Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations

Vol. 1 Number 1, July 1997

The Newsletter of the NGO Coalition on Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations is published occasionally by Rights & Democracy.

This issue of the Newsletter was coordinated by Isabelle Solon Helal and Nazneen Damji.


The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda amends one of its indictments to include charges of rape.

The presentation of an amicus curiae brief to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to bring charges of rape and other crimes of sexual violence in the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu has proven to be a significant achievement in efforts towards accountability and prosecution for gender-based violence and for the overall protection of the human rights of women. As a direct result of the amicus brief filed by a group of women's and human rights NGOs in May 1997, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has amended the indictment against Jean-Paul Akayesu. Where before the indictment did not consider at all the evidence of crimes of sexual violence, the amended indictment now includes charges of rape and inhuman treatment. The trial of Mr. Akayesu is rescheduled for 22 October 1997 at which time he will enter a plea to the charges of sexual violence. The new charges brought against Mr. Akayesu recognize rape as a war crime and as a crime against humanity and are therefore, in keeping with Article 3 of the Statute for the International Tribunal for Rwanda which addresses rape as a crime against humanity. The amended charges are important since they indicate a move towards bringing gender-based crimes in war and conflict situations to the forefront. However, of particular concern is the fact that the ICTR has neglected to include in the amended indictment the use of rape as a tactic of torture, terror and genocide. This oversight is clearly inconsistent with the progress made by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in its prosecution of rape as a war crime. The amicus brief, prepared by Joanna Birenbaum and Lisa Wyndel of the Toronto-based Working Group on Engendering the Rwanda Tribunal; Rhonda Copelon of the International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic of the City University of New York; and Jennifer Green of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, recalled factual testimony presented to the trial and probative evidence available to the Tribunal through human rights investigative reports on the prevalence, purposes and effects of rape and other sexual violence in the Rwandan Commune of Taba under the authority of then mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu. The brief called on the Prosecutor to consider amending the indictment accordingly, as well as improving the quality of the investigations to include proper attention to crimes committed against women. In the letter accompanying the brief to Prosecutor Louise Arbour, the authors called on her office to effectively put into place a sexual violence investigation team in Kigali; to install a high-level gender expert on site; to continue training Tribunal staff on gender considerations; and ensure the advancement of women throughout all job categories inside the Tribunal. About 60 non-governmental organisations throughout the world, including a majority of African women's organisations, endorsed theamicus curiae brief by joining the other signatories.

A Second NGO Expert Meeting on the Mandate of the
Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women to be held 4-5 September 1997

The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development will convene a second NGO Expert Meeting on the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences on 4-5 September 1997. One of the objectives of this meeting will be to review the first three years of the mandate and to develop a strategy for the next three years. In addition, the meeting will examine how to standardize a methodology on documentation of violations of women's human rights and will consider the means for facilitating the exchange of information with and coordination between the Special Rapporteur, the UN Centre for Human Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Commission on the Status of Women and the UN human rights treaty bodies. The first NGO Expert Meeting was held in July 1994 at the International Centre in Montreal and was aimed at orienting the Rapporteur's mandate and providing recommendations on how the mandate might be implemented and the mechanism put into operation. At the outset, the first meeting was organized with the intention that these consultations will be carried out as a series that the Special Rapporteur will attend over time, and that they will involve organizations and women's networks in various regions of the world. The role of the Special Rapporteur is critical to the issue of violence against women in conflict situations. Her field missions, communications, urgent actions, reports and recommendations all come together to assist in finding a solution in order to ensure the protection of all human rights and freedoms of women. Significant to this Coalition's work will be the Special Rapporteur's upcoming visits to Rwanda and Haiti to gather information on the situation of violence against women affected by the conflict. She will subsequently report her findings to the Commission on Human Rights. The Special Rapporteur will be also be examining and reporting on the issue of state responsibility with regard to violence against women in armed conflict. A report of the Second NGO Expert Meeting in September will be produced and copies will be made available upon request. Please contact at the Centre if you would like to receive a copy.

Women's Caucus for Gender Justice in the negotiations of the International Criminal Court

The UN General Assembly is in the process of negotiating a treaty to establish a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). The creation of an ICC would prove to be an historic step in the enforcement of international human rights. Apart from the ad hoc Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, there is no international forum devoted to the prosecution of serious violations of human rights. Therefore, an independent permanent court is essential to ending impunity in general and particularly, in crimes against women. The same strategies that were instrumental in bringing women's human rights to the UN human rights agenda in the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna -- the organizing of a global campaign and women's caucus where women successfully challenged prevailing human rights paradigms, and brought recognition to the problems of gender and sexual violence in conflict situations -- are necessary to ensure the inclusion of gender concerns in the jurisdiction, indictments, procedures and personnel of the ICC. At the third session of the Preparatory Committee on the establishment of an International Criminal Court in February this year, governments negotiated the definitions and scope of crimes falling within the ICC's jurisdiction. The Women's Caucus lobbied for the ICC's jurisdiction over women's humanrights violations as forms of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. They were relatively successful since at the conclusion of the PrepCom, the draft text explicitly referred to sex-specific crimes as war crimes and crimes against humanity. The next PrepCom session will meet from 4-15 August at the UN and negotiations are entering a critical phase. At this session delegates will be discussing the ICC's rules of procedure and evidence; who has the right to bring a case to the ICC; and how the ICC will cooperate with national court systems -- all issues that have specific gender dimensions. Throughout the PrepCom, the Women's Caucus will have the important task of ensuring that the ICC statute addresses key issues regarding the effective investigation and prosecution of crimes against women. The issues will continue to be debated in subsequent PrepCom meetings scheduled for 1-12 December 1997 and 16 March - 3 April 1998. The UN General Assembly has set August 1998 as the target date for the Diplomatic Conference to conclude the Treaty which will create the International Criminal Court.

How the Women's Caucus hopes to affect the ICC Treaty:

For more information regarding the Women's Caucus contact:

Mary Marrow, Coordinator
c/o The International Women's Human Rights Clinic CUNY Law School,
New York, USA
Fax: ;

What is the Coalition and how can you participate?

The NGO Coalition on Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations naturally evolved as a result of the high level of interest generated by various activities surrounding the ICTR. Actions such as Human Rights Watch's campaign to bring to light gender-related crimes in Rwanda to the letter signed by over 85 women's rights organization to Judge Goldstone to have rape and gender-related crimes included in the ICTR indictments to the more recent Amicus Brief presented to the Prosecutor at the ICTR have all generated keen interest for the establishment of a "loose" Coalition of women's and human rights organisations concerned with or working on different issues related to the status and rights of women in conflict situations. The Coalition is presently housed within the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, based in Montreal, Canada. Input and suggestions regarding the future of the Coalition are not only welcome, but strongly encouraged. As a tool for information sharing and calls for joint actions, the Coalition intends to further the work of individual members by allowing them to communicate their priorities and strategies for change. The main device which will be used by the Coalition to keep itself alive and abreast of the various realities and actions is this newsletter, for which we invite your contributions. Write short articles describing your findings, actions, or concerns related to women's rights in conflict situations. We will publish them in this newsletter. You can join the number of NGOs already members of this Coalition by writing or phoning the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development at the numbers indicated at the end of this newsletter. If you have received this newsletter directly from the International Centre, we already consider you a member of this Coalition. If you wish to be erased from the list, please communicate with Monique Lamarre or Nazneen Damji. This Coalition will function only if there is continued interest and participation. Therefore, it is key that you consider using it to share information, concerns and calls for joint action. A special effort will be made to reach out to NGOs throughout all the regions of the world.

What's New?

Certainly, advances have been made in recognizing women’s rights. The legal framework is increasingly responsive to the experiences of women and girls in conflict, especially in cases of sexual violence, as we have seen in the important work being carried out by the international criminal tribunals. But there remains much to be done, particularly to improve prevention and to combat impunity.

-- Kofi Annan
October 28, 2002