Archive for July 29th, 2011

One of the Women at the AU open Session

In March 2011, women survivors of sexual violence from Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe presented their concerns to the AU peace and Security Council. This was during the councils’ second open session on Women and Children in Armed Conflict, which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Peace and Security Council of the AU is responsible for promoting peace, security and stability as well as managing catastrophes and humanitarian actions in Africa.

The women who were facilitated by  Isis-WICCE, Femmes Africa Solidarité, UN Women, Oxfam (GB) and Urgent Action Fund-Africa expressed their concerns on the continuing armed conflicts on the continent that have led to increased sexual violence.

In their  statement, the women reiterated the fact that in spite of all the African Union and UN instruments, armed conflicts  continue un abated and sexual violence against women  is carried out with impunity by all parties  involved in fighting. They acknowledged the efforts of the AU member states in promoting gender parity, equality and enhancement of women’s participation through adoption of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa and the Additional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa among others.

This meeting was the first   of its kind to discuss the extent of vulnerabilities faced by women and children in conflict and post conflict situations.  Mary Elias, a survivor  from South Sudan narrated how she was captured and tortured by the Sudan army on suspicion of  being a rebel collaborator. She described the way her hands and legs were tied behind and hot pepper was put in her vagina, anus and face.  Likewise,   Anna Grace Nakasi, a survivor from Uganda vividly shared her personal story and recounted her multiple experiences of rape by a total of 19 men including soldiers charged with civilian protection during armed conflict in Uganda. Nakasi got infected with HIV from the rapes and later faced stigmatization and excommunication from the community

The women called upon the member states to   put in place mechanisms that will ensure survivors’ full recovery of the bodies and soul and involve them in planning designing and implementing recovery and rehabilitation programmes. They emphasized the importance of  providing comprehensive medical care through increased health budgets for sexual and reproductive health complications and trauma management.

Similarly, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, Mrs. Margot Wallstrom affirmed that sexual violence has been ignored in peace talks, reparations schemes and funding frameworks for recovery.

She further highlighted some of the actions that have been taken to combat impunity like that of the Government of DRC which has recently prosecuted a number of senior army officers for crimes of sexual violence. She urged AU member states to appoint an AU Special Representative on sexual violence in Conflict and pledged her support to such a role which she said will serve as a natural point of contact to strengthen AU-UN partnership.

Until 2009, little has been documented about the councils’ efforts in protecting women and children during conflict. In 2009, however when the council adopted the Livingstone Formula which ensures the participation of civil society organization in the council meetings and creation of open sessions.

In response to women’s concerns, the AU Peace and Security Council saluted the courage and resilience of  the survivors of conflict- related  sexual violence and  stressed the need to fully  investigate cases of crimes  committed against women. It emphasized the need for   launching preventive campaigns aimed at armed forces and the police to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

The   members of the Council also urged member states  who have not ratified   the Protocol  to the African Charter  on Human and Peoples Rights  on the Rights of  women in Africa to do so and  ensure its  domestication. They also emphasized the importance of developing strategies at continental and regional level to enable monitoring of the situation of women and children in conflict as well as providing support for facilitating the psychological rehabilitation of the survivors of sexual violence. The Council further called for mobilization of resources to ensure that gender is mainstreamed in all aspects of AU peace-related activities.

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