For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial resumes at the ICC

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After a lot of delays and setbacks, the trial  of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC),  resumed on the 14th of August, 2012 at the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is the first time the Prosecutor is opening an investigation in which allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber alleged killings.

Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested in 2008 in response to a warrant from the ICC, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes relating to alleged MLC atrocities committed in the Central African Republic.  His trial in The Hague began on November 22, 2010.

The Pre-Trial Chamber decided on June 15, 2009 that there was enough evidence to proceed to a full trial of Mr. Bemba on five criminal counts related to events in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 26, 2002 and March 15, 2003.

Two of these charges are for crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three for war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging).  The Prosecutor, Senior Trial Attorney Petra Kneuer, alleges that Mr. Bemba is responsible for these crimes carried out by his MLC militia in various locations in the Central African Repbulic.

This is the first case before the ICC where three female judges have sat on the bench. The presiding judge, Sylvia Steiner from Brazil, has expertise and training in women’s rights. Her colleagues are Judge Kuniko Ozaki from Japan and Judge Joyce Aluoch from Kenya. Thus, female judges from Latin America, Asia, and Africa will adjudicate this historic ICC trial focused on gender crimes.

Involvment of the MLC militia in the Central African Republic

In 2002 Ange-Félix Patassé, President of the Central African Republic from 1993 until 2003, sought help from different militia groups, including Jean-Pierre Bemba’s MLC, against his former chief of staff, François Bozizé.  MLC forces crossed the border from the DRC, succeeding in pushing Bozizé’s forces back to the north of the capital.  For its part, the MLC remained in CAR for five months. The Prosecutor alleges that MLC fighters went on a rampage, committing crimes of murder, rape and pillaging against residents of CAR. According to reports from international organizations, human rights organizations and journalists, civilians in the CAR have continued to suffer immensely from violence after 2003.  There are an estimated 100,000 CAR refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Sudan, and another 100,000 who are internally displaced.  There have been allegations of atrocities committed by various rebel factions and by government forces. 

Rape as a weapon of war

According to the Prosecutor, “The allegations of sexual crimes are detailed and substantiated. The information we have now suggests that the rape of civilians was committed in numbers that cannot be ignored under international law.”

André Tabo, an expert witness, in April testified on the use of rape as a tool of war. The head of the psychiatry department at the national university hospital in Bangui, he stated that Congolese soldiers raped Central African women for numerous reasons: They were “punishing” them for supporting rebels, considered them “attractive war booty,” wanted to destabilize enemy troops, and for sexual release. He said that since the troops were out of control, they considered that they could do whatever they wanted.

Dr. Tabo’s said amongst 512 rape survivors he worked with, 42 percent had been raped in front of family members. He said 81 of them were found to be HIV-positive, ten of them having been infected during the rape. According to the expert, all survivors said their attackers were MLC fighters.

The proceeding of this case will definitely be a landmark for applying justice and insuring accountability for perpetrators of rape and other crimes of sexual violence in conflict.

For an update on the trial, please check out the monitoring site of the trial, run by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Nadia Elgohary

Women living in Israel list sexual violence as bigger security threat than bombings

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Women in Israel have very different views on what the basic threats against their security are, depending on factors as ethnicity, health status and socio-economic conditions. That is one of the major findings in the Israeli Women’s Security Index, a survey based on interviews made with more than 700 women, both Jewish and Palestinian, living in the country.

The main idea behind the Women’s Security Index was to examine the concept of security in the Israeli society and to see what elements that are crucial when it comes to women feeling safe or not.

- In Israeli discourse the term security ”bitachon” is used mostly in a military sense. We wanted to find out if that really is the only threat to women’s sense of safety, says Assia Istoshina, researcher for the Women’s Security Index.

Less fear of terror attacks than of sexual violence

And apparently there is a need for a much broader discussion on security. Because although fear of military violence was present amongst the women’s responses, there were other issues that were of much higher concern. This to an extent that was surprising even for the organizations compiling the study.

- War, bombings and terror attacks evoke less fear than fear of sexual violence, economic worries and concerns for the the women’s near and dear. We did expect that everyday fears would also be prominent in women’s lives, but we did not expect them to be even more threatening than wars, says Assia Istoshina.

Big differences between groups

Being attacked on a dark street and fear of sexual attacks were among the top five biggest fears for all groups of women surveyed, regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status, or state of health. But otherwise the fears differed a lot between different groups. The five issues that brought about a maximum feeling of tension and insecurity for Palestinian women, were:

  1. Losing their home
  2. Being attacked on a dark street
  3. Possibility of being arrested or detained
  4. War, bombing, terror attack
  5. Sexual assault

While Jewish women’s biggest fears were:

  1. Worry that something will happen to someone near and dear
  2. Being attacked on a dark street
  3. Sexual assault
  4. Economic situation
  5. War, bombing, terror attack

1/3 of Russian speakers attacked

Still the group of Jewish women was not cohesive. For instance, 32 percent of Russian speaking Jewish women reported experiences of being humiliated or attacked due to belonging to a minority group, while only 14 percent amongst the general population of Jewish women had the same experience. Amongst Russian speakers there was also a much higher percentage that reported that they had been sexually assaulted by a person they did not know, 38 percent, compared to 16 percent of the general population of Jewish women.

Women’s Security Index (WSI)The WSI is based on interviews with more than 700 Palestinian and Jewish women living in Israel.

 

The women were asked to mark how much each of 14 issues evoked in them a sense of insecurity and tension. They were also asked about actual experiences they had encountered that undermine their sense of safety, about their major sources of support, about socio-demographic data etc.

 

The WSI was conducted by six civil society organizations: Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, Coalition of Women for Peace, Kayan Feminist Organization, Aswat Palestinian Gay Women, Women against Violence and New Profile.

Fear in interaction with the state

Assia Istoshina points out another interesting finding in the survey – a substantial number of the women felt high levels of fear and tension connected to their interaction with state institutions.

- Provided we assume that the state mechanisms are there to protect people, and not to undermine their feeling of safety, this seems particularly striking, she says.

The organizations behind the survey now hope that it will be used by NGO’s, activists and policy makers as a tool for changing the lives of women living in Israel.

- Our dream scenario would be that the state would change its priorities and aim at, and invest in, creating a more safe society for women.

Malin Ekerstedt

Towards developing a National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325 in Iraq

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Iraq NAP 1325 Initiative: Civil Society Reference Group Strategic Meeting, Beirut, July 28-29, 2012

When UNSCR 1325 was adopted in 2000 it clearly stated women’s right to equal participation in peace and re-building processes. But still there are many countries who hasn’t even developed a National Action Plan (NAP) for how to implement the resolution. One of these countries is Iraq, where women’s rights activists now have joined together to get a NAP into place.

Iraq is one of the countries that suffered greatly from the aftermath of conflicts and wars that have affected the social, economic, cultural, health and political status of women. Despite having played a critical role in sustaining the community and the remaining infrastructure and despite playing a critical role in the social, political and economic development of the post-conflict Iraq, women have been marginalized in the public and private life; excluded from decision making on all levels and consequently been deprived of the opportunity to influence the decisions that shape their lives. The discrimination and violence against women in the legislation, as well as in the economic and social life, persist, contributing to an increasing sense of insecurity for women.

Resolution 1325 was one of the instruments developed by the UN Security Council to confirm the fact that sustainable peace and security can only be achieved with the protection and the participation of the whole society – both women and men. As such UNSCR 1325, together with other international mechanisms as CEDAW and Beijing Platform for Action, is a powerful instrument that can be used by civil society organizations to hold their governments accountable.  However, the resolution is written in general terms and in order for the government in Iraq to adopt a contextualized and effective response, a national action plan (NAP) with specific, measurable and time-limited objectives is needed, in order to enable the implementation of the resolution. It also requires specific actions and policies, accountability mechanism for the ministries and respective authorities, a concrete allocated budget, transparency and an evaluation and monitoring reporting mechanism.

A workshop entitled “Towards creation of National Action Plan for implementation of UNSCR 1325 in Iraq”, was held on 25-27 April 2012 in Amman by the European Feminist Initiative (IFE-EFI) in cooperation and with the support of the Norwegian Embassy Amman, to identify the present challenges for developing a national action plan and to map the way forward. One of the identified challenges during this workshop was the lack of networking and insufficient cooperation among women’s rights organisations. Addressing this problem was seen as a precondition for the success of the whole process and consequently for the development of the NAP. As an outcome for the workshop, four women activists were delegated to widen the process and reach out to other leading activists from civil society to form a focus group that would work together to ensure that in an all-inclusive consultative process for developing of a National Action Plan (NAP) in Iraq is set in place.

Between April and June the process continued and representatives from major women’s rights organizations were approached and invited to the Civil Society Strategic Meeting in Beirut on 28-29 July 2012. The main objectives of the meeting were to develop a common understanding and strengthen collaboration amongst key representatives from various women’s groups and networks to develop a NAP, benefiting from the Nepalese successful experience, identify key strategies and a work plan for the development of NAP, as well as the terms of reference for the national reference civil society group.

During this meeting, major Iraqi women’s rights organizations mapped the necessary actions for implementing UNSCR 1325 and developed an outline of a NAP framework with specific goals, objectives and main principles. The participants also expressed their willingness to work together towards building a political will for developing of NAP through a process built on dialogue, respect and the acknowledgement of differences, agreeing to maintain coordination, cooperation and transparency in the work of the reference group. A name for the national reference group was also agreed upon: Iraq NAP 1325 Initiative (I-NAP 1325 Initiative). In addition to that,  an outline  for the preliminary plan of action for the I-NAP 1325 Initiative was developed for the first several months, from the 1st of September till the 31st of December 2012, with a focus on building a political will towards developing the NAP; reaching out to other groups working with UNSCR 1325 inside Iraq and starting a broad consultation process.

It is worth mentioning that no country in the Middle East and North Africa region has yet developed an NAP for the implementation of UNSCR1325, hence the development of a NAP and the success in its implementation will certainly make Iraq a leading country and a model in the region. The Iraqi government can set an example in the region and in this way contribute to the building of a long-awaited regional peace process.

Download the report from the meeting.

Nadia Elgohary

Women’s peace initiative in Gori

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A memorial evening held in Gori to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 August war. Photo: Goga Aptsiauri/RFE-RL

In the beginning of August, a memorial evening was held in Gori, a city in eastern Georgia, to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 August war that broke out between Georgia on one side, and Russia and the breakaway state of South Ossetia on the other side. This armed confrontation is  a continuation of a 20 year old ethnic conflict that erupted in the South Caucasus region after the Soviet Union’s collapse, and has been considered a “frozen conflict” ever since the ceasefire in 1992. As in previous years, internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as family members of fallen soldiers gathered together, appealing to their political leaders for the restoration of peace in the region.

According to the organizer of the event, Manana Mebuke, leader of the movement Women for Peace and Safety, a similar event also took place in Tskhinvali, arranged by the Association of Women of South Ossetia for Democracy and Human Rights.

Members of the “Women for Peace and Safety” movement commemorated all war victims, regardless of their ethnicity. They marched through the streets of Gori, holding candles and flowers. Arriving at the fallen soldier memorial, they observed a moment of silence and laid down flowers.

This event is only one out of several campaigns that “Women for Peace and Safety” arrange simultaneously with their partners in Ossetia. As a sign of peace they light candles in the windows of their homes on the International Day of Peace on September 21 and demonstrate on the International Women’s Day on March 8.

Citizen diplomacy

One of the women present at the commemoration was Nazzi Beruashvili who has been a forced migrant for four years now, living in an IDP settlement in Karaleti, in Georgia. She often asks herself what she could have done to prevent the war. In 2008 Nazzi joined the peace movement, and today she is negotiating for peace with South Ossetian women. According to her, reconciliation will surely happen one day:

- The aim of Women for Peace and Safety has always been the establishment of peace, trust, mutual friendship and understanding. All of us – the Ossetians and Georgians – should strive for peace and a happy future on Earth.

At the office of the "Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors" Union. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/ The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation

At the heart of the Women for Peace and Safety stands the “Union Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors”, that has been working with citizen diplomacy for two decades now, the starting point being a conference entitled “Peaceful Caucasus – Peaceful World”. The conference was the first meeting ever for war veterans fighting each other during the first armed confrontation, as well as for women affected by the conflict. For the first time they had an opportunity to share their experiences and together identify ways to achieve peace.

Some years later, the main focus of the peace organization shifted to working with women – those who bear the main burden of the conflict. Men went to war, while the children and elderly remained at home, and families were lacking the most basic necessities – bread, electricity and heating. Many women became widows, and the husbands of others came back from the war with disablities.

In the 2000’s the “Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors” union organized numerous meetings and conferences, both with Abkhaz and Ossetian organizations.

Women’s peacebuilding school

In August 2008, with the outbreak of a new war in South Ossetia, all the peacekeeping efforts of the organization were destroyed. Not only did the war lead to a new wave of violence and hatred, but it also imposed insurmountable physical boundaries. The activists at the union, however, never gave up; rather they continued meeting women IDP’s who had left their homes in South Ossetia, and talking to them about the importance of dialogue.

Mimosa Mamatsashvili, one of the members of the union, describes these seminars:

- We usually start with the basics: human rights, women’s rights, what a conflict is – how it develops and spreads, and its consequences. We talk about conflict resolution and look at various international treaties, resolutions, and other mediation tools. We talk about tolerance and discuss the basics of communication.

Women attending the seminars often start off in an aggressive mood: everyone of them has their own story of loss, how they were forced to flee, leaving everything behind and settle in small rooms in abandoned guest houses and school buildings. Without work and without means for living, women managed to pull through with their families. Many of them suffered from the conflict twice – once in the beginning of the 90’s and then again in 2008. Mimosa Mamatsashvili, who herself left her home and her life in Tskhinvali, continues:

- Women start changing their attitudes right before our eyes – the original aggression is transformed into understanding. We have an exercise called “the dialogue”, where we divide the participants into three groups; one “Georgian”, one “Ossetian” and one “observers” group. The different groups then have to enter into dialogues with members from the other groups. And the participants start selecting their words, in order not to offend the others, speaking in a way that would not ignite a conflict, but rather focusing on what they have in common. At the end of the course the participants often remark: “Yes, it turns out that we can still agree.”

In total, 1000 women have attended the training courses organized by the union, a significant contribution in building up trust among the conflicting nations.

- One thousand women, means one thousand families, and each family consists of at least four members. And they in turn pass on the longing for peace to their children, says Mimosa Mamatsashvili.

Julia Lapitskii

Demonstrations in Tunisia: Proposed change of constitution threatens equal rights

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Both men and women joined in the demonstrations for gender equality. This woman is holding a sign saying "Man without woman = 0 Man=Woman". Photo: Felix Husa.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Tunis yesterday, to celebrate the National Day of Tunisian Women by protesting a proposed change in the country’s constitution. According to the new draft, women’s rights of citizenship should no longer be based on equality. Instead it would be seen as “complementarity to man within the family and as an associate of man in the development of the country”.

Tunisia’s Minister of Interior, Ali Larayedh, had a few days earlier told the Tunisian radio program Mosaique FM that no marches or demonstrations would be allowed on August 13th. Later though this was changed to only apply to Tunis’s central avenue, Habib Bourguiba.

Fear first step to diminish women’s rights

The National Day of Tunisian Woman is celebrated on the anniversary of the Tunisian Personal Status Code that came into force in 1956. It was the first of its kind in the Arab world, abolished polygami and instituted both judicial divorce and civil marriage.

Although the proposed new article in the constitution wouldn’t change any of these principles, many women and activists fear that it’s a first step on the road to diminishing women’s rights in Tunisia, reports The Muslim News.

Protests on the streets

An Internet petition stressing that women, who “are citizens just like men, should not be defined in terms of men” has so far been signed by over 8 000 people. And in two big demonstrations in the capital Tunis yesterday evening (one of them defying the ban on gathering at Habib Bourguiba), thousands of Tunisians requested a withdrawal of the proposed article. The new writing has already been adopted by the parliamentary committee of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA), but it still needs to be ratified at a plenary session of the interim parliament.

The National Constituent Assembly was elected last year after the downfall of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and it’s currently working on a new constitution for Tunisia.

Malin Ekerstedt

Gender-sensitive first ICC rule for reparations for victims

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For the first time the International Criminal Court (ICC) has decided on reparations for victims of war crimes. This as part of the case against former warlord Thomas Lubanga, who earlier this year was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the enlisting of child soldiers in the Ituri conflict 2000-2003 in DR Congo.

According to the ruling of the court, the forms of the reparations should be decided together with the victims and their communities and collected by the Trust Fund for Victims (TRV). After approval from the ICC, the funds of the TRV will then be used to implement the proposed actions.

The ICC especially stressed that the needs of ”vulnerable victims”, like women, children  and victims of gender-based and sexual violence, must be prioritized, and also ruled that ”gender parity in all aspects of reparations is an important goal of the Court”.

Welcomed women’s inclusion

In a statement UN Women welcomed what they called ”the inclusion of explicitly strong language on aspects of gender-sensitivity and women’s inclusion”.

- As a mechanism of justice, reparations are of particular importance for women victims of conflict. Reparations have the potential to provide recognition of women’s rights as equal citizens, acknowledgement of the harm suffered, as well as a concrete contribution towards victim’s recovery,  said UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri.

Funded through voluntary contributions

Available for reparations are ”the direct and indirect victims who suffered harm following crimes of enlisting, conscripting and using children under the age of 15 in Ituri (…) from 1 September 2002 to 13 August 2003”. This means that also family members of direct victims and individuals who intervened to help them could be potential benificiaries.

The TRV was, like the ICC, established through the Rome Statute, and its resources are mostly coming from voluntary contributions by States and private donors. The ICC therefore also pointed out that outside contributions now are important for the fund to be able to deliver a meaningful reparations programme. Thomas Lubanga has been declared indigent and will not be part of the funding process.

Malin Ekerstedt

Young feminists meeting across conflict borders

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Team building activities for the participants of the feminist summer school. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation

In the midst of the hot summer, young women from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey came together for a week in Kobuleti, Georgia, to take part in a feminist summer school. The region has for many years been dominated by the wounds of several frozen conflicts, and for many of the participants, meeting women from the other side was a new, and very emotional, experience.

Lika Nadaraia from the Women's Political Resource Center in Georgia. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation

The idea to organize a feminist summer school came to Lika Nadaraia, from the Women’s Political Resource Center in Tbilisi, after seeing it first in the Balkans. When the school was arranged for the first time five years ago, participants were only Georgian women from various women’s organisations, as well as activists and politicians. A few years later, in 2010, it became a regional school – including all the countries of the South Caucasus region, joined this year also by participants from Turkey.

- I’ve seen a lot of women’s meetings on peacekeeping, and I realized that as long as women continue to represent patriarchal values ​​and keep supporting dominant structures, nothing can be achieved. Women can unite and have an impact, only if they have a common philosophy when they start criticizing militarism, nationalism, that often dominate in the patriarchal context – says Lika Nadaraia, feminist summer school organizer.

A turning point

For Elene Natenadze, a student of psychology at the Tbilisi State University and an employee at the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, this is the second summer school, and it has became, in some ways, a turning point in her life:

- I used to think that there was something wrong in the way men were treating me, but I could not understand what was the problem and why it happened. After the first school I realized that they simply have no right to behave in that way.

Nare Hovhannisyan, one of the participants from the Women’s Resource Center Armenia, is confident that the school will help her take on a more active role in her organization.

- I have been thinking a lot these days about what is most important to me. I am now a volunteer, and I participate in all the organisation’s activities, but most importantly, I realized that I should have a goal. I have to pass on the knowledge I obtained here. It is not enough to just participate in what the organization is undertaking, I have to find my own mission.

Important to meet

For Elene and Nare, as well as for the rest of the young women taking part in the school, it was very important to meet new people, which otherwise is virtually impossible to do in a region torn by conflicts and divided by insurmountable borders. A fact that also was confirmed by Leyla Jahangirova from the Azerbaijani organization Yuva Humanitarian Center:

- It was a chance for me to meet young women from other countries in the region. I told the Armenian participants myself yesterday: I was born in Karabakh; the war happened in front of my eyes; I lost my home; loved ones. Years have passed and now we are here together. It does not matter, because I understand that this is not a war that they started, they are just citizens of a country that is at war with a country I live in. But this does not change our relationship.

Common feminist platform

These connections and these meetings are in fact the aim of the school, according to the school organizer Lika Nadaraia – it is not just about the transfer of knowledge, but it also important to establish contacts between organisations with a clear feminist position and with a clear vision that will eventually lead to the creation of a common regional platform, but through a living structure, which will not become too bureaucratic.

- They are happy to go beyond their national realities and realize how similar they are. Why is this described as an Armenian culture, for example? They say we do not want to change our culture, but it is in fact one and the same culture, one where women has always occupied the same place.

Julia Lapitskii

“Europe must stop Congolese warlords with a law on conflict minerals”

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DR of Congo. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Europe needs to follow in the footsteps of the United States and adopt a law on the conflict minerals fueling the ongoing conflict in DR Congo, says former UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, in this opinion piece, written together with the Secretary General of the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, Lena Ag. New rebel groups, like M23, are once again forcing civilians in eastern Congo to flee for their lives. Groups that are financed by the mineral trading. 

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Behind the vague abbreviation M23 hides a highly sought-after war criminal, a group of feared rebels and a number of armed deserters. And wherever they move, looting, rape and death awaits. Civilians in eastern DRC are hardly hit when Bosco Ntaganda – one of the names already on the UN Security Council’s blacklist – and his supporters kill army soldiers, attack UN peacekeepers, as well as unarmed men, women and children who gets in their way.

When people flee for their lives, children are often separated from their parents. Everything is left behind as the villages are abandoned. We have seen pictures of people brutally and indiscriminately slaughtered, and those who survive bare witness of rape and other horrific abuses.

Rebels were integrated in the national army

M stands for March and 23 is the date when the Congolese government in 2009 signed an agreement with the rebel group CNDP, consisting mainly of Tutsi rebels from Rwanda, many of whom fought with the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) which ended the genocide in 1994. Promising an end to the fighting, the CNDP would be integrated into the national army and get the appropriate military designations, positions in the government and administration, as well as the right to stay in North and South Kivu in eastern Congo. That was how the Congolese government came to accept that offenders like Bosco Ntaganda, and the likes of him, were given high positions in the national army. This allowed them to gain financial control over mining, as well as of various criminal activities. Impunity and the liberation of prisoners from the rebels’ own ranks, who had been caught by the justice system, became the rule rather than the exception. Their working method is to spread terror and fear among local politicians and campaigners for human rights. In fact, during Bosco’s reign of terror, Eastern Congo has become impossible to control.

New groups attacking civilians

But the government’s promises to the CNDP have not been met and the disorder following the last – strongly contested – Presidential elections made the discontent grow stronger. A number of CNDP officers left the army and quickly took control of several villages along the border with Rwanda.

And as if the offensives by the M23 were not enough, new constellations are now being formed with the Mai-Mai rebels and other groups – all of which attack and feed off civilians; raping, murdering, and doing whatever it takes to gain control of the mines that can finance the purchase of more arms.

Conflict minerals used in electronics

The so-called conflict minerals, including the three “t’s”: tungsten, tin and tantalum, in addition to gold – are currently indispensable in electronics manufacturing, such as computers and cell phones – and have become Congo’s greatest asset, but also its curse. These natural resources fund and perpetuate the conflict in eastern Congo, allowing what best can be described as slave labor, including sexual slavery, and giving very little back to the local communities.

The UN Security Council has of course repeatedly discussed the situation in eastern Congo. The Government of Rwanda has also been criticized – even by the United States – for its role as a supporter of the M23. The new Congolese government has, so far, failed to mobilize either internal efforts, or international support to effectively prevent those acts of violence. We are worried about a reaction that would pave a way for a “banalisation of evil”; for a sort of despair or hopelessness; for laconic reports about untold sufferings of entirely innocent and unprotected people; for a world that can no longer handle the responsibility of caring about the number of victims in eastern Congo. But practical policies exists that would help bring an end to violence.

European law to tackle the war economy

We demand a European law on conflict minerals, one like the US law, that would help tackle the war economy, which today fuels the conflict. We want to ensure that the trade paths of these commodities are identified, impose on importers and manufacturers the responsibility of tracking and reporting were the minerals are coming from, and start building a global certification system.

We are aware of the difficulties of implementing the US’s legislation and of predicting the impact of this legislation on the local communities. We have heard concerns that stricter regulations in practice could lead to a boycott of minerals from Eastern Congo, which would affect already struggling miners. But the purpose of the legislation is to decrease revenues to the warlords, who feed off the conflict and who are responsible for the appalling human rights abuses taking place.

The law would help make visible, both to purchasers and consumers, what conflict minerals are, as well as create incentives for the industry to develop a healthier and more sustainable trading system. And what is the alternative? The political signal has already had an effect, and it would only grow stronger if Europe, especially within the EU, partners with the United States on the issue of conflict minerals. There are already some voluntary initiatives by the electronics industry, and as consumers we can only keep pushing forward, for example, by requiring companies that use these ingredients in their products to account for where they come from.

So, what are we waiting for?

Margot Wallström
Former UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Lena Ag
Secretary General, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation