E-letter July 2009

Women's Voices e-letter July 2009  

In this issue


Dear Friends,

Welcome to the third issue of Women's Voices, our new e-letter from the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice. In Women's Voices you will find updates and analysis on political developments, the pursuit of justice, the status of peace talks and reconciliation efforts from the perspective of women's rights activists from four conflict situations — Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Darfur and the Central African Republic (CAR). We are working in these contexts because they are the situations under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In addition to Women's Voices, we also produce a regular legal newsletter, Legal Eye on the ICC, with summaries and gender analysis of legal developments, judicial decisions, announcements of arrest warrants and victims' participation before the Court, particularly as these issues relate to the prosecution of gender-based crimes.

With both online e-letters we will also update you about the programmes, legal and political advocacy, campaigns, events, and publications of the Women's Initiatives.

More information about the work of the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice and previous issues of Women’s Voices and Legal Eye on the ICC can be found on our website www.iccwomen.org.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) :: Open Letter to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820

In June the Women's Initiatives joined with partners in eastern DRC, representing over 180 Congolese organisations, calling for the United Nations to implement Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 in relation to the participation of women in peace talks and ending impunity for gender-based crimes in armed conflicts. For an overview of these Resolutions, see the Women's Voices May issue.

The Open Letter to the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, published on 17 June, draws attention to the peace process and the Peace Agreement signed between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) militia on 23 March 2009. During the peace negotiations women were excluded from the formal peace process, the negotiations, the principal delegates, and the draft texts under consideration. In what appears to be a direct contradiction of Resolution 1325, women were not engaged as participants, decision-makers or peace-builders.

The Women's Initiatives and partners are also concerned that provisions in the final Peace Agreement could provide amnesty for those who have committed gender-based crimes. In addition, there are serious concerns regarding the provisions for the integration of CNDP police and militia into the Congolese National Police and Armed Forces respectively.

The Open Letter includes recommendations to the UN to strengthen the implementation of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 including:

  1. That UN-appointed Mediators and Special Envoys for peace talks should be required to demonstrate implementation of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 in the commission of their duties;
  2. That the UN appoints more women as special representatives and envoys and creates gender benchmarks such that no less than 45% and no more than 55% of individuals of either gender be appointed as Chief Mediators or Special Envoys for peace processes over a two-year cycle; and
  3. That the process, outcomes and implementation of UN-sponsored Peace Talks fully comply with UN Resolutions 1325, 1820 and international law.

The letter was sent to the Secretary-General in the lead-up to his completion of a report on Resolution 1820, presented to the Security Council on 30 June.

Download the Open Letter to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (English) (Française).

For more information about the Peace Agreement please see the Women's Voices May issue.


Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) :: Declaration from Women of the East

On 5-6 June 2009, the Collective of Indigenous Women and Vulnerable Households (EFIM) and the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice organised a workshop in Goma for 20 women's organisations from the Kivus and Ituri, eastern DRC, to review the Peace Agreement signed between the CNDP militia and DRC Government. Until this time women had not seen the Agreement and were unaware of its provisions and the implications for women and communities.

The workshop produced the Declaration from Women of the East describing their concerns about the Peace Agreement. These include:

  1. The lack of representation of women in the preparation and the conclusion of the March Peace Agreement and the persistence of impunity for those who have committed crimes of sexual violence;
  2. The slow pace of the return and reintegration process for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees and the priority given by the Government to the widows, wounded, and orphans of former CNDP combatants, to the detriment of other victims; and
  3. The ambiguous commitment by both the government and the militia group to the Peace Agreement and the continuation of violence in the east.

As result of these concerns women at the Goma workshop called for:

  1. The government to fundamentally reform the army and the security services, to take more responsibility for the provision of social welfare services, the payment of salaries to the military and to review the amnesty law to avoid impunity for sexual violence;
  2. All parties to respect the commitments (in the Agreement) and compliance by the Government with the DRC constitution; and
  3. The Government to stop the promotion of 'criminals' (in the Army and Government), to reinstate effective control over national territory (in the east), to re-establish customary legal power, and to rapidly define and implement programs for the integration of victims of the conflict.

'Peace sustains itself on justice, and justice builds peace.' — Participants of the Goma workshop, June 2009.


Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) :: Rape of 23 women inmates at Goma's central prison

On the evening of 22 June 2009, 23 women were raped during an attempted escape from Goma's central prison by a group of imprisoned male ex-militia members, who had been incarcerated for murder, rape and other grave crimes. The inmates demolished the women's cell, broke in through the roof and raped all the women. Most of the women have been treated at the local hospital.

In Goma's central prison all the detainees, including civilian women, men and children, former rebels and violent offenders, are kept within the same prison compound. The prison is reported to be overcrowded and to have very poor living conditions. Currently it holds at least 800 prisoners while its real capacity is to accommodate around 150 prisoners. Among the detainees, approximately 500 are military, 300 are civilians and of them, 23 are women, who were raped in the attack.

The Women's Initiatives' partners also report that while none of the inmates escaped, the incident also resulted in the death of one policeman and one prisoner and the wounding of 12 others.


Sudan :: Women and the election in Sudan

Passing of the elections law

On 7 July 2008 the Sudanese parliament passed the elections bill after a long debate. This law lays the groundwork for the first fair elections in the country since 1989. International media reported that the opposition parties and south Sudanese former rebels said they only accepted the new law to avoid delaying the election and feared it could give an unfair advantage to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party.

Sudanese electronic media reported that the most important features of the bill are that it establishes a mixed electoral system (majority election system and proportional representation), secures the participation of women by 25% and provides the opportunity for expatriates to participate in presidential elections and national referenda.

Women and the quota

The current parliament was formed after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on 9 January 2005 and the entrance of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and other opposition parties (such as the National Coalition) into the political arena. Women considered this process as the first step towards a genuine recognition of them as partners at the decision-making level. However, women's participation remains weak and relatively small: only 80 parliamentarians are women, representing just 18% of the parliament. The women parliamentarians have been appointed by their political parties according to the CPA and the majority are in the National Congress Party (NCP), the ruling party, and the SPLM.

Most Sudanese women are advocating for equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes, with particular emphasis on political participation and leadership as recommended in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 'Women in power and decision-making', paragraph 182. Sudanese women consider the quota mechanism as a means to put women in positions of decision-making, and as a means to address historical discrimination caused by cultural and social factors in gender equity in political participation. It also forces governments to commit to procedures benefiting women, by ensuring women's representation in government structures is no less than 30%. This bold step reflects the importance of women's political and legislative rights, and opens the door to women's political rights becoming grounded in reality.

Women demonstrate against using a separate list of women candidates

On 7 July 2008 around 300 Sudanese women demonstrated in front of the parliament premises against using a separate list of women candidates. The protesters want women to be on the main party lists, rather than separated. 'We are not different as women, we are different as political parties,' Mariam al-Mahdi, from the opposition Umma Party told Reuters.

The demonstration was coordinated by the political women's platform and Sudanese women's movement groups . A second demonstration outside parliament was held on 8 July involving around 500 individuals representing organisations, particularly Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) and political parties, youth associations and women and men journalists.

Despite the flaws of the new election law, the real challenge for the Sudanese women's movement is how to take advantage of this opportunity for Sudanese women to achieve representation.

Darfur and the election

Census figures are supposed to define the constituencies for the election due in February 2010, however, it is reported that many consider the census results are wrong and not reliable. The census, released on 21 May 2009, began in April 2008 and was reportedly hampered by bad weather, poor mapping, a shortage of questionnaires, and insecurity. It has also been reported that Darfur rebel groups, which had demanded a postponement of the census until the signing of a peace deal, expressed their opposition to the ongoing census operations in Darfur. Rebels said they do not trust the outcome of the census because millions of Darfurians are displaced, and Khartoum plans to count new Arab immigrants who have recently arrived from neighbouring countries.

The Women's Initiatives' partners in Darfur reported that Darfurians living in IDP and refugee camps, and Darfur's movements, including Minni Minawi, the senior Presidential assistant and sole signatory of the Darfur Peace Agreement, rejected the latest census and called on the Government to abandon its outcome. Sudanese electronic media quoted Minawi as saying, 'The census was distorted and non-comprehensive.' Senior IDPs are reported to have said they do not think that anyone looking for a fair election would participate in the proposed February election.

Women's leaders in different camps have expressed their disappointment, saying they are afraid that women may not be able to participate effectively in the election as almost 95% are totally ignorant of elections. Much needs to be done by different stakeholders to empower and enable Darfurian women to participate.

Women in Sudan said they need to hold meetings, workshops and seminars to unify, agree on a minimum agenda and stand on one platform to address their common goals. Top agenda items would be raising the awareness of political party leaders about the negative consequences of separate women's lists and establishing a coordination system between the political parties and women's institutions. Women leaders in political parties need specific training to enhance their capacity as members and candidates. Suggested areas of training are:

  1. Data collection and evaluation according to gender;
  2. Delivering speeches and negotiating with voters; and
  3. Supporting women's rights.


Uganda :: Women from the Greater North meet at the Women's Dialogue on Accountability and Reconciliation workshop in Soroti

On 1-4 June 2009, the Women's Initiatives organised the Women's Dialogue on Accountability and Reconciliation workshop in Soroti, northern Uganda. The four-day workshop gathered 40 women's rights and peace activists from the Greater North for training on the documentation of gender-based violence and the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreements, specifically the Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation. Although the final peace agreement is not yet signed, the Women's Initiatives has been working with women from the Greater North for the past two years to ensure women understand the agreements, have an established platform to influence their implementation and are ready to be active participants in the construction of justice, peace and reconciliation mechanisms.

The workshop included presentations from officials of the Special War Crimes Division of the High Court of Uganda (WCD), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with staff of the Women's Initiatives.

During the Dialogue, women expressed particular concerns about accountability for state actors and for 'peace spoilers' — those who sabotaged earlier conclusions to the peace process. Women also stated the importance of the Special War Crimes Division of the High Court of Uganda* (WCD) to include all the provisions of the Rome Statute, including those intended to safeguard the legal rights of women and of victims/survivors. The participants called for women to be full partners in the implementation of the Peace Agreement and for women to be appointed to senior levels of the institutions and bodies to be established in this process.

* The WCD is in the process of being established to try individuals alleged to have committed serious crimes during the conflict in northern Uganda.


Uganda :: Women meeting with the Special War Crimes Division of the High Court of Uganda (WCD)

At the end of the Dialogue, a meeting was held with officials from the WCD, including Judges, Prosecutors, the Registrar, and Investigators. In the meeting, the Greater North Women's Voices for Peace Network (GNWVPN) and the Women's Initiatives presented a detailed document of questions and proposals for the WCD regarding the composition of the Court and its procedures. Among the questions posed to the officials were:

  1. In addition to the LRA, will the state actors also be tried before the Court?
  2. How will the WCD be accessible for the communities most affected by the conflict?
  3. Could trials be held in northern Uganda?
  4. Will victims have access to the justice process?
  5. Will the court use the death penalty as part of its sentencing structure? There was strong opposition to the death penalty, as expressed by the women from the Greater North, 'The death penalty does not promote reconciliation, how can one reconcile with a dead person?'


Central African Republic (CAR) :: Confirmation of charges against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

On 15 June 2009, Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmed five of the eight charges brought by the Prosecutor against Bemba for crimes committed on the territory of the Central African Republic from 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003.

The Chamber found that there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is criminally responsible as a person effectively acting as military commander for murder constituting a crime against humanity and a war crime, rape constituting a crime against humanity and a war crime and pillaging constituting a war crime.

Among the charges not confirmed by the Judges are torture (based on incidents of rape) as a crime against humanity and outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime. The Women's Initiatives is preparing to file before the ICC to challenge the legal basis on which the Chamber declined to confirm all the charges relating to gender-based crimes.

Pre-Trial Chamber II referred the case for trial before a Trial Chamber, whose bench will be announced by the Presidency of the Court.

The Confirmation of Charges decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber II is analysed in detail in the July issue of the Legal Eye on the ICC.


Brief background

  1. The CAR Government referred the situation to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) on 22 December 2004.
  2. The Prosecutor announced the opening of an investigation in the Central African Republic (CAR) on 22 May 2007.
  3. On 23 May 2007 an arrest warrant was issued under seal and unsealed on 24 May 2007.
  4. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was arrested on 24 May 2008 by the Belgian authorities during a visit to Brussels.
  5. He was then transferred and surrendered to the ICC in The Hague on 3 July 2008.
  6. Bemba made his initial appearance before Pre-Trial Chamber III of the ICC on 4 July 2008.
  7. His confirmation of charges hearing took place from 12-15 January 2009.
  8. A decision on the confirmation of charges was issued on 15 June 2009.


Reaction of survivors following Bemba's confirmation of charges

The Women's Initiatives' partners in CAR report that victims/survivors are pleased that charges have been confirmed by the ICC against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. They believe this assists with the fight against impunity and the prosecution of serious crimes committed in the Central African Republic.

Women activists in CAR say that women victims/survivors are expecting justice, reparations and their right to 'the truth'. Many victims have waited a long time to see those who committed the most serious crimes during 2002-2003 prosecuted before the ICC. While waiting for this moment some victims have died, others are living with HIV/AIDS and many have been stigmatised and excluded from their families and communities. According to women's organisations in CAR, 'The ICC decision gives us hope that justice will be done for the atrocious crimes we suffered.'

According to CAR activists, despite the criticisms and flaws, the ICC remains an effective instrument in the fight against impunity — 'If the local tribunals cannot dispense justice, there has to be an independent international body to demand that predators and dictators be held to account. Moreover, and especially as a principle, all people who have committed these crimes should be pursued by the ICC and punished in the same manner.'


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