Yesterday, June 1, our delegation participated in the Women’s Court that was organized by Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. Women from the 4 current ICC situation countries (Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Sudan) were provided the space to speak to their experiences and provide their own voices to the ICC processes. The Women’s Court was organized to identify the serious women’s human rights abuses perpetrated during conflict and to call attention to the fact that these crimes are often not investigated of prosecuted as vigorously as other breaches of international humanitarian law.
Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai was invited to facilitate the sharing of women’s experiences from Uganda. She opened the session by reflecting on the experience of Kenya during the post-election violence and the trauma that we all carry with us. Before turning the session over the presenters, she stated that “all of us are here because we care about these issues.”
We listened as three Ugandan women activists reflected on the situation of women in Northern Uganda and women’s involvement in peace building activities. The women constructed a comprehensive picture of the situation of women on the ground: the challenges and security risks they face, their fight to be included in peace and justice processes, as well as their proposed solutions.
Finally, a Ugandan survivor of gender-based violence provided the Women’s Court with her personal testimony. For the first time in front of an audience, this courageous woman shared her visibly painful story of abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and forced marriage to an LRA fighter. A stunned audience listened on as she recounted her return from the bush with two children she had borne with the man who was forced upon her and called her “husband”. She spoke of the isolation from her family and community and the enduring burden she now carries as not only a survivor of tremendous violence, but as a woman now living with HIV/AIDS. Her future was taken away from her, she says. She concluded saying she just doesn’t know what will happen to her children should she die.
This woman made the plight of the ICC tangible. Her experience speaks to the tremendous challenges that women face, not only in conflict, but in the pursuit of healing, reconciliation, and some form of justice. Indeed, we must understand that the ICC cannot be the total solution to each of these challenges, but it is vital that the Court indeed recognize and attempt to further engage in the complexities of bringing such gross women’s rights violations to the Court in order for women to see some form of justice for the great injustices they have and continue to endure. It also reinforces the needs for national mechanisms to complement the work of the court and the urgency of psychosocial care and support for communities emerging from such trauma.
The Ugandan panel was followed by panels for women from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. When the Sudan panel takes the table at the end of the day, it is impossible not to notice the presence of male Sudanese civil society activists. These Sudanese men volunteered to try to fill the space left by the Sudanese women unable to travel to the ICC Review Conference due to security concerns. Indeed, as three other activists boarded their plane in Khartoum en route to Kampala, they were removed from the plane and had their passports confiscated by the Sudanese authorities. This sent a clear message that those Sudanese wishing to engage with the ICC and the pursuit of international justice are putting their own personal security at risk.
We couldn’t help but feel the loss of the true voices of Sudanese women in the ICC Review Conference – a gathering that directly impacts their daily lives. It is yet another reminder of the tremendous obstructions Sudanese are facing in their everyday plight to advocate on behalf of women’s human rights.