Tag Archives: sexual violence

Relentless:  The UN Doubles Down on a now-Familiar Foe, Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Feb


The melody of your ears must not be the cries of the powerless.  Shahla Khan

Morality, after all, had fallen with society. He was his own ethic. Richard Matheson

Many also bear their cross of imagined deprivation, while their fellow human beings remain paralyzed by real poverty.  Anthon St. Maarten

Yet we must choose each step we take with utmost caution, for the footprints we leave behind are as important as the path we will follow. Lori Lopez

In the desert, the only god is a well.  Vera Nazarian

One of the things that our interns notice quickly about life inside the UN is the extent to which issues are often raised but not routinely resolved.   From development financing and ocean health to efforts to restrict the production of small arms and the recruitment tactics of terrorist groups and criminal elements, most key issues on the UN’s agenda are certain to “come around again” before too much time elapses.  This tends to frustrate onlookers, especially the young, who yearn to see greater levels of intentional movement towards more reliable resolutions to today’s multiple threats, some of the “footprints” which we older folks would do better not to leave behind.

However, given the degree of difficult associated with many global problems, this doubling-down is mostly appropriate.  As any good therapist (or parent) knows, naming a problem accurately is only the first stage in a successful outcome, not to be confused with the solution itself.   Many problems we confront in policy, much like problems within ourselves and our families took a long time to evolve into their current forms.  Like a ball of yarn, we wind ourselves and our societies into tight, if destructive habits that cannot untangle overnight, if at all.  If they are indeed to untangle, such will require us to engage over and over in a complex “dance” that includes elements of sometimes-painful honesty, careful assessments, legal accountability, and a continual renewal of our intent to see these processes through to a healthy conclusion.

And yet we in this UN space habitually seem to over-simplify what it takes to sustainably resolve global challenges.  We pass resolutions, year after year, without attaching assessments of why so many of these resolutions have so little impact.   We continue to raise the right issues in diverse conference rooms without also raising the stakes on success – integrating honest and careful analysis of what we’ve learned since the last time such issues came up for consideration and what we now must resolve to do differently.   In essence, we “double down” on our consideration of global challenges without also doubling down on both our reflection and our resolve, as though the solution to our current stable of grave threats requires little beyond ratcheting up a bit of additional political will to do more of what we’ve already committed to doing.

One of these “come around again” threats was examined on Friday during a Security Council “Arria Formula” on how accountability for crimes can serve as a contribution to prevention.  The specific context for this Arria is the often-horrific violence perpetrated mostly against women and girls in situations of armed conflict.  Led by Germany with the endorsement of most current Security Council members, the event was a reflection of a problem to which much energy has properly been devoted, but where progress has been elusive (or even non-existent) as was reinforced by prosecutors of the Special Court established to deal with such abuses in the Central African Republic.  Women especially remain the “currency of conflict” as claimed by Ireland’s Ambassador noting that we must refuse to separate the physical security of women and men abused in conflict zones with what she referred to as “other forms of security” including of the social and economic variety.  In a similar vein, the director of the Global Justice Center reminded delegations that the genesis of much abuse can be laid at the feet of our persistent and toxic inequalities, including of gender, reinforcing our own view that we must do more to “level the playing field” before it can properly be groomed.

This broader security must also integrate accountability for abuses already committed, as several states and the always-thoughtful Tonderai Chikuhwa of the UN Office on Sexual Violence in Conflict duly maintained, underscoring the importance of ensuring that, however painful it might be for some, such crimes must never be stricken from the “historical record” of states.

But if we must, as Chikuhwa and others insisted, double down on accountability for these humiliating crimes, Council members and others insisted that our lens must also focus on related matters, specifically the call by Germany and other speakers for more victim services to help minimize prospects for “re-traumatizing.” Indeed, states including Côte d’Ivoire and Chile, insisted on the priority need for “healing” — in part a function of services and reparations but in part a function of ensuring that there is a “cost” for such abuse, a “cost” that can be made consistent across states and that can be employed to help citizens remain mindful of the deep trauma suffered by far too many.

In listening to this good discussion with one of our interns, two things came to my mind.  First was the “relentlessness” of the dehumanizing abuse which casts a fog over human life that never quite seems to lift.   In the relative triviality of my first-world bubble, I have encountered only episodic stalking – by a few people who wanted things from me I was unwilling to give them or through exposure to online hackers demanding ransom in exchange for keeping silent about alleged behavior which, thankfully, never took place.

And yet even within these limited and mostly modest bouts with our sometimes frayed and predatory social system, one now defined by a largely “fallen” and self-authorizing morality,  I could revisit some lessons about the unrelenting nature of more grave abuse, specifically the degree to which external violations leave “footprints” within us that continue to hijack our best selves long after the physical or psychological violence stops: those remaining in hyper-vigilant mode for signs that stalkers might be close at hand; those refusing to communicate unless completely sure who is on the other end; those dreading turning on the computer because of yet another virus ready to inflict mayhem in ways much like the “virus” of conflict-related abuse — doing its dirty work now from inside the systems on which we must rely and changing how we engage the world in ways that we are more likely to defend than to carefully examine.

And the second, related insight comes courtesy of the 2030 Development Agenda which is filled with positive implications for those who might otherwise risk humiliation in conflict zones, but which insists to all who participate that we must not only “leave no one behind,” but that we must reach “those in greatest need first.”  It is difficult and at times counter-productive to create priority lists for human need, and yet there must be some special dispensation, some special accountability in situations where grave crimes have been committed against women and girls, men and boys in too many conflict zones, crimes more akin to slavery than to the “first world” dramatics that we far too routinely indulge.

I confess that my own patience for “first world problems” is now even lower than before, not because growth and change in own my life are no longer needed (they are), but precisely because I acknowledge more deeply an unearned privilege allowing me to trust (albeit with gratitude) that my own fog is destined to lift, my “well” is largely close at hand, my erstwhile “deprivation” is almost entirely imaginary.  The “cries” of the powerless don’t always penetrate my thick skull as they should, but neither have they become the “melody” that transforms sexual violence as a tactic of war and other traumatic circumstances from something preventable and accountable to something that we simply accept as part of the price tag for getting on with the “world’s business.”

The “paralysis” of many trapped in poverty or in cycles of dehumanizing despair must never become acceptable to those of us ensconced in the policy world, including “accepting” that the drama of our own lives constitutes some rough equivalent.  We at Global Action were deeply appreciative of the reminder provided to us on Friday by Germany and other Security Council members, a reminder that while many windows of opportunity seem always to be open to us, such windows are still largely and even serially impaired for persons humiliated or otherwise traumatized at the point of a gun.

The Company We Keep: Discerning the Human Faces and Impacts behind the UN Policy Curtain, Dr. Robert Zuber

5 Jun

As I write, this is World Environment Day as well as the beginning (Monday) of the holy season of Ramadan.  The latter is an opportunity for Muslims (especially) to separate for a time from the demands and distractions of the world, to “recover themselves” and their spiritual moorings.  The former is an opportunity for us to reflect and act on the many ways in which we continue, in part via those same demands and distractions, to undermine the capacity of the planet to support the life on which we directly depend.

This was a short work week in New York, but the UN for its part managed to offer up a menu of significant discussions that offered opportunities to bridge gaps between the policies we craft in this place and our levels of concern for the people responsible to implement such policies or who find themselves (for better or worse) on their receiving end.

This past Friday, the Security Council under France’s leadership took up the matter of conflict-related sexual abuse and human trafficking.   In that “open” meeting featuring the Secretary General and his SRSG Zainab Hawa Bangura, more than a few states were able to get beyond the data and threats to reflect on some of the ways that they can add value and draw closer (and genuine) connections to the needs of those affected by conflicts that, as Nigeria noted, we should do more to prevent in the first place.  In this context, it is important to note efforts by the UK, Angola and other states to highlight the responsibility to address local stigmas that tend to heap ridicule and shame, thereby magnifying the abuses that women and girls already endure within conflict settings.   Other states pointed to the deep traumas that conflict related abuse creates, with the Netherlands smartly urging states to consider ways to more effectively “accompany women and girls in their recovery from abuse.”

For its part the General Assembly held a useful all day consultation on conditions for and ways to prevent the “radicalizing” of children and youth, an issue that President of the General Assembly Lykketoft  wished “we did not have to discuss.”  DSG Eliasson commented on this “sad subject,” reminding the audience of mostly diplomats that “youth are subjects, not objects.” Therefore, he urged us to work with youth to resolve threats of extremist recruitment and not plan around them.

At the same time, as USG for Children and Armed Conflict Zerrougui noted during this session, we must do more to “drain the swamps” we have created, swamps full of enticements for youth, but swamps also characterized by “toxicity” emanating both from a loss of hope in a better future, and  from international responses that are too much about the military and too little about restoring family and community connections.  Young people will be responsible for this world soon enough and several delegations noted that we must do what we can now to ensure that their transitions to leadership and responsibility are secure, hopeful and inclusive.

But for us, perhaps the most interesting and personal engagement came during a meeting with NGOs and the Heads of the 10 UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies, committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the international human rights treaties that define this pillar of the UN system and its core responsibilities to global constituents.  This monitoring is an essential confidence-building measure in a UN system that – excluding the Security Council in its best moments – has few ways to enforce state compliance with previously agreed principles of state conduct.

We were invited to this meeting because of our long and fruitful relationship with Paris-based FIACAT in its work to promote the abolition of torture and capital punishment around the world.   The meeting was chaired by Argentina’s Fabian Salvioli with whom we have had good but sadly infrequent contact over the past few years.

There were some probing questions posed to the Treaty Body heads by the relatively few NGOs in attendance, given the reality that the UN’s human rights system is not yet functioning in the way that encourages full-confidence by global citizens.  At this meeting, Salvioli acted mostly as facilitator, but his and other interventions were important – urging more clarity, specificity and follow-up regarding NGO interventions and recommendations and in languages to which Treaty Body members have ready access.   But he also noted, as did others of his colleagues, that their prior discussions with states were too often acrimonious, with accusations of bias in the interpretation and application of Human Rights treaties topping off what sounded like a lengthy listing of state complaints.

For our part, we wished to reinforce the pragmatic concerns of NGO colleagues – especially regarding the growing problem of government reprisals against human rights defenders – but our primary concern at this meeting was with the “quality of life” of those tasked with upholding state rights commitments.  It is clear to us, surely to others, that the task of managing Treaty Bodies is needlessly difficult.   Budgets and staffing are fragile.  Reporting is politically complex and often draining. States are sometimes resistant, even hostile, in part because they don’t really understand what Treaty Bodies do, why they are deemed essential to maintaining the quality of so many human lives (not to mention the credibility of the UN system).  Nor do states understand the largely voluntary sacrifices that these Treaty Body leaders make (partially in honor of the sacrifices of so many advocates in the field) to keep this essential but highly challenging system working and improving.  In many ways, this is a labor of love — and not nearly enough of that love is returned.

In the aforementioned GA discussion on youth and extremism, the Mayor of Rotterdam (NL) noted that the question we should be asking is not “who is to blame” for situations in the world but who is to take responsibility? Being the responsible party is becoming a bit of a lost art, but there are still many places in our societies, including within the UN, where people are able and willing to look beyond immediate policy tasks and statements to take the temperature of the systems of which they are part, the leaders tasked with maintaining and improving those systems, and the many people worldwide whose lives are needlessly undermined when we fail to make honest and thoughtful improvements in the systems they have come to rely on.

Early last week, the Security Council convened to renew the sanctions and peacekeeping (UNMISS) activities in the still-fragile state of South Sudan.  During that discussion, the South Sudan Ambassador made an appeal to all who seek a better life in his country and all who support the current transition in his country to more fervently seek “reconciliation and forgiveness” in response to many years of a violent and “bitter past.”

This appeal implies intensely personal work, sharing stories of pain and longing that are not to be “used” for partisan political purposes; accompanying the victimized, the betrayed and the simply-weary; and providing more tangible support to those who labor on behalf of a more just world.  Thankfully, behind the “policy curtain” is a wealth of human capacity, even empathy, that we are only now starting to tap and that promises to shorten the distance from bitter to reconciled.

Ending Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict: Posing the Next Set of Questions

12 Dec

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Megan Daigle came to us this fall from the University of Gothenburg at the suggestion of longtime GAPW colleague and friend Dr. Maria Stern. During her time here, Megan reinforced many of our core policy interests, including African and Latin American politics.   More specifically, her work on feminist theory and violence against women is both relevant and inspiring to us, and we hope to maintain a collaborative research and policy relationship with her for a long time to come. 

As a research fellow at the Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development in Gothenburg, Sweden, I travel frequently to conduct archival research and interviews.  For much of October and November, I was in New York interviewing UN officials, NGO staff, and other activists — and, of course, haunting the Global Action offices as my base of operations.  Arriving in New York as an independent researcher, it’s easy to feel a bit at sea.  The myriad headquarters and offices of UN bodies are all but impenetrable to outsiders, but given that my research focuses on the mobilization of resources, interventions, and political will to end sexual violence in conflict zones, this was where I needed to be.

Sexual violence in armed conflict (SVAC) is now a high-priority agenda item for the Security Council, following a string of resolutions beginning with UNSCR 1325 in October of 2000 and culminating most recently with UNSCR 2122 last year.  SVAC is also at the top of programming and advocacy dossiers at a variety of UN agencies including UNFPA, UN Women, UNICEF, and UNHCR, amongst others, and gave rise to the creation of UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, an interagency effort at improving coordination and accountability in work on SVAC.  This mobilization can be dated to the international tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, which first tried SVAC as war crimes, but it really began to gain momentum with 1325 and the issuing of the first major NGO reports on the issue.  Funding for women, peace and security issues is always scarce, but it is now commonly said that, anecdotally, SVAC is receiving a disproportionate share of that limited pie.  In June, the United Kingdom held a massive summit hosting thousands of activists, experts, survivors, and government ministers.

Given this remarkable rise in interest and action, there are some questions that we need to ask, which are forming the basis of my research:

Why this issue, and why now?  This isn’t meant to suggest that the international community shouldn’t be doing something about the horrific scale of sexual violence that has accompanied so many modern wars.  Rather, the severity and persistence of SVAC is all the more reason why we should ask why we are so committed now — what interests is it serving, who have been the major players, and how has it come about?  That may sound cynical, but this question has important implications for how the issue is approached and how sustainable the effort is likely to be moving forward, especially if the political winds start to blow in a different direction.

Why are we taking SVAC as an issue on its own?  It’s hard enough — if not impossible and perhaps inadvisable — to try to draw a clear line between conflict and post- (or pre-) conflict periods.  We know that SVAC is strongly related to rates of gender-based violence and gender inequality that already exist in a given society before the outbreak of conflict.  We also know that incidences of domestic violence increase markedly in conflict settings, so discerning what gender-based violence is “related” to conflict is also difficult and a blurry line at best.  So why are we trying to address it as a separate issue — from gender-based violence in and out of conflict on one hand, and from the other harms and vulnerabilities faced by people living with conflict on the other?  One explanation seems to be that SVAC is seen as an “easy win,” not in the sense of being easy to fix, but rather that it’s easy to get on board.  Nobody is going to say they’re in favour of SVAC, certainly, so it’s a relatively easy issue to champion, even in as slow-moving and disinterested a diplomatic system as the UN tends to be.  Taking it out of its context allows this to happen, without requiring us to dig into the thornier issues of structural gender inequality, domestic violence, girls’ education, pay gaps, and women’s representation in politics — which many governments refuse to broach, but which might help us to make a far greater impact on rates of SVAC.

What effects is this mobilization having?  SVAC, like any kind of sexual violence, is notoriously hard to measure.  Survivors are reluctant to come forward, communities are often slow to act until evidence is long gone, and courts have been reticent not only to try cases, but also to provide the necessary considerations for survivors and witnesses.  There are undoubtedly many good things happening as a result of the recent surge in interest, many of which are supported by the UN and its various branches: social outreach and education, security sector reform, transitional justice processes, and medical and social service provision, to name just a few.  We also need to examine where we may be going wrong.  There have been criticisms of interventions and advocacy on the issue of SVAC from a number of directions that merit serious consideration.  First, some argue that male survivors are erased in the current discourse surrounding SVAC, even as many in the NGO community feel that organizations dealing with male survivors receive a disproportionate share of funding.  It has also been argued that decontextualizing SVAC, as I discussed above, seriously reduces our capacity to make real change as an international community.  What is more, many critics argue that this recent wave of activism — on the part of governments, NGOs, and UN bodies — reduces women to this, this issue, this role as victims of violation, and that it treats SVAC as the emblematic female experience in war.  When we think of women in war, we think of rape, and that’s problematic because it erases the many other roles that women play as diplomats, soldiers, peace builders, aid workers, or militia members.  I have a lot of sympathy for these more nuanced perspectives.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to ask ourselves, what more can and should we be doing?  In conversations that I had with UN staff from a few different offices, I asked them about prevention, and I heard the same story a few times: when we hear that women are being attacked in certain places — while collecting firewood or water, on routes between towns, or while working in fields — we send peacekeeping patrols to escort them.  This brings out an important distinction between protective and prohibitive forms of prevention; the first merely inserts some kind of impediment (peacekeepers, walls or fences, well-lit streets) between a would-be attacker and victim, while the second prevents assault from happening in the first place.  This focus on protective prevention is in part a function of short-term, output-focused funding models, where agencies are under pressure to produce quantifiable results by the end of a project, taking emphasis and funding away from long-view work on changing attitudes and standards.  But it does shape our approach and what our “solutions” look like.  This is just one example, but there are more: it’s imperative that we see more survivor-led initiatives, responses that don’t just consult with women and men who have experienced violence, but employ survivors to work on locally-appropriate solutions. It is simply not enough to deploy ‘experts’ and their tendency to uncritically export models across contexts.

The bottom line is that it’s not enough to move forward under the assumption that our good intentions mean we are, in fact, doing good — we have to be self-critical and willing to ask ourselves, is our ‘help’ helping?  I’m only at the beginning of this project, so I can’t begin to answer many of my own questions, but these are the thoughts I’m left with after weeks of interviews with UN and NGO staffers, and that will guide my work moving forward.

Ms. Megan Daigle  (megan.daigle@gmail.com)

The Role of Policy in Promoting Sustainable Development in Africa

30 Sep

Editor’s Note:  For the next month, we are pleased to host Tanyi Christian, who directs the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation in Cameroon.  He is here as part of a genocide prevention exchange sponsored by NEXUS Fund.  We will reciprocate his visit in November at which time we will collaborate on programs focused on access to justice, civilian military dialogue, promototing security and access to markets for women farmers, and other projects.  We hope he will be a regular contributor to this blog moving forward. 

For the last fifteen years I have worked so hard to build LUKMEF-Cameroon from a small community based organisation to one of the most credible, visible and people-focused organisations in our region. We have moved from a founder-centered organisation to one that is departmentally structured with an established international board of directors. The number of projects completed and their impact on the lives of individuals and entire communities served by the organisation has witnessed remarkable growth. Local, national and international funding streams have been fairly stable with prospects for improvement based on the visible output from the different programs and projects conducted by LUKMEF.

Like many African and Cameroonian organisations, our focus in the past was to engage in “quick fixes” to problems without addressing the fundamental root courses of the problem or assessing the longer term implications of our work. While we would appear to be doing well and doing good, a fundamental aspect of the development equation – Public Policy — is largely absent from our organizational mission.   In the absence of sound policy guiding sound practice, our hopeful story becomes fragile and ultimately jeopardizes our work to promote sustainable development.

Efforts to end poverty, disease, the negative impacts of climate change, corruption, violence, and human right abuses, while at the same time promoting education and citizen access to resources and good governance, will never achieve the desired long term results without  greater attention being paid to the fundamental  need for sound and consistent public policy. By this we refer to levels of policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, with contributions from those whose lives are directly affected by these policies, including those who experience serious problems such poverty, hunger, violence and abuse.

In our view, 70% resource allocation on policy issues and 30% on direct actions would produce the most sustainable and long term impact in developing countries, as opposed to the current formula that generally allocates more than 90% of resources to direct services. This miscalculation has unfortunately been fuelled in Africa by the funding principles of donors.  Evidently, too many donors to Africa have confused program and project outputs with long-term impact.  We often wonder how anyone can expect an organisation or community to have lasting impact when projects are funded for only 3-12 months and given the total absence or insufficiency of effective, relevant government policies? Training women on how to stand up for their rights is good but training alone cannot be the sole reason for developing a program. Talking about gender-based violence is good, but effectively stopping gender-based violence should be the ultimate goal of the intervention.  This larger goal will require long and sustained efforts to formulate, review and advocate for effective local, national, regional and global policies on gender violence.

Corruption in Cameroon as well as other African countries is endemic but it is not natural; likewise poverty is human-made but is also not natural.  Individuals and whole communities too-readily acquiesce to the reality of issues like poverty in part through their reluctance to engage with local, regional and national policy communities.  Focusing on today’s needs such as access to water, food, shelter and respect for human rights without addressing policy issues that can sustain and build upon the small gains of today towards a brighter tomorrow seems needlessly short-sided. The situation in Cameroon and the Central African region as a whole will require better policies and actions on issues of governance and conflict prevention which will in turn require trust building among citizens who are hopefully expected, more and more, to play key roles in the development and assessment of such policies.

I have concluded that every organisation as well as every action that seeks to improve local or regional conditions must also address policy issues that can either impede or help sustain development.  Unless the Sustainable Development Goals promote policy access at all levels, we are almost certain to miss our targets in the same manner — if not worse — than we missed the MDGs.

 Tanyi Christian, LUKMEF Cameroon

Traffic Control: Making Policy Sufficient to Ending a Menace

30 Jul

Editor’s Note:   Today (7/30/14) is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.   To help call attention to this unresolved scourge, Danielle Peck has offered this reflection on UN and member state efforts to eliminate trafficking and restore dignity to victims.  She also offers suggestions on ways to better highlight this crime and eliminate impunity for abuses. 

On July 14, 2014 while attending the special high-level event on “Improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons” co-organized by the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), many shocking statistics were brought forward demonstrating the ongoing reality of human trafficking. President John Ashe discussed how human trafficking affects every nation in the world. He called it a most “grotesque and lucrative” crime generating 36 billion dollars per year.  The executive director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov, stated that “victims come from 136 different nationalities and are circulated through 118 different countries.” He also mentioned that 75% of victims are women and girls. UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo said, “Every one victim found represents 100 victims still lost.” Statements like these have led me to ask, “What is our international community doing to prevent human trafficking from occurring?”

The U.S. Department of State created the Trafficking in Persons Report, which holds every state accountable for maintaining minimal standards needed to eliminate human trafficking in persons, though states are obviously not required to sign an agreement to that effect. The ‘minimal’ standards are that each country must make a serious and sustained effort to prohibit and eliminate forms of human trafficking. Stringent punishments are suggested to those who violate trafficking laws. Each country is categorized within a ‘tier system’ based on how well it follows minimal standards against trafficking.

Even though the U.S. Department of State has created international pressure with its ‘tier system’ to eliminate trafficking, that system is often disregarded by other states. It is often the case that a nation does not want to be told what to do by another nation. Many countries have also questioned the way the State Department gathered its information for the Trafficking in Persons Report. For instance, Russia voiced its aggravation at being moved to a tier three (the worst rating within the tier system), and they accused the system of being corrupt.

In addition to US efforts, it is vital that the United Nations has a well-established department to combat trafficking. This would not only create efficiency and accountability when gathering ‘best practices’ and statistics, but it might influence more actions to combat human trafficking. UNODC has an office dedicated to combating human trafficking and has implemented many policies to attempt to combat the full range of such trafficking. Still, there are many challenges the department has faced in part due to the fact that human trafficking covers such a broad range of behavior. The department must focus its attention not only on sex trafficking, but also immigrant smuggling or child labor, just to name a few areas of concern. Within the “Human Trafficking FAQs” section of the UNODC website, there is a list of challenges the UN believes must be further addressed. Here I have taken a few of these challenges and provided some suggestions moving forward.

First, the UN believes that there is a problem with how states and organizations gather accurate information on trafficking. There has been no system implemented within the department that encourages states to gather accurate data. As trafficking is a criminal activity, many states may find the data gathering task beyond their capacity. The UN should implement a system with templates that each state can follow to help gather relevant data. Studies should be done that show how accurate data (on trafficking or related matters) has been gathered in the past. The UN should then take further steps to create an infrastructure that will assure that every state can follow those templates with as much ease as possible. If an efficient plan could be created for every state to follow, there would be more accurate trafficking data throughout the world.

Today there are too many different data-gathering systems yielding a wide diversity of statistics on trafficking in persons for each nation. Thus, my first suggestion is for the UN to create an instruction manual that can guide nations seeking to gather human trafficking data.  Then the UN needs to create a common space/system for nations to share their data. The international community needs better cooperation and coordination in developing an information exchange. If every nation had a system to follow on how to gather accurate information, they would probably be more willing to enter their information into a shared database.

Secondly, despite this fine event, the UN does not yet fully convey the importance of countering human trafficking within the international community. Every state has its own list of priorities in this area, in part a function of local cultures and values. The UN must be clear that countering trafficking should be a high priority for every state. As mentioned above, human trafficking exists in every country and affects or influences every person, directly or indirectly. Trafficking represents a massive corrupt network that cannot be overcome without the entire international community making it a priority. The UN should hold more panels that discuss the facts and methods to combat trafficking, as these get publicity and the attention of leaders, as well as create a space for open dialogue for diplomats and NGOs to discuss solutions. It is the UN’s responsibility to help spread awareness of the scourge of trafficking of persons into the international community.

Third, the UN needs to do more to prevent trafficking at its source. Research needs to focus on the sources of the trafficking industry. The UN should provide outlets for funding locally based NGOs that work with trafficking issues and victims. This will make it possible for NGOs to publicize the reality of human trafficking, show how women and men can avoid becoming involved, or even help to stop the practice. Then the UN could consider exposing the identities criminals involved in trafficking to the international community. This could create international pressure as no country wants to have leaders of the trafficking industry publicized as coming from their nation. The criminals should be brought from underground into the public eye. Impunity for their abuses needs to end.

It is unclear the extent to which the UN and other international organizations are addressing human trafficking on a global scale. We need to make human trafficking one of our main priorities. The UN has the power to organize more global events based on the realities of trafficking. The trafficking industry controls more than we realize. It needs to be confronted robustly by the international community with UN guidance.

Danielle M. Peck, Junior Associate

Food Security: Keeping Families in the Business of Agricultural Production

25 Nov

On Friday at UN Headquarters, November 22, The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) launched the 2014 International Year of the Family Farm.

The discussions were chaired by Amb. McLay of New Zealand and featured supporting statements from the offices of the Secretary General and President of the General Assembly, as well a statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva and participation by several representatives of the globally diverse, family farming community.

There were many important insights on family farming that were shared during the course of the event.  Ample discussion ensued focused on the role of family farming in “alleviating hunger and poverty, in providing food security and nutrition, managing natural resources, protecting the environment and achieving sustainable development.”  Moreover, as the FAO website noted in describing the event, “Family farmers are embedded in territorial networks and local cultures, and spend their incomes mostly within local and regional markets, generating many agricultural and non-agricultural jobs.”

In an agricultural sector currently dominated by corporate monopolies, biological monocultures, genetically modified seeds and the like, it was indeed refreshing to have a reminder of how important family farming can be to maintaining nutritional balance, sustainable farming techniques and healthier local economies.  No doubt the minds of many in the room, myself included, wandered back to their own rural experiences where life was difficult and perhaps a bit romantic, a time when fending for yourself and sharing with your community were complementary and essential activities. Places where, to paraphrase the social philosopher, Wendell Berry, people still preferred to have a neighbor than to own a neighbor’s farm.

The issue for policymakers now is partially about honoring family farmers and partially about how to ensure that farming options that have so much to do with the well-being of communities, especially in the developing world, are maintained.   This is not a sentimental longing but an indispensable option.   It is sheer foolishness for policy elites in large urban environments to remain inattentive to those who seek control over farmlands and their yields, mines and their extractions, watersheds and their life giving liquid.  If there are to be wars and armed internal conflicts in this next phase of our collective history, they will surely be fought over minerals and water more than over borders and the pride of national leadership.

One issue to which we must pay more attention, which came up during the launch and also in a publication distributed at the launch event, “Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth,” has to do with access to markets.   Rural family farmers are often in danger of being bought out or ‘priced out’ by large corporations or investors with more knowledge of and better access to agricultural markets, not to mention to the government officials who preside over such markets.   In an age of capital expanding its influence faster than governments can (or wish to) regulate, family farms are vulnerable to a host of pressures, including having their markets undercut by farmers in other rural regions.

But another and perhaps more important factor has to do with the security of agricultural workers themselves, mostly rural, often women, and in many societies beyond the reach of whatever state security apparatus exists.   The vulnerabilities of rural farmers, especially female farmers, need much more attention from the international community, especially in this International Year.

In Cameroon, our partners at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation (LUKMEF) are organizing an event, Women Conference on Peace and Leadership in Sustainable Agribusiness, which will bring women farmers from throughout the Central African region with government officials to explore these two critical matters – markets and security.    The policy paper produced by LUKMEF for this event stresses the need to address violence against women, promote their access to justice, include training in peace building and conflict prevention along with agriculture-focused workshops, and work with governments to ensure more attention to the security needs of the rural communities that literally provide our daily bread.

We think that LUKMEF has this right.  It might seem an odd linkage for an organization like GAPW otherwise committed to peace and security issues at UN Headquarters.  But there is no denying the peace and security implications of vulnerable rural communities and of the women and men who strive to keep those communities viable.  We have little hope of achieving food security for developing societies unless we are able to more effectively guarantee the security of agricultural workers.

Sadly, our habits of consumption and our rapacious appetite for control of commodities and resources are creating societies that are more and more disconnected from – and disinterested in – rural issues and processes.    If there is to be maximum value to this International Year, and we must all hope and work for the best in this regard, it would manifest itself in a comprehensive reinvestment in rural agriculture production from all security and development sectors.  Our farms are facing times of crisis.   Our farm families must be secure enough to help direct locally-based responses to these grave challenges.

Dr. Robert Zuber

The Politics of ‘Doing Something’

26 Aug

On Wednesday, August 21, a special briefing on peacekeeping was offered for diplomats and NGOs entitled: “Humanitarian law, peacekeeping/intervention forces and troop-contributing countries: Issues and challenges.” The briefing was organized by the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization and featured presentations from UN Legal Affairs, the ICRC and Dr. Scott Sheeran from the University of Essex.

The briefing had two objectives:   to explore International Humanitarian Law (IHL) implications for UN peacekeeping forces involved in coercive actions to prevent violence against civilians; and to examine from the UN’s perspective the value of the recently deployed Intervention Brigade in the DRC.

The IHL objective yielded some important insights. For instance, the panelists reminded participants that UN peacekeepers are ‘protected forces’ which underscores the issue of whether ‘protective’ status applies to peacekeepers engaging in aggressive actions, even if those actions are in accordance with a Security Council (SC) mandate (specifically the ‘do whatever is necessary’ mandate).  They also raised the issue regarding the applicability of IHL to peacekeepers who are, technically speaking, not parties to the conflict taking place in their zone of operations.   While Status of Forces agreements generally reference IHL responsibilities, most Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) appear to reject the notion that IHL applies to them in the application of their Security Council mandated tasks.  Thankfully, the UN explicitly affirms its responsibility to abide by IHL in all its operations, including ensuring that any applications of force by Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) are proportionate and carefully targeted.

There were of course many more ‘challenges’ on the table than ‘resolutions’ to challenges, and this was especially evident when it came to the discussion about the Brigades, a deployment about which the panelists seemed more enthusiastic than was the larger audience. The stated objective of the Brigade is ‘to “neutralize and disarm” the notorious 23 March Movement (M23), as well as other Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups in strife-riven eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.’  Of prime importance, to be sure.

As some readers of this blog know, we facilitate work on a proposal for a UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS), a standing, complementary, gender and service integrated capacity that we feel has great promise but that has had limited traction to date within the UN system.  The community surrounding UNEPS (see for example www.globalactionpw.org/?page_id=102) continues to wrestle with a series of questions that are germane to the Brigades as well.   Such questions include the following:

Are there sufficient resources to honor this coercive mandate and the expectations that this deployment is creating?  The Brigade consists of 3000 personnel supplemented by other force arrangements, including drones.  Can such a force save at least some lives in an environment as unforgiving as the Eastern DRC? Clearly there is reason to believe that it can.  But should this be equated with a sufficiently strategic and robust response to years of violence perpetrated by a range of state and non-state actors?  The jury on this is still out.  I used to work as a chaplain in an urban hospital in a tough neighborhood.  If 40 patients are being rushed into an Emergency Room and I send an orderly, a shift nurse and a resident doctor to meet them, this is indeed ‘better than nothing,’ (a phrase that at least one panelist used while responding to concerns about the Brigade), but does it constitute a ‘good faith’ response?  Moreover, an overwhelmed capacity is one that is more likely to make mistakes – sometimes grievous ones.  Despite the best, most disciplined efforts of Brigade troops, mistakes that result in body bags of troops themselves or civilians caught in the cross fire will quickly dissipate expectations and even endanger other stakeholders.

How does this deployment affect options for an eventual political agreement?  There was some sensible discussion back and forth as to whether the deployment of the Brigade would make a political settlement more or less likely.  In the context of discussions about development of UNEPS, we have spent much time thinking through the contexts and implications of deployment. How does importing a coercive military presence into a region that has been coping with violence for many years affect the political and social dynamics of those communities, including their ability to participate in a negotiated settlement?  Our general (not universal) assessment is that such coercion is best applied at the earliest possible stages, before attitudes harden and violent recrimination becomes habitual.   The longer the fire is allowed to burn, the more problematic the efforts of the eventual ‘fire responders.’

Does this deployment increase the vulnerabilities of existing peacekeeping operations or other UN field activities that are NOT involved directly in forward projections of power?  From my years working in a crack neighborhood, I know that when police abuse or overstretch their mandates, it is not just the abusers who are placed at risk.  All police and other service providers within and beyond the security sector are at risk.   The Brigades may benefit from some institutional distance from the rest of MONUSCO (as well as from other UN activities on the ground), but M23 rebels are not likely to sort through the protocols to ensure that they only take out their hostilities on Brigade forces.   They see a UN helmet or convoy, they fire a shot.

Does the deployment represent a genuine, due-diligence response to violence or is it more about just ‘doing something’ after a period of insufficient engagement?  In the case of the Brigades, critics can point to a lack of capacity, a conflict that has been raging for years, a massively sized conflict zone, an expanded coercive mandate institutionally tied to less coercive operations, etc.   If this is in any way a token gesture of response or even a proving ground for a more coercive PKO that could set a precedent for future engagements, is this the right time or place for that?  Is this the population on which such an ‘experiment’ should be conducted?   This issue has come up often in the context of our own UNEPS proposal — assuming that it is eventually fully developed and authorized, where and when should it be best be used? And how should it be used to ensure positive security outcomes rather than mostly symbolic responses?

We were grateful for the efforts that went into this briefing, but we were a bit dismayed that none of the panelists seemed sufficiently sensitive to the direction of the questions being posed from the floor.   For instance, I assume that all of them have had experiences of being overwhelmed by external challenges in their personal and professional lives and making unfortunate mistakes as a result.  Thinking through the implications of capacity-related mistakes in a theater like the DRC is not a particularly high bar. Moreover, most responses during briefings like this tend to accentuate the political more than the normative, as in “everything here at the UN is political.”  Politics granted, though, it is not unreasonable to wonder at what point the weight of risks and challenges outweighs the need to simply ‘do something?’  Indeed, if this Brigade has some politicized elements of a half-hearted or even ‘experimental’ response with implications for future deployments, it is even more important that mission assessments are robust and free as possible from politicized dynamics.   As horrible as the violence in the DRC has been we need to take particular care to avoid ‘practicing’ coercive engagements on human lives, especially lives that have already gone through so much during these long years of conflict-related abuse.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Gender-Based Violence in the Arms Trade Treaty

8 Apr

After two separate negotiating conferences, in July 2012 and March 2013 respectively, an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has finally been adopted. The text (hereinafter “Final Text”) that was adopted on 2 April 2013 in the UN General Assembly by majority vote (155-22-3) contains strong references to gender-based violence (GBV). The objective of the ATT is to create a “comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional a

[1] This process, which began in 2006, came to an end just a few days after the conclusion of the “Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty,” which took place 18-28 March 2013. Although this Final Conference was unable to reach consensus, the draft text was brought to the UNGA and passed by an overwhelming majority of member states. This short brief provides an overview of the role of GBV within the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations as well some concluding thoughts about the significance of its inclusion in the Treaty.

In our policy brief on Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Policy Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA, GAPW highlighted the effects that the illicit trade in arms can have on domestic violence, conflict-related sexual violence, and how such arms can be mis-used in ways that deter women from participating in social and political life.[2]  Given the pervasive effect of the illicit flow of arms in perpetuating violence against women and limiting women’s participation, sufficient attention to a gender perspective is essential in effective disarmament and arms control discussions in order to create a reliable security sector.[3] Special attention should be paid to women’s agency because women in many countries tend to be under-represented in social and political life and tend to have limited access to education, employment, health-care, and judicial processes. [4]

The relationship between violence against women and the illicit flow of small arms was highlighted in the recent agreed conclusions of the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57)[5] as well as in the statement issued by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on 24 July 2012.[6] Moreover, women’s participation in disarmament processes was highlighted in the UNGA First Committee Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control.[7]

As states agreed by consensus in the recent CSW57 conclusions, GBV is “a form of discrimination that seriously violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women and girls of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”[8] Member states also agreed by consensus at the CSW57 that violence against women “means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering to women and girls, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”[9]

It is worth noting here the ATT is not a disarmament treaty per se, though there are clear linkages between the central purpose of the ATT – ending diverted transfers – and efforts to end arms-related violence against women. In this context, there are two relevant GBV references in the ATT text. In the Preamble, states parties recognize “that civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict and armed violence.”[10] This reference is not significantly different from the one found in the 26 July 2012 “Draft Treaty Text,” (hereinafter “Draft Treaty Text”) which formed the basis for March 2013 negotiations. The Draft Treaty Text recognized that “women and children are particularly affected in situations of conflict and armed violence.”[11] The reference to “armed conflict” was included in the Final Text at the request of many states, including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Nigeria, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate the reference to women and children as a homogeneous group is still included, as this suggests that women and children are affected by conflict and violence in the same way.

Additionally, the preambular paragraph in the Final Text does not include the link between GBV and international humanitarian law (IHL), which had been included in the Chair’s Non-Paper from 22 March 2013. The Non-Paper underscores that “recognizing acts of gender based violence may constitute violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”[12] This was particularly relevant and important given the discussions to strengthen the relationship between gender and IHL. Furthermore, the Final Text does not include any language on women’s participation and the role of women as agents of change.  Even though there has previously been agreed language on women’s agency within disarmament processes,[13] the disregard for participation reinforces the notion of women as vulnerable. This omission also continues to place emphasis on women as victims of violence, as opposed to their capacities, skills and experience as leaders in prevention and protection strategies.

The second reference to GBV is in the risk assessment section, Article 7 in the Final Text. In the Draft Treaty Text, GBV was to be taken into consideration after the state assessed whether or not a particular export would violate IHL and international human rights law (IHRL).[14] In making its decision to authorize the export, a state party could establish risk mitigation measures, and would not authorize the export if there was an “overriding” risk. The state party could also take “feasible measures” to ensure that the export would not lead to diversion or be used “to commit or facilitate gender-based violence or violence against children.”[15] One of the challenges with this reference was that it treated GBV as a less important criterion than the IHL/IHLR considerations. Additionally, the reference called for ‘feasible measures’ to be taken, although there was much ambiguity around what that could entail and there was a concern that the “overriding risk” standard allowed too much discretion on the part of the exporting state.[16]  Finally, there were concerns that due to the placement of the GBV provision in the Draft Treaty Text, its location raised questions about the relationship between GBV and IHL.

The Final Text is much improved. In the text adopted on 2 April 2013, under Article 7, GBV is listed as a binding criterion. In making its assessment under Article 7, the exporting party shall consider if the export contributes to violations of IHL, IHRL and shall also take into account the risk that the transfer will be “used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.”[17] This reference is much stronger than in the Draft Treaty Text as it makes the GBV criteria binding and the ambiguity surrounding “feasible measures” eliminated. Additionally, as Ray Acheson notes in the Arms Trade Treaty Monitor, this binding criterion “requires states to act with due diligence to ensure the arms transfer would not be diverted to non-state actors such as death squads, militias, or gangs that commit acts of gender-based violence.”[18] At the same time, however, the reference discusses GBV and violence against women in the same sentence which may be somewhat redundant, and the recurring homogeneous reference to women and children continues.

Overall, it is undisputable that the final text of the ATT contains a strong reference to GBV and one that is a good starting point for further improvement, certainly much better than the July 26 Draft Treaty Text. At the same time, the GBV references must be seen in the context of the rest of the Treaty and the loopholes that remain, including but not limited to the limited definitions of arms included in the scope, the limited scope of activities covered, the lack of an unambiguous prohibition regarding mass atrocity crimes, the “overriding risk” consideration and the lack of public reporting.[19] These factors are not only important when considering the objectives of the Treaty, but also when considering the ability to detect, prevent and monitor instances of GBV stemming from the unauthorized arms trade. As discussions move on to interpretation, ratification and implementation, the effectiveness of the GBV provisions will have to be determined based on how effective the Treaty will be in holding states accountable to its provisions. Given the lack of a strong accountability mechanism within the Treaty, this can prove to be challenging.

Additionally, from a gender perspective, the two-week negotiation process that ultimately brought about the adoption of the ATT reaffirmed the limited priority the GBV issue still has for some states, the challenges that remain regarding mainstreaming gender in relevant disarmament and security-related processes, and the recurring hesitance to talk about women’s participation, despite previously-agreed language (by consensus) promoting their agency. While over 100 member states supported a stronger GBV reference in the ATT, there were still some states that objected to the inclusion of GBV in the text, and preferred “violence against women” as well as states that promoted the inherent inclusion of GBV within IHL, but did not support a specific reference to women.

As attention starts to shift to the post-2015, including the passage of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) deadline, the challenges that were evident in the ATT negotiations, as well as in relevant processes such as the CSW, must be taken under consideration in forming appropriate policy strategies. Some valuable recommendations include:

  • More support for women’s participation in relevant processes, including but not limited to security, judicial, and development forums.
  • More attention to and support for mainstreaming gender issues within relevant processes to promote gender as a priority issue and to be addressed as main issues are negotiated.
  • Increasing awareness on the legally and politically binding instruments that are in place to support the advancement of women’s rights.
  • More attention to and support for promoting collaboration between instruments and processes that share complementary mandates on combating GBV.


—Melina Lito


[1] A/RES/61/89 (2006), paras. 1 and 2.

[2] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief.

[3] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief.

[4] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief.

[5] See, Commission on the Status of Women, 57th Session, March 2013, Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, Agreed Conclusions, Advance Unedited Version, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw57/CSW57_agreed_conclusions_advance_unedited_version_18_March_2013.pdf

[6] Statement of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Need for a Gender Perspective in the Text of the Arms Trade Treaty, Adopted on 24 July 2012 during the 52nd sessionhttp://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/statements/StatementGenderPerspective.pdf

[7] A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1

[8] Commission on the Status of Women, 57th Session, March 2013, Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, Agreed Conclusions, Advance Unedited Version, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw57/CSW57_agreed_conclusions_advance_unedited_version_18_March_2013.pdf

[9] Commission on the Status of Women, 57th Session, March 2013, Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, Agreed Conclusions, Advance Unedited Version, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw57/CSW57_agreed_conclusions_advance_unedited_version_18_March_2013.pdf

[10] Final United Nations Conference of the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft Decision, 27 March 2013, available at http://www.un.org/disarmament/ATT/docs/Draft_ATT_text_27_Mar_2013-E.pdf

[11] United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft of the Arms Trade Treaty, 1 August 2012, available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/CONF.217/CRP.1&Lang=E.

[12] United Nations Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, President’s Non-Paper, 22 March 2013, Draft of the Arms Trade Treaty, available at http://www.un.org/disarmament/ATT/docs/Presidents_Non_Paper_of_22_March_2013_(ATT_Final_Conference).pdf,

[13] See for instance the First Committee Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1 (2012).

[14] See, United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft of the Arms Trade Treaty, Article 4(2),  1 August 2012, available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/CONF.217/CRP.1&Lang=E

[15] United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft of the Arms Trade Treaty, Article 4(6)(b), 1 August 2012, available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/CONF.217/CRP.1&Lang=E.

[16] Ray Acheson, Demanding more from An Arms Trade Treaty, Arms Trade Treaty Monitor, 27 July 2012, Vol. 5, No, 18.

[17] Final United Nations Conference of the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft Decision, 27 March 2013, available at http://www.un.org/disarmament/ATT/docs/Draft_ATT_text_27_Mar_2013-E.pdf

[18] Ray Acheson, Maria Butler, and Sofia Tuvestad, Preventing armed gender-based violence: a binding requirement in the new draft ATT text, Arms Trade Treaty Monitor 6.9.

[19] See, Ray Acheson, A Tale of Two Treaties, Arms Trade Treaty Monitor, 28 March 2013, No. 6.9.

Profile of Activist Luz Mendez: Legal Case on Sexual Enslavement of Indigenous Women in Guatemala

15 Mar

Women’s rights activist from Guatemala Luz Mendez has been presenting her legal case on the sexual enslavement of women during Guatemala’s civil war at the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this month.

Luz Mendez was 15 years of age when she decided to become involved in her home country’s political course of action. Guatemala had been torn by a civil war for nine years at the time Mendez decided to no longer simply accept the status quo. “The numerous years of political oppression and the lack of liberties were the call to action for me”, Mendez explains retrospectively.

Mendez became the President of her High School’s Student Association creating “a small democracy within my school”, Mendez states. It was the year 1969 when the world was shook up by a politicized, international youth that was not willing to accept military dictatorships, questionable wars and the ongoing, and further growing, already vast economic imbalance between nations and entire continents.

Her position in high school put her in touch with many more student leaders from other schools. “That really opened my eyes and I understood how much power we have, when we organize for a good cause and start advocating for our rights.” She moved on to become a noteworthy activist, soon to establish international recognition, by participating in the peace negotiations as the only female member of the delegation of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (UNRC), contributing to the incorporation of unprecedented commitments for gender-equity in the accords. In 1996, she was the only woman representative signing the peace agreements for socioeconomic development and democratization in Guatemala.

Mendez joined this year’s CSW in order to present comprehensive details about the legal case she is trying to establish for indigenous Guatemalan women who have been victims of sexual violence during Guatemala’s civil war. It would also be the first trial of this kind brought to a national court.

The extraordinarily bloody civil war in Guatemala lasted thirty six years total, from 1960 to 1996. All this time the government was fighting left-leaning rebel groups that were supported by Mayan indigenous people. About 50,000 Guatemalans disappeared and up to 200,000 were killed or went missing. According to a UN report released in 1999, called “Guatemala: Memory of Silence”, 83 percent of those Guatemalans killed were Mayan. The Guatemalan government to this day is hesitant to acknowledge the commitment of genocide, although it has been internationally condemned in the past. According to UN resolution 260A, genocide is defined as follows: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life

calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”

A truth commission that had been installed in Guatemala after the civil war and was supported by the United Nations stated that “over 80 percent of the atrocities were committed by the army”. Current Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, to the contrary of his predecessor Álvaro Colom, has also promoted the view that genocide did not take place in Guatemala. Only in 2009 the former Military Commissioner Felipe Cusanero was sentenced to receive a 150-year jail term, for the disappearance of six farmers in the years of 1982 until 1984. “This was hailed as a landmark prison sentence in Guatemala,” Reuters wrote back then.

In February this year, the news that former General and Guatemalan Head of State Jose Efrain Rios Montt would be on trial at home for the crime of genocide, found great international support and positive acknowledgement. It is the first time in history that a domestic court is sentencing a former chief-of-state for genocide. “The Rios Montt trial also marks an important development in an evolving arena of international human rights,” comments News Network Al Jazeera.

Although several international courts established in the past 20 years have prosecuted individuals involved in genocide, the events in Guatemala are exceptional because the trial has been brought “home” and also because no ranking officer of the former totalitarian Guatemalan government has been held responsible thus far. The first public hearing will be held on 19 March.

Furthermore, the brutal victimization of indigenous women in Guatemala has not been rectified in any noteworthy manner as of now. Activist Luz Mendez wants to change that. In September of last year, fifteen Guatemalan women from the indigenous q’eqchí people testified before the High Risk Court in Guatemala City, with their testimony establishing the first criminal trial for sexual slavery and rape during an armed conflict in front of a domestic court. Moreover, as it applies to indigenous women, this testimony is ultimately helping thousands of women victims all over the world.

Mendez describes in her article, “I don’t want to die without seeing justice’: Sexual Slavery During Guatemala’s Armed Conflict,” the atrocities committed against indigenous women during the civil war:

“The history of Dominga Coc made a profound impression on the enslaved women in Sepur Zarco. Dominga, a twenty year-old woman went to the military camp with her two little daughters, Anita and Hermelinda, in search of her husband who had been captured by members of the army in 1982. After arriving at the base, she was captured and raped repeatedly by soldiers in front of her husband and her daughters. After several weeks of being brutally raped, she and her daughters were forcibly disappeared. Her body was found, in early 2012, on the edge of the river and exhumed. Dominga’s husband survived. He presented the testimony in the court. The story of Dominga Coc resonated for years among the women enslaved in Sepur Zarco and became a permanent warning of what could happen to any one of them at any time.”

According to the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, a “general pattern” exists that holds for indigenous women worldwide—that they have a particular “vulnerability to sexual violence.” In areas of conflict, indigenous women have often fallen victims to abuse by members of the military and are often subject to sexual enslavement, forced pregnancy, gang-rapes, sexual mutilation and killings. The International Indigenous Women’s Forum points out that “Historically, violence against women was used as a weapon in colonial conquests of indigenous lands, but as recently as the 1980s and 1990s, 1,400 indigenous Samburu women of Kenya were raped by British soldiers on their lands. In the 1980s, indigenous women were targeted for rape as a weapon of war in Guatemala.” In the 1990s, indigenous women in Chiapas, Mexico were subject to compulsory servitude in paramilitary camps. In times of crises, indigenous women are often forced to leave their communities and search for shelters and jobs elsewhere, which results in cultural and spiritual isolation as well as their exposure to sexual trafficking and prostitution as well as exploitation as domestic workers.

Nevertheless, Mendez is optimistic about her case. “We have any reason to be,” she explains. She is naming several groups of Guatemalan society that have been teaming up and are actively supporting the process. “Not only are the survivors strong women who have been waiting for public recognition for more than a decade, but women lawyers, psychologists and last, but not least, my group the Advisers’ Council of the National Union of Guatemala Women (UNAMG) have been closely working together to try and achieve justice for Guatemala’s indigenous women.” Mendez also points out that Guatemala has undergone a shift in dealing with its own history. “The fact that Rios Montt is now standing trial is giving me a lot of hope to also achieve public recognition and justice for indigenous women in Guatemala.”


–Lia Petridis Maiello

Sexual Violence in Conflict, Small Arms, and Key Linkages

27 Feb

The Security Council, under the presidency of Togo, hosted an open debate on sexual violence in armed conflict featuring briefings from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative Margot Wallstrom, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous, and a statement from Libyan activist Ms. Amina Megheirbi representing the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. Although unable to adopt a Presidential Statement condemning such violence or a public statement on follow-up to Resolution 1960 (2010), the Council did express relatively unanimous support for Ms. Wallstrom’s mandate to alert the members to instances of sexual violence in conflict as well as increasing the effectiveness of the 1960 mandate through better coordination and information sharing. Member states were also supportive of the inclusion of a new mandate for Women Protection Advisers in peacekeeping operations. The debate was held just a few weeks after the Secretary-General released a  new report on ‘Conflict-related Sexual Violence’ on 13 January 2012.

Ms. Wallstrom noted in her statement that no one could remain unmoved by the striking country examples found in the most recent SG report, which she identified as already a ‘bit out of date’ and but one tool to combat the scourge of sexual violence in conflict. She referred to instances in Guinea, Syria, and Libya and poignantly stated that in contemporary wars it is more dangerous to be a women collecting firewood than a solider on the front line. More broadly, Special Representative Wallstrom also emphasized country level information moving effectively to the Council as well as robust support for government initiatives to combat impunity. Expanding the ‘naming and shaming’ listing was also identified as one way in which perpetrators could more effectively be held accountable.

Nonetheless, perhaps most importantly, Ms. Wallstrom classified the issue of conflict-related sexual violence as not a women’s issue, but a security issue with much wider peace and security implications than particular instances of rape. This point is particularly important for Global Action as we strive to link such issues to other components of the broader human security agenda. Not only can rape serve as a precursor to conflict, a diagnostic of pre-conflict conditions, and a symptom of impunity, it is also evidence of a weak and insufficient security sector. As is often said by proponents of the women, peace and security agenda, there is no security without women’s security and the aim is not only to protect women from violence, but to also encourage their active participation in political and economic life. A robust sector sector will indubitably support such participation as well as enhance protection mechanisms needed to eliminate such sexual violence in and out of conflict.

Indicative of these linkages, the delegate of Germany also referred to the proliferation of small arms and its dire effects on violence against women and children. It is a fact that women are disproportionately affected by gun violence in communities. Furthermore, the ready availability of small arms undoubtedly facilitates grave crimes such as sexual and gender-based violence, which is almost always committed at the point of a gun. Better gun control mechanisms, including a robust Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that is to be negotiated this July as well as better implementation of the UN Programme of Action on small arms, are essential to a more dependable security sector and, in turn, protections for women against sexual violence and, just as critical, participation opportunities.

As Special Representative Wallstrom noted, the response to conflict-related sexual violence must be gender-focused and community-based. Communities must deal with this issue as part of a bundle of security issues that pose a threat to the well-being of its citizens– including small arms proliferation, gender-based violence, and lack of women’s access to political and economic life. We fully support the mandate of Ms. Wallstrom and her staff and hope that continued emphasis on the broad security implications of sexual violence will bear more robust and effective response mechanisms for communities suffering from such blights.

–Katherine Prizeman