Welcome to the first edition of Women's Voices, our new monthly e-letter from the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice. In Women's Voices you will find updates and analysis on political developments, the pursuit of justice, the status of peace talks and reconciliation efforts from the perspective of women's rights activists from four conflict situations – Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Darfur and the Central African Republic (CAR). We are working in these contexts because they are the situations under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Our intention with this newsletter is to magnify and reflect the views, experiences, work and demands of women in armed conflicts for justice, accountability, reconciliation and peace.
The information in our e-letters will be drawn primarily from our local women's rights partners and networks in each of the conflicts, other women's rights networks, human rights organisations, and our own online monitoring of political, justice and security developments in all four conflict situations.
In addition to Women's Voices, we also produce a monthly legal newsletter Legal Eye on the ICC with summaries and gender analysis of legal developments, judicial decisions, announcements of arrest warrants and victims' participation before the International Criminal Court (ICC), particularly as these issues relate to the prosecution of gender-based crimes.
We hope with both of these new online e-letters that we will continue to inform you about the ICC and its potential as a mechanism for gender-inclusive justice, and contribute to international support for and awareness of the aspirations, strategies and experiences of women most affected by armed conflicts.
With both online e-letters we will also update you about the programmes, legal and political advocacy, campaigns, events, and publications of the Women's Initiatives.
Gender Report Card 2008 – now online!
The Gender Report Card 2008 provides an analysis of the institutional developments at the ICC over the past 12 months as well as its substantive work in investigations, victims' participation, witness support and protection, outreach and the work of the Trust Fund for Victims. We also analyse, from a gender perspective, all the major judicial decisions and developments at the Court for each situation and every case.
The Gender Report Card 2008 provides the most comprehensive gender analysis of the ICC currently available.
download a copy
Sudan :: Security situation in Darfur and the consequences
of the ongoing conflict in South Darfur on women
The security situation in Sudan has continued to deteriorate since the beginning of January 2009 when clashes between two militia groups – the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) of Mini Minawi, the only faction of Darfur's movements to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement in Abuja, Nigeria on 5 May 2006, and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) – took place around the town of Muhajiria.
On 15 January 2009, JEM took over Muhajiria triggering a military response from the Government of Sudan, which caused the death of 30 people and the displacement of thousands, including women and children.
Different tribes, including Fur, Zagawa, Missaryia and Barti, live in Muhajiria. The Government warned of the military operations and asked the United Nations/African Union (UN/AU) joint peacekeeping force to leave the area. Although the UN/AU force refused to leave, their limited 190-person troop was too small to provide protection for the civilians who gathered around their compound in Muhajiria. The attack was extended to include other areas in south Darfur, including Geriada, which hosts many camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) where over 130,000 are now living. On 3 February, responding to a request from the UN/AU forces and the US Administration, JEM decided to withdraw from Muhajiria.
On 10 February the Sudanese Government and JEM began Peace Talks in Doha. JEM has been strongly criticised for agreeing to engage in peace talks with the Government, especially when the ICC Judges are considering the issuance of a warrant of arrest against Sudanese President Al'Bashir. JEM Chairman Khalil Ibrahim stated that, 'The movement of Justice and Equality would not impede the course of justice in Darfur and if the talks constitute an escape gate for the regime we will certainly close it'.
The Peace Talks between JEM and the Government are expected to be difficult because while the Government wants to refer to the Darfur Peace Agreement as the basis for negotiations, JEM has declared that they want a totally new process. Moreover, JEM wants to negotiate not only on Darfur, but on the rights of all marginalised people in Sudan. On 17 February, after one week of intense negotiations, both parties agreed on an initial resolution and signed the Agreement of Good Will and Confidence Building for the Settlement of the Problem in Darfur. This agreement closes the initial part of the Talks. For the full version of the agreement, please see http://sudantribune.com/spip.php?article30199.
The Women's Initiatives continues to monitor the peace processes and during 2009 will partner with national and Darfurian women's rights advocates for consultations towards the development of a 'Women's Agenda for Power-Sharing and Peace in Sudan'.
Sudan :: Day-to-day insecurity
The major concern for women continues to be day-to-day insecurity as a result of displacement caused by the ongoing fighting in south Darfur. Women are reporting that lack of food, widespread use of weapons, and the commission of rape and other forms of sexual violence are affecting their safety, freedom of movement and also restricting their economic activities and livelihoods. The Women's Initiatives has also received information from local partners who report seeing Antonov airplanes 'flying day and night' over Nyala town, south Darfur, intended to terrorise the civilian population.
Consultations conducted by the Women's Initiatives in January 2009 with more than ten women's rights NGOs, including those working with IDPs, confirmed that lack of security is the major issue for women in south Darfur. Women interviewed identified the following challenges characterising their lives in the Darfur conflict in addition to, or as a consequence of, the insecurity they experience:
- impossibility of working for a sustainable livelihood
- lack of decision-making power
- high incidence of sexual violence and rape
- the danger of gathering firewood in the vicinity of IDPs camps, and
- lack of freedom of movement
Women report they cannot voice their feelings of fear and frustration about the daily risks they face because of the danger of being arrested by the National Security Service which has infiltrated almost every IDP camp.
Northern Uganda :: The future of the peace process?
Following failure, for the fourth time, by the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army/Movement (LRA/M) to sign the Final Peace Agreement (FPA), on 14 December 2008 a joint military operation was launched by the Governments of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Southern Sudan on the LRA assembled in Garamba National Park, DRC. The attack, code-named 'Operation Lightening Thunder' was intended to diminish the food and weapon supplies of the LRA and to target the senior commanders. Despite heavy bombing raids on the bases and initial claims of success, the offensive has not been able to locate Joseph Kony, LRA's leader.
The President of Uganda listed as reasons for this attack the failure in signing the FPA, the alleged continuous abduction of Central African Republican, DRC, and Southern Sudanese citizens, the killing of Ugandan citizens during the Peace Talks and Kony's attempt to disperse LRA forces in the region.
The Ugandan Government called for support from the United Nations through the active participation of MUNOC in the operation. MONUC declared that, according to its mandate, it would take steps to both protect and assist civilians in the areas at risk of attacks from the LRA. The Congolese Government initially granted the Ugandan armed forces limited access into its territory for the purposes of the military campaign until 6 February 2009. This date was subsequently extended twice with the final extension granting the joint force an indefinite mandate to stay in the DRC.
Although media reports have been divided over the success so far of the military campaign, recent information suggests relatively small but growing numbers of the LRA have been captured or surrendered. There are also reports of LRA fatalities as a result of the offensive.
In February, Okot Odhiambo, Deputy Leader of the LRA, reportedly sought assistance from the International Organisation for Migration for his surrender and safe return to Uganda. Odhiambo is one of four LRA commanders sought by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is reported that Odhiambo is seeking to surrender with 120 combatants, women and children under his command.
In February the Greater North Women's Voices for Peace Network (Northern Uganda) and the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice drafted an Open Letter to President Museveni and General Kony calling for an immediate ceasefire and release of women and children held by the LRA. The letter was supported by 200 women's and human rights organisations from Northern Uganda, national Ugandan NGOs, and international organisations including women's rights advocates from neighboring Sudan, DRC and CAR, whose communities, women and children have also been abducted, raped and destroyed by the LRA throughout the 22-year conflict. Recent attacks allegedly by the LRA in the DRC and Southern Sudan have also been reported with the UN estimating over 900 civilian murders since the campaign was launched.
The Open Letter calls for an immediate ceasefire with the following requirements:
- That the LRA is provided with safe passage to immediately assemble in the designated area in Ri-Kwang-Ba, South Sudan as outlined in the Peace Agreements.
- That the LRA release women and children from their group.
- That the Government of Uganda work closely with the United Nations and other international agencies in preparation for the return of the women and children from the LRA to ensure their safety, the provision of treatment, assessment and adequate medical and psychological support, and their ultimate return to their communities. The engagement of women, traditional and religious leaders in this process is also vital.
- That the final peace agreement between the Government of Uganda and the LRA is signed.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ::
A dramatic start to the year
On 22 January 2009, General Laurent Nkunda, leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) militia group was unexpectedly taken into custody by the Rwandan armed forces while he fled from DRC to Rwanda. Nkunda formed the CNDP claiming it was needed to protect the Tutsi people in the Congo from attacks by the Hutus operating in eastern DRC following the Rwandan genocide. However, many consider this to be a cover for Nkunda's real interest – the control over part of the resources of Eastern Congo which includes diamonds, gold and coltan, a mineral used in the production of mobile phones, laptops and Play Stations. CNDP forces are allegedly responsible for rapes, sexual violence, torture and killings against the civilian population of North Kivu, in particular the Masisi and Rutshuru areas.
General Nkunda is currently being held in an unknown location in Rwanda. Since his 'arrest' the Congolese Government has requested his extradition to face trial for war crimes. The surprise detention of Nkunda comes after an agreement between the Rwandan and Congolese governments on a joint operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu militia group that fled into Eastern Congo immediately following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Meanwhile, General Bosco Ntaganda,the former chief-of-staff of the CNDP troops under Nkunda and for whom the ICC issued a warrant of arrest in 2006, declared that the CNDP faction now under his control would fight together with the Congolese regular army (FARDC) and the Rwandan Army against the Hutu FDLR militia. Before the signing of this deal, the United Nations had accused Rwanda and the DRC of fighting a proxy war with Rwanda supporting Nkunda's CNDP and Congo aiding the Hutu FDLR.
The Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice continues to monitor developments in Eastern DRC, particularly North and South Kivu, where renewed fighting in September 2008 resulted in the displacement of over 250,000 people, massacres and the commission of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Reports indicate that sexual violence was committed not only by militias but also by the Congolese Army. In November the Women's Initiatives collaborated with four national women's organisations for a Day of Solidarity with women in Eastern DRC.
The Trial of Thomas Lubanga, President of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), began on Monday 26 January 2009 (for details on the legal developments of the Trial, please see the e-letter Legal Eye on the ICC, March 2009). As part of its outreach activities, the ICC organised a public screening of the first day of the trial in Bunia, Eastern DRC. The screening was attended by approximately 400 people but had to be suspended because of security concerns after some of Lubanga's supporters, who were apparently the majority of participants at the screening, voiced their disagreement with the Court.
In addition many victims/survivors felt too threatened to attend the screening and did not want to be recognised by UPC members and supporters. The public screening of the Trial did not take place on the second day when the Defence opening statement was scheduled, causing the Defence Counsel to complain in Court that they believed a decision had been made by the ICC to not screen their opening statement. However it was later confirmed the screening had simply not been possible due to a failure of the satellite feed.
Central African Republic (CAR) ::
Bemba's Hearing and security concerns for victims/survivors
The Confirmation of Charges Hearing in the case The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo took place from the 12-16 January 2009 after having been postponed in December. Mr Bemba, former Vice-President of DRC, is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central Africa Republic by the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) of which he was allegedly President and Commander-in-Chief. The MLC were actively involved in the conflict in CAR between October 2002 and March 2003. Included in the charges against Bemba are rape, torture and murder as crimes against humanity and war crimes.
On the first day of the Court Hearing some Bemba supporters gathered in front of the ICC causing chaos and security concerns for those attending the proceedings. Bemba's supporters were large in number, vocal and the environment was described as 'tense' by women's rights activists from CAR attending the Hearing. Reports of intimidation of CAR activists by Government officials and Bemba supporters surfaced during the week-long proceedings.
According to the Women's Initiatives' local partners, the security situation for CAR victims/survivors of the conflict has worsened following the process of reconciliation that ended with the formation of a national unity cabinet in January 2009. Two recent cases of attacks on victims formally recognised by the ICC were reported to the Women's Initiatives during a meeting with local partners in January. In one case, the victim/survivor was called by name by her attacker. According to local women's rights activists, the causes for this deterioration in security seem to be the forced cohabitation of victims and perpetrators in the same neighbourhoods following the process of reconciliation and the exposure of a few victims/survivors in relation to the ICC process.
In February the ICC Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) announced the beginning of its activities in CAR with a particular focus on victims' rehabilitation projects which primarily target women survivors of gender based violence and former child soldiers. The TFV has said that particular attention will be given to victims' health care and security issues.
Upcoming events ::
Workshop and strategy meeting on Peace Talks
In mid-March the Women's Initiatives is organising two events in Kinshasa, DRC.
The first is Women Shaping Justice and Peace (9-11 March), a workshop for 35 women's rights activists from eastern DRC and CAR. Workshop sessions will include an introduction to the ICC, an update on DRC and CAR cases before the Court, exchanging strategies to advance accountability for violence against women including training on the documentation of gender-based crimes in armed conflicts.
The second event is a Consultation and Strategy meeting on the Peace Talks for the Kivus (13-16 March). This meeting will gather women's rights and peace activists from North and South Kivu to exchange information, plan and strategise for the participation and influence of women in the peace process for the Kivu provinces.