Intervention to the 59th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights - Women’s Rights

59th ordinary session
Banjul, The Gambia
October 21 – November 4, 2016

“2016: African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women": transforming commitments into concrete progress

Madam Chairperson, Distinguished Commissioners and State Delegates,

FIDH and its 40 member organisations in Africa welcome the choice of the African Union to consider the year 2016 as the African year of human rights with particular focus on the rights of women. It is vital to convert the commitments of the African states into concrete progress to improve the situation of women’s rights across the continent. African women must still all too often cope with stereotypic concepts and attitudes, discriminatory norms and practices which prevent them from fully enjoying their rights and are at the source of many forms of violence in both the public and private sphere. Although most of the African states have ratified international and regional instruments on the protection of women’s rights, most of the provisions are not respected because of a lack of incorporation into national law and effective implementation. Obstacles to access to an effective, independent and impartial justice system, inaction on the part of public authorities and the absence of adequate sanctions against perpetrators even where protective legislation exists favours a climate of impunity which contributes to the repetition of these crimes. This violence has an effect not only on the victims and their surroundings, especially the children, but also on the whole society with regard to public health, poverty alleviation, the fight against HIV/AIDS, sustainable development, peace and security.

Madam Chairperson, Distinguished Commissioners and State Delegates,

FIDH remains deeply concerned by the fact that sexual violence is still widespread across the continent both in times of conflict and crisis and in peacetime. Although men and boys are also affected by this scourge, it affects disproportionately women and girls. Many countries have still not adopted legislation that specifically sanctions sexual violence, including marital rape. In times of conflict and serious crisis, in Sudan, South Sudan or in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, acts of sexual violence are perpetrated on a large scale by all parties to the conflict, in total impunity. In South Sudan, certain acts of sexual violence related to the conflict could constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. In Nigeria, Boko Haram continues to perpetrate rapes, abductions, forced marriages and sexual slavery. In Burundi, the United Nations states that “Sexual and gender-based violence is one of the patterns of violations that emerge” from the investigations [1] and is concerned by “reports of targeted sexual assaults based on actual or perceived political affiliation” of the victim” [2].

Victims of sexual violence are all too often foresaken, stigmatised or ostracised and live in extremely difficult, even unbearable conditions. They have great difficulty in obtaining access to the medical and psycho-social services they need – including sexual and reproductive health services - and live with fear of reprisal. Most of them are denied their right to truth, justice and reparation. Indeed, the vast majority of the victims of rape, forced marriage and sexual slavery committed between 1987 and 2006 in northern Uganda is still awaiting justice. Victims of sexual crimes perpetrated as part of the 2007-2008 post-electoral violence in Kenya, the hundreds of victims of rape perpetrated during the peaceful demonstrations of 28 September 2009 in Guinea, the hundreds of victims of sexual crimes committed in Ivory Coast during the 2010-2011 post-electoral violence, and the women of Northern Mali who were raped (sometimes gang raped), flogged and forcibly married between 2012 and 2013 are in the same plight.

Madam Chairperson, Distinguished Commissioners and State Delegates,

In this african year of human rights with particular focus on the rights of women, FIDH welcomes the initiative of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to develop guidelines on combatting sexual violence and its consequences in Africa. This african tool, which will guide states in the prevention of sexual violence, the prosecution of perpetrators and the protection of the rights of victims to justice, reparation and health care, will also be important for us, representatives of civil society, who are working closely with the victims.

FIDH encourages the African Commission to continue and strengthen its actions against discrimination and violence against women. To this end, we call on the Commission to:

 Continue to promote the ratification, without reservation, of the Maputo Protocol, the CEDAW and its optional Protocol, as well as their incorporation into national law of States parties and their effective implementation;

 Call on states to carry out awareness-raising and educational activities on violence against women in order to eliminate patriarchal prejudices and stereotypes as well as customs, traditions and practices that are harmful to women;

 Call on states to increase support and assistance to victims of sexual violence in particular by facilitating access to justice, legal advice and medical, social and psychological services – including sexual and reproductive health services -;

 Call on States to ensure the effectiveness of the prosecution and the conviction of the perpetrators of sexual crimes especially by providing training for the personnel responsible for implementing the law and for the defence and security forces;

 Support national judicial proceedings that constitute the hope for justice and reparation for victims of these crimes and in particular ensure that reparation responds to the needs of victims, is not only financial, and is provided regardless of wether the perpetrator of the violation is solvent, or even identified, apprehended, prosecuted or convicted.

Read more