Rape survivors awaiting surgery, Panzi hospital, Bukavu, South-Kivu province. Copyright Amnesty International
Three years ago when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took the unprecedented step of travelling to the Eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to meet with rape survivors of the country’s brutal conflict, I was elated and hopeful. Elated because Secretary Clinton was doing something that had never been done before—sending the message that sexual violence is just as high on America’s foreign policy agenda as trade or traditional capital-to-capital diplomacy, and that the dignity and needs of survivors are a particular priority. Hopeful because I thought it meant perhaps three years later we would see some real change for women in that unending war.
I was wrong.
Tens of thousands of civilians have this very week been displaced following the fall of Goma, a city in Congo’s war-torn east, to the armed group M23, worsening an already dire human rights situation. Since only April of this year, fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 armed group has displaced 226,000 people in North Kivu province, and 60,000 refugees have fled to Uganda and Rwanda. As with the many other chapters in what’s become known as Africa’s world war, sexual violence has been a trademark of the recent fighting. Amnesty International has documented numerous crimes under international law and other human rights violations committed in the course of fighting between M23 and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army in recent months.
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Yesterday the United Nations Security Council strengthened the commitments it made a decade ago to women affected by war. High level ministers, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met to mark the 10th anniversary of a resolution adopted to formally recognize that women are integral to all efforts to create and maintain international peace and security – Security Council Resolution 1325.
Women are deeply and disproportionately affected by conflict including as displaced civilians or targets of sexual violence. Yesterday, not only did the Security Council reconfirm that women have the potential to promote peace, but they committed to taking steps to harness that potential.
In particular the Council commited to improve the measurement and reporting of women’s active participation in peacebuilding. The Council also made a commitment to fight impunity and uphold accountability for serious crimes against women and girls and drew attention to justice mechanisms including the International Criminal Court and national reparation programs for victims.
In her statement, Secretary Clinton demonstrated the United States’ recognition of the value of women’s participation in conflict prevention by promising $44 million to initiatives designed to empower women and committing to develop a United States National Action Plan to accelerate the implementation of Resolution 1325. Secretary Clinton, who came face to face with the horrors of violence when she visited the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, spoke about the reported mass rapes there earlier this year. As she put it, “those rapes and our failure as an international community to bring that conflict to an end and to protect women and children in the process stands as a tragic rebuke to our efforts thus far” she went on to say “..we may have to challenge some conventional wisdom about how best to end the impunity of those who not only conduct these horrible violations of human rights, but those who permit them to do so.”
The steps taken by the Security Council yesterday and the commitments made mark significant progress in global recognition of the critical role women play in maintaining international peace and security. They also reinforce the role the international community must play in strengthening the rule of law and justice institutions in order to end impunity and war waged against women. These commitments can help turn words into action and facilitate an increased role for women who are on the frontlines fighting for peace.
MINURCAT’s future still hangs in the balance. Yesterday, the UN Security Council unanimously decided to postpone making a decision on whether or not MINURCAT, the UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Chad and northern Central African Republic, should be renewed.
Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad. Copyright Amnesty International
All 15 members of the UNSC felt they needed more time to think about the recommendations put forward by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and to determine Chad’s capacity to protect civilians without the help of the peacekeeping mission.
We’ve been pushing for the UN Security Council to continue protecting civilians in the region by renewing MINURCAT’s mandate. At least 10,000 people worldwide have already taken action. There is still time to add your voice – take action now and ask Secretary Clinton to support MINURCAT’s renewal.
Israeli senior officials yesterday said that Israel is open to a 3-6 month complete settlement freeze (including natural growth) in order to allow for Palestinian negotiations to take place. Officials asked they not be named, as the issue is so “explosive” within Israel that they do not wish to be associated with the idea yet.
Despite the officials’ claims, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who meets with US envoy George Mitchell this week, has shied away from the subject, saying “the matter mentioned in the headlines has not been finalized.”
This freeze, however, would allow for existing settlement construction to continue. Currently, over 2000 new buildings are under construction across the Palestinian West Bank. While not meeting US calls for a complete freeze, a brief halt to new settlements is indicative of the Israeli desire to move on from the current tension between the two countries.
Settlements are illegal under International Law. Last month, President Obama and Secretary Clinton made vocal requests for Israel to completely end its creation of new settlements in the West Bank.
Samah Choudhury contributed to this post