By Darren George
As part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, WITNESS is highlighting this year’s campaign through a series of playlists on the Human Rights Channel and blog posts. I am interning with the Gender-Based Violence team here and have helped edit the first playlist, which focuses on sexual violence during and after conflict. Below I discuss a selection of videos from the playlist.
In a number of current and past armed conflicts in Africa, rape has been used as a terrifying tool of war. From the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sierra Leone, sexual and gender-based violence have introduced a unique aspect of civilian atrocity during conflict, and rendered men, women, and children victims and survivors of heinous war crimes.
Rape as a Weapon of War in the Democratic Republic of Congo
A Journeyman Pictures documentary on rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) depicts just how widely rape has been implemented as a tactic of war, and how large the scope of its effects has been.
As the video highlights, the systematic killing of men has reduced villages and small towns to populations almost if not entirely, devoid of them. From this arrangement, armed fighters commit rape and sexual violence unimpeded – with girls and women ranging from a few years old to seven-plus decades subject to sexual violence.
This continues to be part of a deliberate campaign to intimidate, humiliate and brutalize communities in the DRC. In 2004 Amnesty International reported that tens of thousands of cases of rape had been reported from 1998 to 2003 – though that figure did not reflect the total number of cases as some regions within the DRC, especially those marred by the conflict, had not reported their own numbers. In 2008, the United Nations Population Fund reported that 15,996 rapes had been reported in the DRC that year. Men have also been brutalized in this way, and a 2010 study disclosed that 22% of men in eastern DRC were victims and survivors of sexual violence.
The video below, by The Economist puts the statistics of sexual violence in the DRC in some perspective.
Gender-Based Violence in Post-Conflict Liberia and Sierra Leone
Sexual and gender-based violence has not been confined to conflict periods, but occurs post-conflict as well. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the impunity that governed those conflicts appears to have encouraged ongoing sexual violence even after the last shots were fired. As Margot Wallstrom, former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, mentioned on a visit to a women’s center in Liberia, a culture of impunity during conflict could quite possibly endanger the peace and security of women during a society’s post-conflict period.
In Sierra Leone, sexual and gender-based violence continues post-conflict. As detailed in the video below, the Rainbo Center was established to care for victims and survivors of sexual violence. According to Dr. Olabisi Cole, who runs the center, child soldiers of the war have now reached adulthood, and owing to impunity, might have been emboldened to continue waging sexual violence.
Women Are Central in Conflict Resolution and Justice
Both Sierra Leone and Liberia are emerging from gruesome civil wars that saw women and children sexually violated as part of a deliberate pattern of warfare. On former Special Representative Wallstrom’s visit to Liberia, she met with activists working towards a development of peace that includes women and the formation of a society in which justice is an integral component.
This inclusion and participation of women in post-conflict reconstruction, and a peace that takes their unique concerns into perspective is a core element of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. The resolution was unanimously adopted on October 31, 2000. It calls on countries to implement gender-conscious frameworks towards peace and reintegration and to be aware of the special circumstances of women and girls in societies moving from conflict to lasting peace and development.
An aspect of this transition from war to peace is the implementation of the judicial process to redress abuses and war crimes committed by perpetrators. Towards this end, ad hoc tribunals, national judicial processes and the International Criminal Court have been crucial institutions.
At the core of these issues is the matter of gender power imbalance. Men have long dominated many African societies, and such dominance has often resulted in violence. In conflict, this violence has been furthered to the reach of rape as a tool of war. A transition into post-conflict thus necessitates not just an end to the actual sexual and gender-based violence, but the exercise of justice and equalizing of gender relations, integrating women into the pillars of society and nation-building to ensure a peace and development that lasts and serves them – and societies – well.
Darren is a graduate student studying International Criminal Justice at John Jay College in New York and is interning with the Gender-Based Violence team at WITNESS this fall.