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

Women ignored in DR Congo peace agreement

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Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Ida Udovic

Women were absent when the peace agreement in DR Congo was signed. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Ida Udovic

Eleven countries signed a peace agreement mediated by the UN to end war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. But civil society is not elated.

The new framework agreement for peace and stability in eastern DRC was signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on February 24, in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Eleven African countries signed the agreement, which among other things regulates the deployment of a special UN intervention brigade to the eastern DR Congo with troops from Southern and Eastern Africa. The brigade is supposed to reinforce the UN peacekeeping troop MONUSCO, which already is in the country. The undersigning countries furthermore committed not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.

“Rwanda and Uganda have been criticized for their support to the rebel group M23. With this agreement, this kind of support has to stop. But it remains to be seen what will happen,” says Ylwa Renström, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s coordinator for the DR Congo.

The violence escalates

Ylwa Renström sees it positively that there seems to be a will in the region’s countries to bring about a peaceful solution in DR Congo. At the same time, she continuously receives reports on escalating violence in eastern DR Congo. In early February, 30 women were for example raped in the Fizi territory in the South Kivu Province, brutal assaults which are believed to have been carried out by the FDLR rebel group. “This happens all the time! Sure, countries in the region can sign peace agreements, but it will be an enormous challenge to demobilize the rebel groups,” states Ylwa Renström.

The organization Solidarité des Femmes Activistes Pour la Défense des Droits Huimains (SOFAD), who works for peace and to increase women’s participation in political decision-making, is not impressed by the agreement. “They consider it a desktop product, signed by high-level politicians without consultation of civil society. Because of this the have doubts of how effective the contract will be to lay the foundations for lasting peace,” says Katarina Carlberg, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s field representative in DR Congo, who has spoken with representatives of SOFAD.

Signees of the agreementThe peace agreement has been signed by Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Signees are also the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the United Nations.

Women ignored

Katarina Carlberg also points out that the agreement neither mentions women’s rights nor women’s participation. Neither reflected in the agreement are the principles of the UN resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, nor mentions it women’s inclusion in the different mechanisms of stabilization and peace building the agreement suggests. “The only thing the agreement contains is a brief reference to sexual violence,” says Katarina Carlberg.

The content of the agreement has been criticized from different sides for being too vague. 46 Congolese and international organizations from civil society wrote for example in a joint statement that if the agreement should contribute to a genuine peace, it must be supplemented by concrete measures, such as the appointment of a special UN envoy with a mandate to mediate in both Congo and the region and the inclusion of civil society in the peace process.

In the organizations opinion it is furthermore important that war criminals do not go unpunished, as it has been the case in previous agreements.

Text: Karin Råghall

Translation: Katharina Andersen

Giving Congolese women a voice: “Maman Shujaa,” the Hero Women

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Congolese staff member from Femmes en Action Pour le Developpement Intégré, FADI, in Kiliba, South Kivu

Congolese staff member from Femmes en Action Pour le Developpement Intégré, FADI, in Kiliba, South Kivu. Photo: Ida Udovic, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been named the worst place on earth for women to live in. Rape, murder, violence and acid attacks have become a part of women’s everyday life, from the beginning dominated by poverty and traditional role models. Nevertheless, the world mostly gives the Congo and the Congolese women’s fate the cold shoulder. But a group of Congolese women discovered the internet as a tool to make their voice heard.

The war and the post-war years in the DR of Congo have cost about five million people their lives – thus making it the deadliest conflict in the world today and even the deadliest of the past half-century. This number is not only brought about by bombs and bullets, but also from preventable diseases and starvation. But the death toll and destitution is mostly met with silence by the rest of the world, despite the fact that we live in a world with unprecedented possibilities of access to information and high levels of attention and resources being devoted to foreign affairs.

Off-the-radar war

“What …[came] as a surprise was the resounding silence with which the revelations of the conflict’s unparalleled scale were met: from policymakers, the media, the public and academia alike. It seemed that no matter how large it was, or how high the death toll became, the conflict simply could not elicit a serious response from the world outside the region,” writes Virgil Hawkins, assistant professor at the Global Collaboration Center at Osaka University, Japan, in his book ”Stealth Conflicts: How the World’s Worst Violence Is Ignored”.

If a country  – as large as two-thirds of the size of Western Europe – can be blanked out in public awareness, then how must the situation be for those in the country, who are marginalized in the first place? For those, who traditionally have no chance of making their voice heard, for those who suffer most under the circumstances? If there is little awareness about the DR of Congo, then there’s even less about the situation of the Congolese Women. Their fate is mostly consigned to oblivion, supported by the fact that the country has little to no communications infrastructure.

Women’s situation

Discrimination, the lack of security with a high risk of being subjected to various forms of violence, illiteracy and poverty effect and shape Congolese women’s lives profoundly. The war has also destroyed the life-sustaining structures, and women as the traditional foundation, upon which all family and community structures rely, bear the brunt of this.

Furthermore, rape was systematically used as a weapon of war, and the rate of sexual violence is still very high.

A study from 2011 estimates that about 1.8 million women in the Congo aged 15 to 49 have experienced rape, which means that approximately 1,152 women are raped every day, or 48 every hour, or four women every five minutes. It is not without a reason that the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence has dubbed the Republic of Congo “The rape capital of the world”.

Raped women will not only carry the trauma of rape with all the results for their mental and bodily health throughout their lives, if they survive, but raped women traditionally are condemned to a life with the stigma of dishonor and are often cast out by their families or abandoned by their spouses.

Rays of hope

But there are rays of hope, changes that might come about thanks to some women’s initiative and the internet!

Neema Namadamu, a woman from the Eastern Congo, belongs to a marginalized tribe and is crippled from polio. But, as she writes, “none of those things characterize me. I have a vision for my country that compels me, and its destiny is driving me. It’s big, maybe improbable, but not impossible. For I have learned that making the impossible possible, simply requires a different set of rules.”

In July 2012, together with the action media network World Pulse, Neema gathered over 200 grassroots women leaders from her region to talk about the future of their country and to host workshops, training the women in the use of media with the aim of empowering them and giving them a global voice. The group call themselves “Maman Shujaa”, the Hero Women.

From their local internet café, with twelve computers that take ten minutes to load one page, the women report about their lives in the war-torn region, share their visions of change and connect with a global network of supporters, for example with women from Liberia, to exchange experiences. According to Neema Namadamu, they use World Pulse’s online forum “as a beginning platform to mobilize, enlighten, and engage a leadership group for future gender rights activities.” This project is also a first step to close a media gender gap, as Congolese women normally don’t have access to media.

No silence anymore

Women have finally a possibility to make them heard.  This silenced country is not so silent anymore! Having lived for so many years being silenced, with the fear of the worst and no help to expect, they now can share their story and try to activate the world.

Maman Shujaa-member Riziki Bisonga shares her experiences of violence:

“Domestic violence like what I experienced in my own home is widespread. I recall the horrible story of the fate of a child in my community. When a mother went to get water – which is an arduous task here in DRC – the father raped his 9-month-old child and then ran away. The mother returned to find her child crying and full of blood.”

While Ruhebuza Vumilia Jeanette calls for action:

“Let us raise a cry to people of good will so that they will support literacy and access to schools. Let us awaken society’s conscience to ban outdated customs. Let us encourage churches to invest more in education and instruction to loyal patrons. Let us cry out to those who are able to give scholarships for the strengthening of female leadership.”

The group also used their newly found voice to author a letter to the female leaders at the White House, asking Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama for their solidarity and for support for a real peace process in their homeland:

“We have had enough. We call upon our global sisterhood to take action. We will not be quiet until REAL Peace is upon us… And, it is essential that any action ensures Congolese women – who are uniquely positioned to act on behalf of family and community – have a voice in the peace process and a seat at the table.”

Being asked what she wishes for her country, a  Congolese women answered: “To all the different countries of the world, open your eyes and ears so you can see and hear the women of the Congo.”

The Hero Women have launched an online petition headed to the White House that has garnered well over 100,000 signatures by now. You can sign this petition here to support them in their struggle.

 

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

“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. 

Read more

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

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.

Scepticism in DR Congo after first convicted war crime in ICC

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- Lubanga is convicted, that’s good. But there are worse war criminals walking free, protected by the government. That makes it harder for us to trust in the legal system, comments Christian Sango from the Congolese organization CEDEJ – that works to strengthen young girls’ rights and opportunities – after the first conviction ever in the International Criminal Court, ICC.

 

Goma in Eastern Congo is one of the places where several war crime perpetrators are still living, having ordinary lives. Many of them have not yet been prosecuted. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Thomas Lubanga was one of the war lords fighting in the violent Ituri conflict in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A reported number of 70 000 people lost their lives in the war that took place 2000-2003. This March Thomas Lubanga was convicted in the ICC for having recruited child soldiers to his armed group, Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC.

Prosecutes war crimes

The ICC was established in 1998, creating a way for the international community to be able to prosecute war crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity. This is the first conviction ever in the ICC and it is internationally acknowledged as a mile stone in the fight against impunity after armed conflict. But at the same time the Lubanga case has been critizised for leaving out many of the crimes that the former war lord is suspected of.

- He is guilty of so many other atrocities, like sexual violence against women and abuse of kidnapped girls. But sure, the conviction is a signal, a warning to other criminals in DR Congo, says Aurelie Bitondo from the organization REFAMP.

No help for raped women

- For those of us who work with the victims, and to get the perpetrators prosecuted, this conviction is frustrating. I think of all the people who were killed in the war and the women who were raped. The women are alive today, but they have never gotten any help with health care or being payed damages. For them the conviction has little effect – many of them don’t even know about it, says Julienne Lusenge, who grew up in Ituri and now works for SOFEPADI.

Another leader still free

At the same time as Thomas Lubanga, Bosco Ntaganda – the leader of another armed group called National Congress for the Defence of the People, CNDP – was prosecuted. But Ntagandas case has not lead to any conviction. In an effort to stop the armed conflict in Eastern DR Congo, CNDP’s troups were merged with the Congolese forces, which suddenly made Ntaganda a commander of the national army. A fact that has upset many people.

- Ntaganda can visit restaurants, play tennis and lead a good life in Goma. He is protected by the government and President Kabila. To prosecute him is crucial for people to be able to trust  in the legal system. He has many lives on his concience, he was called ”The Terminator” during the war in Ituri, says Christian Sango.

Thomas Lubanga’s sentence will be announced within the next couple of weeks.

The International Criminal Court (for Rwanda) was first with defining rape during armed conflict as a crime against humanity. More on this in women and armed conflict.