Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations

Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situation NEWSLETTER
Vol. 1 Number 2 - October 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.


Letter to High Commissioner raises shared concerns for the integration of Women's Human Rights

The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD) hosted the Second NGO Expert Meeting to discuss the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in Montreal on September 4-5, 1997. At this meeting over 35 participants and observers, drawn from various NGOs, governmental agencies, and UN bodies, gathered to review the first three years of the Special Rapporteur's mandate and to develop a strategy for the next three years.

The Agenda: The meeting began with an overview of the first three years of the mandate from a regional perspective. An assessment of the impact of the mandate on UN agencies and bodies was followed by presentations on how various UN bodies have approached their work since the appointment of the Special Rapporteur. Also on the agenda for the first day was a discussion of the institutional difficulties encountered in the monitoring of gender-related crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda. The second day of the meeting was devoted to discussions of the areas of concern for the next three years and the issue of a standardized methodology to document violations of women's human rights. The meeting concluded with a discussion of the needs, priorities and recommendations for the next three years with regards to the Special Rapporteur's mandate.

The Key Issues: Some concerns raised during the meeting include:

(i) the fact that systems of patriarchy remain an obstacle to awareness of the mandate and implementation of recommendations at the national and local levels;

(ii) the issue of integration of the Special Rapporteur's recommendations has not been pursued as systematically as is needed within the work of UN treaty bodies, investigatory mechanisms of the UN human rights programme and UN agencies;

(iii) there remains little awareness, both among governments and NGOs, of the many areas of the Special Rapporteur's mandate; and

(iv) significant difficulties still exist in establishing a coherent approach to address the issue of State responsibility, due diligence and accountability.

The Actions: One of the actions emanating from the two-day meeting was a letter sent to the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Mary Robinson. The letter focused on points raised during the meeting and reflected concerns shared by a wide constituency. Reference was made to the priority the UN has attached to the system-wide integration of a gender perspective. It was pointed out that although references to the situation of women are more consistently included in reports, the content of these references remains unsatisfactory. The letter outlined various recommendations to integrate a gender perspective. A proposal for the establishment of a Task Force on Gender was also presented which would establish a framework for a gender policy statement that would be launched by the High Commissioner. Such a policy statement would address the need for more concrete measures to ensure the mainstreaming of women's human rights in the UN system.

A complete discussion of the issues and recommendations of the Second NGO Expert Group Meeting will be released in a final report written by Jan Bauer on December 10, 1997. The release of the report coincides with the beginning of the campaign to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Copies will be available on request.

Who is the Special Rapporteur ?

The Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, was appointed as a result of the adoption of a Canadian-sponsored resolution at the 50th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1994. At the 53rd session of the Commission on Human Rights this year, her mandate was renewed for a further three years.

The appointment of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has created a practical mechanism through which incidents and patterns of violence against women can be assessed and acted upon. This mechanism provides the means whereby recommendations can be made to the international community generally, and the Government individually, with regard to the measures that should be taken to prevent violence against women, to punish those who perpetrate such acts, and to provide remedy for victims. The three main areas of concern for the Special Rapporteur are: gender-based violence in the family and in the community, as well as, gender-based violence perpetrated or condoned by the State. Her field missions, communications, urgent actions, reports and recommendations all come together to assist in finding a solution to ensure the protection of all human rights and freedoms of women.

Meeting on Crimes Against Women in Rwanda results in the Launch of Report and Letter to Judge Arbour

A day-long meeting was held at the International Centre on September 6, 1997 focusing on Crimes Against Women in Rwanda. The objective of the meeting was to coordinate the work of various persons and organizations in their attempt to ensure that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) prosecutes gender-related crimes adequately. Furthermore, the meeting was intended to help the partners in this monitoring project collectively set a research agenda that will allow for the presentation of clear positions to the ICTR and to the international community, challenging conservative and discriminatory notions of genocide, torture, and violence against women. The meeting was attended by the key participants of the monitoring project, including Alice Karekezi the monitor in Rwanda, as well as other members of the NGO community. The meeting began with an overview of the situation of women survivors in Rwanda, followed by a discussion on legal issues surrounding the prosecution of crimes against women in Rwanda and the ICTR. The afternoon sessions focused on an update of the activities of the Working Group on Engendering the Rwanda Tribunal, and the work of the International Centre. Following the update of activities by both partners, a discussion ensued on coordination issues between the Coalition and the monitor. Key areas of concern that were discussed include: the research agenda; joint public actions, the role of the monitor, the role of legal advisers, and long and short-term objectives for the project. The final session of the day centered around the social dimensions of crimes against women in Rwanda. Two presentations illustrated this issue, one focused on work carried out in Liberia on violence against women in wartime, and the other provided insight into dealing with violence as a community issue with example of the indigenous women in Qubec.

The meeting proved to be extremely fruitful in that it provided an appropriate forum for discussion of key concerns and issues. A result of the meeting was the recent release by the Coalition of a report written by Connie Walsh entitled Witness Protection, Gender and the ICTR which details how witnesses to the ICTR have been threatened, intimidated and in some cases killed. The report describes how Rwandan women and women's associations have been treated disrespectfully in their contact with the ICTR, stating that "relations between the ICTR and these organizations have been severely compromised by a combination of lack of respectful outreach and investigation, accessibility, transparency and follow-up." To address these safety concerns, the Coalition emphasized the need for trauma counsellors for women, support persons to accompany witnesses as they travel to Arusha, consistent follow-up, and longer term measures for protection. The Coalition called on the ICTR to build trust and repair the relationship with the Rwandan women's community. The report was launched in anticipation of the reconvening of the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, former Bourgmestre of Taba, who is scheduled to appear before the ICTR on October 22, 1997.

Witness Protection, Gender and the ICTR accompanied a letter addressed to Chief Prosecutor Madame Justice Arbour, in which the Coalition outlined the need for immediate action by the ICTR in three areas: ensuring witness protection at all stages of the investigative and trial process; strengthening the ICTR's capacity to investigate crimes against women; and redefining sexual crimes against women under the jurisdiction of the ICTR, not only as crimes against humanity , but also as torture and acts of genocide. A full report of the September 6, 1997 meeting is being produced and will be available soon. The report by Connie Walsh and the letter to Justice Arbour are also available. Please contact at the ICHRDD for copies.


A call for urgent action was circulated on October 13, 1997 on behalf of the International Women's Committee to Support Nuba Women and Children in order to collect as many signatures as possible, worldwide, and send them to the various governments that interact with the Sudanese Government. The situation for the people of the Nuba mountains in Western Sudan is grave. In this remote and internationally isolated region of the Sudan, a long-running human rights disaster is worsening. Evidence strongly demonstrates that the aggression and violence of the Sudanese Goverment are part of a concerted effort to purge and subdue the Nuba people. The instruments of the ethnic cleansing by the Government and its local militias include murder, rape, abduction, slavery, and orchestrated famines as political weapons. The Committee calls on the International community to acknowledge the state of genocide in the Nuba mountains and to take appropriate actions. For more information and/or to support the campaign, send a message to:

Stand With the Women of Afghanistan

By Lindsey Stevenson

W.E.A.R.E. for Human Rights

In September 1996, an Islamic fundamentalist faction known as the Taliban seized control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. While the city's capture meant that 18 years of war might be coming to an end, it marked the beginning of a new era of repression for Afghans, particularly women. Taliban policies have made Afghan women prisoners in their own homes. Women are banned from working outside the home. Women are beaten if they venture outside unescorted or if they wear improper clothing. The escort must be a male relative and the only proper clothing is a burka, a robe that covers the head, face and body. Further, schools and universities are closed for women and girls. Such edicts are unprecedented in Afghan history. The Taliban's policy of gender apartheid is particularly disturbing as it is such a setback from advances made at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. A petition, initiated by Sima Wali, Refugee Women in Development (RefWID), is being circulated to organizations requesting that they urge governments, the international community, the UN and multinational corporations to hold the Taliban accountable for their actions and to respect the human, civil and political rights of Afghan women, girls and men. Signatures were collected from the Women's Leadership Conference of Harvard University, May 29-31, which was attended by private, public and non-governmental organizations. The petition was also signed by those attending the Center for Women's Global Leadership Institute held June15 - 28, 1997. The Global Center and RefWID have since disseminated the petition for further signatures.

RefWID and other organizations active in the Working Group on the Human Rights of Women are developing a broad international strategy with suggested actions that NGOs can take in their own countries, with their government, or the United Nations.


If you are interested in knowing more about such strategies or wish to sign the petition please contact:

Sima Wali, RefWID,

Tel: ;

or Lea Browning, W.E.A.R.E. for Human Rights,
Tel: ;
Fax: .


Upcoming Events

Policy Meeting on African Women's Contribution to Promoting a Culture of Peace to be held in March 1998

A policy meeting has been organized by Afronetrust as part of their human rights and peace programme. The objective is to define forward-looking strategies and peace initiatives, bearing in mind the Africa Plan of Action and the Beijing Declaration. Participants will include policy makers, researchers, advocates and mediators from a number of countries in Africa and Europe.

For further details contact:

Ms. Iheoma Obibi, Director Afronetrust,
Unit 301a, Aberdeen House,
22 Highbury Grove,
London N5 2DQ, UK.

Tel: (44) 171-3591181;
Fax (44) 171-3544900;

First Meeting of the East European Network on Male Violence to take place October 27 to October 30, 1997 in Belgrade

The East European Network on Male Violence will meet for the first time in Belgrade. Participants from over 24 countries will gather to discuss issues dealing with male violence in the region. Activities include workshops and visits to different women's groups in Belgrade.

For more information contact:

Katica, Sandra or Lepa at the
East European Network on Male Violence.

Tel/Fax: 381.11.687.190;

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