Panzi Hospital in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) used to receive victims of rape by warring factions where they underwent corrective surgery. These are women and young girls who, after being raped the perpetrators push into the victims private parts objects, including barrens of gun.
At Goma there is a healing centre where the survivors are grouped to get support before they are integrated into normal lives. Women in the centre are so traumatized that they are scared of everybody, some cannot speak, and even do not have anything to cover themselves other than the blankets given to them by the UN peace keeping forces.
In DRC again, at Mwenga location in Southern Kivu women were ambushed by rebels and buried alive by emissaries of rebel groups in the region as means to scare off enemies.The foresaid are some of the experiences by the former Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, during her five year term of office in Bujumbura-based secretariat.
In all the scenes, women were used not only as genocide victims (in the case of Rwanda) but as sex slaves in countries engaged in conflicts in the region. But this did not mean women were safe in conflict free countries, like Tanzania, which is a founding member of the ICGLR, noted Ambassador Mulamula in an interview in Dar es Salaam this week.
Various interest groups mention wife battery, neglect, denial of basic human rights, rape, sexual harassment and exploitation as well as economic violence as among violence meted out on women and girls in the region.The region is also rated among the top ten areas in the world with highest cases of violence.
“All these are greatly caused by the political situation in these countries. And we vowed that we must do all that is possible to prevent them from happening again,” recalls ambassador Mulamula in respect to her five-year experience with the status of women in the Great Lakes region.
According to her, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence was among priorities of the ICGLR programmes. Genocide prevention and other interventions, to address gender-based violence must get the political will of member states within the Great Lakes.The ICGLR is an inter-governmental organization of the countries in the African Great Lakes Region.
It composes eleven member states- Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR), Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia. Its establishment was based on the recognition that political instability and conflicts in the countries have negative impact on the regional dimension, thus, required concerted effort to promote sustainable peace and development.
Most impact was the conflicts that had had cross-border impacts after the 1994 Rwandan genocide that led to the loss of over 800,000 lives and the political instability in DRC which constituted major threat to international peace and security.Its founding history began in 2000 when the United Nations Security Council called for an International Conference on peace, security, democracy and development in the Great Lakes region.
In 2001 the secretariat of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) was established in Nairobi, Kenya, under the umbrella of the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU).In November 2004, the eleven Heads of State and Government of the member countries adopted the Declaration on Peace, Security and Development in the Great Lakes region in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that among other things, presented a political statement with the aim to address the root causes of intractable conflicts and constraints to development in a regional and innovative approach.
Its establishment was followed by the formation of guiding programmes that were overseen by the secretariat, namely; peace and security, democracy and good governance, economic development and regional integration, humanitarian and social issues, cross cutting issues, natural resources and genocide prevention.Violence against women, children and even men is a common feature in peace and in conflict. The media all over the Region is replete with horrific news of women and children who have been killed, raped, kidnapped, trafficked or sacrificed by armed groups, strangers or close relative. The situation is worse in conflict settings.
The importance of prevention and protection of our sisters, daughters and mothers against sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) is self evident. The impact of SGBV on security, stability and sustainable development is also well documented. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) adopted the Protocol on Prevention and Suppression of Violence against Women and Children to address the challenges associated with SGBV in the Great Lakes Region. ICGLR also issued the Goma Declaration on - Elimination of Sexual Violence and the Fight against Impunity in the Great Lakes Region -. In spite of all these in addition to other AU and UN
Instruments, SGBV remains a pressing issue and a major concern for the security of mainly women and children in this Region.It is evident that although regional and international instruments on human rights have been ratified by Member States, concrete actions need to be urgently initiated in a multi-cultural, multi-sectoral and multidimensional manner both at national and regional level in order to prevent SGBV, assist survivors and prosecute perpetrators of this crime.
However, sexual gender based violence remains a serious challenge in the Great Lakes Region despite these concerted efforts. Reports from member countries indicate that incidences of SGBV are still high despite policy, legislative, programmatic, institutional and administrative measures to eradicate the problem.
Sexual violence in conflict and post conflict member states includes, but is not restricted to rape, sexual assault, beating, abduction, confinement, deliberate killings, sexual slavery, forced marriages and forced incest.Violence in peace times includes physical assault, wife beating, forced sex, sodomy, incest, economic abuse and exploitation, and psychological abuse. Harmful cultural practices that are considered SGBV include female genital mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), female circumcision, sexual relations with underage girls, early marriages, abduction and confinement of girls.
The evidence on SGBV in the Region underscores the need to tackle SGBV in three levels namely: prevention- putting in place measures that protect women, girls and children from violence in conflict and peacetime settings; fighting impunity- implementing laws that exist in member states and at regional and international levels through domestication and mobilising the necessary arms of government such as police, judiciary and prisons in the administration of justice.
“It is against this background that I made sure the issues related to sexual and gender-based violence became among priority programmes in the ICGLR,” noted Ambassador Mulamula.Assistance to survivors/victims- liberating and rehabilitating the survivors from trauma and providing conditions that enable the survivors/victims of SGBV to reconstruct their lives- these measures would include reparation and compensation.
The Heads of State in the Great Lakes region held a meeting in Kampala, Uganda, reaffirmed their commitment to end sexual and gender-based violence under the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region (2006) and the Protocol on Prevention and Suppression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children (2006).
The Kampala summit also agreed to fully domesticate and implement the Protocol on Non aggression and mutual defense, protocol on prevention and suppression of sexual violence against women and children as well as the Protocol on judicial cooperation, in order to eradicate the existing armed groups, combat sexual and gender based violence and cooperate in matters of extradition, judicial investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.
The summit committed to increase financial and technical support for judicial and security sector reform on human and women’s rights and SGBV eradication. This will provide institutional capacity and accountability to protect women, girls, men and boys from sexual and Gender Based violence in peace time, during conflict and post-conflict situations as a political and security strategy within 12 months.
Governments in the Great Lakes region have, during the Kampala summit, committed to allocate budget lines for prevention and response to SGBV particularly the ministries of Health, Defense, Security, Interior, Local Government, Justice, Education and Youth.The Kampala summit declared - Zero Tolerance Now - on SGBV crimes and launched national campaigns for zero tolerance on SGBV simultaneously, involving men, in all ICGLR countries after the Special Session on SGBV in Kampala.
Ambassador Mulamula expressed satisfaction that centres for the victims and survivors of the sexual and gender-based violence were established in the conflict-prone countries within the Great Lakes region during her tenure of office. But she is of the opinion that such centres should be established in other countries in the sub-region to deal with such cases.
Tanzania early this week hosted the Africa UNITE Climb to End Violence against Women and Girls in response to the Kampala Declaration to hoist the recommendations to end sexual and gender-based violence atop Mount Kilimanjaro in a global campaign on zero tolerance on violence against women and girls.
President Jakaya Kikwete flagged off the campaign in which 36 African countries have been represented. “The event signifies Africa’s commitment to ending violence against women and girls in our continent. I am even comforted to see that the campaign has taken a life of its own in Africa and is indeed highlighting in unprecedented ways the problem of gender based violence” he said.
Addressing the audience at Marangu, in Kilimanjaro Region, the President said “Violence against women is pervasive scourge which has been with us for ages. It knows no color, creed, age, status or nation. It’s in every country. What brought us here is the fact that we should not allow this cruel and worthless scourge to continue. Now is the time to intensify efforts to fight it.” he said.
According to WHO -up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and wars combined. In Sub-Saharan Africa, between 13 per cent and 45 per cent of women suffer assault by their intimate partners during their lifetime and as we speak over 3 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation.
He said violence against women undermines efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa by reducing poverty, ending hunger and promoting socio-economic development for all peoples on all continents will not be realized if violence against women and girls continues. The gender-related MDG include MDG 2, on access to universal primary education; MDG 3 on promoting gender equality and empowering women and MDG 5 on reducing maternal mortality.