CSW 57: Justice for war crimes victims

CSW 57: Justice for war crimes victims

Date: March 7, 2013
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As a young woman attending the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) in New York for the first time I am really not sure of what to expect. The vision I have of the City is a vivid picture painted by Jay Z and Alicia Keys in their song “the Empire state of mind.” According to the song the city is a concrete jungle made of dreams, and there’s nothing’ you can’t do.

What a befitting description to a City that is home to the United Nations, an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace.

As a young social justice activist I came to New York carrying with me my own dreams of a world that is free of discrimination, violence and war. I am hoping I will be able to add my voice to a better world where women and men are treated equally and women will never have to worry about their bodies being turned into battlefields.

The first two days flush in a whirlwind of events that leave me with great hope of gender violence being a thing of the past.

However day three turns out to be my worst nightmare. An event hosted by the Agency for the Cooperation and Research in Development (ACCORD) kicked off with the screening of a heart wrenching video of women survivors of conflict sexual violence. The video ends on a positive note with the women rebuilding their lives.

But it gets me thinking: why is it that this atrocity keeps on happening unabated despite recognition by the Security Council that rape as a weapon of war can be a threat to international security? Is it because we have come to accept that rape is inevitable in a war or is it that governments are not being held accountable for this crime against humanity?

I walk into another session on women’s sexual and health rights. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallstrom is quoted as saying: “If we can ban cluster bombs, we can ban sexual violence in conflict, in war and conflict.”

Speaker after speaker testifies to the rape of women in conflict areas across the world. According to the Global Justice Center, governments, international humanitarian law experts, international war crimes tribunal, military experts and global civil society all agree that rape is being used as a weapon of war. The Security Council has recognised this in Resolutions 1820; 1888, and 1960.

As this is not enough it has recently emerged that some rape victims have contracted HIV in the process. In Rwanda according the World Health an estimated 200 000 -535 rape survivors of the Rwandan genocide nearly all women, contracted HIV from war rape.

The United Nations Secretary General last year called for the punishment of those responsible for the mass rapes in DRC but up to know nothing much has been done. Same in Zimbabwe where in 2008 as a political journalist I personally witnessed first-hand politically motivated violations of women’s rights.

Local organizations estimate that between May and July alone state-sanctioned groups abducted, raped, tortured, and beat over 2,000 women and girls due to their political affiliations. Recently the coalition government decided to move on and put the past behind. The same has happened in DRC where a peace accord has been signed.

However so many questions remain unanswered despite these supposedly ‘noble’ gestures. Is moving on going to bring back the virginity of a minor who was raped and restore their innocence? Is moving on going to take back the virus that has made home in the bodies of women who were raped because of their political affiliations. Can these women move on and continue with their lives and feel free when they see their violators walk as free men?

So like Alicia Keys and Jay Z sang the bright lights of New York have really inspired me to do more and use my voice and demand justice for all the women in this world whose bodies have been turned into battlefields.

Lucia Makamure is Alliance and Partnership officer at Gender Links. This article is part of GL’s special coverage of CSW 57.

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