Gender-based violence is violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or that affects women disproportionately. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women identifies violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Militarism is a process whereby military values, institutions and patterns of behaviour have a dominant influence over society. It is an ideology that creates a culture of fear and supports the use of violence, aggression or military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests. Militarism often precedes conflict, almost always accompanies it, and can remain a part of its legacy.
Civilians have been the main victims of Colombia’s long-running armed conflict. Serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including systematic and widespread sexual violence against women and girls, have been perpetrated by all the warring parties.
In the context of internal armed conflict, sexual violence can constitute a war crime and a crime against humanity. Impunity for such crimes has been a reality of the Colombian armed conflict for decades. Conflict-related sexual crimes are committed by all the warring parties: guerrilla forces, paramilitary groups, often operating in collusion with the security forces, the armed forces and the police.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been plagued by almost two decades of conflict that has resulted in the suffering of millions of men, women and children. Crimes under international law including unlawful killings, enforced disappearance, rape and other forms of torture and sexual violence have been committed on a large scale by national and foreign armies, armed groups and militias. This is particularly the case in eastern DRC, where armed groups and government forces have been responsible for unlawful killings of civilians. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are widely reported, committed by security forces, including the armed forces of the DRC (Forces Armées de la République démocratique du Congo, FARDC) and armed groups.
In a recent mission, Amnesty International visited several IDP and refugee camps in DRC and Uganda. Some women and girls told Amnesty International that they feel more vulnerable in the camps as most of them are alone and without their husbands who fled fearing forced recruitments by armed groups. Several of them revealed that they had been raped while leaving the camp to look for food or to collect wood and some said they had been harassed by local security forces.
Despite a significant presence in the country, the UN peacekeeping force, MONUSCO, has so far failed to protect civilians in IDP camps, including women and girls, targeted for sexual violence.
Women protesters in Egypt were on the front lines of the “25 January Revolution”, but their courage has come at a heavy price. Since the uprising, women have been singled out and subjected to gender-specific abuses, including sexual violence. For example, on 9 March 2011, soldiers took 18 women into military detention after clearing Cairo’s Tahrir Square of protesters. Seventeen of them were held for four days, some of whom told Amnesty International that male soldiers had beaten and strip-searched them and given them electric shocks. The women were then forced to undergo highly invasive “virginity tests” – a form of torture when done by officials without permission – and threatened that they would be charged with prostitution. In December 2011, women protesters were targeted for attack and Egyptian soldiers were filmed beating women protesters in the streets of Cairo. Soldiers stamped on women and dragged them by the hair through the streets of the city. Some women were then detained by the army and subjected to sexual and gender-based violence. They were molested by the soldiers and beaten.
While the army has apologized for the abuses against women, little action has been taken to hold perpetrators to account. Impunity has continued for sexual and gender-based violence against women. A military court dismissed a case brought against a military doctor for conducting a “virginity test” in March 2011 on Samira Ibrahim. She is continuing her struggle for justice and is taking her case to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Indonesian government has made little progress in delivering justice, truth and reparation for past human rights violations which occurred under the rule of former President Suharto and during the reformasi period from 1998. They include the events of 1965-66, the riots of May 1998, and the conflicts in Aceh, Papua and Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor).
Human rights violations, including rape and other crimes of sexual violence, committed by Indonesian security forces during past conflicts have been well documented by Amnesty International and other organizations. The culture of silence that surrounds sexual and gender-based violence, stemming from gender stereotypes, feelings of shame, social stigma, the low status of women in society, as well as the difficulty in talking about these violations, means that many cases remain unreported. Many women and girls were not provided with medical, psychological, sexual and reproductive, and mental health services or treatment, either during the conflict or after the conflict ended.
In 2004, the Indonesian Parliament passed the Law on a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (No. 27/2004), which provided for the establishment of a national truth commission with powers to receive complaints, investigate grave human rights violations which occurred in the past, and to make recommendations for compensation and/or rehabilitation for victims. In 2006 the Indonesian Constitutional Court struck down the law, after it ruled that provisions for reparation to victims only after they agreed to an amnesty for the perpetrator were unconstitutional. A new law has been drafted and is scheduled for discussion in Parliament in 2011-2014. To date there has been no progress.
Women throughout the Asia-Pacific region were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army from around 1932 to the end of World War II. The vast majority of those enslaved were under the age of 20; some girls were as young as 12 when they were abducted. The Japanese Imperial Army used violence and deception to abduct women and girls. Survivors rarely spoke of their experiences and have suffered from physical and mental ill-health, isolation, shame and often extreme poverty as a result of their enslavement. It was not until August 1991, 46 years after the end of the war, that Kim Hak-soon became the first survivor to speak publicly of her ordeal.
The Japanese government has vigorously defended its legal position on this issue, persistently maintaining that all issues of compensation have been settled by post-war peace treaties. However, such treaties did not recognize the system of sexual slavery and did not provide for reparations for individual survivors.
Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)
The arms trade has specific gender dimensions and direct links to discrimination and gender-based violence. Emboldened by weapons, power and status, both State and non-State armed groups often perpetrate gender-based violence, disproportionately affecting women with impunity. This has far-reaching implications for efforts to consolidate peace, security, gender equality and secure development.
The draft treaty text includes a criterion on gender-based violence in the national risk assessment process:
“Each State Party, when considering a proposed export of conventional arms under the scope of this Treaty, shall consider taking feasible measures, including joint actions with other States involved in the transfer, to avoid the arms: […] b) being used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence or violence against children; […]” (Article 4.6.b)
The inclusion of this criterion in the draft text is an achievement. However, the language is weak. States are only required to “consider” measures, and not actually to take any. Amnesty International and its partners will have to continue to build political support for the strongest possible rule in the ATT to prevent international arms transfers being used for gender-based violence.