For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

New UN resolution on sexual violence in conflict

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Yesterday the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution to strengthen efforts to end impunity for sexual violence in conflict. Resolution 2106 is the fourth resolution dealing with sexual violence in conflict, the previous being 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009) and 1960 (2010).

According to the UN News Center, during the debate on women, peace and security in which the resolution was adopted, the Security Council emphasized “more consistent and rigorous investigation and prosecution of sexual violence crimes as a central aspect of deterrence, and ultimately prevention”.

There has been objections among women’s rights activists over the last years focus on sexual violence in the Security Council, critics claiming that although this is a heinous crime that needs to be dealt with, it is used to obscure other parts of resolutions on women, peace and security, namely the need for women’s equal participation in peace processes.

However, resolution 2016 contains some strong writings on this subject too, like “emphasizing that acts of sexual violence in such situations not only severely impede the critical contributions of women to society, but also impede durable peace and security as well as sustainable development” and “expresses its intent to employ, as appropriate, all means at its disposal to ensure women’s participation in all aspects of mediation, post-conflict recovery and peacebuilding and to address sexual violence in conflict“.

“The resolve of this Council and the international community as a whole has set us firmly on the path of accountability and prevention. We must stay the course, until we achieve the ‘critical mass’ of action that will turn the tide on history’s oldest and least condemned crime” said UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, during the debate.

Read the whole resolution 2016 text here.

Malin Ekerstedt

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

“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

Zainab Hawa Bangura new UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict

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UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon has appointed Zainab Hawa Bangura as new Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Zainab Hawa Bangura is currently the Minister of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone. She is the second person to recieve this mandate, and will replace Margot Wallström, who concluded her two years on the post on the 31st of May this year.

Zainab Hawa Bangura

Zainab Hawa Bangura, new UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Photo: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

Zainab Hawa Bangura has worked for over 20 years with issues of governance, conflict resolution and reconciliation in Africa.

She was responsible for managing the largest civilian component within the UN peacekeeping operations in Liberia (UNMIL), and in Sierra Leone she has been an important advocate for the elimination of female genital mutilation, has managed the country’s Peace building commission and been instrumental for the development of national programs on affordable health. She is also an experienced civil society, human and women’s rights campaigner and democracy activist.

Read the UN statement on the appointment of Zainab Hawa Bangura here.

Malin Ekerstedt

“There is so much hope in these women” – Wallström summarizes time as Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict

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Margot Wallström at The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, Sweden.

Her last day in office Margot Wallström (middle in flowery blouse) visited the Swedish women's right and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation. The crossed armes is the symbol for the UN campaign Stop rape now! Photo: Sara Lüdtke/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

After two years as the first ever UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström on May 31st left her office. We met up with her on her last day, to talk about the achievements made and the many things still left to be done.

- Somehow it feels like this mission starts and ends with Congo, Margot Wallström says.

She is sitting in her homecountry of Sweden, trying to prepare for her new life as a non-UN worker. But her mind is filled with gruesome images sent to her as late as the day before.

- It was a lot due to the terrible situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with mass rapes and increasing sexual violence, that this office and its mandate came into place. And now, again, we recieve these horrifying photos of massacres that have taken place in Eastern DRC; photos of dead women whom I believe also had been raped. I am really worried that this will escalate into a genocide. They are hacking each other to death with machetes now, just like in Rwanda. The international community has to react, and not just with words, but physically go there and put pressure on the government.

250 prosecutions

The DRC has gotten the not so flattering nickname ”the rape capital of the world”, and crimes of sexual violence has continued in the country also during ceasefires. But Margot Wallström points out that there have been achievements made as well.

- We have managed to get military courts in the DRC to try cases of sexual violence. There have been 250 prosecutions so far. But I would really like the Congolese government to do a lot more. Like in the cases of the massacres taking place right now, where are the governmental officials? Noone seems to be putting any demands on them.

Breakthrough with Resolution 1960

Margot WallströmBorn: 28 September 1954, in Kåge in northern Sweden.

Family: Married, two children.

Career in short: Active in the Swedish Social Democratic Party 1977-1988. Minister of cultural affairs 1994-1996 and Minister of health and social affairs 1996-1998. 1999-2004 Member of the European Commission, in charge of issues regarding the environment and sustainability. 2004 appointed first Vice President of the European Commission, a position she held until 2010, when she became the first UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

On future plans: – I have accepted to become Chairman of the board at Lund’s University in Sweden. Otherwise I’m not sure. I will spend some time at home now to figure out what I want to do next.

The widespread problem of impunity for crimes of sexual violence and rape has been one of the main issues on Margot Wallström’s agenda as Special Representative. And one of the major breakthroughs during her period in office was the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1960 in 2010, that requests the provision of detailed information on suspected perpetrators of sexual violence during armed conflict..

-When I started out I remember talking to a colleague at UNICEF about how we would be able to define success. You know, there are no easy ways to define and quantify objectives like these. She said that it would be a huge success if we were to get the UN Security Council to state that they are prepared to use the same methods to stop these types of crimes, as when it comes to crimes of violence against children. And with Resolution 1960 we actually got there, she says.

With the support of UNSCR 1960 the Special Representative can produce a ”name and shame” list in her annual report. This means putting names and faces to the warlords and armed groups suspected of crimes of sexual violence in conflict. Resolution 1960 also gives the Security Council the option to exercise sanctions against groups or nations in order to put a stop to ongoing crimes of this nature. In short it underlined sexual violence as an important part of the Security Council’s agenda.

- Now they make statements about these issues and incorporate them when writing new mandates. Of course, now and then they do still forget about them – as recently, regarding Syria. I called Kofi Annan up personally and told him that I thought it strange that they had put together a peace mission group without including any gender experts. And he agreed right away, so now we have sent one, who will be part of his team of UN observers, Margot Wallström says.

Still seen as “women stuff”

But it is far from that easy all the time, to get the people (mostly men) in power to recognize the sincerity of what her office is working with.

- It is not uncontroversial, I mean there are countries that doesn’t like these kind of special mandates. Pakistan, India and China, for example, constantly try to push back these issues. For them it’s like: ”is this really relevant for the Security Council? We are working with peace and security here, this women stuff, should we concern ourselves with that?”.

Stories of violence

But they should, and they have to, because the severe situation for women all over the world is not changing at any high speed. Margot Wallström’s last trip when in office, was to Colombia, a country that most people normally don’t associate with conflict-related sexual violence. But conflict situations aren’t limited to what you regularly perceive as war.

- In Colombia women are being subjected to these crimes by all armed groups within the country.  The sexual violence is present everywhere, from the mass rapes conducted by the FARC guerilla, to the everyday threats and violence.

- We went to an area where a lot of IDPs (internally displaced persons) were living and it turned into a kind of reception. They placed us in a local store and I sat there with two garden chairs and a long cue of women lining up to tell me their stories: ”My husband is trying to kill me, he chokes me every night”, ”he has knocked my teeth out”, ”I lock the door to my bedroom every night at six, because he always comes home ragingly drunk”.

Hope in spite of the pain

Of course this situation isn’t unique for Colombia. Everywhere Margot Wallström has travelled during these two years, she has seen the same patterns of women being held back, beaten and tortured.  And it is not always an easy task to listen to all these painful testimonials.

- Sometimes we almost censor our own reports, because there are such appalling atrocities taking place that you feel like people just won’t believe they are true. I have gotten really depressed and walked with a heavy heart, for sure. But at the same time these women carry on, they pick up their burdens and continue working for human rights. There is so much inspiration and hope in that.

Footnote: The mandate of the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has been prolonged indefinitely. Margot Wallström’s successor has not yet been announced.

Malin Ekerstedt

Civilians risk being targets of sexual violence in recent fighting in DR Congo

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Margot Wallstrom, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual, Violence in Conflict. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Civilians are in great danger of being targeted with acts of sexual violence in the new wave of fighting taking place in the province of North Kivu, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, says UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström. She is supported by the UN Security Council who has urged all armed groups to ”immediately cease all forms of violence…lay down their arms and demobilize”.

The fighting in North Kivu resumed a couple of weeks ago, when fractions from the former armed group CNDP, who was integrated with the Congolese government forces as part of the peace treaty in 2009, broke out of the army to again form its own militia. The increased violence has forced thousands of civilians to flee from their homes. Goma – the main city in North Kivu – has up to date recieved over 15 000 IDP:s (Internally Displaced Persons).

The Congolese women- and peace organisation CAFED -  Collectif des Associations des Femmes pour le Développement – who has visited refugee camps outside of Goma, reports that the refugees haven’t recieved any help, not even food or basic hygiene products. Several women among the refugees where survivors of sexual violence and many hade seen their husbands getting killed.

Same perpetrators

- Once again, a new wave of violence is being perpetrated by actors such as the Mai Mai leader Sheka Ntabo Ntaberi and General Bosco Ntaganda, both of whom have been sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council for various violations including sexual violence crimes, said Margot Wallström.

Bosco Ntaganda, who became a leader within the government forces after the peace treaty, was the former leader of CNDP and has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.

Some of the now targeted villages, in the Walikali territory, were as late as in July and August 2010 the scenes of horrendous crimes, when more than 380 women, men and children were subjected to sexual violence by the Mai Mai Sheka group. And the whole history of conflict in DR Congo is filled with acts of rape and sexual violence. More than 400,000 women ages 15 to 49 experienced rape between 2006 and 2007. That is equivalent to 1,152 women raped every day, 48 women raped every hour, or four women raped every five minutes. (If Numbers Could Scream: Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence in the Republic of the Congo, American Public Health Association, 2011)

International campaign against rape

Because of this, DR Congo is also one of four focus countries in a new international campaign initiatied by the Nobel Women’s Peace Initiative: Stop rape and gender violence in conflict.

The campaign calls for:

  • Powerful and urgent leadership on the local, national, regional, and international levels to prevent and stop rape and gender violence and conflict situations;
  • A dramatic increase in resources for prevention and protection and for psychosocial and physical healing for survivors, their families, and communities, including concerted efforts to end stigma of survivors;
  • Justice for victims, including prosecution of perpetrators at national, regional, and international levels, and comprehensive reparation for survivors.

You can join in with your own pledge here.

DR Congo: UN envoy concerned about possible sexual violence amid latest fighting (statement by UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence)