Tag Archives: Rape

Launch of the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict

8 May

I was so happy to see that the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict launched this past Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia.  I’m excited to see where this campaign will go and what it will accomplish, because I think it massive potential.

The new campaign, the idea for which originated at a conference held by the Nobel Women’s Initiative last year, brings together Nobel Laureates, advocacy organizations, and regional/local groups in a coordinated international effort to demand

“…urgent and bold political leadership to prevent rape in conflict, to protect civilians and rape survivors, and call for justice for all—including effective prosecution of those responsible”.

Twenty-Five organizations sit on the advisory board of the campaign including Amnesty International, Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Femmes Africa Solidarite, The Global Fund for Women, The Panzi Hospital, The Women’s League of Burma, and many others.  It has also been endorsed by many prominent advocates, celebrities and Nobel Prize winners, including Sean Penn, Gloria Steinem, Charlize Theron, Aung San Suu Kyi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

This campaign will focus initially on 4 countries experiencing high levels of sexual violence, Burma, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. The organizers recognize that not only is immediate action needed in these areas, but these areas are also where the campaign can have the  “biggest impact in the shortest amount of time“. In addition the campaign, also encourages people to take action to help stop rape and gender violence in the own communities the world over, through events organized to raise awareness about these issues (both locally and globally) or volunteer efforts with local women’s groups and shelters.

The first week of the campaign has been designated as a “Week of Action”. Visit the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict’s website to pledge your support. You can also find out about events taking place worldwide this week, online actions you can take no matter where you are, and ways to donate to advisory board organizations.


Balancing Celebration and Caution in Burma

11 Apr

Photographer: Christopher Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

Newspapers have been heralding the election last week of Aung San Suu Kyi to the Burmese Parliament. Pictures of the victorious Suu Kyi speaking to thousands to cheering supporters and headlines pronouncing the “…dawn of a new era” in Burma covered the front pages. The announcement of the election of the Nobel Laureate, opposition leader and former political prisoner, who spent nearly two decades under house arrest, was no doubt an important and symbolic step towards a hopeful democratic transition in the small South East Asian nation. But while the world is congratulating one of it’s most celebrated women on her electoral victory, thousands of other Burmese women are continuing to suffer at the hands of the brutal military that still holds the majority of power in the country.

Mass atrocities have been common place in the minority states of Eastern Burma since the military regime took control of the government decades ago and decided to use scorched earth tactics to put down rebellions in outlying states like Kachin.  In addition to pillaging and razing homes and villages and forcing their populations to relocate, the military has faced accusations of unlawful killings, torture, forced labor, the use of child soldiers  and the use of indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas.

There have also been widespread reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence and slavery being used as weapons of war against ethnically Chin, Karen and Rohingya women. From March to November 2011, more than 81 rapes were reported to human rights activists along the Thai-Burma border and as refugees poured into China from the minority state of Kachin, so did the horrific tales of rape. Human Rights Watch released a report last month on various human rights abuses taking place in Kachin, which included detailed descriptions by witness of the atrocities being committed against women in this state. These reports include the gang-rape of a young woman by 4 soldiers, and the abduction of two women who were taken to a military encampment where they were  forced from tent to tent and repeatedly raped by officers. These events occurred just months before the countries landmark elections.

These continued abuses exemplify the need to balance the celebration and hope surrounding the election of Aung San Suu Kyi with caution. While these glimpses of democracy are welcome, under the countries constitution it is the military that still holds the power, with little to no accountability to the civilian government that Suu Kyi and her colleagues in the National League for Democracy were elected into. Due to this, it is yet to be seen how much real change everyday Burmese citizens and particularly those from ethnic minority groups, will see as a result of these elections.

In the excitement that has followed the elections, nations throughout the world have begun to “mull over” their options for lifting diplomatic and financial sanctions against Burma. South-East Asian heads of state who met at last weeks ASEAN Summit ( Association of Southeast Asian Nations) called for western states to immediately lift all sanctions, which would be music to the ears of many investors.

Several major European corporations have been pushing the EU to lift their sanctions quickly, as they are eager to move in ahead of American rival companies. While it is likely that the EU will ease restrictions it has not yet stated what that will entail. David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, is expected to visit Burma this week, making him the highest ranking western leader to visit the country (the US began to thaw diplomatic relations last December when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited).

The United States has also begun to ease travel bans on Burmese leaders and restrictions on financial services and investments. Clinton also announced the Obama Administrations plans to appoint an ambassador and organize a USAID program for the country. The rewards that Clinton announced were tempered with her accompanying firm calls for improvements in human rights and continued political reform.

Human rights advocates have argued that the much of the progress that has been made can be attributed to international pressure put on Burma, and warn that the lifting of sanctions too quickly takes away a major leverage point that could be used to urge further reform.

Western states need to acknowledge and reward what progress has been made in Burma, but the level of those rewards must be on par with the level of real progress and change that has been seen. All sanctions can not just be lifted when civilians are still being targeted and killed, children are being recruited as soldiers and porters and women face a continuous threat of sexual assault.


I also wanted to share 2 great opinion pieces by Burmese refugees (and activist leaders) in North America:

Still Waiting for Reform in Burma – By Yee Htun, Coordinator for the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.

Burma – What Elections Mean to the Ethnic People – By Myra Dahgaypaw, Board Member of Karen American Communities Foundation and is a 2010 Carl Wilkens Fellow with Genocide Intervention Network (now United to End Genocide).

International Women’s Day: Focus on Women in Conflict Areas

8 Mar

This blog was originally written for United to End Genocide in honor of International Women’s Day

Today serves as a day to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions that women around the world have made to their societies. However, it is also a day to reflect on the challenges that women continue to confront.  Perhaps nowhere are these challenges more prominent than in conflict zones, where women are faced with having to protect themselves and their families as they strive for peace in their communities. Violence against women is a tragic theme that touches every conflict our organization works on.

Violence Against Women in United to End Genocide Conflict Areas

In Darfur, women face brutal attacks when Janjaweed militias or government troops storm their villages. These women continue to remain vulnerable in refugee and internally displaced person camps, particularly when collecting firewood or water. These women have reported having to make unbelievable choices – send their husbands or sons out to collect the wood where they would be killed, or make the journey themselves and be raped.

For months, rumors have been circulating about the use of sexual violence in Syria. While many of the confirmed victims have been boys and men, UN officials believe women are largely underreporting rapes. Syrian security forces have also found that the threat of raping the female relatives of detainees can be used as a form of coercion.

Since last March, more than 80 cases of rape have been reported by human rights groups on the Thai – Burma border. Meanwhile, a recent flair-up of violence in the minority state of Kachin has sent refugees fleeing across the Chinese border with horrific tales of violent rapes by Burmese soldiers.

Sexual violence is an epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which the UN Special Representative Margot Wallström on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence has called “the rape capital of the world”.

International Community’s Response to Violence Against Women

For centuries, this type of violence against women was seen as an unfortunate side effect, or even a spoil of war. However, today mass rape is increasingly recognized as a strategic tactic and weapon of war and the orchestrators of these atrocities can now face charges of crimes against humanity. Since that time, the international community has made attempts to curb sexual and gender-based violence, hold perpetrators accountable, and mitigate the other effects of conflict on women.

These efforts have been welcome progress, but much more still needs to be done to address the needs of women in conflict. While UN resolutions 1325 and 1820 laid out specific requirements for states to consider gender perspectives when addressing conflicts, conflict-related humanitarian crises, and peace processes, neither resolution has been fully implemented.

Today, too many women are still being targeted by government forces and rebels around the world, who know that attacking them will help break down the societies they are trying desperately to control. Survivors of violence and sexual assault often lack access to proper medical and psychosocial services. Displaced women rarely have safe or secure access to even basic necessities such as food and water. Too often the voices of women are still absent from crucial negotiations that could bring their communities peace.

Everyday women’s rights and human rights advocates — both those affected by conflict and elsewhere around the world — work tirelessly to keep these issues on the global agenda, so that future generations will never know these atrocities. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s important to remember the mothers, sisters and daughters living in areas of conflict and to ensure that their voices are not silenced.

Syria: A reminder that women are not the only victims of sexual violence.

24 Feb

What started months ago as peaceful protests in Syria has descended into a violent conflict, which has left an estimated 6,000 dead. As I sit writing this in Washington DC, the Syrian government continues to shell civilian areas, most notably the city of Homs, which has been under near constant bombardment for nearly three weeks, leading to the deaths of likely hundreds (though numbers are nearly impossible to confirm due to a lack of media or humanitarian access), including the recent deaths of 2 western journalists. But bombs and tanks are only a portion of the atrocities taking place in the troubled state.

Yesterday a United Nations panel released a new report accusing the Syrian government of committing Crimes Against Humanity. Although this report focused predominately on where responsibility lies for these crimes, it once again gave a rundown of the atrocities committed, ranging from the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, to arbitrary arrests and torture (including sexual assault), that have been the primary focus of previous UN reports.

Rumors of the use of sexual violence by Syrian forces have been circulating since early last summer.  While there were numerous stories being told of women being detained by authorities and raped, little could be confirmed in these early months by human rights groups or the media. These stories fed into not only the worst fears of women and girls in Syria, but the men who care about them. These fears proved to be a useful tool in Syria, where reports state that during detention and interrogation Security Forces would often threaten to rape men’s female relatives.

By November, rumors gave way to fact, when the independent international inquiry commission released their first report on the “gross human rights abuses” committed in Syria. While the report acknowledge the likely use of rape against women, it claimed to have little evidence of these attacks*.  However, the report provided alarming details on the use of sexual violence and torture  against men and in many cases boys, some as young as 11, who were being held in detention. Testimonies told of the use of rape, forced oral sex and other forms of sexual torture by security forces. Victims and witnesses stated that these atrocities were often conducted publicly in front of other detainees (including family members).

As illustrated in the examples above, sexual violence has proved to be both an effective  tool for the Syrian armed forces. While attacks on men had in some cases physical effects, as did other forms of physical torture, there appears to have been a large psychological motive behind these abuses. Syrian Security Forces played off of the fear, humiliation and dishonor that these attacks (and the threats made against the women in their lives) instilled.

These testimonies from Syria serve as an unfortunate reminder that women are not the only victims of sexual violence in war zones. The idea that women can be the only targets of these abuses is an assumption that we too often make. And one which may hamper attempts to curb the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict.

~Apologies for this being a somewhat hastily written piece that’s more my collection of random thoughts on the atrocities in Syria, than any great analysis.

* The report specifically details  reasons for women’s likely under-reporting of sexual assaults, including the stigma attached to rape in Syria.

Rape as a Weapon of War: Ending Impunity

2 Dec

Blog written by Rebecca Dennis for United to End Genocide

For 16 days a year – from Nov. 25th, the international day for the elimination of violence against women, to Dec. 10th, International Human Rights Day – individuals, organizations, and even governments shine a light on the issue of sexual and gender based violence. Today marks the mid-point of the 2011 16 Days campaign. Campaigns like this and all the other hard work that has been done over the past decade and a half has led to much greater awareness of these issues. It is now recognized that in many violent conflicts around the world, rape is not an unfortunate side effect of war – it is in fact a strategic weapon of war. The good news is that with increased awareness, more perpetrators of violence against women in war are held accountable for their actions. The bad news is that way too many women are still vulnerable to rape as a weapon of war, and far too many victims are still denied justice.

In recent years, the International Criminal Court has brought numerous rape charges against the orchestrators of mass rape in conflict zones such as Darfur. And just this week, former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo was turned over to the International Criminal Court after being indicted on charges of crimes against humanity (including rape and murder) committed in the aftermath of contested elections in Cote d’Ivoire late last year.

In Libya, allegations of sexual violence by pro-government forces drew international attention last spring when a woman was arrested after speaking to international journalists about her rape. The International Criminal Court is now working to conduct investigations into the involvement of Gaddafi regime officials, who may have been involved in organizing the hundreds of other rapes reported over the last 9 months during the revolution there.

In other post-conflict regions, justice and accountability have been slow in coming. The recent trial of former Bosnian soldier Sasa Baricanin made headlines in November when he was convicted for war crimes – including murder, enslavement and rape – that he committed during the conflict in Bosnia. The conflict and ethnic cleansing campaign in Bosnia in the 1990’s became notorious for the soldiers’ strategic use of sexual violence. The UN estimates that there were as many as 50,000 rapes during the course of the war, but the trial of Sasa Baricanin marks only the 30th conviction on charges of rape since the conflict ended nearly two decades ago.

Yesterday, the UNSC placed a militia leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo under international sanctions for his role in organizing mass rapes in Eastern Congo. However, rape is an epidemic problem in Congo, where on average 1,100 rapes are reported each month, and over 200,000 women have been raped during the conflicts there.

While we welcome every trial and conviction of perpetrators of rape, in too many conflicts around the world the organizers and perpetrators of sexual violence are still allowed to operate with impunity. A report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council released earlier this week, found evidence of the use of sexual violence by Syrian Security forces against women and children, including young boys. Meanwhile, in Burma, where the government has a reputation for using rape as a weapon — particularly in villages known to oppose the current government regime — more than 80 rapes have been reported to human rights groups in the past year.

The advances that we have seen in recent years are only the tip of the iceberg. We need to continue to push for justice for the victims of sexual violence in conflict. The human rights community must continue to raise awareness about these issues and the international community must demand that proper investigations are conducted when there are reports of the use of mass strategic rape. We can put an end to impunity enjoyed by those who use rape as a weapon of war.