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Rape as an Act of Genocide: From Rwanda to Iraq
by OHCHR, IPS, Rutgers University, agencies
Rape as an Act of Genocide: From Rwanda to Iraq, by Lindah Mogeni. (Inter Press Service)
The governments of Rwanda and Iraq have agreed to work together to fight rape as a weapon of genocide, noting disturbing similarities between sexual violence in Iraq today to the Rwandan genocide twenty years ago.
Just as targeted rape was a tool of the Rwandan genocide, an estimated 3000 Iraqi Yazidis under ISIL’s captivity are currently facing acts of genocide and targeted sexual violence, including sexual slavery.
Given Rwanda’s experience with sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide, Iraq’s permanent mission to the UN has signed a joint communique, an official statement establishing a relationship, with Rwanda’s permanent mission to the UN.
The joint effort will be aimed at sharing action plans to rehabilitate women victims and reintegrate them into their communities.
Rwanda was the first country where rape was recognised as a weapon of genocide by an international court. This court case was the subject of a documentary, The Uncondemned, which recently premiered at the UN.
The documentary is centred around the case of Jean Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba in Rwanda between April 1993 and June 1994, who was brought before the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR).
Akayesu was found guilty of nine counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, including the landmark conviction of rape as an act of genocide, in 1998.
Prior to the film screening, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, described the importance of recognising rape as an act of genocide.
Bangura paid tribute to the Rwandan women who testified in the Akayesu trial as well as two Iraqi Yazidi women, one of whom is an ISIL rape survivor, present at the screening, and praised them for “giving other women the confidence to emerge from the shadows.”
A report to the UN human rights council has found that ISIL – also known as ISIS – has committed the crime of genocide against the Yazidis, an ethnically Kurdish religious group.
“The film demonstrates that only when survivors and civil society come together and join forces with investigators, prosecutors and policy makers, that justice can be delivered in its fullest sense,” said Bangura.
“The silver lining in these encounters is the exceptional courage and resilience of the rape victims to overcome their traumatic experience…they defied traditions and taboos by standing and speaking up, despite the fear of stigma and rejection or retribution from perpetrators,” said Jeanne D’arc Byaje, the Charge d’Affaires to the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN.
Thousands of people were targeted with sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide, said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng.
According to Byaje, in a span of 22 years since the genocide, Rwanda has “been able to reverse the deplorable situation by eliminating gender-based abuse and violence to increase the capacity of women and girls to protect themselves.”
Byaje called for “an international community that is a partner and not a bystander…and that is willing to work towards long-term efforts to promote unity and reconciliation.”
Iraq’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Mohamed Ali Ahakim, similarly appealed to the international community for help with the dire situation faced by Yazidi, as well as other minorities, women and children currently under ISIL”s captivity.
“Young women and children have been specifically targeted by ISIL and are being systematically sold in slave markets sometimes for a dollar or a pack of cigarettes…this is a tragedy that has not been experienced before in any of Iraq’s diverse communities,” said Ahakim.
However, Ahakim said that the problem is not confined to the current situation – “The main problem is what we are going to do next once we liberate Iraq and free the young women and children…I don’t have the ability to comprehend the difficulties that will be faced trying to infuse normality into these communities,” said Ahakim.
From the testimonies given at the UN, justice is the most crucial component of any next-step action plans for survivors.
“I decided to shame the act, I decided to put it out there, I wanted the truth to be known, but most importantly I wanted justice…what happened to us was horrible but we are still here…and that is because of justice” said one Rwandan witness, known as “Witness JJ”.
Yazidi rape survivor of ISIL, 18 year old Lea Le, who escaped her captors by tying scarves together and using them to climb out of a window along with some friends, said that “we should not hide what happened, it is very important for justice to be carried out…it is unfair that survivors have to wait so long for justice.”
Asked about the impact of the Akayesu case on other war crimes trials, Ambassador Pierre R. Prosper, the lead prosecutor during the Akayesu trial, admitted that there have been some subsequent prosecutions as result of the international precedent set by Akayesu’s case.
However, “we have lost the momentum, the political will to deal with the issue of not just rape but other genocide atrocities in general…we are waving the flag of saying this is wrong but we are not acting,” said Prosper.
Prosper called for governments to direct resources to relevant entities to pursue accountability and ensure justice.
Joint call by UN Rapporteur on Violence against Women and all other global and regional mechanisms to end femicide and gender-based violence
Speaking ahead of the International Day on the Elimination of Violence against women, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Inter- American Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, the United Nations Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention (MESECVI) and the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence of the Council of Europe (GREVIO), * as key global and regional women''s rights expert mechanisms, jointly call for intensification of international, regional and national efforts for prevention of femicides and gender based violence.
Violence against women is rooted in inequalities and discrimination against women and its prevention and eradication must be grounded in gender equality and empowerment of women.
Violence against women, as a form of discrimination against women and a human rights violation is prohibited both by the global human rights instruments – such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women - and by the regional treaties, such as the Belém do Pará Convention, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of women in Africa (Maputo protocol), and the Istanbul Convention.
Monitoring work at both global and regional levels has shown that:
Femicides or gender related killings of women, and sexual and other forms of gender based violence against women and girls are widespread and persistent human rights violations.
There is widespread impunity due to the lack of implementation of the global and regional instruments on women''s rights and violence against women and the failure to turn these into real protection of every woman and girl.
There are significant gaps and shortcomings in national legislation and prevention systems often combined with tolerance of such violence, exacerbated by a lack of reliable and disaggregated data, the absence of adequate risk assessments, and concealment and underreporting of gender-related killings, rapes and other forms of gender based violence against women.
All States must, as a matter of urgency and in collaboration with civil society and other stakeholders, step up their efforts to prevent and eradicate femicides, rapes and other forms of gender based violence against women and girls.
All stakeholders are urged to guarantee each and every woman and girl a life free from violence by applying holistic integrated policies on:
PREVENTION: fully endorsing, incorporating and implementing global and regional treaties on women''s rights and violence against women (CEDAW and its Optional Protocol, theBelém do Pará Convention, the Maputo Protocol and the Istanbul Convention);
PROTECTION: providing shelters and safe places, crisis centers, protection orders and services for women and their children survivors of violence and integrating gender perspective in the work of legal professionals and law enforcements officials dealing with violence against women;
PROSECUTION, including sanctions of perpetrators and providing redress and reparations for the victims and their families.
The international experts also welcome the call of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, to establish a “Gender-Related Killing of Women (Femicide) Watch” and to publish every year on the International Day on the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November) the number of femicides or gender-related killing of women, disaggregated by age and sex of the perpetrators, the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim(s), as well as information on the perpetrators’ prosecution and punishment.
Establishing a “Femicide watch” to collect, analyse and review data at the national, regional and global level will place a much needed emphasis on prevention. Each femicide should be carefully examined to identify any failure of protection, with a view to improving and further developing preventive measures.
In addition, a “Femicide watch” by its mere existence would increase awareness about femicides and other forms of gender-based violence against women and galvanise actions for its prevention.
States should increase their efforts to use all available global and regional women’s human rights instruments and experts’ mechanisms to put in place effective systems to prevent and end femicide and gender-based violence against women and girls.
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Give priority attention to children who have been left behind
by UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
Statement by the UN Child Rights Experts for Universal Children''s Day marking the 27th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
On November 20, as the Convention on the Rights of the Child commemorates its 27th anniversary, UN child rights experts urge Governments in all regions to spare no efforts to ensure universal implementation of the most widely ratified human rights instrument.
Since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, much progress has been made in the protection of children’s rights. This progress has been achieved in part because the Convention has become a truly global instrument guiding the enactment of legislation, the design and enforcement of public policies and the setup of institutions to secure the protection of children’s rights. Moreover, the Convention has been reinforced by the adoption of three Optional Protocols, namely on the involvement of children in armed conflict, on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and on a communications procedure.
“Despite this significant progress, important challenges compromise the universal realization of children’s rights,” the experts highlighted.
“It is high time to move from universal ratification to universal implementation and to give priority attention to children who have been left behind - especially those in vulnerable situations such as girls, children with disabilities, children living in poverty, children belonging to minorities and indigenous groups, and child victims of violence, conflict and crime,” they added.
The principles and provisions of the Convention are as relevant as ever. They constitute a crucial reference for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda and for the safeguarding of children’s rights in the face of humanitarian and financial crises and other pressing concerns, including the risks associated with the use of information and communication technologies and the impact of climate change and environmental deterioration.
“As we commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced to abandon their homes. More than half of the refugee population are children, often pressed to flee their countries to escape unspeakable acts of violence, and embarking on a perilous journey of uncertainty and fear in the hope of finding a place of safety where life can be given a chance. These pressing protection concerns must be addressed with a deep sense of urgency and as a shared responsibility,” the experts highlighted.
2016 also marks the 20th anniversary the UN Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children and the 10th anniversary of the UN Study on Violence against Children. These ground-breaking studies have shown how the Convention on the Rights of the Child can help shape an action-oriented policy agenda, ignite policy commitments, and support tangible implementation and monitoring efforts, while also mobilizing global advocacy and support to prevent and address serious violations of children’s rights.
Building upon this important process, the United Nations is now embarking on the development of a third landmark initiative: an in-depth Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, called for by the General Assembly. Children deprived of liberty are amongst the most vulnerable, invisible and forgotten in societies around the globe. Held in closed institutions, psychiatric centres or adult prisons, often awaiting trial for long periods of time and enduring inhumane conditions, these children often lack genuine opportunities to access justice and challenge the legality of their detention, and to benefit from education and vocational training, necessary health services and long-lasting social reintegration.
“As the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda moves forward, these children have been left behind. The global study provides a unique opportunity to promote the safeguarding of their rights and create opportunities for their fullest development. We welcome the designation of Manfred Nowak as the independent expert who will lead the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, and express our strong commitment to collaborate closely in the steps ahead. We call on Member States and all stakeholders to support this crucial process".
Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
Over the years, the optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child have been widely ratified and become a decisive reference to safeguard the protection of children’s rights.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict is now in force in 166 countries, having been most recently ratified by Pakistan. States parties have committed to ban the compulsory recruitment of children under 18 in armed forces and to ensure that those under the age of 18 do not take part in hostilities.
The Optional Protocol on the sale children, child prostitution and child pornography provides detailed guidance to States for the prevention, prohibition and criminalization of the sale and all forms of sexual exploitation of children, as well as to fight impunity for those offences within and across borders, ensuring accountability of perpetrators and redress for child victims. The Protocol is in force in 173 States and nearing universal ratification.
The Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure foresees a system of individual and State’s complaints before the Committee on the Rights of the Child to address the violations of children’s rights, as well as a mechanism of inquiry that the Committee can initiate to investigate grave and systematic violations of the rights of child. This protocol has been ratified by 29 states and signed by 50.
“On Universal Children’s Day, we call upon all states which have not yet done so, to take steps towards the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and of its three optional protocols,” the experts urged.
* Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child; Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children; Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. http://bit.ly/1fVlqsS
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