For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

UN Secretary General’s 2013 report on sexual violence in war and conflict

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United Nations Security Council Meeting Room. Photo: Zack Lee

United Nations Security Council Meeting Room. Photo: Zack Lee, CC

Today, on April 17, the UN Security Council discusses the UN Secretary General’s 2013 report on sexual violence in war and conflict. The report highlights several emerging concerns, such as the practice of forced marriage by armed groups and the links between sexual violence and natural resource extraction.

“It is important that the UN Security Council continues to keep the focus on this issue. The Security Council plays a key role in preventing and combating the prevalence of sexual violence in war and conflict,” says Lena Ag, Secretary General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, and continues:

“But it is worrying that sexual violence used against political dissidents, as happened during the riots after the Kenya elections in 2007 and in Conakry in Guinea in 2009, is not mentioned in this year’s report, as it was in the last year’s. Nor can rape and serious sexual harassment Egyptian women recently suffered in Tahrir Square in Cairo be found in the report. Our experience is that sexual violence and the threat thereof is one of the most common obstacles for women around the world to get access to the public sphere and to gain influence in society.

This year’s report states that:

  • sexual violence is a serious war crime and elucidates that there is an evident connection to international peace and security;
  • sexual violence and the number of rapes in Mali have increased;
  • sexual violence is often used as a strategy to forcibly displace populations and for ethnic cleansing. One of the reasons is to get access to coveted natural resources or to facilitate drug trafficking. This happens for example in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Libya;
  • in Syria, rape happens at some places and at certain times to such an extent that it could be classified as war crime and crimes against humanity. Jailed Syrian men have also been reported to be victims of rape and torture;
  • forced marriage and sexual slavery has become increasingly common. Militia and guerrilla leaders in e.g. Afghanistan, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Yemen abduct young girls, marry them for then be able to “legally” rape them. Other victims of sexual violence are forced to marry their abusers. This way the perpetrator gets away from punishment;
  • activists, opposition, local politicians and their families are particularly vulnerable to threat of sexual violence and sexual violence.

The report also provides recommendations:

  • women who get pregnant after being raped should be offered adequate care and access to safe abortion or emergency contraception pills;
  • impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence should be counteracted and prohibited;
  • efforts should be made for better monitoring and reporting on men as victims of sexual violence.

“In recent years, conservative forces with religious leanings take every opportunity to try to limit women’s rights. We saw this most recently in March at the UN’s

FactsAfter the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the UN Security Council adopted in 2000 the Resolution 1325 “Women, Peace and Security,” which is about women’s rights and participation as actors in peace processes. It was followed by the Resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960, which further strengthen articles of Resolution 1325 (1889), and specifically target sexual violence in conflict (1820, 1888, 1960).

Commission on the Status of Women. An unholy alliance between the Vatican and Iran amongst others used every opportunity to put a spoke in the wheel of the effort to reach an agreement to end violence against women,” says Lena Ag and continues:

“It is therefore an important signal that the powerful G8 countries, with British conservative Foreign Secretary William Hague at the helm, adopted a declaration in support of the UN’s efforts against sexual violence in conflict last week.”

Anna Magnusson | Katharina Andersen

”Important signal from some of the world’s most powerful countries”

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Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie launch G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, 11 April 2013.

Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie launch G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The G8 have adopted a declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict. “The declaration is an important signal from some of the world’s most powerful countries that the G8 take a leading role in preventing and combating sexual violence in war and conflicts, says Lena Ag, Secretary General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Stockholm.

On April 11, the G8 agreed on stepping up action against sexual violence in war and conflict. Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, attended the meeting in London and welcomed the initiative.

The declaration reiterates the illegality of sexual violence in international humanitarian law, human rights and humanitarian law.

G8The Group of Eight is a forum for the governments of the world’s eight wealthiest countries. It brings together the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the U.S. Please find the full declaration text here.

“The ministers make it clear that there is an explicit link to international security. The declaration stresses that there is a lot to do and that the work must be continued and intensified. The statement comes a week before the Security Council debate on the same subject, which is important,” says The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s Secretary General Lena Ag, and continues:

“The G8 recognize clearly the role of civil society, pointing out that women activists and human rights defenders, who often are the ones who alert about the abuses, also can be at risk of becoming victims of violence and abuse. Special efforts are necessary to protect them.”

The Declaration also emphasizes the importance of women being involved and represented in peace negotiations, peace building and conflict prevention.

“The G8 declaration was initiated by the conservative British foreign minister William Hague, who has shown great personal commitment to this issue. The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation hopes that the Swedish foreign minister will be inspired by his colleague and that we’ll soon see a Swedish initiative on the issue,” says Lena Ag.

Text: Karin Råghall

Translation: Katharina Andersen

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

Liberian women’s rights activist Lois Brutus shares insights from the conflict in Liberia

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Lois Brutus during a seminar in Almedalen – Photo: Sara Ludtke/The Kivnna till Kvinna Foundation

The Liberian women’s rights activist Lois Brutus has long pushed for the recognition of sexual violence in war as a crime against humanity. She still continues her fight, so that victims can finally see justice implemented. During Almedalen’s political week in Sweden, she shared with us her experiences.

Mrs. Lois Brutus, Liberian Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to South Africa, participated in several seminars at Almedalen where she discussed the measures needed to bring perpetrators of sexual and gender based violence in war and conflict to justice. (more…)

The International Criminal Court celebrates its 10-year anniversary

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ICC judges from left: Robert Fremr Anthony T. Carmona Howard Morrison, Olga Herrera Carbuccia and Chile Eboe-Osuji. Photo: ICC

Every year on July 17, the world celebrates World Day for International Justice, also known as International Criminal Justice Day, in recognition of the emerging system of international criminal justice. On the same day in 1998, the Rome Statute was adopted by 120 States, thereby creating the international treaty that is the legal basis for establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Rome Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002, upon being ratified by 60 States, and the ICC officially started its activities.

The ICC is the first permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, and thereby prevent future occurrences of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.  The Court is a fully functional institution supported by 121 States Parties.

Over the past ten years, the ICC has become a fully functional institution, with 15 cases having been brought before the Court, 6 of which are at the trial stage. ICC judges have issued 20 arrest warrants and 6 arrests have been made; they also issued nine summonses to appear, all of which have been honoured. On 14 March 2012, the ICC rendered its first verdict in the case The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo; the accused was found guilty of the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 into military forces, and using them to participate actively in hostilities.

In June 2012 Gambian Fatou Bensouda has been appointed new prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, after serving as ICC’s Deputy Prosecutor on Prosecutions since 2004. The Office of the Prosecutor is conducting investigations in seven situations, Uganda, the DRC, CAR, Darfur (Sudan), Kenya, Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, as well as seven preliminary examinations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Honduras, Nigeria, the Republic of Korea and Guinea.

This year marks the ICC’s 10-year anniversary, and on this occasion a new website was launched to commemorate the milestone event.

In commemoration of World Day for International Justice, Amnesty International has also launched its global Campaign for International Justice: “Demand Justice Now” to ensure access to justice, truth and reparation for victims of crimes under international law around the world through the creation of an effective system of international justice. According to Amnesty, the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002, has sent a clear message around the world that failure to investigate and prosecute these crimes at the national level, will not be tolerated. The challenge now is to ensure that this new international justice system succeeds in practice.

Amnesty International’s Campaign for International Justice aims at getting more states to ratify and implement The Rome Statute, encouraging governments and intergovernmental organisations to provide the ICC with full cooperation and support and forcing more national authorities to exercise universal jurisdiction to ensure their countries are not safe havens for perpetrators of crimes under international law.

Nadia Elgohary

Taylor sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes

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Liberia’s ex-president, 64-year-old Charles Taylor, was yesterday sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes committed in Liberia’s neighbouring country Sierra Leone.
- The sentence is a clear indication for other heads of states and former warlords still in position of power, that you can be found guilty of war crimes in international courts, says Susanna Elmberger, coordinator for Liberia at the women’s right and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

The 26th of April Charles Taylor was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Hague, for aiding and abetting in crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. Yesterday his sentence was announced to be 50 years in prison. The prosecuter had asked for an 80-year prison term.

- For those who survived these crimes the long term impact on their lives is devastating; amputees without arms will now have to live on charity because they can no longer work. Young girls who had been publicly stigmatized and will never recover from the trauma of rape and sexual slavery to which they were subjected in some cases resulting in pregnancy and additional stigma of the children born there off, said Judge Richard Lussick, and referred to the actions as “the worst crimes in human history”.

First conviction of rape

Charles Taylor was the first former head of state convicted of war crimes since the second world war, and the first former head of state ever to be convicted for crimes of sexual violence and rape. Susanna Elmberger believes that it’s important that the sentence was as severe as 50 years imprisonment. It sends a clear message to other leaders that they shouldn’t count on being able to escape justice.

The crimes that Charles Taylor was convicted for, include rape, forced enlistment of child soldiers and murder. But he also has crimes committed in Liberia on his conscience. More than 200 000 people were killed and many women and girls were raped during the civil war that took place in the country between 1989 and 2003.

Still much support in Liberia

Susanna Elmberger is sure that Charles Taylor now will appeal and that the court process therefore will continue on for at least another few months. And the sentence will probably be met with mixed reactions in Liberia.

- Taylor still holds much support among people on the ground in Liberia. But I do believe that the many women who have been subjected to rape and abuse will welcome it, she says.

More on the sentence and the reactions in Liberia: Taylor Goes to Jail: Dust Finally Settles: But Liberians’ Sentence Reaction Mixed by FrontPage Africa Online.

Taylor first former head of state convicted of rape during conflict

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Former Liberian President Charles Taylor waiting for the verdict in the court room of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, near The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: UN Photo/SCSL/AP Pool/Peter DeJong.

For the first time ever a former head of state has been convicted of rape and sexual violence during conflict. This took place last week when Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in Sierra Leone.

- I think that many Liberians felt relieved after the verdict. Especially the political establishment, headed by president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who were active in the extradition of Taylor. If he had been declared not guilty and had returned to Liberia, there would have been a great risk of increased instability in the country. At the same time Charles Taylor has many supporters, who see him as the hero who liberated Liberia from former oppression. So far from everyone are celebrating, says Susanna Elmberger, coordinator for Liberia at the Swedish women- and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Crimes during the civil war in Sierra Leone

Charles Taylor was prosecuted in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, operating out of the Hague, on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 10-year-long civil war in Liberia’s neighbouring country Sierra Leone. Taylor was accused of backing rebels in Sierra Leone, as said in the verdict: ”by providing them with arms and ammunition, military personnel, operational support and moral support”. The war took 120 000 peoples’ lives and many more were severely maimed. Taylor was convicted on all counts, for aiding and abetting in, among other, murder, rape, slavery and the forced enlistment of child soldiers.

But he was not convicted of bearing the major responsibility for these crimes, a fact that may lead to strong reactions from the many people who suffered from the war. Judges say Taylor knew about the crimes rebel troops were committing, but prosecutors could not prove that he was actually commanding those troops.

Historical verdict

The verdict is historical since it is the first time since the Nuremberg trials – held after the Second World War – that a former head of state is being convicted in an international court. It is also the first conviction that includes rape and sexual violence, since there were no prosecutions of these types of crimes in the Nuremberg trials. The legal process has taken nine years and Taylor has consistently claimed his innocence.

Charles Taylor’s sentence will be announced on May 30th.