COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN HOLDS HIGH-LEVEL PANEL TO CELEBRATE ITS THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY
Panel Discusses the Rights of Women in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations in French-speaking Africa
18 October 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in partnership with the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, today held a high-level panel discussion entitled “promoting and protecting women's rights in situations of conflict and post-conflict: the case of French-speaking Africa” to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Committee.
In opening remarks, Silvia Pimentel, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee had stepped up its efforts to include the protection of human rights in armed conflicts in its mandate, notably by establishing a Working Group. It was essential that women were better represented in institutions and mechanisms related to peace consolidation, decision-making, policy-making and implementation.
Also in opening remarks, Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that through its hard work over the past 30 years, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had advanced the rights of women, placing women’s rights high on the international agenda and empowering women to claim them. The Committee had become the authoritative voice of the rights of women and girls everywhere.
Ridha Bouabid, Permanent Representative of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, in his opening remarks, underlined that conflict prevention, crisis management and peace consolidation were among the major concerns of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and the protection of women and children from sexual abuses were key elements of the approach it promoted.
Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, in her opening statement, said it was important to remember that one of the worst and most evil forms of discrimination against women and girls was sexual violence. The consequences of rape and other forms of sexual violence often lingered long after the conflict had ended.
Taking the floor under the first segment of the high-level panel entitled assessment of experiences in French-speaking Africa, speakers said while entire communities suffered from the consequences of conflict, women and girls were particularly affected. Nonetheless, some Governments simply shelved the conventions they had ratified. The plight of women in northern Mali, where Islamists had seized control, was of particular concern. In moving forward, the promotion and protection of women’s rights must include schools, where tomorrow’s leaders were being educated.
Speaking in this segment were Pramila Patten, President of the working group on women in conflict and post-conflict situations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Denis Mukwege, Medical Director of the Hospital Panzi de Bukavu in South Kivu, and Member of the Panel on Remedies and Reparations for Victims of Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Oumou Touré, President of the Coordination of women's associations and non-governmental organizations in Mali. Also participating in the discussion were Rwanda, France, Australia, and the following non-governmental organizations: Fonds des Nations Unies pour les activités en matiére de population and Femme Africa Solidarité.
In the second segment of the panel, entitled outlook on how to use the promotion and protection of women’s rights as an instrument for strengthening peace, speakers underlined the importance of the Committee’s General Comment on women in conflict as women paid a heavy toll as a result of crisis. It was also noted that national institutions had an important role to play, and that the role played by women in their communities and families in crisis situations must be acknowledged.
Speaking in this segment were Nicole Ameline, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Michel Forst, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti and Chair of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; and Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. Also speaking were Haiti and Austria.
In her concluding remarks, Dilek Elveren of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie said a return to normal life could generate various opportunities in post-conflict and transition phases but what had been achieved could also be lost. It was therefore essential to have an overall vision of the protection and promotion of women’s rights and to put in place intervention strategies that ensured that women were treated as actors in their own right.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Friday, 19 October at noon when it will adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Turkmenistan, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Togo and Chile and adopt the report on its fifty-third session before closing the session.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the international community had been scaling up its efforts to integrate the rights of women into the system for the protection of human rights in armed conflicts, and to mainstream the participation of women in peace processes. The Committee had also stepped up its efforts to include such questions in its mandate, notably by establishing a Working Group in this regard. The development of a General Comment on women in conflict and post-conflict situations was among the priorities of the Committee. As well as reflecting the high profile the Committee intended to give to this subject, the General Comment reminded Member States of their obligations during and after armed conflicts. It was essential that women were better represented in institutions and mechanisms related to the consolidation of peace, decision-making, policy-making and implementation.
KYUNG-WHA KANG, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it was on 18 October, 30 years ago, that the Committee had convened for the very first time. Through its hard work over the past 30 years, the Committee had advanced the rights of women. The Committee had placed women’s rights high on the international agenda and empowered women to claim them. Indeed, it had become the authoritative voice of the rights of women and girls everywhere. The struggle for women’s equality had made major advances – but it was far from won. And that was why the Committee needed to help women and men everywhere to understand that equality made us all stronger. This year had been particularly challenging for the Committee. In the midst of declining resources and a growing workload, the Committee had not shied away from dealing with the most complex and controversial issues affecting women. The Committee’s work in clarifying State obligations and setting concrete recommendations for action was essential for ensuring that women, particularly those suffering from the most heinous violations, were able to exercise their human rights. While the protection and prosecution were first steps to address violence against women, reparations were also essential, Ms. Kang underlined.
RIDHA BOUABID, Permanent Representative of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, noted that conflict prevention, crisis management and peace consolidation were among the major concerns of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. Based on the Declarations of Bamako and Saint-Boniface, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie had sought alliances with concerned countries and international actors to contribute to solving crises as much as possible before they emerged. The protection of women and children from sexual abuse was a key element of the approach promoted by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. As far as women, in particular, were concerned, it was requested that Security Council resolution 1325 on the role and participation of women in prevention mechanisms and conflict management be implemented in an efficient manner. This encompassed not only the scaling up of capacities, but also rendering women more autonomous. In spite of the considerable progress which had been achieved, as well as the adoption of various international instruments, impunity for acts of violence continued to be widespread. This situation was compounded by the marginalization of women in peace processes, in post-conflict reconstruction, and in most international and regional conventions.
ZAINAB HAWA BANGURA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, in her opening statement on “protecting women from sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations”, said that as the Committee was marking its thirtieth anniversary it was important to remember that although there were many different forms of discrimination against women and girls, one of the worst and most evil of them was sexual violence. The consequences of rape and other forms of sexual violence often lingered long after the conflict had ended. Mental and physical illness was common and the crime often caused depression, anxiety disorders and fear. Ms. Bangura said that to strive towards the goal of eradication of sexual violence in conflict, her predecessor had developed a five point agenda: impunity for perpetrators must be ended; protection and empowerment must be twin pillars of the solution to sexual violence; political leaders must engage in strengthening the implementation of the Security Council resolutions building the foundations of her mandate; more consistency and coordination was needed in the response from the international community to sexual violence; and rape must be recognized as a tactic of war. Ms. Bangura had added to this agenda a sixth point – the emphasis on national ownership, leadership and responsibility. She knew that putting an end to the scourge of sexual violence in conflict was not impossible.
Segment 1: Assessment of Experiences in French-speaking Africa
PRAMILA PATTEN, President of the working group on women in conflict and post-conflict situations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that over the past years Sub-Saharan Africa had been the theatre of armed conflicts. While entire communities had suffered from the consequences, women and girls had been particularly affected, due to both their role in society and their sex. The legal arsenal for protecting women and children during armed conflicts was inefficient in the face of new traits of armed conflicts in Africa. And, paradoxically, women were essential in consolidating peace and ensuring reconstruction. A former Commissioner of the International Commission of Inquiry mandated to establish the facts and circumstances of the events of 28 September 2009 in Guinea, Ms. Patten shared in-depth insights about the case of Guinea, which had violated several international instruments it had ratified, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
DENIS MUKWEGE, Medical Director of the Hospital Panzi de Bukavu in South Kivu, and Member of the Panel on Remedies and Reparations for Victims of Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that the promotion and protection of women’s rights must include schools, where tomorrow’s leaders were being educated. Children must be sensitized about the social values promoting the respect of one’s body, one’s personality, and a woman’s dignity. The notions of equality between men and women must be mainstreamed into social practices in times of peace to prevent them from being violated in times of conflict. This training on the rights of women should be supported by measures taken by States, including the condemnation, the repression and the reparation of all human rights violations. The case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo highlighted the weakness of the international justice system, Mr. Mukwege went on to say. Well-know perpetrators of war crimes were not being arrested. The processes and international courts were weakened as they were dependent on States which did not cooperate with arrest mandates. If the international community was serious about promoting and protecting women’s rights, the international justice system must be strengthened so as to be more autonomous and coercive.
OUMOU TOURÉ, President of the Coordination of women's associations and non-governmental organizations in Mali, said some Governments were not gender-sensitive. They were creating Gender Ministries, but these were not doing very well. Some countries did not even submit reports in total impunity. These Governments simply shelved the conventions they had ratified. Ms. Touré said that she did not know of any cases of violence where the culprits had been identified and punished. Some countries said that things were working well in their territory, but the general situation in the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) region was that Governments ratified instruments and did not implement them. Turning to Mali, more particularly, Ms. Touré underlined that the Islamists, who had taken hold of the North, often acquired girls to force them into prostitution often involving as many as 20 men. Women were also forced to wear heavy clothing, facing beating when leaving their homes without these clothes, which many women could simply not afford. When running their own businesses, women were prevented from buying meat, which led to an economic stand-still. Even worse, women who were giving birth in hospitals had been thrown off the tables, with many women dying as a result.
In the ensuing discussion, a participant wondered whether there could be issues of consistency and cooperation in this field, given the various actors involved. One speaker noted that women were not only victims; they were also the key to peacebuilding once the guns had fallen silent. The speaker had taken note of the importance of ownership, and the insights provided by the panelists were much-appreciated. The importance of the mobilization of women at grassroots level to make sure that their voices were being heard was underlined. Could the panelists share any insights regarding the involvement of women in post-conflict processes? A panelist replied that it was very important to hold consultations with women, and the Committee was indeed working with all entities and stakeholders.
A member of the Committee said that she had listened with a great deal of emotion. She had taken up arms to fight for her country, Algeria. She was not going to detail the crimes of which women and the Algerian people generally had been victims. Despite the amount of time which had passed, what could she do, as a citizen, today, to receive an apology from France, which was a member of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women? What could she do to save other women who were in extremely difficult situations?
Participating in the discussion were Rwanda, France, Australia, and the following non-governmental organizations: Fonds des Nations Unies pour les activités en matiére de population and Femme Africa Solidarité.
Segment 2: Outlook on How to Use the Promotion and Protection of Women’s Rights as an Instrument for Strengthening Peace
NICOLE AMELINE, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the Committee’s decision to put together a General Comment on women in conflict was significant at a time when this issue was so crucial. Women, who were often collateral victims, paid a heavy toll as a result of crises. The Committee was thinking about the subject along three lines. First, in terms of the importance of the Convention, both at times of peace and at times of conflict. Second, in terms of the definition of discrimination, which included all forms of violence during conflict and post-conflict phases. And third, in terms of gender as an essential dimension of peace and conflict.
MICHEL FORST, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti and Chair of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, said that national institutions had an important role to play in protecting and promoting the rights of women. These organizations often acted as interface between the Government and civil society. Their function was to provide advice and control the executive powers in the field of human rights. Such national institutions often faced conflict or post-conflict situations, and there were therefore a number of good practices to be drawn. For example, several institutions had been given a mandate of mediation and reflexion about mechanisms of transitional justice. He therefore recommended that the work of these institutions – in several countries, from Burundi to Rwanda – be analysed in depth. Also, several national human rights institutions had deplored the limited participation of women in conflict management mechanisms, making proposals on how to tackle such dysfunctions. Again, this would deserve compiling these recommendations to establish a database.
CHALOKA BEYANI, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, said he would like to speak about the rights of internally displaced women in post-conflict situations. It was his firm belief that improving the response required first that they recognize the fundamental role that women played in their communities and families in crisis situations. Too often, internally displaced women continued to be referred to solely or primarily within the category of “vulnerable persons” or victims. It was imperative that the international community redouble its efforts in terms of effective prevention and protection of women from violence. But at the same time, it was also imperative that it build upon the incredible resources that internally displaced women brought to bear. Their participation at all levels of decision-making should be facilitated, including in the context of peace and durable solution and reconciliation processes.
In the ensuing discussion, participants congratulated the Committee for its outstanding work over the past 30 years and country representatives outlined some efforts they had been taking. Haiti and Austria spoke.
DILEK ELVEREN, Programme Specialist, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, said a return to normal life could generate various opportunities in post-conflict and transition phases, but what had been achieved could also be lost. It was therefore essential to have an overall vision of the protection and promotion of women’s rights. Intervention strategies ensuring that women were not only considered as victims only, but also as actors in their own right, were equally important. Unfortunately, much remained to be done in terms of fighting stereotypes, despite examples of good practices in many countries.
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