not to mention women being arrested and detained even for their outfit. Women are deprived of their rights by their country’s law.

Andrea Ixchíu is a journalist and workshop facilitator dedicated to promoting indigenous women’s rights in Guatemala. Since childhood, Andrea has organized local campaigns to denounce violence against women in her community. She now delivers workshops to youth on preventing gender violence. As a journalist, Andrea writes for local and municipal papers to promote indigenous women’s participation in traditional leadership structures. Andrea told us that social movements, particularly women’s rights movements, become criminalized in Guatemala. The military government use war logic in domestic policies, war weapons against civilians and commit war crimes throughout the country. In Guatemala, where “minority is the ruling elite, not the thousands of civilians on the street” they are fighting with, women remain in danger of being raped. Andrea admitted that arrested women are treated in a different way than men which seems to be a minor fact comparing to the more than 200 rape cases per year taking place in Guatemala. What is more, the government not only has its spies in media, it also bribes women to lie about the situation publicly. However, they cannot cover all the terrible facts. For instance, they cannot cover the story of Yolanda Oquelí who was shot last year for being an activist and a human rights defender.

Alice Vilmaro, who is a Gender and Planning Officer with the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) in Juba, South Sudan, coordinates programs that promote the involvement of women and girls in South Sudan to achieve a lasting peace. CEPO’s program focuses on reporting human rights violations such as sexual and gender based violence, mitigating community conflicts and promoting peaceful co-existence among conflicting communities, as well as strengthening civic education in communities and public participation on governance issues. Alice believes that women can fill in the gaps between conflict groups in South Sudan and play a significant role in peacebuilding after the conflicts. She is also working alongside a civil society monitoring team to effectively implement UN Resolution 1325, which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and in post-conflict reconstruction, in the country. Alice told us that partnership programs with international missions as UNFPA and UN Women, and local missions as GBC (Greater Bor Community-USA programs focus on agriculture, promotion of education, promotion of quality public health and peace-building initiatives among the communities in Southern Sudan) are extremely important.

The reason why these women gathered together at this table is because they share something really important – desire to help women and stop the violence against them. They believe that pressure on their governments on the international level, diplomatic missions and data collecting could help women’s rights issues in their countries. They care, and they share their stories with us.

“Do not raise your hands in violence - raise your voices to stop it”

Last Saturday UN Women launched a campaign called “HeForShe”.

HeForShe is a solidarity movement that changes traditional perception of gender equality: it is not just women’s fight for their rights; it is men’s responsibility as well. To quote the Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland, who also participated in the launching: “This is no longer about women or men, but rather about women and men working together”.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was the first man to sign the HeForShe Commitment, which has already been signed by more than 147,000 men all around the world.  He also delivered a speech at this special event in UN Headquarters in New York. He emphasized the importance of men’s participation in preventing violence against women. “One in three women is a victim of violence – but this is a men’s issue. Men are responsible for most of the threats and violence against women. Often, these men are close to the victims – fathers, husbands, boyfriends or supervisors.” He appealed to men and boys: “Do not raise your hands in violence – raise your voices to stop it”.

© HeForShe.org

This event gathered together devoted leaders as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (UN Women Executive Director), Wolf Blitzer (Executive Director of UN Women), Tarja Halonen (the first female president of Finland), Gary Barker (Director of the gender, violence and rights team for the International Center for Research on Women), Kiefer Sutherland, and other speakers. UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson’s speech was particularly noteworthy and inspiring. She condemned the harm that gender discrimination causes to both men and women: “The reality is that if we do nothing it will take 75 years, or for me to be nearly a hundred before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work; 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children; and at current rates it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education.” These facts are striking.

Speaking at the event, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka also addressed some frightening facts. “Fact: Many women experience violence and even death from their intimate partners.​

35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. In some national violence studies that figure goes as high as 70 per cent.

Of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.

Fact: Rape has been a rampant tactic as a weapon of war. Women are abducted and sold as sex slaves and taken as spoils of war.” She urged men to stop this violence and protect women. It is in men’s power to stop forced marriages, denial of education, and rape, especially in conflict regions: “Whether it is in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, or Ukraine, this violence—which rages as we speak—has a particular impact on women and girls”.

Men and boys can change the course of history. And if we do not start now, when? And if it is not us, who?

Fiona Sampson, the Equality Effect and the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict: Translating Rhetoric to Action

(*Unless otherwise cited, the information in this article is based on GJC Program Intern Anna Morrill’s interview with Canadian human rights advocate and lawyer Fiona Sampson on June 19, 2014.)

Reflections on the 2014 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

The 2014 UK Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was encouraging. It is the first of its kind to focus exclusively on ways governments and advocates can work together to effectively stop the endemic use of sexual violence against women in war. The Global Justice Center hosted two events at the Summit – a panel on creative legal strategies to enforce international mandates on women, peace, and security; and a peace negotiation simulation highlighting the difficulties in including women at the peace table in a meaningful way in transitional situations. .

Fiona Sampson, Executive Director of Equality Effect, participated in both GJC events, as a panel expert and civil society member the simulation.  In a brief interview with the Global Justice Center, Ms. Sampson discusses her thoughts on the summit, her work with the Equality Effect, the connection to the Global Justice Center, and the future for NGO organizations with missions to end sexual violence.

Ms. Sampson called the global summit an “ambitious and positive” experience. With 1,700 delegates and 129 state delegations participants reported in attendance, the term ambitious is fitting.  The integration of civil society groups into a large-scale discussion of strategies to end sexual violence in conflict was momentous and dynamic.  Despite the tangible energy and exchange among participants, the summit felt at time a bit too inclusive. “It seemed the organizers could have been more selective in who the participants were and what role they played.  The only possible issue was over-inclusion; [the summit] felt a bit unwieldy and it was difficult [at times] to connect.”

Yet the summit did succeed in bringing together new people and paving the way for future collaboration. The public was invited to “fringe” events, including GJC’s peace negotiation simulation. Fellow civil society partners were encouraged to network and interact to begin a necessary dialogue on different interpretations, approaches and experiences on efforts to challenge sexual violence perceptions and stereotypes.

Ms. Sampson’s colleague Mercy Chidi, Program Director at Ripples International African Children’s HIV/AIDS Orphanage in Kenya, described the GJC events to Ms. Sampson as an “entirely positive experience.” Both reveled in the opportunity to discuss the groundbreaking “160 Girls” Project,” in which Equality Effect successfully charged the Kenyan government and police responsible for failing to protect and prevent sexual violence in Kenya.  During the Global Justice Center’s “Ending Impunity, Inspiring Hope: Creative Legal Strategies to Combat Rape in War” panel both experts discussed their respective experiences during the project; Ms. Chidi’s expounded on her grassroots role while Ms. Sampson provided context for the legal processes.  The Global Justice Center’s organization and structure of the discussion received positive responses and follow-up from the audience. “The Global Justice Center did an excellent job.”

Work with Equality Effect (e2)

“Discover. Create. Change” reads the mission statement on the Equality Effect’s (e2) website. The Equality Effect seeks justice for human rights violations for women and girls who are victims of sexual violence in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi through international and domestic humanitarian law. Like the Global Justice Center, the Canada-based group focuses on ways in which law can be used as a catalyst to explore and eradicate political, social and economic inequalities experienced by women and girls. Collaboration between Canada and Global South partners was borne out of a shared experience of British colonialism and its lasting effects of oppressive and sexist legal structures. In Canada, this legacy is most apparent among indigenous women.  In 2005, Ms. Sampson led the creative collaboration among colleagues, including African feminist legal academics and peers from the Osgoode Hall Law School graduate program that resulted in the creation of the Equality Effect. The organization works to ensure women are provided access to “legal resources, supports and remedies” previously prohibited to them due to economic, social, political and gender inequalities. In many of these countries existing infrastructure prevents women from educational, professional and individual opportunities (i.e.: child marriage laws, gender roles restricting women to the home, patriarchal cultural beliefs such as the idea that having sex with a young girl will cure AIDS).

“The 160 Girls” Kenyan Project

The mandate of the Equality Effect in working to “make women and girl’s human rights real” by underscoring the need to “maintain and uphold women and girls’ human rights [that] are guaranteed under domestic and international law [in areas such as Kenya, Ghana and Malawi]” is accomplished through state litigation, grassroots partners and local legal activists. This commitment is exemplified in the monumental 2011 “160 Girls Project,” an undertaking pioneered by four Osgoode Law graduates: Fiona Sampson, Winifred Kamau, Elizabeth Archampong and Seodi White, to achieve justice and to protect all women and girls from rape. The project’s goals were threefold: to recognize girls’ and women’s human rights, to empower girls to be leaders, and to make legal history in Kenya. The case involved 160 girls between the ages of three to seventeen from Eastern Kenya who sued the Kenyan government for failing to protect them from rape and from “bringing the perpetrators to justice” during the 2007-2008 civil unrest resulting from the election of then-President Mwai Kibaki. Current President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto are currently battling allegations in the International Criminal Court (ICC) of government negligence for their part in the political 2007-2008 fighting that erupted into police attacks, forced male circumcisions, sodomized boys, compulsory pregnancy terminations, violent rapes, and hundreds dead. Witnesses to the crimes were informed in Kibera, a slum outside of the capital city of Nairobi, yet the government failed to act.

In Kenya, a woman is raped every 30 minutes,” Ms. Sampson resolves.  Many cases of rape are committed by an immediate family member and 90% of victims know their assailant. Deliberation over the “160 Girls Project” began in 2010 with a conference in Kenya held by the Equality Effect to discuss legal recourse to raise awareness and compel the enforcement of rape cases. “It was a mammoth undertaking,” recounts Ms. Sampson. In discussing the role of contracting auxiliary staff, Ms. Sampson describes it as “complicated.” Dozens of legal volunteers worked around the world from Kenya-based operations to offices in the U.S. and dissemination of information was challenging.  The legal team reviewed existing laws to look at innovative ways in which Kenyan law and existing international precedents could be molded to oblige protections of women and girls in the constitution. What was most important to Ms. Sampson was the legal argument would stand alone.  Therefore, the team met frequently to go over each potentially controversial argument with a “fine-tooth comb” to ensure potential dissents would be silenced.  The case was significant in its successful incorporation of international law into a state constitution.  On May 23rd, 2013 the High Court of Kenya ruled the“police treatment of their defilement claims constituted a violation of domestic, regional and international human rights law.” “I hope for more victories [like “The 160 Girls Project”] in the future,” smiles Ms. Sampson.

Steps towards Social Justice

Ms. Sampson echoes her own experience of frustration with the impunity gap, initially in Canada and throughout the world as motivation to fight for women’s protections against violence and discrimination globally. “As a lawyer I learned there are laws that can be used to access justice and to hold perpetrators accountable…laws easy to enact and hard to enforce.” Her driving dedication became to mandate enforcement. She humbly recognizes her peers, her colleagues, partners, and the girls of the project as her inspiration.  “The girls involved in the Equality Effect’s work and programs and their guardians, demonstrate incredible courage and determination and I am continuously blown away by how they [Equality Effect’s partners, lawyers, field staff] do work on a daily basis with incredible stamina and good-nature.”

Moving Forward

In the coming weeks after the 2014 UK Global Summit’s adjournment the question of where organizations such as the Equality Effect go from here remains. Ms. Sampson hopes to fuse Global Justice Center President Janet Benshoof’s “legal lingo” into the Equality Effect’s trademarked legal expertise and analysis. “I found the Global Justice Center’s approach and discussions to be invaluable and very useful…the Equality Effect is looking to incorporate these ideas into future legal action.” As for the special guests William Hague and Angelina Jolie, their mark was less enduring.  “They were motivational but not really substantive.” If one thing is certain, even after the news cameras pack up and the spotlight fades on the summit, humanitarian rights champions such as Ms. Sampson will continue to fight, even if it means a fight in the dark.

For more information on the Equality Effect’s “160 Girls” project, visit http://theequalityeffect.org/160-girls-video/.

Women’s Bodies, Today’s Battleground: A Personal Story of Courage from the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

(*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.

Jocie’s Story

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.

Moving Forward

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.

GJC Side Event to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict: Women’s Piece of Peace: An Interactive Event on Gender and Post-Conflict Negotiations

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 18:00 - 19:30

At London ExCel Center, Discussion Room 6

Women are regularly excluded from peace processes around the world. This interactive event will simulate a peace negotiation, with participants playing the role of opposing parties in a conflict in which sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war, in order to highlight challenges and explore solutions.

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Fact Sheet: Stopping The Use Of Rape As A Tactic Of War: A New Approach

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.

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Women, Peace, and Security: Janet Benshoof, President, Global Justice Center

The last two decades have seen a dramatic transformation in the Security Council’s (Council) role in advancing and enforcing international humanitarian law (IHL). The changing nature of armed conflict, the universal acceptance of human rights, the calcification of certain precepts of international law into jus cogens, and advances in international law have all redefined the limits of state sovereignty and influenced the modern understanding of the Council’s mandate under the United Nations Charter (Charter).

Within this new paradigm, the Council has made protecting civilians in armed conflict central to its duty to maintain international peace and security. As part of this effort, the Council has passed a series of resolutions addressing the impact of armed conflict on women and the use of sexual violence in conflict (Women, Peace and Security Series, WPS Series).2 Despite these efforts, the resolutions have failed to achieve one of the Council’s main goals – ending sexual violence perpetrated against women in armed conflicts around the world.

The chapter, Women, Peace and Security, in the forthcoming publication, Security Council in the Age of Human Rights, examines the Council’s actions in the WPS Series against its duties to act under the evolving imperatives of IHL, in particular those rules considered jus cogens. The chapter argues that the Council has a duty to take stronger and more effective measures to address sexual violence against girls and women in armed conflict, in order to successfully deter its use.

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Updating State National Action Plans to Ensure the International Humanitarian Rights of Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict

On the occasion of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Global Justice Center encourages States to exercise global leadership on the protection of women and girls raped in armed conflict by updating their National Action Plans (NAPs) to include explicit language accepting their international humanitarian law obligations to provide non-discriminatory medical care, justice, and reparations to war rape victims.

Women and girls raped in war are among the “war wounded,” therefore protected under international humanitarian law (IHL) by the absolute prohibition on adverse distinction, including on the basis of sex. In reality, however, women and girls raped in war are regularly subjected to discrimination in the medical care they receive and in the justice, accountability, and reparations measures available to them. The prohibition against adverse distinction applies to how all IHL rules are implemented, and it is so fundamental that it constitutes customary international law. Adverse distinction is interchangeable with the term “non-discrimination:” in all cases IHL cannot be implemented in ways that are “less favorable” for women than men.

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How the US is Blocking Access to Safe Abortion Services for Women and Girls Impregnated by Rape in Syria

Throughout the Syrian conflict, Syrian government forces and government-controlled militia (Shabiha) have reigned terror over the civilian population. Alma, a victim of this violence, describes being held in a cell where she would kick and scream alongside 20 other women while they were drugged, blindfolded, and gang-raped.

In the worst embodiment of this campaign, rape is used as a weapon of war against Syrian women and girls. Alma continues, “I’ve been through everything! I’ve been battered, flogged with steel cables, had cigarettes in the neck, razor blades all over my body, electricity to my vagina. I’ve been raped while blindfolded everyday by several men who stank of alcohol and obeyed their superior’s orders, who was always there. They shouted: ‘You wanted freedom? Well here it is!’” A different victim illustrates the scene at a Syrian detention center in which a doctor visited each woman’s cell to note the dates of her period and to hand out birth control pills: “[w]e lived in filth, in blood, in [feces], with no water and barely any food. But we had such an obsessive fear of becoming pregnant that we took these pills scrupulously.” Still other victims of these crimes against humanity described situations in which their “bodies have become battlefields and torture chambers.”

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Justice for Girls in Nigeria

Every day, girls in Nigeria are at risk of being abducted solely because they dared to go to school. Boko Haram, an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda, has been terrorizing the Nigerian population for over a year and, as part of this assault on the population, has been abducting young schoolgirls at random. In a disturbing video released this week, the purported leader of Boko Haram detailed his plan to continue to kidnap these girls and then sell them in the markets. The kidnapped girls some as young as 12 years old, will be sold into sex slavery or as slave laborers. The sale of these girls will serve to finance the organization. These acts of kidnapping are an expression of the group’s opposition to the education of women and girls which they claim is based on a particular interpretation of Sharia law. These crimes also are a way to weaken and intimidate communities and maintain control over the Nigerian people through intimidation. As of now, over 270 girls have been abducted by the group, their whereabouts unknown, their families left with questions and fear.

Girls are an especially high-risk group when it comes to regions in conflict. Not only are they female, but they are children; in terms of vulnerability- the deck is stacked against them. The systematic targeting of women and girls in times of war is a common practice as, in many societies, the honor and purity of women and girls is inherently linked to the masculinity of their respective menfolk. To marginalize, attack, and exploit women is to dishonor and humiliate an entire community. Therefore, the injustices perpetrated against women are often overlooked and instead attributed as crimes against society as a whole. Therefore, when these war criminals are finally brought to justice, the crimes against women and girls are frequently overlooked. Quoted on this issue in Foreign Policy, our legal director Akila Radhakrishnan states that ”[the] failure to comprehend the specific experiences of girls impedes accountability, reparations, and rehabilitation efforts” and if sexualized violence is not addressed in war crime tribunals, it "renders justice meaningless for these survivors.”

In a press release issued on May 6th after the report of eight more abductions, “UNICEF calls on the abductors to immediately return these girls unharmed to their communities, and we implore all those with influence on the perpetrators to do everything they can to secure the safe return of the girls – and to bring their abductors to justice.” Not only is the international community demanding the safe return of these girls,  but for those responsible to be brought to justice. As long ago as last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) reported that “there [was] reason to believe that Boko Haram had committed crimes against humanity, referring to reports of murder and persecution.” Now, a year later, these crimes have only increased with the addition of slavery and sexual slavery. It is absolutely necessary that these perpetrators are brought to justice as violators of international law and held accountable for their war crimes, including the sexualized violence and forced enslavement of these hundreds of girls. Every victim of deserves justice.

The Spotlight on Burma: Calling for the Elimination Sexual Violence and Inclusion of Women in Peace Talks

On Thursday, April 24th, the Global Justice Center, along with the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Amnesty International, and the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security, hosted a side event to the Security Council’s Open Debate on Conflict Related Sexual Violence at the United Nations with the intention of shedding light onto the continued plague of sexualized violence in Burma. The panel consisted of special guest speaker, Naw K’nyaw Paw who is the Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization and a grassroots activist working on empowering women and assisting sexual violence survivors in Burma; H.E. Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative to the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and H.E. David Donoghue, the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations. This standing room only event highlighted the ongoing dangers and abuses that the women and girls of Burma face at the hands of the Burmese military and strengthened the call for international action as well as the inclusion of women in the peace process.

Naw K’nyaw Paw poignantly voiced the concerns of an entire nation of women and girls who face the threat of sexual violence on a daily basis, with girls as young as eight years old suffering these heinous attacks. She called out the Burmese government for its ingrained culture of impunity for these crimes, stating that there is no accountability for the perpetrators, most of whom are members of the Burmese military forces. SRSG Bangura went on to assert that sexual violence should not be attributed as an inevitable element of conflict; to do this only marginalizes the plight of those victimized. The stigma attached to sexual assault, as well as fear of retribution, often prevents women and girls from reporting their attacks or seeking aid and, because of this, there is no way to know the true range and scope of these crimes.

The conversation turned toward the absolute necessity of the inclusion of women in peace processes. Ambassador Donoghue reaffirmed Ireland’s full support of Security Council Resolution 1325, which stresses the importance of gender parity in all areas of governance and peace-building. Naw K’nyaw Paw voiced her concerns over the exclusion of women in the Burmese peace processes, stating that women from all ethnic groups must be present at the negotiation tables. When faced with an argument posed by a representative of the Burma Mission that the Burmese government has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), she swiftly countered that to sign was not enough, the practices must be adopted into law; the realities of CEDAW must be visible on the ground, not merely on paper. With regard to planning talks, Naw K’nyaw Paw emphasized the need to strengthen the existing community structures, as opposed to approaching the situation as one in need of complete rebuilding. This, she said, was necessary for sustainable peace in Burma.

In closing, it was reiterated that women’s involvement in Burmese peace talks is of the utmost importance as is the transition to a civilian government. Both of these factors, as well as the elimination of sexual violence which rages on unhindered, devastating the lives of thousands of women and girls, must be realized in order for there to ever be true peace in Burma.

GJC Hosts High-Level Panel on Sexual Violence in Burma at the United Nations

Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 3:00pm-4:30pm

At UN Secretariat, Room 9

On Thursday, April 24, 2014 the Global Justice Center, together with the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Amnesty International and the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security hosted a side event to the Security Council Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. The interactive panel included distinguished guests such as Naw K’nyaw Paw, Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization and grassroots activist working on empowering women and assisting sexual violence survivors in Burma; H.E. Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and H.E. David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations. The panel was moderated by Nicole Bjerler of Amnesty International.

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What Success Looks Like for Women on the Ground

Yesterday in the inspiring and informative event, “What Success Looks Like on the Ground,” women leaders from Burma, Haiti, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo gathered to discuss their personal experiences in combating sexual violence in conflict. The panel was a side event to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

It was moving to hear directly from local women leaders who battle everyday with their governments, militaries, other institutions, and social mores. Together they painted a stark picture of the very real difficulties women face in armed conflict zones around the world, as well as lessons they have learned in working against sexual violence and in supporting survivors.

Panel speaker Julia Marip, from the Women’s League of Burma, noted that “when women have been raped, they suffer twice: once at the rape and again when they become pregnant.” Ms. Marip then pointed out that not only is abortion illegal in Burma, but also that reforming laws – including those criminalizing abortion – is overly difficult due to the constitution’s discrimination against women and the military’s embedded position within the government. She also emphasized the importance of having women at the political table in order to improve the lives of women, including by ending rape and increasing accountability. Ms. Marip and her organization, the Women’s League of Burma, recently launched a report on sexual violence in their country,Same Impunity, Same Pattern: Report of Systematic Sexual Violence in Burma’s Ethnic Areas, about which the Global Justice Center hosted an event and wrote an article.

Similarly, Leonie Kyakimwa Wangivirwa, an activist working with women survivors of sexual violence in Congo, spoke of the power of women to end sexual violence in conflict. She called for solidarity, saying that women around the world “must band together as survivors if we want to fix this on a global level rather than go case by case.” She further urged the world to end the crisis in Congo – one of the world’s longest running conflicts – saying that the Congolese “are begging the people who are bringing war to us to take it away.” Without this step, she explained, sexual violence would continue.

Leonie then described the consequences of the ongoing sexual violence in her country, including the suffering of women with unwanted pregnancies from rape, who are often shunned by their families, and the dangers and difficulties that face children born of rape. An audience member from the Congo, Justine Masika Bihamba, of Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence, echoed Leonie’s point, reporting that “every day we are losing women to suicide who have become pregnant from rape.”

Zeinab Blandia, of the Vision Association in Sudan, shared her experiences advocating against sexual violence in her country, and explained that where peace has been established in areas of Sudan, the situation for women has improved. Like her fellow panelists, Zeinab called on the international community to help bring the conflict in her country to an end. She said that if the war and its associated violence against women were to continue, it would be a “shame on the international community and on CSW.”

The panel also touched upon successes combating sexual violence in Haiti, where the 2010 earthquake left women and girls increasingly vulnerable to sexual attacks. The event highlighted the work of KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), a grassroots organization run by women survivors of sexual violence that supports other women survivors in Haiti. Marie Eramithe Delva, executive secretary of KOFAVIV, recounted the success of their campaign distributing whistles to women and girls in the displaced person camps of Port-au-Prince, noting that in at least one camp it had led to a drastic reduction in the number of reported rapes.

The Global Justice Center (GJC) is grateful to have heard these women leaders speak of their experiences and advice for combating sexual violence and supporting survivors. We believe our vision of success on the ground mirrors their calls for justice and accountability for rape in armed conflict, for increased participation of women in government and peace negotiations, and for expanded and non-discriminatory access to sexual and reproductive health services. GJC is eager to partner with women leaders such as these, as it has done with Ms. Bihamba, whose organization sent a letter to President Obama as part of GJC’s August 12th Campaign, urging him to lift the ban on abortions attached to U.S. humanitarian aid. For further information on GJC and its projects, please visit:http://www.globaljusticecenter.net.