Welcome to the
The Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice is an international women's human rights organisation that advocates for gender justice through the International Criminal Court (ICC) and through domestic mechanisms, including peace negotiations and justice processes. We work with women most affected by the conflict situations under investigation by the ICC.
The Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice works in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and Kyrgyzstan.
Welcome to the April 2012 issue of Women's Voices, our regular eLetter from the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice. In Women's Voices, we provide updates and analysis on political developments, the pursuit of justice and accountability, the participation of women in peace talks and reconciliation efforts from the perspective of women's rights activists within armed conflict situations, specifically those countries under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Darfur, the Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya, Libya and Côte d'Ivoire.
In addition to Women's Voices, we also produce a regular legal eLetter, Legal Eye on the ICC, with summaries and gender analysis of judicial decisions and other legal developments at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and discussion of legal issues arising from victims' participation before the Court, particularly as these issues relate to the prosecution of gender-based crimes in each of the Situations under investigation by the ICC.
More information about the work of the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice and previous issues of Women's Voices and Legal Eye on the ICC can be found on our website www.iccwomen.org.
On 14 March 2012, Trial Chamber I issued the first ever trial judgement of the International Criminal Court (ICC), in the case against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (Lubanga), President of the Union des patriots Congolais (UPC). This is the first time a Trial Chamber of the ICC has issued a judgement on the guilt or innocence of the accused. The Trial Chamber convicted Lubanga of the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities from 1 September 2002 to 13 August 2003 in Ituri, Province Orientale, Eastern DRC.
Despite evidence of rape and other forms of sexual violence having been committed by Lubanga's troops, no charges of gender-based crimes were brought by the ICC Prosecutor. As a result, the Trial Chamber could not make any findings of fact on sexual and gender-based crimes. However, evidence of sexual violence featured prominently in the Prosecution's case, in the opening and closing statements of the Prosecution, and in the testimony of at least 15 Prosecution witnesses. These crimes were also referenced by the victims' legal representatives, especially those representing former girl soldiers.
Our partners in the DRC have shared their reactions following this historic judgement. Generally, their views are that Lubanga's conviction is an important step in the fight against impunity in the DRC, however, they regret that Lubanga was not explicitly charged for acts of sexual violence, and that consequently these crimes could not be fully recognised in the Judges' decision.
'This judgement is a strong signal to all those who committed serious human rights violations', said the Ligue pour la solidarité Congolaise (LSC), an organisation based in North Kivu that works with more than 1,500 victims/survivors and is one of the Women's Initiatives' key country-based partners. 'However', LSC added, 'the most surprising aspect of this decision is the absence of charges for sexual and gender-based violence in a case involving the leader of a militia known for committing rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence. Many women's and victims' rights defenders were very shocked to see that the women and girls who were raped by militia men and the other women and girls who were forced to join the armed group of the UPC, some of whom even had children as a consequence of rape, had been ignored by the charging document of the Prosecutor.' According to LSC, the lack of charges for sexual and gender-based crimes 'is a minimisation by the Prosecutor and the ICC of the crimes committed against women and neglects the suffering of thousands of victims of armed conflicts and of victims of gender-based violence'.
The Women's Initiatives' focal point in Province Orientale and Coordinator of the Centre d'éducation et de recherche pour les droits des femmes, Claudine Bela, said that 'this decision was welcomed by our partners operating in Ituri'. However, she stated that the population is divided between 'those who think that he [Lubanga] is a victim of false allegations and remains a political prisoner' and those who think that 'international justice has correctly done its work, despite some shortcomings, such as the refusal by the Prosecutor to charge the defendant with sexual violence'.
Ms Bela added that 'while it is true that he [Lubanga] has recruited children under 15 in his militia and forced them to directly participate in the fighting, these children have also suffered many other atrocities, such as sexual violence. Our hope is that during the reparations proceedings the Court will take this aspect into account. In that respect, there is an important job to be done relating to the kind of reparations that the victims want (individual or collective) and how to do it.'
Referring to the second trial in the DRC Situation, which is currently in its final stages and includes charges of rape and sexual slavery, Ms Bela said: 'We reiterate our wish to see the case of The Prosecutor v. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui explicitly and seriously addressing the issue of sexual violence'.
With regard to reparations, LSC underlined that 'medical and psychological examinations are not sufficient to define all damages suffered by the victims'. The social and economic aspects of the attacks suffered also need to be taken into account. 'Many women and girls raped by the UPC have tested HIV-positive; they have suffered from multiple internal and external injuries; some of the young women had unwanted pregnancies, and some have been rejected by their family or their community upon their return because they had been with the UPC militia – a group recognised as a source of violence by thousands of people.'
In its judgement, the Trial Chamber left open the possibility of considering sexual violence for the purposes of sentencing and reparations. At the time of writing, a date for the hearings on sentencing and reparations has not yet been scheduled.
On 28 March 2012, the Women's Initiatives filed a request for leave to participate in the reparations proceedings in the Lubanga case. If granted leave to participate, the Women's Initiatives would provide further observations to the Chamber on reparations from a gender perspective, including: how harm could be assessed; whether reparations should be awarded on a collective or an individual basis, to whom reparations could be directed; and the criteria which could be applied to the awards. In the request, Women's Initiatives argued that, because sexual violence was integral to each of the three crimes for which Lubanga has been convicted, the consequences of these acts form a component of the harm suffered by child soldiers and should be explicitly included in reparations proceedings and subsequent programmes.
■ Read the filing by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice requesting leave to participate in the reparations proceedings in the Lubanga case.
■ Read the press statement by the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice on the conviction of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.
■ Read the timeline of the case against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.
■ Read an article by the Women's Initiatives' Executive Director, Brigid Inder, on the ICC, child soldiers and gender justice.
For this issue of Women's Voices, we interviewed Ms Emérite Mongelwa Tabisha, the Women's Initiatives' focal point in South Kivu and Coordinator of the Congolese organisation Action des femmes pour les droits et le développement (AFD). We asked Emérite about the work of her organisation, the security situation in the South Kivu and the victims' assistance project operating in remote areas of Fizi territory.
Can you briefly describe the activities of your organisation? In which part of the country do you work?
AFD works in the rural Fizi Territory in the South Kivu Province in the DRC. We work on the protection of survivors of rape and sexual violence by identifying [victims/survivors], providing psychological assistance and referring them to medical centres, as well as through the monitoring of human rights violations. We organise seminars, workshops, conferences and awareness raising campaigns for the community on human rights, and particularly on women's human rights. We also work on food security with the cultivation of fields for the reproduction of seeds, and the distribution of seeds and agricultural tools to communities and internally displaced households. Finally, we work on public health by organising meetings to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and issues of reproductive health, and by providing psycho-social support to people living with HIV. To date, we have provided support to 29 people living with HIV/AIDS.
What is the security situation in the area where you are working?
The security situation is worrying due to the regular operations conducted by foreign and local armed groups, as well as by some unruly elements of the national army who spread terror and commit atrocities against civilians, particularly women. Because of the presence of armed groups, the government has deployed its armed forces to track them. This has made our region over-militarised, with all the consequences that such a situation brings.
With regard to the foreign armed groups, specifically the FDLR and FNL/Burundi, these are rebels hostile to the politicians and leaders in their respective countries, Rwanda and Burundi. This situation can only find a lasting solution with the involvement of the international community and a commitment to dialogue by all countries involved. These same issues have been raised with the DRC government by the local armed groups (Mai Mai/Yakutumba and Bwasakala, Raia Mutomboki, Mupekenya). They [the local armed groups] also want to engage the Congolese government in negotiations, but this is an issue which the government does not want to discuss. Furthermore, the elections of 28 November 2011 were contested and marked by irregularities. We hope that all these armed groups will not be co-opted by the dissenting politicians to worsen and inflame the political situation.
Because of long wars (1965-1970 and 1996-2003) and continuing insecurity up to the present day, the population in the area where we work shows very serious symptoms of trauma. Many victims/survivors are in need of specialist support, but they remain isolated in their communities.
In your experience, what are the most immediate needs of victims/survivors of sexual violence? Are these needs being addressed by the existing services?
In my experience, the most immediate needs of these victims are first of all medical, then psycho-social and economic, and finally juridical.
In general, we can say that these needs are not met. Nevertheless, some efforts have been made to provide medical services. For example, in the framework of our Transit House Project, a joint project between AFD and the Women's Initiatives, we refer women urgently in need of surgeries to medical facilities in the area, as well as to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu for cases of fistula and prolapse of the uterus. These individuals are also in need of psychological assistance but as the majority of survivors live in remote areas, it is difficult for them to access these services. Resources are needed for the psycho-social assistants to be able to follow up on these individuals after their treatment. Furthermore when women victims/survivors return to their families, whose belongings have in many cases been pillaged during the attacks by armed militia, they face additional burdens as they are expected to ensure their families' survival. The situation for women is even more miserable. They are greatly in need of economic assistance.
You have already mentioned the Transit House situated in Kobondonzi, Fizi Territory, a joint project of assistance and support to victims/survivors initiated in September 2011. Could you please describe the project in more detail?
The project aims to fight violence against women through awareness-raising activities and the distribution of information to the general public. This campaign involves communities on the road between Swima – Mboko – Sangya where the public and customary administrative authorities, as well as some local armed groups, have started referring victims to us. Even some victims have shyly started to come forward and approach us themselves. The Transit House provides these victims with a place where, night and day, they can come to talk confidentially about their problems and where they can stay for some days while waiting to be referred to the medical centres.
The Transit House Project, which we have collaborated with the Women's Initiatives, was initially planned for around 30 victims, but we have already assisted more survivors than we were expecting. In [the first] four months, 214 survivors, of whom 13 men and 201 women, were identified and received psychological assistance, including counselling; 214 survivors received medical counselling, and 142 survivors temporarily stayed at the Transit House before being referred to Panzi hospital or local health centres for medical treatment and surgery. Furthermore, 92 survivors received home-care following medical and psychological treatment.
In addition, other activities have also taken place around the Transit House, including the distribution of 1,200 female and male condoms, voluntary screening for HIV/AIDS, the organisation of community counselling through the production of narrative theatre, and individual counselling.
Thank you Emérite. Would you like say anything else?
Our Transit House should also provide socio-economic follow-up for the most vulnerable survivors, as well as legal support. This would contribute to effectively give relief and rehabilitate victims. There is no need to reiterate here that with further resources, the activities of awareness-raising, the distribution of information and those carried out by the Transit House could be expanded to further increase their impact on the community which is otherwise left unsupported. All hopes rely on our activities. And of course we request the Government to demonstrate political will and to enforce sentences where officials of the army are found guilty of sexual violence (for example, the Fizi Trial in Baraka in February 2011). The DRC Government should also make available a package of reparations for the women victims/witnesses in the Fizi case as stated by the Judges at the end of the Trial.
Women's Initiatives and partners issue a statement on International Women's Day
Read the IWD statement by the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice and partners.
Uganda :: Football for gender justice
On 8 March 2012, the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice donated the Gender Justice Cup to the Kitgum District, Northern Uganda. This marks the beginning of the Football for Gender Justice Initiative which will see women's football teams from Northern Uganda competing for this trophy each year in the weeks leading up to International Women's Day. The annual play-off for the cup will be held every year on 8 March for the two final teams.
'Football is an extremely popular sport in Uganda and will serve as a catalyst for the attention of the larger community,' said Jane Akwero, the Kitgum-based Programme Officer for the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice. 'The words “gender justice” will become commonly used in the Kitgum District and beyond and this the gender justice cup will be instrumental in transforming words into action,' she said.
The inaugural match this year was played on 8 March 2012 at Odunglee Primary school playgrounds in Layamo Sub-county, between the girls' football teams from Kitgum Town College and Vision College secondary schools. The Vision College team won with a score of 3-1. The Gender Justice Cup will be presented to them during the first week of April 2012 by the Governor of the Kitgum District.
'This initiative aims at increasing the knowledge and support for gender justice at the community level,' said Ms Akwero.
Sudan :: Darfuri women's rights activist
1 Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda.