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.
Election posters in Belgrade. The nationalist Kostunica only recieved about 7 percent of the votes in the first round of the Serbian presidential election and didn't move on to the second round. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Stina Magnusson Buur.
Last Sunday former nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic was elected as Serbia’s new president. But a majority of the Serbs refrained from voting. And with the political parties only talking about women as mothers, women don’t have much hope of getting a government that deals with inequalities in the society.
According to the Serbian Electoral Commission official figures, Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Progressive Party got 49,7 percent of the votes in the second round of the presidential election. The Democratic Party’s candidate Boris Tadic, who won the first round, got 47 percent. That means revenge for the challenger Nikolic, who lost against Tadic in the presidential elections in 2004 and 2008.
But the turnout was low, only 46,3 percent of the Serbs voted.
- Many women I’ve talked to didn’t bother to vote, because they are tired of voting for the least bad candidate, says Stina Magnusson Buur, working for the women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Belgrade.
One positive thing with the election, she says, was a campaign that encouraged people to vote blank. A spontaneous grass-roots initiative, that grew significantly during the election campaign. In Belgrade, more than 5 percent voted blank.
- That is a strong message to the political leadership, that people are tired of the situation and want to see political alternatives.
Many voters also wrote messages on their blank notes. One of the messages read: “I want Tadic to go, but I do not want Nikolic instead”. A feeling shared by many Serbs. That the result should be interpreted as an increased Serbian nationalism is denied by Milica Gudovic from the women’s organization Zena na Delu. She means that it’s more a reaction to the financial instability in the country and to a government that hasn’t been able to deal with the high unemployment rates, problem’s within the healthcare system and corruption.
In the parliamentary elections, held on the 6th of May, Tomislav Nikolic’s Progressive Party won the most votes. But it is unclear what the government will look like, because the Democratic Party are likely to continue to cooperate with the Socialist Party, thus having a majority. Negotiations are underway.
No political will to change inequalities
If women have been mentioned at all during the election campaign, it has been in their role as mothers. There has also been a discussion about the law of quotas that should ensure that all electoral lists contain at least 30 percent of representatives of each sex. Tomislav Nikolic is said to have apologized to his male voters for the quota law. According to Stina Magnusson Buur, the political will to do something about inequality is virtually nonexistent.
- It’s rational for women not to vote, for no matter who they vote for it’s a party that sees women only as reproduction machines, she says.
EU membership at the top of the agenda
The neighboring Balkan countries has reacted differently to the election results. While politicians in Sarajevo, Bosnia, said that it didn’t mean that much, there were politicians in Kosovo who argued that Kosovo now must prepare for another war. But Serbian women that Stina Magnusson Buur has talked to do not believe there will be a renewal of the armed conflict. Instead they think that the question of an imminent EU membership will dominate the future political agenda. Nikolic has said he wants to continue to work to bring Serbia into the EU, but not at the expense of having to recognize Kosovo as an independent state.
- The women’s movement in Serbia, especially the Women in Black, tries to remind people that the EU is not the solution to everything. A fact that neighboring Greece is a good example of, says Stina Magnusson Buur.
Women in Black means that the EU adds to a kind of virtual reality in Serbia, where laws are being pushed through in order to reach EU standards. Meanwhile there has been no improvements for economically disadvantaged people and groups that are facing discrimination – including LGBT people and Roma – in the country.
Last year’s new European Neighbourhood Policy meant an increased commitment from the European Union to support human rights when aiding its neighbouring countries. But women’s rights are still very much missing in the formal documents, and thereby also in the actions taken and planned. This although the official words spoken are underlining equality.
In May 2011 the European Union revised its Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in, as the European Commission (EC) describes it, ”a rapid respons to the changes taking place in particular in the Southern Mediterranean but also in Eastern Europe”. This new strategy was adopted to show Europe’s support to the peoples of the Arab Spring and to their struggle for freedom, democracy and safety. A year on the EC has made an assessment of the implementation of this new policy so far, and the result is presented in the report Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy.
When presenting the report, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Commission Vice-President (HR/VP), Catherine Ashton, was optimistic:
- We have seen great progress in some countries. In others, we need to encourage the political leadership to take bold steps down the path to reform. I have always said that we will be judged on our work with our immediate neighbours, and I am convinced that we are moving in the right direction. We will continue to help our partners in their efforts to embed fundamental values and reinforce the economic reforms which are necessary to create what I call ‘deep democracy’, she said.
Women’s rights not in writing
The ENP defines deep and sustainable democracy as ”including free and fair elections, freedom of association, expression and assembly, the rule of law administered by an independent judiciary” etc, but there is no mentioning of women’s rights to equal participation in decision-making.
Since history has shown us that when women’s rights are not spelled out in basic documents (and sometimes even when they are) they won’t appear in reality, this could be seen as very unfortunate. Especially since Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy states that it ”is based on new features, including…a recognition of the special role of women in reshaping both politics and society”. A statement further endorsed by Catherine Ashton:
- I’ve been very privileged to meet women in countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia. We need to ensure that women play their full part in society, in the political and economic life of their countries, not just because of course it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes economic and political sense. I would argue women should be at the heart of all the transformations that follow.
Actions for women through the ENP
So the question is: How have these EU statements on women’s rights been transformed into actions concerning the neighbouring countries during the past year, and what are the plans within this area for the years to come?
Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy has only one paragraph mentioning women’s rights. It states that building sustainable democracy also means ensuring gender equality and increasing the participation of women in political and economic life. But after that the paragraph just goes on observing that some of the countries last year tried to set up legislation to ensure a more balanced composition of parliaments, but that they have encountered resistance and therefore this action has not had the desired effect.
But in the accompanying document Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity: Report on activities in 2011 and Roadmap for future action, there is a list of actions taken within the ENP to establish full participation of women in society when it comes to the Southern Neighbourhood. This includes:
- A high level meeting in New York in September that ”drew international attention to the need to ensure that women play an active part in political processes worldwide”.
- The HR/VP during the Women’s Rights Forum in Libya in November announcing the launch of a programme for women’s empowerment, including capacity building and education in the region.
- A regional campaign on women’s political participation in the Middle East and North Africa launched in December, together with ”concrete projects in this field”.
- In Tunisia: promoting gender senstitive institutional and judicial reforms and women’s participation in elections.
- In Egypt: addressing women’s participation in political life through a cultural initiative called the Spirit of Tahrir.
- In Jordan: having two ”Village Business Incubators” promoting rural women’s right to participate in the labour market.
Actions to come
For the upcoming period of 2012-2013 the actions specifically mentioning women are:
- The programme Political and economic empowerment of women in Southern Mediterranean region, aiming to help marginalised women gaining access to economic and public life.
- Increased funding to the Anna Lindh Foundation and its programme Civil Society for Dialogue, targeting youth and women.
The equivalent document for the Eastern Neighbourhood – Eastern Partnership: A Roadmap to the autumn 2013 Summit – has no mention of women’s rights or participation whatsoever.
The new ENP entailed the principle of ”more for more”, meaning that the more a partner country makes progress and implements reforms, the more support it will recieve from the EU. In separete country progress reports these reforms are stated as actions that EU ”invites” the country to take. Four of the ones for 2012 mention women or gender:
Armenia invitations contain ”adopting a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, including further steps leading to the harmonisation of legislation with the EU acquis in the areas of gender equality and non-discrimination.”
Jordan invitations contain ”increase efforts to eradicate violence against women and to promote their integration in politics, socio-economic life through promoting women entrepreneurs, women’s participation in the labour market and in education, in line with the recommendations listed in the preliminary report issued in October by the UN Special Rapporteur on discrimination against women”.
Lebanon invitations contain ”pay special attention to enhancing the role of women in both public and economy sectors respectively”.
Ukraine invitations contain ”address in good time issues raised in the area of justice and home affairs, notably on combating trafficking in human beings taking into account a gender and human rights perspective”.
These are all of course good examples, but in comparison to the points on various measures regarding trade that are taking up several pages of the different documents, it is not much. Especially when accompanied by a floating language that uses non-specific words like ”leading to”, ”harmonisation”, ”pay special attention to” etc.
In other words: it remains to be seen how the EU’s bold statements on the importance of gender equality will actually be followed through in its practical dealings with the neighbouring countries the upcoming years.
On the one hand there is a beautiful, new arena and a glittering spectacle for European music lovers. On the other hand there are women being beaten and discriminated and an alarming increase in child marriages. When Azerbaijan hosts the Eurovision Song Contest next week, activists hope that the media circus won’t only be reporting about which artist that wore what.
Pervana Mammadova, Yuva. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Sara Ludtke.
The music festival Eurovision Song Contest, with European and neighbouring countries as contenders, takes place in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. A magnificent, new stadium – Crystal Hall – has been built for the event and the Eurovision Song Contest’s official website paints a picture of Baku as a modern city. But a look behind the beautiful facades, gives a more complicated story.
– Yes, on the surface, it is the true picture. The reality is however different. Azerbaijan is rich in oil, but oil money that could be used to improve the situation of the population are instead used on beautiful new buildings and renovations in downtown Baku. The government forgets the real problems, like violations of human rights, gender violence and child marriages. This is the real situation behind the beautiful facade, says women’s rights activist Pervana Mammadova.
Women controlled by their families
Pervana Mammadova is the founder of the youth organization YUVA that works with empowering young women. They organize group discussions and offer seminars on gender issues,as well as training in leadership and human rights.
– Gender is a complex issue in Azerbaijan. We have laws that says that women and men enjoy equal rights and that prohibits domestic violence. But in reality, the implementation is inadequate. The patriarchal structure permeates the entire society, and young women’s lives are controlled by their families. For these women life is first and foremost about getting married and having children.
Abortions of female fetuses
Although the situation for women has improved in recent years, through the adoption of laws that strengthen women’s rights and a greater representation of women among politicians at local level, there are also many negative trends in the country. The number of child marriages are increasing and so are the number of abortions of female fetuses. And there are more girls dropping out of school. Some of these impairments may perhaps be explained by the religion’s growing influence on issues concerning women’s rights.
Doesn’t want boycott
But although the real situation of Azerbaijan’s population is at risk of being neglected during the big Eurovision event, Pervana Mammadova doesn’t want a boycott of the song contest.
– This is a great opportunity for us to raise awareness about the situation in Azerbaijan. When reporters and fans are traveling to Baku, it is important that they talk to the locals. Ask them if they have access to the beautiful buildings, or the Crystal Hall. Also make a trip outside of the contest area, to experience the real Azerbaijan, she says.
A serious threat to all people in Iraq – especially women! Iraqi women’s rights organization ASUDA is very critical of a recently adopted law, that allows all citizens of Iraq to keep a gun in their home.
When Saddam Hussein were in power in Iraq, people were encouraged to carry guns in support of the Ba’ath regime. The gun became a symbol of honour and loyalty. Now, nine years after the fall of the Ba’ath party, the Iraqi government, following the recommendation of the country’s National Security Council, May 6th announced that all citizens from now on can keep a gun at home. The only restriction is that all weapons have to be registered at the nearest police station.
Many women’s organizations in Iraq are deeply concerned about the direction in which the country is heading, and what they see as a clear connection between a militarization of the society, an easy access to small arms and the escalating brutal violence against women.
Holds Prime Minister accountable
One of the organizations, Warvin, has previously reported on the connection between murdered women and guns being kept at home. When hearing about the new law they released a statement condemning it and holding the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki personally responsible for any new cases of women being murdered. ”It is a widely known fact that a government’s first responsibility is providing security and safety for its citizens and fulfill the rule of law in the country. (…) Instead of eradicating and collecting the weapon in Iraq to pave the way to exert the legal authority in the country, as one of the promises he made to people at the time of the election campaign, Maliki has turned his back to the law” the statement said.
Khanim Latif, ASUDA. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Campaign against guns
In the Kurdistan region, Iraq, several women’s organizations have joined forces in a campaign with the aim to get a ban on the private possession of small arms. By approving this new law, the government is signalling that issues of women’s security are not of any importance, says Khanim Latif at the women’s organization ASUDA.
- We were expecting a ban on possession of weapons, and for the government to start the process of eradicating and collecting the illegal weapons present in our society. We didn’t expect them to suddenly decide on a legalisation instead. This law represents a serious threat to all people in Iraq – especially women!
Meeting with the Parliament Speaker
ASUDA initiated the campaign, after a period of a drasticly increasing number of women getting killed by privately owned small arms. Naturally they are very concered about this new agenda.
- This law will most probably create instability and lead to a deteriorating security situation in Iraq. And it is likely that there will be an increase in incidents between different ethnic groups, which will lead to even more violence.
But the organizations are not giving up. May 9th they met with the Speaker of the Kurdistan region’s Parliament to discuss it and they will also advocate for the Iraqi government decision not to be carried out in the Kurdistan region.
One of the major questions is of course why Iraq is adopting this new weapon law right now? Ala Riani, coordinator for Iraq at the women and peace organization the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, elaborates:
- One of the suggestions is that by legalizing these weapons the government is legalizing the many militia groups that are active in the country. And most of them are said to be connected to Nouri al-Maliki.
Aneta Dukic, Fenomena, shake hands with Krajelvo mayor Ljubisa Simovic, holding the signed European Charter for Equality of Men and Women in Local Life. Photo: Bojana Minovic/Fenomena.
After several years of hard work the women’s rights organization Fenomena celebrated last Friday, when the mayor of their town Kraljevo in Serbia, signed the European Charter of Equality for Men and Women in Local Life.
- We want to use the significance of this document and the organization behind it, CEMR, as the means for gender mainstreaming in our town, says Aneta Dukic, project coordinator at Fenomena.
The European Charter of Equality for Men and Women in Local Life was launched in 2006 by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR). CEMR is an organization working to promote a united Europe based on local and regional self government and democracy. At present it has over 50 national associations of towns, municipalities and regions, from 40 countries, as members. With the charter CEMR wants its members to ”commit themselves to use their powers and partnerships to achieve greater equality for their people”.
Law not implemented
Serbia already has a national law on gender equality and every municipality is obliged to set up a local council for equality. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean that these issues are being sufficiently delt with.
- Implementation is a big problem in general, and especially at local level. The councils are more of a formal construction, and can be put into question from many different points of view. There are no local action plans for gender equality improvement in Kraljevo and such is the situation in most of the cities and municipalities in Serbia, says Aneta Dukic.
Project with three other cities
With funding from the European Commission and The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, Fenomena started a project toghether with three other organizations, one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, one in Montenegro and another one in Serbia. The organizations have involved their local governments and they are now all exchanging ideas on how to work with gender equality. The aim is for all the local governments in the project to sign the charter, and on May 4th Kraljevo became the first. Signing means that the city government makes itself morally and politically obliged to adopt a local action plan for the improvement of gender equality, within two years from the date of the signing. And Fenomena is already on the next step.
- We have applied and got a formal decision issued by the mayor for creating a local action plan, and we also have one member in the working team. Now we are collecting gender sensitive data, which will be used to define priorities, aims, activities and budget. And when it’s finished, the local action plan will be submitted to the local parliament for adoption, says Aneta Dukic.
The six fundamental principles of the European Charter of Equality for Men and Women in Local Life:
- Equality of women and men is a fundamental right
- In order to ensure the equality of women and men, multiple discriminations based on ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, religion, socio economic status… must also be addressed
- The balanced participation of women and men in decision making is necessary for a democratic society
- Gender stereotypes and the attitudes and assumptions that arise from them must be eliminated
- A gender perspective must be taken into account in all activities of local and regional government
- Properly resourced action plans need to be drawn up and implemented
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.
- 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)
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.
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.