Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

Sri Lanka

Civilians, in between Kilinochchi and Mulathiv, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last few months of the war. (c) Private

Last night, I watched a harrowing new documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” by Channel 4, a British media company, about the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

The 49-minute film depicts the massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by both the Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.  The film is available online at Channel 4’s website until June 21.

Please note:  some of the scenes in the film are very disturbing.  It is NOT for younger viewers.

The film includes an extended version of the “execution video” released in 2009, in which naked prisoners are shown being shot in the head.  There are scenes of dead female Tamil Tigers who appear to have been raped and murdered.


Violence Against Women Is A U.S. Problem, Too

© STR/AFP/Getty Images

In preparation for the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, recently released a report on her 2011 mission—conducted at the invitation of the U.S. Government—to the United States. This was the first visit of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women since 1998, and her findings suggest both progress and a call to action.

The report affirms that women in the United States experience violence. No surprise there, but it is a clear indication that violence against women (VAW) knows no national, political, ethnic, religious, or socio-economic boundaries; it happens here, it happens everywhere.


Gaddafi Uses Rape as a Weapon of War?

Protest for Libyan Rape Victim Iman al-Obeidi

Libyan-American women protesting in support of Libyan rape victim Iman al-Obeidi in Washington, DC. ©Getty Images

Amidst reports of hundreds of rapes by Gaddafi forces in Libya, I appeared on Alhurra TV last week to discuss this brutal human rights violation. Watch the clip (in Arabic only) here.

Amnesty International remains concerned about violence against women in the midst of the political turbulence of the Arab Spring uprisings. The use of rape and other forms of sexual violence in Libya as weapons of war are efforts to intimidate, punish, humiliate, and control women and their communities.

These rapes and other forms of sexual violence constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the crime of torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.


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!

Mass Rapes in Congo Must Be Stopped

Today the BBC reported that a Congolese army commander led an attack that saw up to 50 women raped over the new year in Fizi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This devastating report comes on the heels of another account of mass rape in the DRC last summer.  The need to end impunity in the Congo has never been more urgent.

The Fizi events are another telling example of the consequences of the virtual impunity the Congolese forces benefit from. The failure to hold the Congolese army to account when they fail to carry out their protection role or commit crimes themselves in turn encourages further violations.

Amnesty International welcomes the initial commitment shown by the Congolese authorities to ensure that those responsible for these recent violations are held to account – notably the arrest of 12 officers of the 43rd sector of Amani Leo and initial investigations by the Military Prosecutor of South Kivu. Such steps must however be taken forward – more often than not investigations in the DRC are never brought to a conclusion. A recent example of this is the investigation into the mass rapes that occurred in Walikale, North Kivu, in August 2010 which have now stalled.

The Congolese authorities must ensure that those responsible for these violations are held to account- through thorough investigations and free and fair trials. No one, regardless of their status, should be above the law.

Join us in calling for justice for survivors of sexual violence in the DRC.

Four Years, Seven Months, and Three Days

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

women of atencoOne woman was on her way to buy a birthday gift for her son, another was a volunteer who worked with children and was worried about reports of a youth being killed, another was a student activist, and another was a health worker who wanted to show solidarity and provide health support. The women had many different reasons for coming to San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, on May 3rd and 4th, 2006, but none of them had any idea of the horror they were about to experience. During a police operation in response to protests by a local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco, more than 45 women were arrested without explanation. Dozens of them were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence by the police officers who arrested them.

These brave survivors are struggling through what is now a nearly 5-year legal battle to hold their abusers accountable for their actions. Several of the women who suffered abuse including sexual violence filed complaints with the Special Prosecutor for Violence against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos relacionados con Actos de Violencia contra Mujeres y Trata de Personas, FEVIMTRA), part of the Office of the Federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República). The women have also advocated for their right to justice by filing a complaint in 2008 with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). After a 3-year investigation, FEVIMTRA identified 34 men as responsible for the violence committed against the Women of Atenco, but concluded that these individuals should be prosecuted at the state level. However, almost no progress has been made in nearly a year. Now is the time to push for real justice and remind the federal government of Mexico that it has the ultimate responsibility to protect the human rights of its citizens, and not to let this impunity continue.

It’s been four years, seven months, and three days without justice for the Women of Atenco, and Amnesty International USA continues to campaign on their behalf. The Women of Atenco are featured in this year’s Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, and you can help them in their fight for justice by signing up for the Write-a-thon today to write for their rights and those of 11 other cases from around the world!

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Sexual Violence Against Girls in Nicaragua Widespread

Rosmery, a young survivor of sexual violence at age 12, draws her hopes for the future represented by a tree which marks her past, present and future.

In Nicaragua, rape and sexual abuse are widespread, and the majority of the victims are young and female.  More than two thirds of all rapes reported between 1998 and 2008 were committed against girls under the age of 17, and nearly half of victims were under age 14.

Though there is overwhelming evidence of widespread sexual abuse in the country, and five UN expert committees have called on the government to address the issue of violence against women and girls, the Nicaraguan government is still failing to treat this human rights emergency with the urgency that it deserves.

Last week, Amnesty International published a report on sexual violence against girls in Nicaragua. The report highlights that information on preventing and responding to abuse for those at risk or suffering from sexual violence is difficult, if not impossible to find, leaving many girls trapped in abusive situations with no clear escape.  Further, the stigma associated with sexual crimes means that it’s often the survivor – not the abuser – who is blamed, and young survivors of rape or sexual abuse get little to no government support to rebuild their lives.


Rounded Up and Raped in the Congo

A woman sits in a tent in a camp for the internally displaced after she was allegedly raped. AFP/GETTY IMAGES

During four terrible days in July and August, armed groups raped more than 300 women, girls, men and boys in the Walikale territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The perpetrators moved through 13 villages, looting, raping and abducting the local population. The rapes were planned and organized: victims were rounded up and prevented from fleeing before being raped by armed men acting under the orders of their commanding officers.

Even though United Nations peacekeepers were stationed nearby, they failed to protect these communities.

What happened in Walikale demonstrates the utter failure of both the DRC government and the United Nations to protect civilians from violence.

We can do something about this. In just two weeks, the United States will assume the presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of December– giving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the opportunity to demand strong measures to protect civilians in the DRC from sexual violence.

We need you to let Secretary Clinton know that concerned citizens want the U.S. to take a strong stand in the Council to fully protect civilians in the DRC.

The suffering endured by the survivors in Walikale is, tragically, only one example of what the Congolese people have to endure. Sexual violence in the DRC has sometimes been referred to as “the war within the war”.

Last year alone, 15,000 cases of rape were reported. The actual figure is likely much higher, as many survivors do not report rape out of fear of being stigmatized within their communities.

Secretary Clinton has witnessed first-hand the extent of sexual violence in the DRC. In September 2009, following her mission to the DRC, she told the UN Security Council that “it is time for us…to go beyond condemning this behavior, to taking concrete steps to end it.

She also pushed the Council to adopt the concrete measures necessary to bring perpetrators of this violence to justice.

Now that the United States has another opportunity to lead the UN Security Council in taking action to protect civilians in the DRC, we can’t afford to sit quietly!

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.

Great news for Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú!

Ines Fernandez Ortega

Inés Fernández Ortega ©Private

Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú were raped by soldiers in the Mexican Army in 2002, and have been fighting for their right to hold their perpetrators accountable for their actions.  The Inter-American Court of Human Rights just issued a ruling that greatly aids both women in their fight for justice.

On October 1 the Court issued a ruling recognizing that gross human rights violations were committed against both women and their relatives.  These violations include impunity for those responsible for the abuses as well the harassment of both the people who have supported the women in their search for justice.  The decision categorically stated that both women were raped, and identified serious flaws in the treatment of Inés and Valentina in the investigation of their abuses.

Valentina Rosendo Cantú

Valentina Rosendo Cantú ©Amnesty International

The Court also criticized the State’s attitude towards both women and demanded that certain measures be taken to re-open the criminal investigation, investigate the officials who undermined the investigations, strengthen procedures for investigating rape cases, improve medical care provided to the direct victims and provide redress for both the women, their relatives and community.  The Court also emphasized Mexico’s obligation to stop applying military justice when investigating and prosecuting members of the army for human rights violations.

Amnesty International urges the Mexican federal and state authorities to immediately implement all necessary measures to comply with the new judgments made against Mexico by the Inter-American Court with regard to violence against women.  It is time to bring justice for Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú!

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.