Editor's Note: this post was written by Raise Hope for Congo intern Alyssa Cuddy.
On the night of November 22, 2012, witnesses and victims report that Congolese army soldiers raped over 200 civilians from the South Kivu town of Minova. Thirty-nine men were apprehended and put on trial for war crimes including rape and pillage. Yet, due to a culture of high-level impunity, insufficient time, and fewer resources, prosecutors only succeeded in convicting two men for rape and the others for lesser crimes.
In an effort to prevent tragedies like the attack on Minova and the impunity that followed, actress and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague co-chaired the first ever Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London on June 10-13. The summit highlighted what can and must be done to address this widespread issue. Attendees included representatives from more than 100 countries and over 900 experts ranging from NGO representatives to rape survivors to faith organizations, making the event the largest ever to focus on sexual violence in conflict. Enough’s Policy Associate Holly Dranginis spoke at the summit on a panel hosted by the UN Special Representative for the Secretary General (SRSG) for sexual violence in conflict. Dranginis says, “Delegates from affected communities spoke powerfully about their experiences, not just as survivors but as lawyers, doctors, and community organizers with decades of experience combatting this problem. It was a time for high-level decision makers to learn from their work and go back to their countries to finally prioritize this issue.”
The summit emphasized the need to end impunity by holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes through the launch of a new UK-led International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. As stated in the Chair’s Summary, the Protocol, a joint effort of 200 gender and sexual violence experts, will provide guidelines on how to investigate sexual violence. Beyond the launch, implementation through dissemination and expansion to national contexts is needed. One survivor and speaker, Angela Atim, told BBC: "These people who are accountable for the sexual violence in armed conflict, they have to be brought to justice." The Protocol will help answer her call.
Another major step forward came in the days leading up to the summit when International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda released a new policy on investigating and prosecuting sexual violence. Responding to what some have called a “blind spot” for international criminal courts and tribunals that have failed to adequately prosecute sexual violence crimes, Bensouda amassed a team of experts to help design a robust new strategy. Now investigators and prosecutors will take a comprehensive, aggressive, and victim-centered approach to evidence collection, case preparation and litigation strategies related to all cases that come before the court involving allegations of widespread sexual violence. Bensouda should be applauded for her efforts and supported in implementing the new policy.
While justice must be served to the perpetrators, medical and psycho-social support for victims and survivors is also still sorely lacking. The UK government has promised funds for victims, human rights workers, and new programs aimed at altering attitudes surrounding rape.
The Summit served as a platform to raise awareness that the cycle of sexual violence in conflict zones is not inevitable, despite its prevalence in virtually every armed conflict in modern history.
Angelina Jolie stated: "We need to shatter that culture of impunity and make justice the norm, not the exception, for these crimes." Organizations like the Enough Project have also been working towards this goal. As the recent Enough Project report on sexual violence in eastern Congo, Interrupting the Silence, points out, “Policymakers and advocates must break down the intellectual silos that isolate the topics of conflict economics and security in Congo from SGBV and women’s empowerment.” Sexual violence, women’s rights, and international justice must all be addressed to improve security in conflict zones.
The final line of the Statement of Action which was signed at the London Summit reads, “We owe it to future generations to end one of the greatest injustices of our time.” It is a call to action for men, women, and youth around the world for joint advocacy and insistence that the international community will no longer tolerate sexual violence in times of war or peace.
Photo: women in Congo/Enough Project