No Justice for Women in DRC

Rape survivors gather to meet Amnesty International mission delegates, Kindu, Maniema province.

Two years ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the unprecedented step of extending a diplomatic visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to travel across the country and meet directly with rape survivors in the country’s war-torn eastern region.

The Secretary heard brutal, firsthand accounts of targeted sexual violence women had suffered as part of a systematic campaign by armed groups intended to terrorize civilians and maintain control.

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5th Anniversary Of Police Assaults On Women In Mexico

Rally for the women of Atenco © AI

Five years ago today, dozens of women were beaten, raped, and tortured sexually and psychologically by police after being detained following protests by a local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco, near Mexico City. Despite years of legal battles, these brave survivors are still waiting for justice. None of the officials responsible for their abuse have been held accountable.

The good news is, we have a fresh opportunity to make a difference for the women of Atenco. Mexican President Felipe Calderón recently appointed a new Attorney General, Marisela Morales. As Mexico’s first-ever female Attorney General, with a history of being tough against organized crime, she is uniquely positioned to shake things up and set a new tone by standing against impunity. We need to tell her to finally ensure that the perpetrators won’t be allowed to get away with these violent abuses any longer.

Help us tell Mexico’s Attorney General that the Women of Atenco deserve to see justice done!

No Justice For Gang Rape Survivor Mukhtar Mai

Mukhtar Mai © Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday April 21, 2011 the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a decision in the case of gang rape survivor Mukhtar Mai.  Mukhtar Mai was gang raped on the orders of a village council in June 2002 when her brother was wrongly accused of having an affair with a woman from a rival gang.

Following the incident, an Anti-Terrorism Court had sentenced six of the accused men to death. This sentence was overturned by the Lahore High Court which acquitted five of the accused and commuted the sentence of the sixth to life imprisonment.

Now the Supreme Court Pakistan’s highest legal authority has affirmed the judgment of the Lahore High Court and acquitted all but one of the accused. In an astounding decision, the Court argues that the accused enjoy a triple presumption of innocence without ever defining the term or explaining the burden of proof it entails.

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No More Rapes: End Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Haiti

After she moved into a makeshift shelter in Dessalines Square, Champ-de-Mars, Haiti, “Suzie” and her friend were gang raped in front of their shelter.

 “After they left I didn’t do anything….I don’t know where there is a clinic offering medical treatment for victims of violence.” 

Because she was blindfolded, Suzie didn’t go to the police because she didn’t know who the men were that raped her.  She told Amnesty International that the police patrol the streets, but she’s never seen them inside the camp.

In the Haitian camps there are many women and girls like Suzie. It is therefore vitally important that both the international community and the Haitian government take immediate action to treat the issue of violence against women as a priority for the humanitarian and reconstruction effort in Haiti. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Victims Testify to End Sexual Violence in the Congo

(c) Amnesty International


Unimaginable and unacceptable.” These are the words Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. special envoy for sexual violence and conflict, recently told the U.N. Security Council after finding out that Congolese government soldiers may have been the perpetrators of murder and rape against at least 200 women, in Luvungi, Congo.  And all the while, U.N. peace keepers were stationed 20 miles away.

After the mass rape, the United Nations released a report on the incident detailing the failures of the peacekeeping mission in not acting on reports of increased treatments of rape in a nearby hospital.

Victims are now testifying in front of a U.N. panel, but moving forward, the key to ending mass violence against women in the Congo is ending impunity for the offenders.

The international community and specifically the United States must play a lead role in demanding an end to impunity for the horrific sexual violence that reoccurs in Congo.  We are calling for an urgent investigation of government soldiers who failed to protect civilians or perpetrated crimes themselves.  In addition, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo must implement a plan to better protect Congolese civilians and ensure that an atrocity like this never happens again.

This is it – act NOW to pass the Tribal Law and Order Act

Two Native American women were gang-raped by three non-Native men in Oklahoma. Because they were forced to wear blindfolds, however, support workers were concerned that the women would be unable to say whether the rapes took place on federal, state or tribal land. Because of jurisdictional complexities and the uncertainty of the locations of these crimes, the women may never see justice served.

It is time to help make a difference in the lives of Native American and Alaska Native women and put an end to the sexual violence that Native women face at a rate that is 2.5 times greater than that of women in the U.S. in general. Passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act will help to do just that.

The Tribal Law and Order Act, attached as an amendment to H.R. 725, is now up for a full floor vote in the House. WHEN it passes, the legislation will go straight to the President to be signed into law.

YOU can make a difference!

TAKE ACTION now and send a letter of support urging your Representative to vote for H.R. 725 with Tribal Law and Order provisions attached, when the bill hits the House floor this week!

Policemen Force Entry into Women's Shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

On the afternoon of June 9th, 14 men, including six armed municipal policemen and a state court official, arrived at a shelter that works to protect women and children at grave risk due to extreme violence in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, northern Mexico. They demanded entry into the shelter, claiming they were searching for a girl who had been kidnapped. They carried with them official court documents, none of which referred to the women’s shelter. The men were denied entry because the shelter’s protocol strictly prohibits men on the premises in an effort to ensure the protection and confidentiality of the women who have sought refuge.

The men repeatedly issued violent threats against the staff at the shelter. One police officer pointed his gun at the coordinator and said, “You’re going to regret this, you’ll get yourself into trouble, it’s better if you cooperate or we will push down the doors and break the locks.” Following repeated threats and fearing for their lives, the staff eventually allowed the men to enter the shelter. They ransacked the shelter, overturning furniture and searching under beds. Once they were satisfied the girl was not there, they left.

This violent breach of the rights of the women seeking protection at this shelter is especially dangerous because many of them have fled violent partners, including various municipal policemen. The forced entry of these policemen has jeopardized the women’s safety by revealing their location and exposing them to potential future reprisals.

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Sexual Violence Still Prevalent in the DRC

Displaced people in Kibati camp, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), November 2008. The Kibati site had a population of 6,000 until the recent fighting started just over a week ago when the camp population surged to an estimated 40,000 people. Copyright: UNHCR/P. Taggart

Displaced people in Kibati camp, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), November 2008. Copyright: UNHCR/P. Taggart

Today, Oxfam International and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative released a report on the rampant use of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The news is sobering: tens of thousands of women have been systematically raped by combatant forces between 2004 and 2008.

Rape is an extremely effective wartime weapon. It is strategically used to shame, demoralize and humiliate the enemy. By systematically raping women and girls, armed groups assert power and domination over not only the women, but their men as well (page 7)

Perhaps most shocking of all their findings is that gang rape is widespread and prevalent, especially in rapes committed by armed combatants. And while many rapes are still being committed by armed combatants, the report also found that the incidence of rape by civilians had greatly increased since 2004, increasing by 1733%, while incidence of rape by armed combatants are actually decreased. The authors of the report grimly call this trend a “civilian adoption of rape.”

 

Rape survivors awaiting surgery, Panzi hospital, Bukavu, South-Kivu province. Copyright Amnesty International

Rape survivors awaiting surgery, Panzi hospital, Bukavu, South-Kivu province. Copyright Amnesty International

 

Given the widespread violence perpetrated by armed combatants in the DRC, a withdrawal of United Nations peacekeeping mission (MONUC) troops is likely to lead to increased violence and even less protection for women and girls. The debate to extend MONUC, whose mandate is up for renewal at the end of May, has already begun in the United Nations Security Council.

Amnesty strongly opposes any withdrawal or drawdown in MONUC troops. Instead of requiring the peacekeepers to leave, the government should work with the UN in resolving the many protection challenges that remain. Especially with regards to sexual violence, government forces do not have the capacity to assume the security functions currently fulfilled by MONUC, and the government has not shown the political will to make its forces capable. A withdrawal of MONUC troops will severely hurt the DRC’s chances for peace, and further limit the potential for justice and protection of victims of sexual violence.

Take action now to help protect Justine Masika Bihamba, a women’s rights defender in the DRC who has been repeatedly threatened and attacked because of her work on behalf of survivors of sexual violence.

Kristin Ghazarians contributed to this blog post

Congress Moves on the 2009 Tribal Law and Order Act

On Thursday, December 10th, the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing to discuss the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009, for which AIUSA was invited to submit written testimony. The bill, a close approximation of the early Senate draft of the bill, would make crucial and desperately needed reforms in tribal justice systems, helping to address the epidemic of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women and girls.

Over the last few years, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) has worked to document the disconcerting realities of law enforcement in Indian Country, especially as they impact the capacity and ability to prevent and respond to sexual violence against women and girls. Our research found that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United States in general. In recent months, as both the House and Senate have made headway in pushing their respective bills through committee, it seems that Congressional leaders are finally realizing the true urgency of reforming tribal law enforcement.

Both bills would make crucial steps in ensuring justice in Indian Country. These bills mandate and create structures for improving communication, transparency, and data sharing between tribal, state, and Federal agencies, increase tribal prosecutorial authorities, expand and emphasize the importance of data collection and analysis, and call for the US Attorney General’s Office to document cases it refuses to prosecute. The bills also require training for law enforcement personnel on how to respond to domestic and sexual violent crimes and require Indian Health Services to improve services for victims of sexual assault.

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Darfur Refugees Raped in Chad Camps

A new Amnesty International report draws a shocking picture of the fate of women and girls who fled the violence in Darfur to neighboring Chad: Instead of finding safety in refugee camps across the border, many become victims of sexual violence. Chadian police, trained and supported by UN forces, do little to protect women from sexual attacks in and outside the camps. In a statement to the Associated Press, a spokesman for the Chadian government denied any responsibility for protecting the refugees: “If there are cases of rape in the camps we cannot prevent them. The government is not responsible for security in the camps.”

The conclusion of the report – titled No place for us here. Violence against refugee women in eastern Chad (pdf) – is devastating and speaks for itself:

Refugee women and girls continue to face the risk of rape and other serious violence in and outside refugee camps in eastern Chad despite the presence of the MINURCAT and the full deployment of the DIS [Detachement Integre de Securite; UN trained Chadian police force] in the 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Outside refugee camps, women and girls face a range of abuses, from harassment and threats of physical attacks to rape and other forms of violence. Within the camps there is little safety from rape and other violence at the hands of other refugees, including members of their own families. In some cases women and girls even face the risk of rape and other violence from staff of humanitarian organizations, whose task is to provide them with assistance and support.

Perpetrators of rape and other forms of violence against refugee women and girls are very rarely brought to justice. This is the case even when survivors report instances of rape and other violence to the local Chadian authorities, the DIS or to refugee camps leaders. There is a deeply entrenched culture of impunity throughout eastern Chad when it comes to rape and other forms of violence against women.