"There can be no peace without peace for women"
The 4th Ordinary International Conference on the Great Lakes' Region Summit opened on 15th December 2011 in Kampala, Uganda with a call to member states to legislate against sexual and gender based violence in all sectors of society. The 2-day summit was attended by Heads of State from Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and the Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan.
The summit was held under the theme "United to Prevent, End Impunity and Provide Assistance to Victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence". The ICGLR was formed in December 2006, mainly to ensure security, peace and stability in the region. In her speech during the conference, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Ms Asha-Rose Migiro captured the essence of addressing women's rights within the ICGLR by emphasising that: "there can be no peace (in the region) without peace for women". She assured the meeting that the line UN Agencies are working to help member states of the GLR to address the sexual and gender based violence.
Zero Tolerance for Crimes of Sexual Violence
ACORD was also present at the Summit and together with 11 other civil society and women's rights organisations, issued a strong statement urging the Heads of States of the ICGLR to be on the front-line of the fight against sexual and gender based violence in Africa. The civil society organisations urged heads of state to declare zero tolerance on sexual violence crimes, allocate funding for prevention programs, institutionalise community policing, establish an independent regional impunity monitoring unit, establish national reparations fund for survivors of sexual violence and adopt a comprehensive SGBV framework.
The Out-going Chairman and also the President of Zambia, Mr. Michael Sata, reported that the region has made remarkable progress in peace, stability and democratization. He regretted to note that the prersence of some rebel groups in the region, like the Lord's Resistance Army, and Al Shabaab who continue to commit atrocities such as defilement, rape and abductions, remain a great concern. He expressed his optimism that the Great Lakes Region countries will continue to overcome these challenges as these nations strive to bring about peace, security and prosperity in the region.
Addressing the conference, the AU Commission Chairperson, Mr. Jean Ping, said the AU is aware of the sexual and gender based violence but assured the meeting that the Commission has worked hard to ensure that this is eliminated in areas where the AU forces are on the ground.
On the second day, in a historical gesture of solidarity, the Heads of State signed a declaration specifically highlighting prevention of SGBV, ending impunity, providing support to victims and survivors of SGBV and general resolutions touching on strengthening existing mechanisms, protocols and instruments.
Making the Law Count
The fight to end violence against women and girls still goes on, and some of the new challenges that have emerged include, but are not limited to, the sub-regional nature of conflicts, the spread of those conflicts across borders, the realities of trafficking persons across porous borders and the particularity of fragile states that lends them open to manipulation. The establishment of the ICGLR was one of the responses that have taken account of these dynamics. The member states have ratified the protocol on the suppression of sexual and gender based violence. They have gone further to develop a model legislation to address sexual violence across the Great Lakes Region.
ACORD has given priority to sexual and gender based violence in conflict and post-conflict societies as the focus of its gender theme. The goal of this emphasis is to facilitate the development of a culture of effective and efficient gender justice in the States that are in, or have emerged from conflict. ACORD aims to do this by challenging impunity and bringing perpetrators of sexual and gender based crimes to justice while restoring the health and livelihoods of the survivors.
Comments from other experts
"I recommend that the ICGLR comes out with a plan of action that includes harmonization of national laws with those of ICGLR member countries and international standards on protection, and prevention of gender based and sexual violence, and punishment of culprits, and consider the establishment of a committee to monitor structural vulnerability factors of women in regards to gender-based and sexual violence in normal situations and recommended measures to address the problem with the legal framework, and ensure compliance of member states" - Betty Bigombe, Uganda Minister of State for Water.
"Indeed, the problem of sexual and gender based violence is often perceived to be perpetuated through some repugnant traditions. But we must ask ourselves Excellencies First Ladies, would any nation embrace traditions that would jeopardize its own survival, prosperity and sustainability. Or is it inconceivable that any civilized society of people with right frame of mind would condone rape and torture of their own daughters and infants" - Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, Executive Secretary ICGLR during meeting of First Ladies from ICGLR member states.