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 Andina van Isschot.
During the spring of 1999, Isabelle Helal, Assistant Co-ordinator of the Women's Rights Programme (ICHRDD) undertook a field trip to Rwanda where she met with members of the NGO community, as well as partner organisations involved with the Monitoring Project on Gender-Related Crimes at the ICTR. What follows are a series of excerpts drawn from Ms. Helal's field report which offer an overview of the context in Rwanda at the time of her visit.
I arrived in Kigali on March 27th, a few days before the national elections at the communal and sectorial level were to be held in the whole of Rwanda. The war and human rights violations were ongoing both in the North Western region of Rwanda, as well as in the Congo.
Authorities in Rwanda reported a high turn-out for the elections. According to the BBC News Service, voters were asked to select local representatives on a non-partisan basis over a three-day period. The elections followed a queuing system where voters stood behind the candidate for whom they intended to vote, rather than voting for a political party. With this system anonymity was not ensured and voters spent many hours in queues. In a summary report, UNDP-Kigali described participation as "very active and quite impressive", with most voters in the 18-40 age bracket (1). Very few women candidates were either nominated or presented themselves as candidates for election, the report noted. It described the UN observers' overall impression as quite positive, with no tension and minimal military or government presence. The Rwandan Local Government Minister, Desire Nyandwi, said a turn-out of ninety-five percent reflected the determination of voters to elect their own leaders without taking sides (2).
However, the Rwanda News Agency (RNA) reported that official security had been intensified in the Northwest prefecture of Gisenyi to avoid trouble by "infiltrators" (3). Fifty people were jailed in the prefecture's Mutura commune for refusing to take part in the poll, according to the RNA.
With these contradictory reports, it is doubtful that the election process could be qualified as fully free and fair.
Purge in Parliament
During the same period, RNA reported that the Rwandan parliament was undergoing a serious purge, with some members expelled and others asked to resign (4). Eight parties are represented in the transitional assembly, with the three main parties - Mouvement démocratique républicain (MDR), Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and Parti libéral (PL) - affected by the purges. According to the RNA, four sacked MDR MPs were accused of co-operating with Hutu rebels and fostering the Hutu Power ideology. (5).
Situation with respect to the Justice System, Conditions of Detention and the Establishment of the Gacaca Trials
Since December 1996, 1274 people have been tried according to the Organic Law of 30 August 1996. The numbers of suspects jailed on charges connected to the 1994 genocide has slipped to just under 125, 000 from 130, 000, according to Aloys Habimana, the Director of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and the Defense of Human Rights. According to the ICRC in Kigali, there have been marginally more releases than new arrests since the spring of 1998, which accounts for the decrease in the total detainee population. The Government estimates that there are 10,000 persons in detention without satisfactory case files, a number which has not been significantly reduced in the last months of 1998 (6). In January 1998, the Government prolonged the deadline for the release of persons without case files to December 31, 1999
The conditions of detention remain deplorable in Rwanda (7). According to Penal Reform International which runs programmes in Rwanda, last year alone, 2 500 suspects died in the 19 prisons, largely of AIDS, tuberculosis or typhoid.
These numbers do not account for the people that are being detained in the communal cachots. The fact that the number of detainees in the cachots has decreased is merely a consequence of a large number of detainees being transferred to prisons. As a result, the density of the prison population has increased (8).
In view of the burden placed on the domestic judicial system, the Government of Rwanda has been looking into the possibility of restructuring the procedure for processing the genocide cases. One of the avenues for this debate is the so-called Saturday Talks, initiated and led by the President of the Republic and involving representatives of all sectors of Government and members of civil society. This informal forum focuses on major issues of concern to the nation, including not only the administration of justice and the detention systems, but also the economy, democracy, diplomacy and others.
Among the key issues being discussed in Rwanda is the search for alternative means of justice and reconciliation. For example, a subcommission was appointed to study the Gacaca and its applicability to genocide trials. Its application would involve transferring genocide cases falling within categories 3 and 4, and possibly also 2, according to the Organic Law of 30 August 1996, to this local communal level of traditional justice, where locally elected and respected members of the community would preside over cases (9) . Defendants would have the right of appeal to a superior court (10) .
According to a report of the UNHCHR Special Representative to Rwanda (E/CN.4/1999/33) at para. 50-51, the Gacaca could be seen as an "instrument of reconciliation", "a form of consensual justice which brings the people together". It would facilitate the participation of people in the administration of justice and alleviate the burden on the judicial system. The Gacaca might also provide a particularly appropriate forum for questions of victims' compensation.
The report notes, however, that the Gacaca has been traditionally used as a mechanism for resolution of disputes and not in cases of criminal justice. As such, its application in cases of genocide would require that the utmost care be taken to ensure the safeguarding of human rights of all those involved. Furthermore, the question of legal defence before the Gacaca must be addressed. Attention must be paid to the results of a 1996 study (11) completed by national experts under the Auspices of the Office if the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which stated that the "the Gacaca is not competent to hear crimes against humanity", but "could be utilised for the purposes of testifying in connection with reconciliation."
During my stay in Rwanda the Catholic bishops publicly expressed concern over the proposedestablishment of popular tribunals (12). They indicated that while they appreciated this move by the Rwandan government to speed up genocide trials, they were concerned the tribunals, "might become an instrument of injustice, especially if they were not well prepared". Moreover, observers note that due to ethnic tensions that persist among the Rwandan population, it will be difficult for the Gacaca trials to be fair (13). Others have cautioned that traditional notions concerning the roles of women in Rwandan society, for example with respect to property and inheritance rights, could surface in the Gacaca trials (14). These notions are detrimental to the rights of women and would not allow women to benefit from the gains made with respect to these rights in the recent revision of the law regarding matrimonial and succession rights. These questions are central to the concept of reparations for survivors and the family members of victims (15).
National Human Rights Commission
A new draft bill to the National Assembly was presented regarding the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission as provided for in the Arusha Accords and as enshrined in the Basic Law of Rwanda. The draft bill was submitted to the National Assembly and was adopted on January 19, 1999. The bill provides that the Chairman of the Commission be accorded the rank of minister, and that the other members be accorded the rank of Secretary-General. It also states that in the exercise of their duty, the latter are subject only to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
During the period spent in Rwanda, establishment of the National Human Rights Commission was undertaken to which Ms. Soline Twahirwa, former Co-ordinator of HAGURUKA (Association pour la défense des droits de la femme et de lenfant), was appointed Secretary General.
Note: An account of the recent activities at the ICTR will be included in the next issue of the newsletter.
In June, judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) undertook their annual review of the ICTR's Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Prompted by this process of judicial review, the Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations addressed a letter to ICTR judges. The objective of the Coalition's letter was to share some thoughts on potential amendments that might be considered by the judges at the ICTR relating to Part 5, Section 3 and Part 6, Section 3 (Rule 96 and 97) disclosure requirements and counsellor-patient privilege. The following excerpts from the Coalition's letter Re: Annual Judicial Review of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence at the (ICTR) suggest that such amendments are not only crucial to the ability of the Tribunal to respect the equality, dignity and autonomy of victims of sexual violence, but to efforts aimed at promoting justice and gender equality.
Re: Annual Judicial Review of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence (ICTR)
Part 5, Section 3, Production of Evidence and Part 6, Section 3, Rule 96 and 97
At the present time, the ICTR Rules do not provide either explicitly or implicitly for any form of counsellor-patient privilege. The potential disclosure of a witness' rape counselling records always raises compelling issues as to the balance of the rights of the accused against the privacy, security of the person and equality rights of the witness. It may also affect the equality rights of the witness and, in particular, the right to be free from gender discrimination.This issue arose recently in the Anto Furundzija trial (Case No. IT-95-17/1-T) at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). (16). In that case, witness' rape counselling records were disclosed by the Prosecutor to the Defense without following any process to enable the witness to prevent such disclosure.
Amendments should recognise counsellor-patient privilege
We believe that a process must be established to protect the rights of victims and witnesses. We urge that the ICTR Rules of Procedure and Evidence be amended to include the recognition of doctor, psychiatrist, or counsellor-patient privilege. Such privilege is especially important in cases of sexual violence. We would refer you to our amicus curiae brief [hereinafter amicus brief] on this matter, filed on November 5, 1998, in the Furundzija case. (17).
As stated in the amicus brief, there is an obvious public interest in the promotion of counselling for women who have suffered sexual violence, as these women can better heal with assistance and support. However, if victims are not guaranteed confidentiality within a counselling relationship, they will likely be inhibited in their discussions and unable to receive the full benefit of that counselling. In fact, disclosure of records could prove to be a substantial disincentive for victims to even use counselling services in the first place.
In addition, it is problematic if not irresponsible to ask traumatised individuals to provide testimony in formal legal proceedings without making available counselling support. This is necessary to minimise the potentially retraumatising effects of participation as well as to enable the witness to benefit from the healing and empowerment that participation in obtaining justice can provide. The absence of confidential counselling is thus inconsistent with acceptable practice as well as likely to deter survivors from participating in the process altogether. (See Declaration on Basic Principles of Justice to Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, art. 5.)
ICTR should prevent disclosure of confidential information in cases of sexual violence
We encourage the ICTR to prevent the disclosure of confidential information of women who are victims of sexual violence. Otherwise, many women may simply choose not to report sexual violence against them, to testify before the Tribunal or obtain counselling. As was stated in the amicus brief, it is submitted that production applications will operate to deny women who have been sexually assaulted the right to seek both counselling and participate as witnesses to the prosecution of their perpetrators. Women will, therefore, be forced into making choices unrelated to their best interests, and the public interest, in order to avoid revictimization in the court process.
Disclosure orders may have a chilling effect on the willingness of female victims of sexual assault to participate as witnesses at the ICTR. Even the possibility of disclosure of such records, for example, under a rebutable presumption of privilege, would have this effect. Such deterrence to participation in criminal justice proceedings will result in both a violation of the rights of victims of sexual violence to equal access to justice and in the subversion of the very purpose and mandate of the Tribunal.
In cases of sexual violence the rights of the accused must be balanced against the privacy, security of the person and equality rights of the witness. (See Statute of the International Criminal Court, articles 21 and 68) . The need for counselling and the fear of revelation in cases of sexual violence-whether against men or women-is particularly acute. It also has particular gendered dimensions. Sexual violence is a crime that is predominantly committed against women, including during times of armed conflict because of their gender, in addition to their ethnic origin or religion. As stated in the amicus brief, although sexual violence in armed conflict is often a tool used to subordinate a group of people, it is in every case a means of subjugating, objectifying and dehumanising women.
In addition, defence counsel will utilise the possibility of obtaining records in a discriminatory way; most of the efforts to obtain disclosure of counselling records involve challenges to the credibility of female victims of sexual violence. (See amicus brief, para. 20)
Furthermore, counselling records have questionable relevance to the trial of an issue. Statements made in the course of therapy are hearsay, are not made under oath, and may be misunderstood or misnoted by the counsellor. Therapy is not a fact-finding exercise. Neither the victim nor the counsellor are concerned that the descriptions be accurate or detailed. Thus, counselling records are inherently unreliable and likely to frustrate rather than advance the truth-seeking process. The balancing between the rights of the accused and the interests of victims and witnesses and to society is achieved by providing a counsellor-patient privilege and allowing psychiatric evaluations of witnesses in those cases where the mental state of the witness is relevant to the defence.
For these reasons, the issue of non-disclosure of counselling records is crucial to the ability of the Tribunal to respect the equality, dignity and autonomy of victims of sexual violence and is an essential component of justice to women. For more information concerning the Coalition's proposed amendments, please contact:
Women's Rights Programme
The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development
63 De Brésoles, Suite 100
Canada H2Y 1V7
By Vahida Nainar
The Women's Caucus, which almost collapsed after the Rome Treaty Conference for lack of resources, both financial and human, was back on its feet by October, 1998. The Caucus re-grouped, re-structured and started working toward not only continuing its intervention in the Preparatory Commission (Prepcom) process and ratification of the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty, but also evolved a long-term vision of making international legal instruments like the ICC real for women. The Women's Caucus is thus a network of individuals and groups committed to strengthening advocacy on women's human rights and helping to develop greater capacity among women in the use of international law including the International Criminal Court, the Optional Protocol to CEDAW and other mechanisms that provide women avenues of and access to different systems of justice.
The ICC Prepcom process has now moved to discussion on rules of procedure and evidence and definitions of crimes. There are a number of issues in these negotiations that are of direct concern to the Caucus, some of which are: rules on participation of victims in the court proceedings to ensure that their interests are secured; rules on protection of victims, witnesses and others who are at risk on account of their involvement with the Court proceedings; rules on procedures for administration of statutory provisions of crimes of gender and sexual violence; rules of evidence on crimes of sexual violence; and definitions of crimes of sexual violence listed in the statute. Without a gender perspective on these issues, there is a serious danger that prosecution of crimes against women, which has been guaranteed in the statute, will be undermined or weakened. The Women's Caucus has therefore, in the February 1999 Prepcom, and will in the upcoming prepcom in July 1999, emphasise the importance of these issues and bring them to the attention of the delegates with the help of a sizeable number of members brought in to the Prepcom from the global south.
The ICC statute and the eventual establishment of the Court will be an important legal mechanism available to women to address serious violations of women's human rights. But even more important is the fact that the ICC statute, without the Court in existence, has essentially codified international humanitarian and human rights laws. Countries are now obliged to reform national law and make it consistent with the provisions of the ICC statute. This development has tremendous potential for women around the world. Women now have an internationally recognised basis for campaigning for reforms in national laws on crimes against women, particularly rape and other forms of sexual violence. The Caucus' future education and outreach work will highlight this potential of the ICC process. We believe this will augment the campaigns already initiated by women's groups in many countries for national law reforms on crimes against women, and initiate new campaigns where no such efforts exist.
The Caucus also emphasises the need for immediate ratification of the ICC treaty for the treaty's early entry into force and establishment of the Court. That 83 countries have signed the treaty so far and 4 have ratified the document, shows that the international community recognises its responsibility to end impunity, prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and ensure justice to victims and survivors. However, there are attempts by some states who voted against the ICC statute in Rome last year to further undermine the effectiveness of the Court. There are concerns expressed that some states may use the prepcoms to reopen issues of jurisdiction already settled in the statute. There are also concerns that the United States is entering into bilateral agreements with countries, particularly the less developed countries, to protect its nationals from being brought under the jurisdiction of the future court by including non-extradition clauses in the agreements. These concerns notwithstanding, there is an optimism that the 60 ratifications needed for the Court to come into existence will not take too long to achieve.
The Women's Caucus, since the adoption of the Rome Treaty, has also advocated for adoption of a strong Optional Protocol to the CEDAW in March, 1999. The experience of the Caucus in the ICC negotiations, both with the delegates and the use of our extensive support base, was useful to the optional protocol process. The Caucus thus expanded its focus to include advocacy of other legal mechanisms that women can have access to address violations of human rights. The Caucus will continue to participate in the on-going efforts towards ratification of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.
Despite the fact that some gains to address crimes against women are secured in the statute, the Caucus cannot, by any means, relax its vigil over the continuing negotiations in the prepcoms, particularly the one from July 26 through August 13,1999. The sections on rules of procedure and evidence and elements of crimes, if not monitored from a gender perspective, have great possibilities to weaken the implementation of the statutory provisions. An inter-sessional meeting was held in Siracusa, Sicily in June, 1999 to discuss informally some of the issues that will be negotiated at the forthcoming prepcom. The Women's Caucus encountered opposition and resistance to some of their positions, in particular, opposition to rules of no corroboration and prior sexual conduct in the section on evidence of crimes of sexual violence. If our experience at Siracusa is any indication, the upcoming prepcom will be as difficult as the Rome Treaty Conference for the Women's Caucus advocating for a gender perspective in rules of procedures /evidence and definitions of crimes.
In preparation for the prepcom therefore, the Caucus, as we have done in past, will bring a delegation of 18 women from around the world to influence the negotiation process. The Caucus will also hold a panel discussion on the issue of victims' participation and protection in the proceedings before the Court, and invite the official delegates. These issues will, for the first time, be dealt with fully in the prepcom and therefore help all involved clarify how existing participation and protection measures will serve victims, as well as identify shortcomings and what needs improvement.
A lot has been done to include gender concerns in the ICC process since the process started five years ago. A lot however remains to be done. The ICC has to be made real and useful for women around the world. The Women's Caucus has been and will continue to work towards that goal.
Vahida Nainar, Director - UN Coordination
Women's Caucus for Gender Justice
Mailing Address: P.O Box 3541
Grand Central Post Office
New York, NY 10163
Address : 355, Lexington Avenue
3rd Floor, WEDO
New York, NY 10017
Report from Vienna
By Barbara Bedont
As news reports emerged in the past few months about the deportations, massacres, and rapes being committed in Kosovo, it seemed as if the world was doomed to repeat its past wrongs. Some women, however, were determined to learn from the past. It was with this purpose in mind that a Conference was held last month on "Rape is a War Crime: Lessons from Bosnia - Strategies for Kosovo."
As the title implies, the purpose of the Conference was to discuss the lessons from the experience in Bosnia and develop strategies for future action. The Conference also served as a forum to develop a network among workers in the field and foster co-operation among state and non-state actors. Some participants attended the Conference specifically to connect with other women and groups working in the area on the same issues.
The Conference brought together individuals and groups from different disciplines including doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, social workers and refugee workers from government, UN and non-governmental organisations. Many of the participants came directly from working in the fields in Albania, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They brought with them stories of the current situation in those areas. In particular, there were accounts of the use of rape by Serb soldiers as a part of their policy of forced deportation and genocide in Kosovo. The Conference participants heard accounts of how young women had been taken away from their families for days, and upon return were prohibited by their families to talk of what had happened to them.
Some participants questioned the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on what it was doing to collect evidence of sexual violence. According to an ICTY representative who attended the Conference, the ICTY has adopted the policy that victims of sexual violence shall only be interviewed by female investigators and interpreters. However, there is no special team to investigate sexual violence crimes, and only a few women in the refugee camps who have experience in this area. The ICTY is relying on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to make first contact with the victims and introduce them to the ICTY investigators. The OSCE as well as some other local groups are using a questionnaire to collect testimonies. Concerns were raised about the training and expertise of these groups, and co-ordination among the different actors collecting testimonies.
Two representatives of the Women's Caucus for Gender Justice attended the Conference in order to learn from the experience in Bosnia and Kosovo and apply the lessons to the future International Criminal Court which can serve as a mechanism for a longer term solution to the problem of rape during war.
The Conference adopted a series of recommendations for action in Kosovo, which will soon be released in a final report. The recommendations included the need to recognise violence against women as prosecution for the purpose of granting refugee status; the need for protection of women who give evidence before the international war crimes tribunals, the need for funding of legal representatives for victim-witnesses at the tribunals, and the need for all states to sign and ratify the ICC statute immediately.
Hopefully, the international community will listen to the recommendations so that it will be better able to deal with the challenge of addressing the sexual violence committed in Kosovo.
By Shelley Anderson
It is an affirmation for an organisation that defines itself as a movement for spiritually-based active non-violence to read sentences such as "peacebuilding includes the practice of non-violence" and "...spiritual peacebuilding projects should be emphasised as a central aspect of any peacebuilding initiative." Non-violence is too often mistakenly equated with passivity, and spirituality seen as a luxury only people far removed from the suffering of armed conflict can enjoy. Yet it is precisely grassroots women, the major stakeholders in conflict situations, who emphasise the centrality of addressing spirituality, "psychosocial and human needs in their peacebuilding work," as Dyan E. Mazurana and Susan McKay point out in their essay Women and Peacebuilding.
The organisation I refer to is the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR). IFOR, founded in 1919, has branches in over 50 countries committed to non-violent social change. IFOR's Women Peacemakers Program organises non-violence trainings for grassroots women's groups, and regional consultations which bring women from opposite sides of conflicts together to dialogue and deepen their understanding of conflict resolution. The WPP documents women's peacebuilding activities and helps build networks among women peacemakers through publications like the WPP newsletter "Cross the Lines" and its annual May 24 International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament action pack, and helps link women's groups with resources and organisations that can provide technical and financial support.
Mazurana and McKay's conclusions, as stated in their six lessons necessary for effective peacebuilding, are the starting points for the work of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation's (IFOR) Women Peacemakers Program. The lessons: a gender perspective is essential in all peacebuilding policies and projects; peacebuilding, and especially the crucial aspects of reconciliation, is about healing and building relationships; it is culturally specific, and needs to be documented and evaluated; outside parties must work with and "not for"locals; co-operation and networking facilitates effective peacebuilding.
"Many groups help us with material aid," say participants in WPP trainings and consultations, "but our minds and hearts need healing too." Their obstacles are many, not least of which is the fact that decision-makers - from UN humanitarian workers to male decision makers in their own organisations- do not listen to women's often pioneering strategies and ideas. While wanting to increase women's participation in decision-making processes, many also feel the need to change those processes, to make them more accountable and transparent. The links between "private" gender violence and the "public" violence of "war" are very clear to women peacemakers, as is their commitment to creating a culture of peace. Their practical approaches capitalise on women's key roles in the family and community, and women's traditional training in listening and relationship building. The latter raises the question of how to utilise these skills without perpetuating or reinforcing gender stereotypes.
Women and Peacebuilding is a useful introduction to the important role women play in building peace (the equally important role of women in sustaining conflict is not examined in this essay). It looks at women's grassroots peacebuilding, where the successful work of south Sudanese women, of Jerusalem Link and the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, are cited (and acknowledged as only the tip of a very large ice berg). The difference in approaches and roles of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and United Nations bodies in relation to peacebuilding and gender are then examined, and a well-founded plea for more serious consideration and implementation of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action is made. While the essay could have looked more critically at the role of the Commission on the Status of Women in promoting women's peace concerns and building capacity for women peacemakers, the only real lack in this publication is the fact no address list for relevant organisations is given as a resource. The essay's definition of women's peacebuilding as "any actions that seek as their goal the building of a culture of peace" is especially timely, as NGOs gear up for the year 2000, the UN Year for a Culture of Peace, and for the upcoming UN Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence (years 2001 to 2010).
Women and Peacebuilding is a very useful publication, and a contribution to the growing body of persuasive research that argues that gender, and gender equality, is an essential building block in creating sustainable peace.
To obtain copies of the Publication Women and Peacebuilding, (Cost: $CAN 10.00): please visit our Publications page on this web site.
NOTE: ALL our ublications are free for individuals and NGOs from Developing Countries. For other people and organizations some fees may apply.
1999 May 24 International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament action pack, with profiles of women's groups, suggestions for action and directory of women's peace groups in over 60 countries, available for US $7.50 (includes postage). Copies are in English with Russian summaries. Advance copies of the May 24 2000 (with French summaries) can be ordered. Back issues for 1997 and 1998 are also available for $5.
21-minute video of the WPP's European regional consultation (held in April 1998 in Hungary, and involving 15 women from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Cyprus, Ingushetia, Israel, Northern Ireland, Palestine and Serbia). Cost: US $25 (add $5 if requesting air mail shipment). Comes with discussion guide. A report is also available for US$ 5.
20-minute video of the WPP's Asian regional consultation (held November 1998 in India, and involving 20 women from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, India--including Kashmir and Nagaland-- Nepal, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Tibet). Comes with discussion guide. Cost: US $25 (add $5 if requesting air mail shipment). A report is also available for US$ 5.
"Cross the Lines", the WPP newsletter, appears three times a year, with news from around the world, calendar and notices of new resources (available in English, Spanish or French). One-year subscription is US $10.
A kit on Women and a Culture of Peace, with background information and models for workshops, is available for US $ 15.
Copies of the Women's Global Actions for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence are available form the IFOR international secretariat, and on website http://www.ifor.org
Shelley Anderson is the Program Officer for the
International Fellowship of Reconciliation's
Women Peacemakers Program,
Spoorstraat 38, NL-1815 BK
Alkmaar, the Netherlands.
Tel. +31 72 5123 014;
Fax +31 72 5151 102;
Too often the perception of women as victims during violent conflict and war obscures their role as peace makers in reconstruction and peace building processes. Yet, against all the odds, women and women's organisations around the globe are initiating dialogue for reconciliation in their villages and communities. From Northern Ireland to Burundi, from the Middle East to Colombia and Kosovo, women are engaged in constructing a new notion of peace and security that puts human concerns at its centre.
Women's experiences in violent conflict, as well as their contributions to peacebuilding often differ from those of men. Women are particularly affected by gender specific forms of violence, and tend to contribute considerably to conflict transformation and reconciliation on the ground. At the same time, in many peace processes, women are to a large extent excluded from negotiations and decision-making processes.
International Alert has initiated a Campaign "From the Village Council to the Negotiating Table: Women in Peacebuilding" which will be taken forward by a coalition of approximately 30 organisations world -wide. The campaign targets the United Nations (UN), governments and the European Union (EU) in the process towards the Beijing+5 review (June 2000), and the UN Millennium Summit (November 2000).
The Campaign aims to ensure the participation of women in all aspects of the peace process from village level reconciliation to national peace negotiations; to make gender considerations central to post conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes; to protect and promote women's human rights during conflict, and make justice for women a central component of the peace agreements and peacebuilding processes; to promote changes in cultural values on masculinity and violence, and work with men as change agents and peace activists to create new role models and new leadership.
International Alert hopes that the campaign will enable women's groups and organisations to engage in a process aimed at enhancing their voices, sharing experiences and promoting more effective dialogue between women involved in peacebuilding, conflict resolution and decision making.
The campaign will monitor discussions among governments and NGOs regarding the International Community's commitments from Beijing and actively engage with the International Community - particularly the UN and International Donors - to enhance their commitment and accountability to women and sustainable peace.
If you want to join us and receive more information or a campaign pack (which includes a CD ROM, a short guide on what the Beijing "Platform for Action" says on women and peacebuilding, a framework paper, and the campaign leaflet), please contact:
Women in Peacebuilding Campaign
1 Glyn Street,
London SE 11 5HT,
Tel: +44 171 793 83 83,
Fax: +44 171 793 79 75
International Alert is an international NGO based in London that is working towards the resolution of conflict and peacebuilding.
Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century
An action-plan produced by hundreds of civil society organisations adopted at the Hague Appeal for Peace and Justice on May 11-15, 1999. The Agenda is now available as a United Nations document ( A/54/98).
See http://www.un.org or .
'Zanzibar Declaration on Women and a Culture of Peace' & 'Women's Agenda for a Culture of Peace'
Two declarations adopted at the First Pan-African Women's Conference on a Culture for Peace and Non-Violence in Zanzibar, May 17-20, 1999.
Declaration of the African Women's Anti-War Coalition.
Adopted by participants at the West African Workshop on Women in the Aftermath of Civil War in Dakar, Senegal 11 - 13, December 1998.
By Elizabeth Bowker
As Kosovar refugees share more of their experiences with humanitarian workers and the media, it becomes apparent that women in Kosovo were not spared the lot of countless other women in conflict situations. The "Assessment Report on Sexual Violence in Kosovo" by psychology consultant D. Serrano Fitamant was recently released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA). Fitamant's interviews with refugees and UN personnel point to a systematic campaign of sexual abuse in Kosovo. These crimes of sexual violence included rape, mutilation, and forced pregnancy. The timelessness and universality of these occurrences during wartime is evident when we compare them to the events of the Rwandan genocide.
The international media has broadcast the shocking war-time treatment of Kosovar women. Underlining the horrific details are several commonalties. Often groups of male torturers committed rapes under the direction of a single well-known leader. Young women were raped by multiple perpetrators and physically beaten by soldiers. While waiting to cross the border into Albania, young women were selected by soldiers and taken away to be raped. These experiences paralleled those of Rwandese women during the 1994 genocide. There, multitudes of Tutsi women were victims of sexual violence immediately before being killed. These crimes were frequently part of a pattern in which Tutsi women were raped after they had witnessed the torture and killings of their relatives and the destruction and looting of their homes.
Rape can be used as an instrument of war to inflict physical, emotional, and psychological damage to the community as well as the victim. Conquering armies manifest their hatred towards the opposing army by raping their women. The UNFPA report states that "rape is the primary act of taboo being used by the Serbiansby raping womenthe Serbians are violating even those Kosovar men who are inaccessible and hidden in the mountains."
The UNFPA report suggests that the idea of "plunder" is also inherent in acts of conquest. After taking money and jewellery, soldiers take the rest of their "payment" by raping the most attractive women. Regrettably, incidents of sexual violence began to significantly increase in the first week after NATO's initial bombings; the NATO bombings were taken by troops as a 'psychological license' for collective sexual violence.
Rape was also used as an instrument of war in Rwanda. Propaganda specifically identified the sexuality of Tutsi women as a means through which the Tutsi community sought to infiltrate and control the Hutu community. This propaganda fuelled the sexual violence perpetrated against Tutsi women. The 1996 Human Rights Watch-FIDH report "Shattered Lives - Sexual Violence during the Rwanda Genocide and its Aftermath" came to a similar conclusion as the UNFPA report. It stated that the humiliation, pain and terror inflicted by the rapist is meant to degrade not only the individual woman but also to strip the humanity from the larger group of which she is a part: "the rape of one person is translated into an assault upon the community through the emphasis placed in every culture on women's sexual virtue."
The painful experiences of women in conflict situations do not end after the rapes. Kosovar women have told news reporters that it would be better if they had been killed than raped. By raping women and then releasing them, Serbian soldiers condemn them to a life of psychological torture. Similarly, Rwandese women were told by their perpetrators that they were being allowed to live so that they would "die of sadness." Both groups of women suffer cultural pressures not to speak of their experiences to their families and societies, and are therefore unable to take the first step to recovery.
With its strong Muslim tradition, Kosovar society highly values female virginity and fidelity. For a woman to admit that she has been raped would bring shame on her family. The UNFPA report states that women are also concerned about the risk of divorce should their husbands learn of their rape. Although not the norm, some husbands have told reporters that they will not touch their wives if they suspect she has been raped. The trauma and stigma of the rapes lead some of the women to describe themselves as being "forever dead" to their families.
Similarly, Rwandese survivors still feel isolated and ostracised by their experiences. They remain reluctant to tell their stories, fearing that they will be rejected by their families and communities and that they will never be able to reintegrate or to marry. As well, they fear retribution from their attackers.
A final parallel between the experiences of women in Rwanda and Kosovo are the unwanted pregnancies as a result of rape. At the border town of Kukes, Albania, abortions tripled after the refugees began arriving in April. However, none of the women admitted that they had been raped. Humanitarians expect a large number of abandoned babies in the next year. Rwanda has already seen the birth of 2000 to 5000 "children of hate" or "enfants mauvais souvenir" (children of bad memories).
That crimes of sexual violence are deeply damaging to the victims was acknowledged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which noted that rape leads to "the destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself." It is evident that this statement also applies to Kosovar women. It is therefore vital that the recommendations outlined in the UNFPA report with respect to the sensitive treatment of rape victims and proper training of humanitarian personnel are adopted. The continuing struggles of Rwandese survivors foreshadow the long and difficult road to recovery and reintegration that await the women who were raped in the Kosovo war.
The UNFPA "Assessment Report on Sexual Violence in Kosovo" is available at www.unfpa.org/news/pressroom/1999/kosovo-report.doc
By Deb Ellis
As the power of the Taliban (18) solidifies in the eighty percent of Afghanistan that they control, Afghan women have had to employ creative tactics to be able to communicate with each other. Among these creative women are journalists who smuggle raw stories out of Afghanistan, and smuggle finished magazines back in.
Sajeda Milad works for the Relief Organization for Afghan Orphans and Widows (R.O.A.O.W.) As well as managing sewing and literacy projects in Peshawar, the organisation publishes the Khaharan Women's Journal, a magazine for Afghan women. Sajeda, a poet, is largely responsible for producing the magazine. It is a blend of humour, articles on domestic life, poetry, and news about life inside Afghanistan. It talks about women's rights to education and to freedom of movement, and to health care for themselves and their families. In addition to articles about new embroidery patterns, beauty tips, and dealing with cancer, the magazine contains information about the impact of war on the people of Afghanistan, and about educated, professional women, who have become beggars in order to survive.
Homa Zafar is editor of Sadaf, the women's magazine produced by the Cooperation Centre for Afghanistan (C.C.A). Homa uses her position as journalist to investigate human rights abuses in the camps, and writes about them in the magazine. The covers of the magazine usually feature photographs boldly smuggled out of Afghanistan. In a recent issue, the cover photo was of women in a classroom in Mazar-e-Sharif, bending over their desks, all in identical blue burqas. (19). This was a photo of the graduating class at the medical school in Mazar. Months after the Taliban captured the city, kicking all the women out of school, they grudgingly allowed this class to return to take their final exam, but only upon condition that the women wear burqas at all times. (The C.C.A. also produces an excellent human rights newsletter, in English.) The publication produced by the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) is very political, as RAWA is a very political organisation. Most of the members of RAWA are still inside Afghanistan, and the magazine is full of stories and photographs that have been smuggled out of the country. RAWA also sells their magazine and literature in the market places of Quetta, Peshawar, and Islamabad, risking attacks by fundamentalists for doing so. (The Taliban physically attacked women taking part in a recent RAWA demonstration in Peshawar. The women responded by using their placards to hit the Taliban right back!)
Completed magazines for all three organisations are smuggled back into Afghanistan, a few at a time, under the burqas of women. They are taken secretly from house to house, often whole communities of women sharing one issue.
In a country where most forms of entertainment and cultural enrichment have been cut off, these magazines provide a desperately needed stimulus for discussion and tool for education. Many women use them to teach other women to read. They provide women with a space where they may use their intellect and their skills, and with a means to keep one another informed of events taking place all around them until the day when they are able to take part in Afghan society once more.
Kharahan Women's Journal
P.O. Box 356
P.O. Box 1378
P.O. Box 374
Women for Women in Afghanistan
P.O. Box 32014
To contact Deb Ellis:
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Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, is planning to undertake field visits to the following countries this year: Cuba and Haiti in June, Kosovo in July, Afghanistan at the end of August, and Nepal, India and Bangladesh in October on the question of trafficking of women and girls.
In this context, we would like to request your kind assistance. We are trying to identify key contacts in the non-governmental sector working on issues of violence against women in the above mentioned countries. Also, we would greatly appreciate receiving any background information or materials which are available.
I would like to thank you in advance for your continuing support.
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Fax: (41 22) 917 9006
Alternatively materials can be sent to our office in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Fax: (94 1) 698 048.
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