Women’s Piece of Peace: Security Council Debate on Women, Peace and Security

2015 marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which requires parties in a conflict to respect women’s rights and support their participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction. Yesterday the Security Council held its annual open debate under Argentina’s presidency calling upon UN Member to implement resolutions on women, peace and security. This year’s theme focused on the situation of women refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world.

With numerous crises from Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria to Somalia and Mali and the increase of extremists take control of territory, the shifting trend in conflict is seeing a heightening of targeted violence against women, girls and their communities, warned the UN Secretary-General whose statement was delivered by the Executive Director of UN Women Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. The Executive Director in her own statement stressed that women are among the most vulnerable group and the primary subject to violence. But it is women who should be empowered by giving them a voice in decision-making in order to protect them. She noted that “key decisions are still made behind closed doors, deaf to the voices of those directly affected.” Increasing the representation of women in leadership roles and electing them to governing bodies is a way to ensure their protection, as has been seen in Haiti and the Central African Republic.

One of the important issues raised by Member States was that rape is still too often used as a weapon of warfare with a devastating impact on victims of war. Gender based violence also contributes to displacement and women fleeing in hope for safety. Speakers admitted that most refugees are women, and they face a lack of medical assistance which they desperately need. For instance, services that enable the safe termination of pregnancy are fundamental for women to restore their lives after rape and yet are continually denied due to US policy. Failure to provide these services violates the rights of victims of rape.

A highlight of the Open Debate was the statement by the award winning Iraqi women’s rights lawyer Suaad Allami who delivered her statement on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security and spoke first-hand of her experiences in working with refugees and the threats to women’s rights by extremist groups such as ISIS. She paid tribute to her friends and colleagues who recently have been killed defending women’s rights. She ended her statement with applause and spoke the last words in Arabic “All human beings have the right to be safe and live a life of dignity.”

Click here to read the Presidential Statement on behalf of the Security Council.

Global Justice Center’s Trip to Nigeria

Two of GJC’s staff members, Akila and Sherrie, recently returned from a two week long fact-finding trip in Nigeria. GJC is currently working on two projects concerning Nigeria; namely, the August 12thcampaign and the Genocide campaign. This trip gave valuable insight into how to best address the needs of the people in GJC’s projects.

Akila and Sherrie traveled to Abuja, Yola, and Lagos where they met with many government officials, local non-profits, and international organizations. They had the opportunity to attend the Bring Back Our Girls vigil in Abuja, which has taken place every day since the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram in April 2014. They also visited Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Abuja and Yola, where they toured the camps and spoke with many people who were displaced to the conflict with Boko Haram.

Akila and Sherrie have brought back a wealth of knowledge to GJC. Their observations and the information gained from their meetings will be instrumental in strengthening GJC’s projects moving forward.  

Learn from Srebrenica and Recognize Boko Haram Violence as Genocide

July 11th, 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica and the resultant genocide. In response to the anniversary of the massacre, The Economist published an article titled “Stop Genocide Early” which calls for early action by the international community in conflict situations.

On July 11th, 1995 Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic overthrew UN Dutch peacekeepers’ “safe area” of Srebrenica. The worst violence to happen in Europe since World War II ensued. Mladic was able to carry out this violence with impunity due to a deadlock between the United States and NATO. This hesitancy to act resulted in roughly 8,000 deaths and gave birth to the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. This doctrine states that countries are morally obligated to prevent genocide that is taking place in other countries. It is immoral to sit idly by while people are being massacred. “This is the chief lesson of Srebrenica: governments should heed the early signs of mass slaughter and act swiftly to prevent it.”

In northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram is forcibly transferring and abducting children with the intention of destroying the Christian community. The targeted abduction and forced religious conversion of the Chibok schoolgirls is genocide, and action must be taken to stop this violence.

On April 14, 2015 the Global Justice Center sent a letter to the International Criminal Court prosecutor urging her to charge Boko Haram with genocide in her investigation of their crimes. Formally declaring Boko Haram’s actions as genocide will send other countries the important message that they have a moral, humanitarian obligation to put an end to the brutality.

The international community must learn from the mistakes made at Srebrenica 20 years ago by recognizing the forced abductions and violence perpetrated by Boko Haram as genocide. The world must act swiftly in providing aid to the victims and must work together to stop Boko Haram.

Read the full article here.

Read about GJC’s Genocide project here.

Angelina Jolie Gives Speech on Sexual Violence at African Union Summit

On June 11, 2015 Angelina Jolie, a special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, gave an address at the African Union Summit in Johannesburg. Jolie highlighted the sexual violence that women and girls in conflict zones are subject to due to “the near-total impunity that exists worldwide for crimes against women, in conflict zones in particular.”  

Impunity for the use of sexual violence is one GJC has been confronting head on. On April 15, 2015, one year after the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped, GJC sent a letter to the International Criminal Court urging the prosecutor to consider charging Boko Haram with genocide. Properly characterizing these targeted abductions as genocide will hold states accountable and encourage them to take action.  As stated by GJC President Janet Benshoof in an op-ed in PassBlue,“It will make clear Nigeria’s own obligations to stop this conduct and to prosecute it vigorously; it will send a message to other perpetrators, including those currently targeting Yazidi women and girls in Syria and Iraq, that genocide will not be tolerated; it will fulfill the prosecutor’s own commitment to fully prosecute crimes aimed at women and girls and to integrate a gender perspective into every stage of its work; and finally, it will trigger the international community’s responsibility to protect the Nigerian population.”

As more and more wars are being fought using women’s bodies, it is important that the laws of war apply to and protect women as well as men. When the laws of war were initially drafted, rape was not recognized as a weapon; however, it is now identified as a tactic to win military objectives. Global Justice Center’s “Rape as a Weapon of War” campaign recognizes the discrimination and suffering that women and girls face in conflict zones. GJC urges governments and international organizations to hold states where rape is being used as a weapon accountable for their actions.

As Jolie stated, “We need policies for long-term security that are designed by women, focused on women, executed by women.” With these policies, gender equality is achievable and we can see an end to impunity for sexual violence.

Letter to the NY Times Editor, In Myanmar, Seize the Moment, October 2011

OCTOBER 13, 2011: The New York Times Opinion Pages publishes a letter by Janet Benshoof, founder and president of the GJC.

This document also includes two other Opinion Pieces published in the New York Times; one by Myra Dahgaypaw, campaign coordinator for U.S. Campaign for Burma, and one by Op-Ed Contributor Thant Myint-U titled "In Myanmar, Seize the Moment". This last Op-Ed called for President Obama to voice support for the changes happening in Burma under President Thein Sein. The other two Op-Ed pieces are in response to Mr. Thant Myint-U's piece, and Janet Benshoof calls instead for the global community to refuse to recognize the new constitution.

All of these Op-Ed pieces address the situation in Burma, and what the international response to it should look like.

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Five Countries Directly Challenge US Abortion Restrictions at Universal Periodic Review

Today, during the Universal Periodic Review of United States, several member states of the UN Human Rights Council made statements condemning the anti-abortion restrictions that the US places on foreign aid, such as the Helms Amendment.

The UN Human Rights Council is responsible for monitoring the human rights records of the member states; every four years each country is reviewed and presented with recommendations on how to comply with their human rights duties.

The effects of Helms are can be seen in conflict zones around the world, most recently with the rescue of 214 pregnant Nigerian women from Boko Haram. The issue of comprehensive medical care has gained traction in recent months. As a result, today the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium and France orally recommended that the United States work to ensure access to safe abortions around the world and limit the negative impact of the Helms Amendment.

War rape is an illegal tactic of war, constituting torture or genocide, and denial of medical care allows the perpetuation of those crimes. The constraints of the Helms Amendment deny women and children access to safe abortions, and restrict aid agencies from even providing information about abortion services.

In September 2014, the Global Justice Center submitted a report to the UPR, highlighting the ways in which constraints against women’s reproductive rights are incompatible with the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In April 2015, GJC traveled throughout Europe advocating for countries to use the UPR process to question the current anti-abortion restrictions the US imposes.

In addition to the five oral questions, written recommendations were also submitted, requiring a response and justification, should the United States continue to uphold the Helms Amendment. The US government has three months to formulate a response. It is clear that the Obama Administration has a responsibility and urgent duty to remedy these violations.

Click here to read more. 

Nigeria Recovers Abductees, Chibok Girls Remain in Captivity

On Tuesday the Nigerian Army declared its success in rescuing almost 300 girls and women from terrorist organization Boko Haram. Many false reports have been leaked previously, as is expected given the extensive coverage of the large-scale abduction of the Chibok girls over a year ago. However this report has been confirmed several times. The famous Chibok school girls are not among the recovered, but Nigeria has made great strides against Boko Haram in recent weeks. It is thought that these newly rescued girls had been kidnapped during some of Boko Haram’s smaller, less publicized attacks and abductions.

The recovery of these girls is indeed good news but Boko Haram still requires immediate attention and condemnation from the international community. During the mission to recover the girls, dozens of corpses were found in a nearby river. The actions of Boko Haram certainly constitute genocide—their ethnically and religiously killing as well as their systematic violence against women—and it is time for those actions to be treated as such. GJC advocates for continued vigilance in seeking the abducted girls and has called upon the ICC to investigate and prosecute Boko Haram in this way, ending impunity for a group that has faced few consequences and deterring other groups who practice similar illegal tactics.

Click here to read the full article. 

 

Pursuing Sexual Violence: UN Condemns Acts of Boko Haram

During activities for International Women’s Day of 2015 issues of escalating sexual violence were highlighted on a global scale and UN Secretary General explicitly called for action against groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS, who employ rape as a weapon of war. A report was released Monday in which the UN reiterated concern about the pervasive sexual violence in areas such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and Yemen.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence, such as forced pregnancy and marriage, are being condemned as a method of terrorism, employed by extremist groups in 19 different countries. The UN report criticizes 45 different groups for their use of sexual violence and particularly decries Boko Haram for their continued abuses.

The New York Times says, “In Sudan’s western Darfur region, it said the number of displaced civilians has increased over the past year and so have reports of sexual violence. And in South Sudan, it said sexual violence remains prevalent — including gang rape, castration, forced nudity and forced abortion — which is ‘exacerbated by impunity and a militarized society in which gender inequality is pronounced.’” However, Congo has made some encouraging progress, prosecuting officials for sexual violence and offering reparations to survivors.

In terms of Boko Haram’s violence, the report states, “Forced marriage, enslavement and the ‘sale’ of kidnapped women and girls are central to Boko Haram’s modus operandi and ideology. Abducted girls who refuse marriage or sexual contact within marriage have faced violence and death threats.”

The Global Justice Center has made recent efforts on behalf of the Chibok school girls, on the anniversary of their kidnapping,  GJC posted a letter to the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, urging action be taken against Boko Haram. GJC asked that the Chief Prosecutor investigate the kidnappings as an act of genocide, so as to spur immediate action and forestall the inevitably increase in similar attacks. Speaking about Boko Haram, General Ban Ki-moon said that actions such as these were, “an essential part of the fight against conflict-related sexual violence.”

Letter to The Honourable Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor, "Re: The Imperative to Prosecute the Abduction of the Schoolgirls in Nigeria as Genocide"

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.

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A Tragic Anniversary: Boko Haram’s Abduction of the Chibok School Girls

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.”

George Clooney Condemns Rape of Darfur

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.

Sexual Violence and Tragedy in Liberia

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.

Over the Line: Sudanese Denial of Collective Rape, and ISIS Pamphlet

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.