On this day in 1960, three sisters were assassinated for their political activism in the Dominican Republic. The brutal murder of the Mirabals provoked outrage and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was born. Civil society around the world is now calling on governments to make better use of the ICC system to advance justice for grave sexual and gender-based crimes.
The Rome Statute—the ICC’s founding treaty—is one of the first international treaties to extensively address gender-based crimes as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and in some instances, genocide. It recognizes rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilizations, gender-based persecutions, trafficking of persons particularly women and children, and sexual violence as among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.
By ratifying the Statute and implementing provisions domestically, states can guarantee the protection of women’s rights and justice for grave gender-based crimes nationally and internationally. There is an urgent need to restore women victims’ dignity by providing redress. They also need to be empowered to be key actors in peacebuilding efforts and become community leaders.
States must use the upcoming Assembly of States Parties—the annual meeting of the ICC’s governing body taking place at the UN in New York from 8-17 December—to highlight the importance of advancing the fight against impunity for sexual and gender based crimes through the Rome Statute system. This can be through, for example, general debate statements, pledges, and their active participation in a scheduled plenary session on cooperation with a focus on sexual violence.
Civil society speaks:
Stella Yanda Bililo, executive secretary, Initiatives Alpha, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice partner
‘’On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we emphasise the different forms of violence suffered by women in eastern DRC in general, and in the province of South Kivu in particular. Here, women still suffer from violence committed by various elements including active armed groups such as the FDLR, the Raia Mutomboki, the Mai Mai, as well as by the national police and the DRC armed forces and civilians. Women are still victims of rapes and other forms of violence as well as day-to-day hardships, including being forced to carrying heavy loads.
On the structural level, women continue to bear the burden of customs and traditions discriminating against their fundamental rights and freedoms. They do not have access to resources, inheritance and are reduced to the same level as property left by their husbands when they die. Young women continue to be subjected to early and forced marriages. On 25 November it is important to remember the difficulties women are facing.’’
Karine Bonneau, director of the International Justice Desk, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
“FIDH is firmly committed to supporting victims of sexual and gender-based violence to access justice before national and international tribunals. FIDH encourages states to develop specific strategies to end stigmatization, support victims and fight impunity of perpetrators. FIDH welcomes the recent adoption of a gender strategy by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor and calls for its full implementation, including through the systematic investigation and prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes.”
Stephanie Barbour, head of office, Amnesty International’s Centre for International Justice
“An important spotlight has been shone on impunity for crimes of sexual and gender-based violence over the past year. New tools have emerged that could serve to strengthen responses to impunity for these crimes, including the International Protocol on Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict and the ICC Prosecutor’s new policy paper on sexual and gender-based crimes. Yet at the same time, from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria to Syria and Sudan, countless women and girls— but also men and boys—are targeted for sexual and gender-based violence. We continue to call on states to commit to implementing real action to prevent sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, to investigate and punish it effectively and to give survivors reparation, protection and support, especially at the national level.”
Margaret Owen O.B.E. Director Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPD)
“There have been few prosecutions, convictions, or implemented provisions for restorative justice for women victims of violence, despite the Rome Statute and the UK initiative on ending sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict environments. Across the developed and developing world women and girls face ever more manifestations of violence. Yet in few countries do women feel safe to report such crimes, or are protected from stigma and shame, or are believed and supported, so that the essential evidence can be documented to support a prosecution.
Much more support, financial and technical needs to be given to women’s groups, recognizing their diversity and the particular vulnerabilities they have, due to their age, ethnicity, religion, disability, and marital status.
Nowhere, for example, in any of the international or regional protocols, conventions, or the Beijing Platform for Action is there any mention of the widespread systematic violence perpetrated against widows by their families and communities. Governments often uphold degrading and harmful traditional practices such as life-threatening widows’ mourning and burial rites, stoning as witches, forced remarriage to a dead husband’s relative. Never before has there been such a huge increase in the numbers of widows, of all ages, subject to sexual, physical, psychological and economic violence. On this International Day for EVAWG do not forget the widows.”
Jutta F. Bertram-Nothnagel, Director of the Relations with Intergovernmental Organizations, Union Internationale des Avocats
“The crimes under the Rome Statute are ultimately crimes against all humankind. But they can also turn into crimes by humankind whenever the reaction in their aftermath is nothing but indifference: Impunity and conspiracies of silence in effect repeat the assaults. When the world turns a blind eye, it becomes a ‘secondary’ perpetrator. Nowhere is the blindness more notorious than in the wake of crimes of violence against women. Yet with their ratifications of the Rome Statute, States Parties have committed themselves to another path, the clear recognition and prosecution of individual criminal responsibility for violence against women. To achieve the full implementation of the Rome Statute, the upcoming session of the Assembly of States Parties will emphasize the importance of cooperation with the International Criminal Court. May the deliberations throw a beam of light and hope against the darkness of barbarity.”
Jeanine Bandu Bahati, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice North Kivu Focal Point, Coordinator, Encadrement des Femmes Indigènes et des Ménages Vulnérables, Democratic Republic of the Congo
‘’The situation remains critical in the DRC and in the East of the country in relation to violence against women. They are marginalised, not considered and do not participate in decision-making processes from the bottom to the top, despite efforts made by several national and international NGO’s defending women’s rights. On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we ask our country, the DRC, to give chances to women because we have skilled and competent women who only need an opportunity.’’
From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
This year, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women invites you to “Orange YOUR Neighbourhood.” Take the UNiTE campaign to local streets, shops and businesses, and organize “Orange Events” in your own neighborhoods between 25 November and 10 December 2014.