Archive for January, 2012

In 2006 heads of states from Great Lakes Region countries of  Angola, Burundi Democratic  Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Sudan Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda  and Zambia  Congo, Central Africa Republic, signed a Protocol on Prevention and Suppression of sexual violence against women and children. According  to the protocol  sexual violence is defined as any act of  which violates  the sexual autonomy and bodily integrity of  women and children under the  international criminal law including , but not limited to rape, sexual assault,  sexual slavery, Female genital mutilation, forced pregnancy, forced sterilisation. This causes grievous harm which is not only physical but also psycho social and mental as a result of humiliation. This further dis -empowers the individual to engage in developmental processes.

Similarly, the Reproductive Health Response in Conflict (RHRC) Consortium provides an inclusive definition of Sexual and Gender Based Violence as any harm that is perpetuated against a person’s will and that results from power inequalities that are based on gender roles.

Sexual violence represents a serious public health and human rights issue in the great lakes region. In addition to the psycho-socio and traumatic aspects of rape, rape can severely affect the physical health and a high number of rape victims are infected with HIV and AIDS.

Sexual violence statistics in the Great Lakes region

Although it is difficult to establish the actual statistics on the number of women who are victims of sexual violence in the Great Lakes region, in Uganda the Police Crime Report for 2010 shows  that 8645 cases of rape  and other sexual offences were reported compared to 599 cases in 2007 indicating a more than 100% increase. In Kenya, the Nairobi Women’s Hospital  received 2562 sexual assault  and domestic violence cases in 2006 and 2007. At Kenyatta Hospital, an  average of 60-70 women victims of gender based violence are treated per month. Likewise, in Burundi, from 2004 to 2007, the Seruka centre of MSF Belgium registered 5466 cases of sexual violence an average of 1366 victims per year and 27 victims per week.

For DRC, the  SGBV  situation  has achieved international notoriety and consequently  in many ways  has become to epitomise SGBV in situations of armed conflict in the Great Lakes region. According to UN Secretary General report to the UN Security council, more than 1,100 women and girls are rapes per month in Eastern regions alone. UNFPA statistics also indicates that  in 2009, 12838 cases of sexual violence were reported in North and South Kivu.

However all these statistics may have been under reported the problem  since social norms  discourage  women from going outside their families  or ethnic groups to report sexual abuse. Forexample in Rwanda, rape and other gender based violations carry a severe  social stigma.Rwandan women  who have been raped or who suffer sexual violence in most cases  do not talk about their experiences publicly fearing that they will be rejected by  their families  and the wider community and that they will never be able to reintegrate or to marry.

Generally almost  similar situation of sexual and gender based violence  cut across all countries in the Great Lakes region and the situation is even more worse in countries affected by armed conflicts.

Efforts undertaken to curb down sexual violence

Although there are efforts and measures put in place by both the international community and governments in the Great lakes Regions, negligible progress has been made both with regards to prevention and redress of SGBV as well as justice and accountability. Several laws and policies have been put in place both at international, regional and national levels and these include; the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of  Discrimination Against Women; UNSCR 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889;The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; The Maputo Protocol; and national legislations such as the constitution.

It is against this background that from 15-16 December 2011,International conference on Great Lakes region held a   special session under the  theme, “United to Prevent, End Impunity and Provide Support to the Victims of SGBV in the Great Lakes Region,”

At the meeting,   civil society  and women’s rights organizations   to discuss pertinent issues related to the  sexual and gender based violences issues as well as  issuing  a  statement urging the Heads of States of the ICGLR to be on the front-line of the fight against sexual and gender based violence in Africa. The civil society organisations urged heads of state to declare zero tolerance on sexual violence crimes, allocate funding for prevention programs, institutionalise community policing, establish an independent regional impunity monitoring unit, establish national reparations fund for survivors of sexual violence and adopt a comprehensive SGBV framework.

This meeting further  provided an opportunity for women survivors of SGBV and  the civil society to learn more about the work of  the UN Secretary General Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict. In her statement, Margot Wallström, UN Secretary General Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict   urged governments to   implement frameworks and policies and laws instead of paying lip service Leaders are paying lip service and that civil society  must keep pressure up on politicians who have signed  by naming and shaming.

She also urged them to   instruct   the army to protect women and children and not to rape them.  She regretted that  it is so sad that the state also  rapes and that she was surprised to  see   heads of state joking about SGBV  during the summit. This was because they are not comfortable with it and that they don’t understand what it does to the survivor.

 Rape is a life sentence, very traumatic and permanently damages the survivor. Wallstrome said.

She noted that in all the stories, rapes most happen  when  women are doing their gender   and therefore   by giving the survivor access to justice it reduces the blame and  lifts the  burden  of shame roles and that from the victim to the perpetrator.

She promised to take the  voices of women survivors to the UN and highlighted UN priorities on SGBV which include fighting impunity, empowering women  to have voice , influence so that they can enjoy their rights, mobilise political ownership and accountability  and train UN peace keepers in gender and protection of women and children.  She also promised that  SGBV will continue having a central  attention   by committing  resources  for health care and psycho social support for the survivors and  also urged other donors  to support the cause by  committing resources too for SGBV response.

At the end of the Summit, member states signed a declaration to fully domesticate  and implement  the protocol on Prevention and Suppression of sexual violence against women and children, increase financial and technical support for judicial and security sector reform on human rights and women’s rights and SGBV eradication, integrate  SGBV in national planning frameworks and allocate budget lines for prevention and response to SGBV, declare a Zero tolerance now on SGBV crimes, establish a appropriate mechanism  to investigate, prosecute sexual violence crimes among others.

Over the years, we have seen governments signing documents of the same nature and committing themselves and no concrete practical actions   have been delivered on the ground. Will this one this among them or should we expect something different this time?

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