E-letter May 2009

Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice  
  Women's Voices E-letter  

In this issue


Dear Friends,

Welcome to the second issue of Women's Voices, our new monthly 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 monthly 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.

Gender Report Card 2008 – now in French

The 2008 Gender Report Card on the International Criminal Court is now available in French.

The Gender Report Card 2008 analyses the institutional developments at the ICC over the past 12 months as well as its substantive work in investigations, victims' participation, witness support and protection, outreach, the functioning of the legal aid programme and the work of the Trust Fund for Victims. In the French edition of the GRC, we analyse, from a gender perspective, the major judicial decisions and developments at the Court for the situations under investigation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, and for the cases arising from those situations.
The Gender Report Card 2008 provides the most comprehensive gender analysis of the ICC currently available

Click here to download a copy in French or English.

Sudan :: The impact on the ground of the ICC warrant of arrest for President Al'Bashir of Sudan

The Government of Sudan reacted aggressively to the announcement by the ICC of the issuing of the warrant of arrest on 4 March 2009 for President Al'Bashir (see March newsletter, Legal Eye on the ICC for more details on the ICC decision).

Immediately after the announcement, the Government ordered 13 international humanitarian groups to leave the country, accusing them of collaborating with the ICC. Vice-President Ali Osman said that 'whenever an organisation takes humanitarian aid as a cover to achieve a political agenda that affects the security of the country and its stability, measures are to be taken by law to protect the country and its interests'.

This expulsion creates a significant gap in the humanitarian services in Darfur. The departure of Oxfam and Save the Children UK will affect respectively more than 600,000 Sudanese and 50,000 Darfuri children. The Government dissolved and confiscated the properties of three national organisations — the Khartoum Centre for Human Rights and Environmental Development, SUDO and the Amal Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture — accusing them of violating their missions as humanitarian organisations.

UN agencies and the remaining NGOs are grappling with the impact of these decisions, trying to fill the gaps created. Working with local food relief committees and local staff hired from the expelled NGOs, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been able to reach beneficiaries in almost all locations. In Kalma camp, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are demonstrating against the Government's expulsion of the NGOs and refusing all assistance including food. WFP's one-off distribution concluded in early April. Discussions on how to meet food needs are ongoing.

On Thursday 26 March 2009 the UN Security Council appealed to Sudan to reconsider a decision to expel some aid groups in Darfur after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Al'Bashir. The statement 'stressed the importance of continuing the distribution of humanitarian assistance to all the needy in Darfur'. It has been reported that the statement was read to the media by the President of the UN Security Council, Ambassador Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam of Libya. Diplomats stated that the statement had been agreed upon unanimously by all 15 Council members.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which had signed the Agreement of Good Will and Confidence Building for the Settlement of the Problem in Darfur with the Sudanese Government on 17 February 2009 in Doha, called on the Government to reverse its decision to expel the international NGOs, saying the expulsion constitutes a clear violation of the Agreement which provides that the parties commit themselves to refrain from the harassment of IDPs and to not obstruct the delivery of humanitarian aid to the displaced. On 20 March JEM declared the suspension of its participation in the peace process until the 'return of all evicted international NGOs and resumption of their operations'.

The Women's Initiatives' partners in Sudan, especially in Kalma & Otash camps, report that women are suffering the most as a consequence of the expulsion of humanitarian organisations, as many basic services in IDP camps formerly provided by these humanitarian groups have disappeared.

Women are specifically affected by the departure of the organisations providing health services. The situation of pregnant women is of particular concern since they are not able to travel to receive medical care. Mothers with small children are unable to travel to have them vaccinated, while an outbreak of meningitis has occurred in different camps. The increasing problem of the lack of water is also affecting women, who need to leave the camps more than once a day to collect it, thus increasing their exposure to attacks by militias. Women are unable to travel for many reasons including

  1. Security;
  2. Economically — women cannot afford the cost of transportation; and
  3. Harassment by national security.

At the same time, the psychological rehabilitation and legal aid services for victims/survivors of sexual and gender-based crimes, for example those run by the Amel Centre, have stopped, as well as other projects working with women, such as income generation, protection centres and education initiatives facilitated by CHF International. Women whose husbands, sons and relatives have been arrested by the police are under extreme psychological strain, since the fate of their loved ones is unknown and the threats by the national security stop them from trying to visit their relatives in the detention centres.

On 7 May 2009 media reports indicated that Sudan had agreed last month to allow some aid and humanitarian groups back into Darfur. The UN's Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Mr John Holmes, welcomed the move. On 7 May, the Minister for Humanitarian Assistance, Haroun Lual Ruun, said Khartoum would invite new non-governmental organisations to Darfur. It is reported that he also said the Government would allow those UN agencies and NGOs remaining in the Sudanese region to 'expand their existing operations' and that the Government had 'agreed to further improve the NGOs operating environment by easing travel and visas restrictions, by reviewing the need for individual technical agreements for NGOs'. Mr Haroun Lual Ruun was speaking during a visit of the UN Humanitarian Chief John Holmes and US Envoy Scott Gration to Sudan. Mr Holmes said he would prefer the expulsion decision to be revoked. But he also said that if trust was restored between the humanitarian community and Sudanese authorities, capacity lost after the expulsions could be recovered — 'I think what we're hearing … is that new NGOs with new names, new logos, if necessary, can come in', he was quoted as saying by media. 'That means there's an opportunity to exploit some of that expertise and experience that is there and I think that is a welcome degree of flexibility about how it might happen in the future.'

Following the announcement of the arrest warrant for President Al'Bashir, many women's and human rights activists from Darfur and Khartoum have been harassed and arrested and accused of providing support to the ICC. On 23 March 2009 armed security forces arrested Mr Abutalib Hassan Imam, a lawyer and Coordinator of the Darfur Bar Association, in Alginana, West Darfur.  Mr Abutalib was released on bail and asked not to leave the country as he could be called at any time to respond to the four crimes against the State he is accused of committing.  Mr Mohamed Mahgoub, Director of the Amel Centre in Alfashir, North Darfur, was also arrested on 11 April 2009 and released on 17 April 2009, but with restriction of movement. Many activists left Sudan after receiving threats.


Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) :: Peace Agreement signed between the CNDP and DRC Government — a breach of UN Security Council Resolutions?

On 23 March 2009, the DRC Government and the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) militia, signed a Peace Agreement in Goma under the auspice of the United Nations and the African Union. The Agreement provides for:

  1. the transformation of the CNDP into  a political party;
  2. the integration of members of the CNDP police and armed units into the Congolese National Police and Armed Forces respectively, with recognition of the ranks of former CNDP members;
  3. the promulgation of an amnesty law from June 2003 to the date of its enactment;
  4. the liberation of CNDP's political prisoners; and
  5. the creation of a reconciliation mechanism at the national and local levels.

On the same date a similar agreement was also signed between the Congolese Government and other armed groups active in North and South Kivu, including several Mai Mai groups and the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO). The full text of the three agreements in French, found at http://www.provincenordkivu.org/.

According to Brigid Inder, Executive Director of the Women's Initiatives, in an internal paper analysing the Goma Peace Agreement,

some of the most concerning provisions in the Peace Agreement relate to the integration of the CNDP into the police and armed forces. Provision 5.5 of the Agreement indicates that a 'special police force' will be formed arising out of the process of integrating the CNDP into the Congolese Police Force. The role of this special police unit is to ensure 'the security of refugees and displaced people returning home'. As such, some of those responsible for creating the conditions, instigating the attacks and destroying the homes and villages which led to the widespread displacement of the civilian population, will now be involved, under the terms of the Agreement, in assisting IDPs to return to their former homes. The security issues, the vulnerability of IDPs in this process, and the 'perpetrators' now assuming a legitimate state role with IDPs, adds to the weight of injustice experienced by communities in Ituri and the Kivus, eastern DRC.

It is possible the process of the Peace Talks and the final Agreement are in breach of two UN Security Council Resolutions — Resolutions 1325 and 1820 respectively. In this peace process the UN appears to have failed to implement its own Security Council resolutions particularly as the Goma Peace Process was sponsored, and directly co-facilitated, by the United Nations.

Passed in 2000, Resolution 1325 recognises the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building, and stresses the importance of their participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. The Goma Peace Process, for which there were meetings in both Nairobi and Goma, did not include women most affected by the conflict in the negotiations. A small group of women's rights and peace activists from the Kivus went to Nairobi in 2008 but were excluded from the Talks and were not allowed to speak to the negotiators. Between the first two negotiation meetings in Nairobi, Congolese women held an opportunistic meeting with the Co-Facilitator of the Peace Talks, UN Special Envoy President Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, when he was visiting Goma as part of the peace process. A delegation of women from the Kivus went to Rwanda to urge the Rwandan Government to support an end to the conflict in eastern DRC. In December, this group also met with a representative of the CNDP urging them to re-join the Peace Talks, which they had earlier walked out of. Despite many attempts to participate and in direct contradiction of Resolution 1325, women from eastern DRC were denied access to the peace process.

Security Council Resolution 1820, passed in 2008, addresses the importance of ending impunity for those who have committed crimes of sexual violence during armed conflict. Provisions within the Goma Peace Agreement such as the amnesty clause could exempt perpetrators of gender-based crimes from being held accountable. The Resolution also requires that all parties to armed conflicts take measures to protect civilians including women and girls from all forms of sexual violence including 'vetting armed and security forces to take into account past actions of rape'. The Peace Agreement includes several provisions which relate to the integration of the CNDP police and militia into the FARDC (the Congolese Army) but does not state any policy or mechanism to 'vet' those being integrated into the FARDC regarding the possible past commission of crimes of sexual violence. The absence of provisions requiring formal training of CNDP police and soldiers prior to integration, raises concerns regarding the possibility of perpetration of gender-based crimes in the future and the absence of accountability for their past commission.

The promotion of Bosco Ntaganda, Head of the CNDP at the time of signing the Goma Peace Agreement, to the rank of General within the Congolese Army is distressing for communities throughout eastern DRC. Prior to joining the CNDP, Ntaganda was Chief of Staff for the UPC, whose Leader, Thomas Lubanga is currently on trial before the ICC for the enlistment and conscription of child soldiers. In 2007, ICC Judges unsealed the arrest warrant for Ntaganda who is wanted in relation to war crimes and crimes against humanity (on the basis of the same charges as those against Lubanga). The DRC Government continues to refuse to hand over Ntaganda to the ICC.

In early June, the Women's Initiatives will be collaborating with 22 local women's rights organisations in eastern DRC to further review and analyse the Goma Peace Agreement and identify strategies for demanding gender-inclusive measures in its implementation.


Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) :: Rwandan and Ugandan troops withdraw from eastern DRC — What next?

In March the Ugandan Army left the territory of the DRC at the conclusion of the joint military offensive, 'Operation Lightning Thunder', against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Ending the three-month operation, the Government of Uganda declared that the joint military offensive had successfully disrupted the supply of arms, access to food and communication lines of the LRA. Reports from international organisations and local NGOs have revealed the serious consequences of the Operation for civilians. More than 11,000 persons were allegedly displaced by retaliatory attacks by the LRA close to the village of Banda, north-eastern DRC. According to the United Nations, from December 2008 to the end of February 2009, 992 people were killed, 564 children and 193 adults abducted, and 196,648 persons displaced in Province Orientale by the LRA's response to the military attack.

In January the FARDC and the Rwandan Army began a five-week joint attack against the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) militia. Reports published by the United Nations, indicate around 250,000 people have been displaced in eastern Congo as a consequence of this military operation since January 2009. Reports from the Women's Initiatives' country-based partners show an increase in the number of cases of rape and sexual violence in North Kivu by both FDLR and the regular Congolese Army. Civilians are openly targeted by both armies and accused of supporting the opposing side.  

The Hon. Vital Kamerhe, Speaker of the DRC Parliament and member of the same party as President Kabila, the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, resigned on 25 March after having been asked repeatedly to do so by his political allies. The request for the Hon. Kamerhe's resignation followed an interview with Radio Okapi in which he criticised the President's unilateral decision to allow Rwandan troops into the country, for the joint operation against the FDLR, without consulting Parliament on this decision. A new speaker was elected on 17 April.

Reports received by the Women's Initiatives from partners based in eastern DRC show that violence is not confined to the areas where the FARDC is fighting the LRA and the FDLR. Brutal attacks by Ngiti militias against the Bira population, including rapes, have been reported in the area of Nyakunde, 40 km southwest from Bunia, Ituri.


Northern Uganda :: 'Operation Lightning Thunder' and the status of the peace process

The Ugandan Army withdrew from Eastern Congo on 15 March 2009 after a three-month joint military operation against the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) bases in DRC. The abrupt termination of 'Operation Lightning Thunder' without the capture of Joseph Kony and his senior commanders left the people of the Greater North of Uganda fearing for their safety.  According to media reports, the DRC Army was left to 'mop up' the remaining rebels with intelligence support provided by Uganda. Reportedly the LRA is continuing its attacks on civilians in north eastern DRC and Southern Sudan. Southern Sudanese officials have declared that they believe the LRA is still able to coordinate their activities and attacks, despite being scattered over a vast area.

Since January, the Women's Initiatives has been involved in efforts to resume a dialogue between the principal parties with three main objectives —  the signing of the final peace agreement for a permanent cessation of hostilities; the immediate release of women and children from within the LRA; and the initiation of implementation of the peace agreements including the demobilization of the LRA. Negotiations are now at an advanced stage between the LRA, Government of Uganda, the Mediator and the UN Special Envoy for a stakeholders meeting with the purpose of preparing for the signing of the final agreement.

Click here to download the Open Letter to President Museveni and General Kony (pdf)


Central African Republic (CAR) :: Violence escalating in the North

The consolidation of peace in northern CAR could be hindered by the intensification of violence taking place. According to the United Nations, tens of thousands of civilians sought refuge in the bush after rebels of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) attacked Government troops in the area. The UN estimates that around 284,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the last six months. Of these, 210,000 are internally displaced and 74,000 fled to Chad, Cameroon and Sudan.
The deteriorating security situation in the north poses a threat to the reconciliation process started last December. At the end of the multi-party talks, several agreements had been reached, including the commitment to hold elections in 2009 and 2010.

It is reported that, on 4 May, CAR was reviewed by The Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group. The Universal Periodic Report is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

During the session on 4 May 2009 the floor was open for more than 40 states to make comments and recommendations, many of which commended CAR for its efforts to protect and promote human rights. The Central African Republic National Report was presented by Mr Henri Maïdou, former Vice President of CAR and Personal Adviser of the Head of State in charge of human rights and good governance. During the meeting, CAR delegations stated a number of positive achievements that included  their efforts to combat discrimination, the national policy on the promotion of equality between men and women, as well as the National Action Plan to combat domestic violence 2007-2011 and the National Plan of Action on women's rights 2007-2011.

The CAR delegation did not respond to most of the written questions submitted in advance and provided very brief replies to some of the comments and recommendations. One of the key themes repeatedly mentioned by a large number of States was discrimination against women and children. This resulted in recommendations from the Council that CAR bring its domestic legislation into line with international norms, in particular that it review its Family Law. A few States specifically urged the abolition of female genital mutilation and that greater efforts should be made to guarantee girls the right to education, an end to violence against women and that steps be taken to comply with recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on extra judicial killings to eliminate all acts of killings of women charged with witchcraft.



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