On February 25th, 2015, George Clooney co-authored a New York Times Oped on the rape of women in Darfur. Internationally, the violence in Sudan, including mass rape, has been recognized as genocide since 2004, yet the attention to the area has died down since then, allowing the government to continue its abuses. The media is heavily restricted, humanitarian aid workers equally so and very little is known about the quality of life in Darfur. The peacekeeping mission to Darfur, a joint venture of the African Union and the United Nations, has been severely undermined by the government’s efforts, as the United Nations office has been shut down and investigations stymied. Since evidence cannot be gathered, the peacekeeping forces are required to rely on information provided by the government and have been encouraged to withdraw from areas that remain in need of assistance.
However, the facade can be undermined. Recent efforts have revealed the travesties that are the government’s attempts at peace and security. After documenting over 100 witness testimonies, it can be concluded that last October, the Sudanese Army raped hundreds of women and that investigations of those rapes were subsequently obstructed. The military had full control of Tabit when the mass rape took place, so the attack was not ultimately used as a weapon of conflict, but rather an atrocious and despicable intimidation tactic. It is stated in Clooney’s article, “The sexual violence has no military objective; rather, it is a tactic of social control, ethnic domination and demographic change. Acting with impunity, government forces victimize the entire community. Racial subordination is also an underlying message, as non-Arab groups are singled out for abuse.”
Clooney calls for renewed global attention to the crisis in Darfur as well as effective sanctions. This renewed attention on these women and children who were raped should also focus on a piece of U.S. legislation that will harmfully impact their lives. The Helms Amendment is a forty two year old piece of legislation that bans all U.S. foreign aid from going to organizations that perform abortions. This includes for women and children who are raped in times of crisis. Women who have been raped are much more likely to die in childbirth, and further, a large portion of the survivors are children, who are still more likely to die from pregnancy The United States restriction on foreign aid for abortion services, curtails the effectiveness of the Red Cross and other such organizations that rely US funding. GJC’s August 12th Campaign calls upon Obama to sign an executive order lifting the abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid and as we can see in Darfur, it is more urgent than ever that this outdated legislation is removed and that these women and children receive the medical care they need.
Today, at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Ms. Illwad Elman, a Somali-Canadian social activist who works at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, used GJC language and mentioned both IHL & abortion in her statement, saying:
“Implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL) in a gender responsive manner is key to enhancing the protection of civilians. Women must have equal access to accountability mechanisms, reparations and non-discriminatory medical care, including safe abortion and post-abortion care for survivors of sexual and gender based violence.”
This is the first time abortion was referenced in connection with the important right to non-discriminatory medical care and IHL at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
Click here to read the entire statement.
In 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that 29 countries used rape as a weapon of war. The states accused of using rape must be held responsible for employing intentional and systematic sexual assault to further a military objective, whether it be genocide, demoralization, impregnation, or HIV infection. A recent article, Africa: Sexual Violence in Conflict – What Use Is the Law?, distributed by allAfrica Global Media, illustrates the legal tools available to the survivors of the rape crimes and discusses the difficulties that have been encountered so far in attempts to prosecute rape as a war crime—difficulties such as the complex nature of the resources at the victims’ disposal. To access the available resources, survivors must possess a basic understanding of applicable laws—laws which are convoluted at best and unrecognized or invalid at worst.
For example, rape as a tactic of war is outlawed by the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. However, sexual violence is not specifically designated a ‘grave breach’ of convention, a distinction which, “obliges states to seek out and prosecute, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, anyone suspected of committing such acts, regardless of their nationality or of the country where the crime was committed.”
While rape is not explicitly delineated within the Geneva Conventions as a ‘grave breach’ in and of itself, it is easily definable as a violation of the law prohibiting “torture or inhumane treatment.” The case grows more complicated as the Geneva Conventions pertain to international disputes, rather than civil wars, where most of the crimes are taking place. Further, most ‘non-state actors’ do not act in accordance with the legal bindings applicable to the state and rebel groups are responsible for a large percentage of sexual violence during war.
However, prosecutors might look beyond humanitarian law and employ the definitions of the Rome Statute advocated by the International Criminal Court, which labels rape as a war crime. Further, there are proponents of “soft law” which is not legally binding but nonetheless a useful persuasive device in the courtroom. Margaret Purdasy, legal counselor at the UK Mission in Geneva, offers some hope to the prosecution, saying, “All the strands of law have their limitations and their setbacks, but they are not the same limitations; one helps to plug the gaps in the other.”
The Global Justice Center is at the forefront of this movement, demanding the recognition of rape as an unlawful crime. GJC states, “Rape is the most terrorizing and life-destroying unlawful weapon being used in armed conflict – yet not one rape-using state has ever been held accountable for the use of an unlawful weapon under the laws of war.”
The Global Justice Center espouses that rape be addressed as an unlawful weapon of war and offers a sampling of important results. Should the correct measures be taken, rape states will be held accountable for their action, accurate statistics of women raped in conflict will be created and made available, restitution will be gained by victims seeking legal retribution, and redress will be established for rape survivors who contracted HIV. Also, as stated in Africa: Sexual Violence in Conflict, the international community must also reach beyond legal services when providing aid and work to combat integral social attitudes, such as victim blaming. Further, survivors require emotional and medical resources, such as access to safe abortions, another issue championed by the GJC.
A recent United Nations report asserted that as many as 70 nations allowed girls to be abused for seeking an education and that attacks upon educated girls are facing an alarming upsurge, with more than 3,600 separate events reported in a single year. In 2012, this particular strain of gender-based violence made its way into the mainstream news and the campaign for girls’ education was given a face and voice in the form of Malala Yousafzai.
Malala championed education rights for girls from a very young age and before she was even a teenager, she wrote a blog for the BBC, detailing her experience with the Taliban. From 2009 through 2012, she rose to prominence as an advocate for women and children, giving interviews and promoting education. In late 2012, she was shot by a gunman on her school bus. The assassination attempt was unsuccessful and sparked global outrage but the Taliban reiterated their threat to execute her and her father. Since the attack, Malala has continued her commitment to education for women and children, for which she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
Three days ago, on the 300 day anniversary of the abduction of 300 Nigerian girls, who remain in the custody of Boko Haram, Malala issued a call to action, saying, “I call on people everywhere to join me in demanding urgent action to free these heroic girls…These young women risked everything to get an education that most of us take for granted. I will not forget my sisters. We cannot forget them. We must demand their freedom until they are reunited with the families and back in school, getting the education they so desperately desire.”
If the kidnapped school girls are rescued, the largest impediment to their continued education is pregnancy. If these school girls become pregnant during their captivity, they will be forced to bear the child of their rapist due to a little known US policy called the Helms Amendment that puts an abortion ban on all US foreign aid. Many NGOs in conflict zones, as a result of this legislation, choose to follow the American requirement so that they can continue receiving American money.
Founder of GJC, Janet Benshoof, argued on behalf of the kidnapped girls in her appeal to President Obama on Human Rights Day. Benshoof urged the president to sign an executive order allowing for abortions in conflict zones, where mass, genocidal rapes have taken place. Abortions might forestall the inevitable deterioration of the women’s health, whether it be from pregnancy at to young an age, ostracization, or depression and eventual suicide. GJC supports the mission of the UN and Malala Yousafzai in espousing universal education, but before education can be made available, women and children must be safe in their bodies, and afforded the necessary medical care they deserve.
Denying access to abortion for women and girls raped in war denies them their rights under the Geneva Conventions. Tell President Obama to Overturn Helms.
Join the Global Justice Center One Billion Rising Twitter Chat, February 13, 12pm-1pm. #LiftTheBan #OneBillionRising
This year has been one of the worst years for children, according to the United Nations. “As many as 15 million children are caught up in violent conflicts in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the State of Palestine, Syria and Ukraine,” said the Unicef’s report. “Globally, an estimated 230 million children currently live in countries and areas affected by armed conflicts.”
“This has been a devastating year for millions of children,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”
In the Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, South Sudan, Nigeria millions of children are affected by ongoing conflicts. Young girls are being kidnapped, tortured, forcibly impregnated, forced marriages, withheld from education, raped and turned into sex slaves. Half the victims of rape in conflict zones are children.
The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict that took place in London this June recognized that rape and sexual violence in conflict often has a much bigger impact than the fighting itself, and that one should not underestimate the depth of damage done to individual rape victims. “Sexual violence in conflict zones includes extreme physical violence, the use of sticks, bats, bottles, the cutting of genitals, and the sexual torture of victims who are left with horrific injuries. Many die as a result of these attacks. But survivors can also face a catastrophic rejection by their families and may be cast out from their communities”.
Compounding the suffering is a US foreign policy that denies safe abortion services to girls raped in armed conflict. GJC’s August 12th Campaign challenges this routine denial of full medical rights to war rape victims as a violation of the right to non- discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols.
Young girls who become victims of rape used as weapon of war are forced to bear the child of their rapist. This also is an “unspeakable brutality”.
Republicans in Congress are committed to efforts to drain U.S. aid from international family planning programs. Now, as they are freed from the knowledge that a Senate controlled by Democrats would surely block their most extreme measures, they can succeed and harm women worldwide. The United States should be increasing, not decreasing, its current investment of $610 million in funding to international family planning programs, which already prohibit the use of U.S. foreign aid to provide safe abortions “as a method of family planning.”
The prohibition, introduced in 1973 as part of the Helms Amendment, does not define what constitutes “family planning,” yet Republican and Democratic administrations, including Mr. Obama’s, have treated it as a total ban on funding of abortion under any circumstance. As a result, help is denied to women and girls who are victims of rape or whose lives are threatened by carrying a pregnancy to term.
However, there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel, even despite the serious threats posed by this new Congress to women around the world, The President doesn’t need congressional approval to reinterpret the Helms Amendment. The President should act to clarify that the law allows aid to be used to provide safe abortion to women and girls raped in armed conflict.
GJC urges President Obama to issue an executive order lifting U.S. abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict. Mr. Obama should use his executive authority to end a longstanding misinterpretation of the Helms Amendment, which prohibits foreign aid money from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”
After all, the denial of abortion violates the medical care guarantees of international humanitarian law and the absolute prohibition on gender discrimination under international humanitarian law. It also constitutes torture and cruel treatment in violation of international humanitarian law.
Lift the Ban. Save lives.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture. By formally accepting this treaty 20 years ago, the U.S. Government made a commitment to end the use of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Yet to this day, the U.S. repeatedly fails to meet its commitments under the treaty with its abortion restrictions on foreign assistance to girls and women raped in armed conflict.
In advance of the 53rd session of the Committee against Torture convening on November 3 in Geneva, the GJC and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) submitted a Shadow Report on “US Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Assistance that Deny Safe Abortion Services to Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict” to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) that monitors implementation of the Convention. Forty three other reports were submitted through the USHRN (U.S. Human Rights Network) to the Committee as well.
Rape is torture. Forcing women to carry the child of their rapist by denying safe abortion services to war rape victims results in extended and intensified physical and psychological suffering. It is a legal and moral imperative to provide all necessary medical care, including abortion services, to war rape survivors. Currently, as a result of the Helms Amendment, the US has a “no abortion” policy placed on all US foreign aid. GJC & OMCT in their Shadow Report urge the Committee Against Torture to call on the United States to reassess and change this policy that is in violation of the convention.
CAT Day of Action © UNHRN
Today, GJC is participating in the CAT Day of Action. Next month, human rights activists will gather for the United Nations’ review of the U.S. Government’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture. Join GJC in urging President Obama to issue an Executive Order overturning the Helms Amendment on the 20th anniversary of US ratifying CAT.
Stop Violence. End Torture.
Women’s Bodies, Today’s Battleground: A Personal Story of Courage from the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict
(*Unless otherwise cited, the information in this article is based on GJC Program Intern Isabella Szabolcs’ interview with Haitian human rights advocate Jocie Philistin on June 6, 2014. It has been translated from French to English with Ms. Philistin’s consent.)
Jocie Philistin is sitting in the conference room of the Global Justice Center before catching a flight to London, where she will represent the most critical voice at the UK Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict: women working on the ground in conflict zones. She is thousands of miles away from her home in Haiti, where she works as a human rights advocate for Haitian survivors of sexual violence. When asked about what event impacted her most in her work with female survivors, Jocie recounted a story of a thirteen year-old girl who has been raped:
Just minutes after her water broke in Port au Prince, Haiti, the thirteen year-old girl was refusing to go into labor. She was terrified of giving birth to her own flesh and blood, a chilling reality that was all too literal. Raped by her twenty-eight-year-old brother, a member of Haiti’s military force, the girl was one of the few survivors of sexual violence to see her perpetrator imprisoned. Although her brother was detained, her trauma was far from over. He terrorized her over the phone threatening to kill her for reporting the assault, and his fellow paramilitaries attempted to set her on fire. In spite of the imminent death threats, it was the idea of bearing a child born of rape and incest, a child she could not accept or care for, that was the more frightening reality for the pregnant girl.
Had it not been for the support from the International Civilian Mission—who Jocie worked for—the girl’s story would have ended like so many others, culminating in further abuse or even death. As Jocie points out, this young girl’s harrowing account is not unique. This is the experience of thousands of women and children who are victims of sexual violence in armed conflict zones around the world. The traumatizing effects of sexual violence remain with the survivor forever.
“A girl never forgets the daunting memory of being sexually violated.”
Her Haitian name, as she proudly recounts, means “God is gracious.” For Jocie, her name became an emblem and a source of her empowerment as she began her mission of helping rape and sexual assault survivors find hope, peace, and justice.
When Jocie was sexually assaulted three times by a senior member of the military, she experienced stigmatization and a lack of adequate access to care. It became clear to her that greater attention had to be given to sexually abused victims. “When you are violated or sexually assaulted, you never forget the experience or its lasting effects. I wanted to help these girls, give them hope and prevent such dehumanization from happening again. My similar experience to these victims allowed us to understand and psychologically help each other.”
For the past 16 years, Jocie has worked with Haitian victims of sexual abuse, a population whose numbers increased drastically as a result of the 1991 military coup d’état and the 2010 earthquake. After the coup d’état, Jocie began her work at the International Civilian Mission, which is run by both the UN and the Organization of American States. Through the mission, she helped victims of sexual violence find justice and faith, and pressured the government to take action and to hold the perpetrators accountable. She also helped pioneer a seminal 2005 law making rape a crime in Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake, Jocie worked for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, an international law firm that provided free legal and security assistance to survivors of sexual violence and KOFAVIV, a local grassroots organization whose acronym translates to the “Commission of Women Victims for Victims” and lends social, psychological, and medical support and empowerment to survivors.
Currently, Jocie works as an evangelical preacher and women’s rights advocate. She founded her own organization, the Yahweh-Rapha Foundation (“The Lord Who Heals” Foundation), where she trains youth groups to become knowledgeable activists in the church and community on the prevention and care of victims of sexual abuse. Her goal is to raise awareness about the reality of sexual violence in Haiti and reduce the stigmatization attached to these victims. By creating dialogue on a conventionally taboo subject, Jocie hopes to increase reporting for sexual violence crimes, end the vicious cycle of “victim-blaming” and ostracization, demand accountability, and ensure immediate medical attention within 72 hours of the attack.
Support and Hope for Survivors
Last week, the Global Justice Center had the privilege of bringing Jocie to attend the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London. Her presence at the Global Summit, like those of other survivors and those working with sexual violence survivors on the ground, is vital when the international community comes together to discuss ways to protect and respond to sexual violence against women in conflict zones. Jocie represents the voice of a victim and it is essential that policymakers give a platform to survivors to direct their own future. These are exactly the kind of voices that must be amplified and the Global Summit was the perfect opportunity.
Co-chaired by the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, and attended by 129 governments, foreign ministers, UN officials, and civil society, the summit was a milestone for women’s rights. This is the first global meeting to focus on sexual violence in conflict-affected areas. Yet this historical achievement is only the first step towards progress. The Summit raised many concerns and key areas for change that must be addressed in the struggle for ending sexual violence in conflict. One much-needed area for improvement in advancing these human rights is international support for civil society’s role in this fight for justice. However, the Summit, while ambitious in its scope, did not adequately incorporate human rights organizations and grassroots advocates in engaging “governments to take meaningful action…to stop rape and gender violence in conflict” and which limited the scope of the conversation. This effect was evident by the conclusion of the summit when only 46 of the governments made “any concrete commitment towards addressing the issue.”
As the Global Summit Chair’s report states, “survivors must be at the centre of the response to sexual violence in conflict, to ensure re-empowerment and to avoid further victimization.” The Global Justice Center aimed to do exactly that at the Summit by bringing experts such as Jocie, however as noted by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jody Williams, the opportunities to hear survivors’ voices were limited and many stories, such as Jocie’s, were never heard in the official sessions attended by ministerial policy makers.
Rape used as a Weapon of War & Structural Barriers to Justice
The purpose of the Global Summit was to address how to end impunity for perpetrators and bring justice to survivors. As concluded in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence Chair’s Summary, it is essential to “improve accountability at the national and international level, through better documentation, investigations and prosecutions…and better legislation implementing international obligations and standards.”
Rape “or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity,” as included in 2002 by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, was declared a crime against humanity when systematically committed against civilians during armed conflict. Despite the devastating consequences for states and entities engaging in sexual violence in conflict, “no state has ever been held accountable for the use of rape as a prohibited tactic.” The failure to penalize states for using rape as a tactic of war contradicts the laws of war, unequivocally violates human rights, and explicitly discriminates against and subordinates women and children.
In Haiti where Jocie works, the destabilization that resulted from the coup d’etat and the earthquake “unleashed a wave of torture, massacre and systematic sexual violence against women.” The weakening of state systems of security and political control, contributed to an epidemic of sexual violence that to this day, ravages the country. Furthermore, the aftermath of the attack poses a second trauma for the victims. Their attackers continue reigning terror with impunity because rape cases seldom are prosecuted in court or result in a conviction. Even in cases where a conviction succeeds, the survivor’s safety is constantly under threat. It is common for perpetrators to bribe their way out of jail or to use friends and family to terrorize the victim. For this reason, safe homes (hebergements) were created to ensure that the victims receive adequate care and protection from their abuser.
As stated by the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, civilians – especially women and children – suffer the most devastating casualties in today’s war-ravaged areas. Rape is used as a strategic political and military tactic to terrorize enemies, destabilize society, destroy families and communities, and traumatize victims. Perpetrators use rape to assert their control and achieve objectives such as ethnic cleansing and deliberate dissemination of diseases such as the HIV virus.
Another common and devastating result of sexual violence in war is the impregnation of rape victims. Forced with the prospect of carrying out life-threatening pregnancies to bear the child of their rapists, survivors often resort to unsafe abortions or in too many tragic circumstances, suicide.
The dire need for legislation in international and national policy recognizing and punishing rape as a tactic of war, cannot take effect without a change in attitudes towards victims of sexual violence.
It is essential to listen to the voices of these survivors when discussing ways to combat and respond to sexual violence in conflict, a greater emphasis that should have been placed during last week’s Global Summit.
Women, specifically survivors of sexual violence, play a critical role in engaging communities in response, reconciliation and prevention efforts of sexual violence in conflict. The contribution of these women in sustaining international peace and security is crucial, since they often are more accepted and have greater access to such conflict zones than government officials and representatives. For this reason, it is imperative that victims of sexual violence are given a voice to be heard, especially in high-profile venues such as the Global Summit.
The Global Summit Chair’s Summary emphasized, “this Summit is just the beginning.” We need to translate rhetoric into action. The International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council must take further action to punish those responsible for the illegal use of rape as a tactic of war. In addition, donor states such as the U.S. must comply with the Geneva Conventions to ensure that its humanitarian aid to survivors of sexual violence in war provides “complete and non-discriminatory medical care” including access to safe abortion services in life-threatening circumstances.
Beyond the necessary international role, advocates such as Jocie are critical in effecting change. In order for such international policies to take effect, a new attitude towards victims of sexual violence must be taken. The population needs to internalize the belief that “there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence [but rather,] the shame is on the aggressor.” Only then, can these victims be treated with the dignity and respect that they so rightly deserve.
How the US is Blocking Access to Safe Abortion Services for Women and Girls Impregnated by Rape in Syria
Throughout the Syrian conflict, Syrian government forces and government-controlled militia (Shabiha) have reigned terror over the civilian population. Alma, a victim of this violence, describes being held in a cell where she would kick and scream alongside 20 other women while they were drugged, blindfolded, and gang-raped.
In the worst embodiment of this campaign, rape is used as a weapon of war against Syrian women and girls. Alma continues, “I’ve been through everything! I’ve been battered, flogged with steel cables, had cigarettes in the neck, razor blades all over my body, electricity to my vagina. I’ve been raped while blindfolded everyday by several men who stank of alcohol and obeyed their superior’s orders, who was always there. They shouted: ‘You wanted freedom? Well here it is!’” A different victim illustrates the scene at a Syrian detention center in which a doctor visited each woman’s cell to note the dates of her period and to hand out birth control pills: “[w]e lived in filth, in blood, in [feces], with no water and barely any food. But we had such an obsessive fear of becoming pregnant that we took these pills scrupulously.” Still other victims of these crimes against humanity described situations in which their “bodies have become battlefields and torture chambers.”
Letter to Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva: Re: The Commission’s Policy on Abortions for Women and Girls Impregnated by Rape in Armed Conflict
GJC writes a letter to Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, to urge the European Commission to change its humanitarian aid policy in order to uphold the rights of women and girls raped and impregnated in armed conflict under the Geneva Conventions.
Yesterday in the inspiring and informative event, “What Success Looks Like on the Ground,” women leaders from Burma, Haiti, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo gathered to discuss their personal experiences in combating sexual violence in conflict. The panel was a side event to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
It was moving to hear directly from local women leaders who battle everyday with their governments, militaries, other institutions, and social mores. Together they painted a stark picture of the very real difficulties women face in armed conflict zones around the world, as well as lessons they have learned in working against sexual violence and in supporting survivors.
Panel speaker Julia Marip, from the Women’s League of Burma, noted that “when women have been raped, they suffer twice: once at the rape and again when they become pregnant.” Ms. Marip then pointed out that not only is abortion illegal in Burma, but also that reforming laws – including those criminalizing abortion – is overly difficult due to the constitution’s discrimination against women and the military’s embedded position within the government. She also emphasized the importance of having women at the political table in order to improve the lives of women, including by ending rape and increasing accountability. Ms. Marip and her organization, the Women’s League of Burma, recently launched a report on sexual violence in their country,Same Impunity, Same Pattern: Report of Systematic Sexual Violence in Burma’s Ethnic Areas, about which the Global Justice Center hosted an event and wrote an article.
Similarly, Leonie Kyakimwa Wangivirwa, an activist working with women survivors of sexual violence in Congo, spoke of the power of women to end sexual violence in conflict. She called for solidarity, saying that women around the world “must band together as survivors if we want to fix this on a global level rather than go case by case.” She further urged the world to end the crisis in Congo – one of the world’s longest running conflicts – saying that the Congolese “are begging the people who are bringing war to us to take it away.” Without this step, she explained, sexual violence would continue.
Leonie then described the consequences of the ongoing sexual violence in her country, including the suffering of women with unwanted pregnancies from rape, who are often shunned by their families, and the dangers and difficulties that face children born of rape. An audience member from the Congo, Justine Masika Bihamba, of Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence, echoed Leonie’s point, reporting that “every day we are losing women to suicide who have become pregnant from rape.”
Zeinab Blandia, of the Vision Association in Sudan, shared her experiences advocating against sexual violence in her country, and explained that where peace has been established in areas of Sudan, the situation for women has improved. Like her fellow panelists, Zeinab called on the international community to help bring the conflict in her country to an end. She said that if the war and its associated violence against women were to continue, it would be a “shame on the international community and on CSW.”
The panel also touched upon successes combating sexual violence in Haiti, where the 2010 earthquake left women and girls increasingly vulnerable to sexual attacks. The event highlighted the work of KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), a grassroots organization run by women survivors of sexual violence that supports other women survivors in Haiti. Marie Eramithe Delva, executive secretary of KOFAVIV, recounted the success of their campaign distributing whistles to women and girls in the displaced person camps of Port-au-Prince, noting that in at least one camp it had led to a drastic reduction in the number of reported rapes.
The Global Justice Center (GJC) is grateful to have heard these women leaders speak of their experiences and advice for combating sexual violence and supporting survivors. We believe our vision of success on the ground mirrors their calls for justice and accountability for rape in armed conflict, for increased participation of women in government and peace negotiations, and for expanded and non-discriminatory access to sexual and reproductive health services. GJC is eager to partner with women leaders such as these, as it has done with Ms. Bihamba, whose organization sent a letter to President Obama as part of GJC’s August 12th Campaign, urging him to lift the ban on abortions attached to U.S. humanitarian aid. For further information on GJC and its projects, please visit:http://www.globaljusticecenter.net.
On October 10, 2013, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution aimed at stabilizing the Central African Republic. The Council “reinforced and updated” the mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) while also calling for a political resolution to the conflict. Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations director for Human Rights Watch commented that “the Security Council is finally waking up to the human rights tragedy plaguing the Central African Republic. Broadening the human rights mandate of the U.N. mission is a good but insufficient first step.” The resolution singled out the rebel Séléka fighters as being responsible for what it called “extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence against women and children, rape, recruitment and use of children and attacks against civilians.” In the Central African Republic, coups and violent seizures of power have outnumbered fair elections since independence. Since the March 2013 coup that outsed President François Bozizé, Séléka fighters have held unchecked positions of power in the region – looting, abducting, raping and killing with impunity.
The resolution demanded Séléka rebels “lay down their arms immediately” and allow the unfettered flow of humanitarian aid into the country. Unfortunately, sending humanitarian aid to the Central African Republic will not go far enough to help those women and girls who have become pregnant during this armed conflict. The U.S. is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid (including to the Central African Republic), and due to the abortion ban imposed on all U.S. foreign aid since 1973, women and girls who are impregnated in the mass war rapes taking place in the Central African Republic are denied safe access to abortions. The survivors of these brutal crimes are forced to bear the children of their rapists or die in childbirth, particularly because half of war rape victims are children themselves, too young to give birth safely. These abortion restrictions are supposed to apply only to “abortions [provided] as a method of family planning.” However, its interpretation was expanded to be an absolute ban on abortion and abortion speech, with no rape or life exceptions. President Obama has the opportunity to reverse this inhuman policy, and uphold the right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions for of girls and women raped in war.
Women’s lives are at stake because of a foreign policy that discriminates against women by withholding live-saving medical care. It also circumvents the Central African Republic’s own abortion law, which does allow abortions for rape victims – a law that was amended in 2005 to respond to the fact that women impregnated through war rape were dying after desperately seeking unsafe methods of abortion.
Rape survivors who become pregnant and are denied abortions face increased maternal morbidity and mortality. Research shows that without access to safe abortion services, rape survivors will resort to non-sterile or non-medical methods, leading to scarring, infection, sterilization, or death. Furthermore, up to 80 percent of rape victims in armed conflicts are girls under the age of 18, with documented cases of girls as young as eleven becoming pregnant. “Adolescents aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth—as are those in their twenties—and very young adolescents, under 15 years of age, have a fivefold increase in risk of death during pregnancy and childbirth compared with women 20 and older.”
This says nothing of the severe prolonged emotional trauma of the impregnated victim who is forced to bear the child of their rapists. These girls and women are often ostracized from their communities and many take their own lives – the result of a policy that fails to protect these innocent victims of heinous war crimes.
Denial of safe abortion services to women and girls raped in armed conflict is deadly and violates the special rights of war rape victims under the Geneva Conventions. Under the Geneva Conventions, all persons “wounded or sick” in armed conflict have the absolute right to “medical care and attention required by their condition.” No distinctions can be made on any basis other than medical need, and the Geneva Conventions explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sex. The Security Council has been assigned to investigate and report all violations of human rights in the Central African Republic,which will include the deployment of advisers who specialize in the protection of women and children. However, the U.S. abortion restrictions will thwart any U.N. efforts to address human rights violations in a fully comprehensive way if it does not address the deadly consequences girls and women raped in war are forced to suffer daily as a result of the U.S. policy.
Neither the Security Council advisors who will be deployed in the Central African Republic to focus on the protection of women and children, nor the Central African Republic’s own abortion law, which allows abortions for rape victims, will be able to save the lives of female rape victims who have become pregnant during this conflict. The enforcement of the “no abortion” provision is a violation of international humanitarian law and our obligation to war victims under the Geneva Convention. Angelina Jolie said in her June address to the Security Council, “Because the world has not treated sexual violence as a priority, there have only been a handful of prosecutions for the many hundreds of thousands of survivors. They suffer most at the hands of their rapists, but they are also victims of a culture of impunity.”
The abortion ban attached to U.S. humanitarian aid has influenced the treatment standards for impregnated victims of war rape globally. The Global Justice Center’s August 12th Campaign seeks to bring justice for survivors of sexual violence in conflict. It is the responsibility of the Security Council to address sexual violence in war zones but all countries, including the U.S., have the responsibility to act now to end medical discrimination against war rape victims.
August 12th Marks Anniversary of U.S. Signing of the Geneva Conventions – Now It’s Time for President Obama to Fulfill this Pledge for Girls & Women Raped in War
August 12, 2013
Why is a young girl in the Central African Republic raped & impregnated, then DENIED access to a safe abortion, when abortion is legal in CAR for cases of rape?
It’s because of a US ban on humanitarian aid.
On August 12, 1949, the United States signed the Geneva Conventions. Yet, 64 years later we are not living up to our pledge. We provide life-saving medical care to the those “wounded and sick” in war – unless they are young girls and women rape and impregnated through war rape.
That is why, on August 12, 2011, the Global Justice Center launched its August 12th Campaign to end systemic discrimination against girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict, who are routinely denied access to safe abortions, even in lifesaving situations and when they’ve been the victim of brutal rape.
We have tremendous progress, but we need your help to WIN.
Help us end this inhumane policy – PLEASE SUPPORT OUR WORK BY DONATING TODAY.
A Few Highlights of our August 12th Campaign:
August 12th, 2011 – The Global Justice Center’s campaign begins.
September 2012 – A coalition representing over 3,300 groups, has written letters to President Obama, urging him to issue an executive order lifting U.S. abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.
January 10, 2013 – The UK announces a historic change in their policy, acknowledging that girls and women raped in armed conflict have absolute legal rights to abortions when medically necessary under the Geneva Conventions.
March 14, 2013 – For the first time in history, the UN Secretary General makes a recommendation in his annual Report on sexual violence in conflict that aid girls and women raped in armed conflict must include services to terminate an unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape.
April 8, 2013 – The Netherlands affirms the right of war rape victims to have access to safe abortion services.
June 24, 2013 – The UN Security Council unanimously passes Resolution 2106, which for the first time, explicitly calls for UN bodies and donor countries to provide “non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health.”
But We’re Not Done Yet! Our Work Continues…
This campaign is far from over! Today, Women Under Siege published a compelling piece by GJC Senior Counsel Akila Radhakrishnan, on the devastating effects of the US policy in places of conflict, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
With support from people like you, we can end to this discrimination and give a voice to women all over the world. DONATE TODAY.
In Chile, the debate over abortion has been rekindled by after the government has cruelly denied an 11-year old girl who was raped and impregnated by her mother’s partner. Instead, she is being forced to bear the child of her rapist. This young victim, Belén, faces a high risk of mortality. However, under Chilean law, she does not have the option of a safe abortion.
Since 1973, established under General Pinochet, Chile has had an abortion ban under all circumstances. This prohibition has sparked a national outrage with the fate of a child hanging in the balance between life and death.
During a recent interview, Belén said that having the baby “will be like having a doll in my arms.” Appallingly, Sebastian Piñera, the President of Chile, commended the young girl’s “depth” and “maturity” for wanting to have the child, while it is clear that he is far from understanding the “psychological truth of an 11-year-old-girl.”
Chile is one of six countries in the world that has an absolute national abortion ban, with no exception even for life, rape or incest. The case of Beatriz in El Salvador similarly sparked an international debate over abortion bans in a Latin American country. Part of our human rights work at Global Justice Center is to combat medical discrimination against women. Denial of an abortion in life-threatening cases or in cases of rape is cruel and inhumane, and a form of torture to girls and women. In life-threatening cases, it denies a woman’s essential right to life. Therefore, the Global Justice Center wrote and sent a letter to the Chilean Minister of Health, Jaime Mañalich Muxi, urging the Chilean government to allow doctors to perform a therapeutic and life-saving abortion on the 11-year old.
Each year, 47,000 preventable deaths result from unsafe abortions. This could be ameliorated by ensuring women’s access to safe abortion services. Yet, even the United States perpetuates this abomination by denying access to safe abortions for girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict. Under the Helms Amendment, the US places an abortion ban on all its humanitarian aid, even in pregnancies which result from brutal rape used as a weapon of war. For the young girls under age 18 who represent half of these rape victims, this means potentially fatal health risks, and in too many instances, drives them to risk unsafe abortions or take their own lives in desperation and despair at this injustice. The Global Justice Center works tirelessly to hold the United States to the standards set by International Humanitarian Law and ensure that we live in a world which values the lives of girls and women equal to those of boys and men.