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Consolidating the rights of women in conflict and post-conflict situations

During a high level panel discussion to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) organised by the UN Human Rights Office and the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF), human rights experts examined how to promote and protect the rights of women in conflict and post-conflict situations in French speaking African countries.

Since its inception 30 years ago, the Committee, which includes a number of experts from OIF member countries, has worked to monitor the implementation of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, one of the most widely accepted international treaties.

Opening the discussion, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang, praised the Committee’s tireless work on controversial issues despite dwindling resources.

“The Committee’s work in clarifying State obligations and setting concrete recommendations for action is essential for ensuring that women, particularly those who suffer from the most heinous violations, will be able to exercise their human rights,” she said. “While protection and prosecution are first steps to address violence against women, reparations are essential,” she added.

Ridha Bouabid, Permanent Observer for the OIF in Geneva, outlined violations endured by women victims of war who he wished could become actors of peace.
“The protection of women and children against violent abuses, including sexual abuse, in cases of imminent threat of physical danger, enrollment in the fighting, and the fight against immunity for perpetrators, are essential elements of the approach advocated by the Francophonie,” he said. “Regarding women especially, the effective implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 on the role and participation of women in mechanisms to prevent and resolve conflicts must be enable, this through strengthening the capacity and empowering women.”
The Special Representative of the Secretary General on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, said it was important to remember that one of the most evil forms of discrimination against women and girl was sexual violence.
Oumou Touré, President of the Coordination of Women’s Associations and NGOs of Mali noted that implementing the provisions of the Convention and resolution 1325 still posed a challenge today, particularly in West African countries.
UN research on gender issues revealed that conflict has a different impact on women and men. Ninety per cent of the victims of modern day conflicts are civilians, the majority of which are women and children. They also represent eighty per cent of the world’s millions of refugees and internally displaced people.

Pramila Patten, chair of CEDAW’s working group on women in conflict and post-conflict situations, and former member of the Commission of inquiry into the 28 September 2009 events in Guinea, said that it was essential to combat impunity for crimes of sexual violence in order to attain lasting peace and national reconciliation, and stressed, in the case of Guinea, International Criminal Court and national judicial institutions must continue to play a crucial role in providing justice to victims.

“While entire communities suffer the consequences of any armed conflict, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status within society and their gender. Rape is often unpunished; it is also increasingly used systematically as a tactic of war,” she said.

The impact of sexual violence on women’s physical and psychological integrity lingers beyond conflicts through social stigma, unwanted pregnancies, and the impunity that perpetrators of such atrocities enjoy after the conflict. Women face the added injury of not being able to participate in national or international plans to consolidate peace post-conflict.

Doctor Denis Mukwege, who has dedicated his life to mending the damage done to women raped and sexually assaulted in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said the situation in his country showed the weakness of the international justice system in indicting war criminals. He stressed also the importance of raising awareness among youths on gender equality and fostering a culture of non-violence.
“The international courts and tribunals are weakened because dependent on States that do not cooperate in arresting criminals. If the international community really wants to promote and protect women's rights, international justice must be strengthened in order to become more independent and coercive to take action against perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.
Moving on to future prospects for the consolidation of women’s rights post conflict, the UN Independent Expert on human rights in Haiti, Michel Forst, noted that conflicts do not end with the cessation of hostilities but only when State institutions and good governance had been re-established. This, he stressed, could only happen through a participatory conflict resolution process that included women and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).

“Many NHRIs have been entrusted by the international community or their State mediation missions to reflect on establishing transitional justice or remembrance mechanisms. I’m thinking of Burundi, Rwanda, South Africa,” he said. “And because taking women's fundamental rights into account and women’s necessary involvement poses a dual challenge, the work [NHRIs] have carried out has led them to develop innovative approaches.”

Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced persons, added that it was crucial to recognize the role played by women in their communities and families in crisis situations, and that they should participate in the resettlement of people displaced by conflict.

Experts noted that despite existing inclusive good practices to make the rights of women a reality, social and cultural resistance questioned women’s ability to act as mediators for peace. They stressed the importance of allowing women to participate on equal footing with men in post-conflict reconstruction and transitional processes.

 22 October 2012

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