Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations

Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations NEWSLETTER
Vol. 2 Number 1 -- February 1998

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.


UN Expert Group meets on the issue of Gender-based Persecution

In her opening statement, Ms. Jane Connors, Chief, Women's Rights Unit of the DAW, noted that while earlier Expert Group Meetings had addressed women's participation in political decision-making and conflict resolution, and violence against women generally, none of the Division's Expert Group Meetings had, as yet, dealt with the protection of women in times of armed conflict, national and international accountability for that protection, steps that are necessary to reduce the incidence of human rights abuses of women in conflict situations, measures necessary for the protection of women refugees and women who are internally displaced as a result of conflict. The Division had identified gender-based persecution as a possible risk shared by women in situations of armed conflict and those who seek to escape armed conflict internally and via refugee flight. The Expert Group Meeting was convened to address these risks and to build on critical area E (which concerns women and armed conflict) of the Platform for Action, in order to make concrete suggestions for the international community, national governments and civil society.

The context for the discussions were clearly defined. Women and girls suffer predominantly or exclusively from specific types of harm during peacetime and armed conflict both because they are female, and because of historically unequal power relations between men and women. Although the term 'gender-based persecution' does not appear within any of the legal instruments, it encompasses the forms of harm that are regularly suffered by women and girls everywhere and which are directed at them because of their sex. Since the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, there have been significant developments in the treatment of harms experienced by women in situations of conflict. It is essential that these advances are maintained and further progressed. Existing legal mechanisms at all levels must become aware of the manifestations of gender-based persecution.

Themes of the discussion included: (a) existing and future legal mechanisms for the consideration of claims of violations of the laws of armed conflict against women and existing human rights violations to which women are subjected; (b) ways of enhancing women's security in situations of armed conflict and (c) legal claims and needs of refugee women and those who are internally displaced. A consistent thread flowing throughout these themes was the need to view women as being able to influence their own destiny and act as agents for transformation and not merely as passive victims.

Recommendations from the meeting are directed at national, regional and international actors and fall into the following categories: legal definitions and standards; training, dissemination and education; participation; and implementation, monitoring and accountability. It is also anticipated that the recommendations will be valuable to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and other treaty bodies, in their efforts at elaborating the obligations of States parties.

The meeting was organized by the UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) and the Centre for Refugee Studies, York University, Canada for the upcoming Commission on the Status of Women. The meeting was held at the Centre for Refugee Studies from 9-12 November 1997.

For more information contact:

Ms. Jane Connors,
Chief Women's Rights Unit, DAW
Two UN Plaza
Room DC2-1226
New York, NY 10017

Excerpts of the Tokyo Declaration presented at The International Conference on Violence Against Women in War and Armed Conflict Situations

On the final day of the International Conference on Violence against women in war and armed Conflict held in Tokyo October 31-November 3, 1997 a Public Symposium was organized where recommendations and resolutions of the conference were presented to the people of Japan by the International delegates.

Excerpts of the Tokyo Declaration:

Through reports we have learned of the various forms of violence suffered by women during wars and regional conflicts regardless of time and place. In addition, these criminal acts against women have not been branded as war crimes, have not been tried in war tribunals, and the perpetrators have not been prosecuted enjoying impunity.

The global women's movement established clearly the human rights of women on the occasion of the World Conference on Human Rights held in 1993 in Vienna, and at the end of the same year the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women, calling on States to assume responsibility for eliminating various forms of violence against women occurring both in home and The 1995 Fourth World Conference in Beijing made clear in the Platform of Action that violence against women during war and armed conflict constitutes a war crime. In this situation, women have organized to provide healing and support for women survivors, have begun to address the issue of sexual violence in war tribunals such as that in the former Yugoslavia and have begun to challenge war tribunals in parts of Asia including the Tokyo War Tribunal from a gender perspective. This conference was held in order to assure that the voices of women victims would be reflected in the report to be submitted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy to the UN Human Rights Commission in 1998.

In order to eliminate violence against women during war and armed conflict women at the global and national levels are seeking to build a non-militarized world by bearing the responsibility of creating a peace that is based on the perspective of women's human rights. Furthermore, in their daily lives, at home, at their work sites, and in their communities, women are seeking to make changes in the culture which fans the flames of discrimination and violence.

To achieve these long-term goals, we seek to join together with women who are addressing the issue of violence against women in war and armed conflict throughout the world, through achieving reform in international legal systems such as international law and the United Nations, and the establishment of the International Criminal Court. We also seek to strengthen the movement within Japan to address the comfort women issue and force the Japanese government to accept legal responsibility, compensate, and support the survivors. We feel that this will serve as a precedent to restore honour and justice to women survivors of wartime sexual violence throughout the world.

The Japan Organizing Committee of The International Conference Against Women in War and Armed Conflict Situations and The Participants at the Public Symposium. November 3, 1997 Tokyo

For more information on the Conference contact:

Asian Centre for Women's Human Rights (ASCENT)
Suite 306, MJB Building
220 Tomas Morato Avenue
Quezon City, Philippines

Gender on the UN Floor of the International Criminal Court Negotiations

by Donna K. Axel

Government delegates' awareness of gender issues has heightened over the past three sessions of the United Nations Preparatory Committee to create a permanent International Criminal Court. The Women's Caucus for Gender Justice in the International Criminal Court (Women's Caucus) formed in February 1997 in order to pressure government delegates creating the Court to include a gender perspective. The Women's Caucus urges governments to consider and incorporate the lessons that women involved in the International Criminal Tribunals have already learned and gains that international women's human rights activists have already made from Vienna to Beijing. But many government delegates involved in creating this new court are unfamiliar with the impact of war and violence on women and children and the importance of formally including such views in any international legal fora. The Women's Caucus strives to ensure that these concerns are addressed in the statute establishing the International Criminal Court.

One of the Women's Caucus' most significant accomplishments occurred within the context of defining War Crimes at the December 1997 United Nations negotiations on the establishment of an International Criminal Court. There was overwhelming support by the government delegates to include a prohibition of "committing rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, enforced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, and any other form of sexual violence also constituting a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions." This provision was added to the list of serious violations already in the February 1997 draft text relating to War Crimes, making clear that such sexual crimes are acts of violence and not merely "outrages of personal dignity," as previously included in the older draft statute. Like other gains by the Women's Caucus, this provision is not guaranteed to be included in the statute creating the Court until the statute is finalized.

From June 15-July 17, 1998, plenipotentiaries will gather for a diplomatic treaty conference in Rome to finalize the draft statute creating the permanent Court. The ICC establishment process can be delayed quite easily if delegates negotiating the draft statute cannot reach consensus on substantive and procedural issues, or if the negotiation process fails to include a broad sector of society, such as women. If the Women's Caucus is to be truly successful at the diplomatic treaty conference, Women's Caucus supporters must lobby governments, to ensure that the potential gains written into the draft statute are retained in the final document. We must emphasize that if governments want our support which is essential to the Court's legitimacy, then they must include our views.

Questions Raised Regarding the Coalition's letter and Report sent to Justice Arbour

An open letter was sent in response to questions raised by Ubutabera, the Independent newsletter on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, to members of the NGO Coalition on Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations.

Ubutabera raised questions in a personal communication to members of the NGO Coalition on Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations in late November 1997 and in the December 9, 1997 issue of Ubutabera concerning the Coalition's letter to Justice Arbour and appended report "Witness Protection, Gender and the ICTR".

The response to Ubutabera reiterated the fact that witnesses and potential witnesses are at great risk. It further clarified specific points with regard to witness protection at the ICTR. The letter emphasized the fact that a witness protection unit was not established from the very start of the work of the Office of The Prosecutor. Questions regarding the reluctance of local women's associations to collaborate with the Sexual Assault Team were further clarified. The letter also discussed the conceptualizing of rape and sexual violence and the importance of hiring women experienced in working with survivors of sexual violence.

The response was sent by Isabelle S. Helal, Valerie Oosterveld and Connie Walsh on behalf of the NGO Coalition. If you would like further information regarding the response to Ubutabera contact



Call for Women's Day Dedication to "Women of Afghanistan"

The European Union's humanitarian aid Commissioner, Emma Bonino, has called for the 1998 International Women's Day on March 8, to be dedicated to the women of Afghanistan, in order to show international solidarity with their plight. Ms. Bonino, along with her delegation was arrested and held for 3 hours by the religious police of Afghanistan's Taleban regime in September, during a visit to the only hospital open to women in Kabul. Ms. Bonino said that the women she saw, now obliged to wear the all-enveloping burqa, look and feel like shadows. They are banned from all education, and may not leave the house unaccompanied. Emma Bonino believes that International Women's Day could provide the opportunity to raise international awareness of the issue, and to pressure the Taleban regime to restore fundamental human rights to women.

Gender Mission to Afghanistan

Continued severe restrictions on women's rights in Afghanistan greatly undermine the capacity of the international community to deliver assistance according to internationally recognized human rights conventions. As a result, a meeting of the UN Executive Committee on Humanitarian Activities was convened on 3 June 1997 to produce a set of policy recommendations. These recommendations were to be used as guiding principles for a gender mission to Afghanistan. In mid-November, 1997 the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Angela King, headed the Inter-Agency Gender Mission to Afghanistan. The aim of the Mission was to agree on a set of pragmatic, field-oriented guidelines addressing gender concerns that could be used by UN agencies, donors, and NGOs when implementing their programmes, and also to establish key indicators to monitor compliance with the guidelines.


Update of the Akayesu Case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

On October 23 and 24, witness JJ, a 35 year old Tutsi woman, talked in a heavy atmosphere about the collective rapes that occurred in the bureau communal. This testimony will likely be the main accusation against the former bourgmestre of Taba for the cirmes of rape and sexual violence. According to JJ, he "did nothing to protect the population".

Ubutabera, the Independent newsletter on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda reports that the date for General Dallaire to give evidence in the Akayesu case has been set for February 23rd. On 13th January, the UN secretary-general officially agreed to lift the immunity of the former Force Commander of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda.

Trial proceedings in the Jean-Paul Akayesu case resumed in February. The ICTR is expected to deliver its first verdicts within the next three months. Sentences will be delivered on the trials of Akayesu, Rutaganda, Kayishema, and Ruzindana.

Women's Human Rights Resources

Women's Human Rights Resources (WHRR) is a project of the University of Toronto Bora Laskin Law Library. WHRR was created over tow years ago as a tool to help researchers, students, teachers and human rights advocates search the Internet for authoritative information on women's international human rights. The website consists of three sections:

  1. An annotated listing of Internet links on many relevant topics such as education, the Fourth World Conference on women (Beijing), marriage and family, property and housing and the rights of girls.
  2. An annotated list of documents such as conventions, reports, bibliographies and articles by governmental and non-governmental organizations.
  3. An annotated bibliography by Professor Rebecca Cook and Valerie Oosterveld originally published in the American University Law Review as "A Select Bibliography of Women's Human Rights". This bibliography has been considerably expanded since it was first published and is searchable by author. It is updated periodically, and so is often more comprehensive and current than alternative methods of searching law review articles.

WHRR can be found on the Internet at:

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