The ACHPR takes progressive stride in combating sexual violence in Africa

(Paris, Pretoria) The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has officially launched its Guidelines on combating sexual violence and its consequences in Africa [1] during its 61th ordinary session [2]. FIDH and LHR (South Africa), which took part in the process of developing these Guidelines, welcome the publication of this important set of recommendations and call upon African Union (AU) member states to take the necessary measures to implement them.

“States bear primary responsibility for combating sexual violence and its consequences. We hope that the Guidelines will mark a turning point in their efforts to eliminate this scourge and reiterate our call for immediate, concrete and long-lasting measures to achieve this goal.”

Arnold Tsunga, FIDH Vice President and LHR Board member

Sexual violence remains widespread in Africa, in both conflict and peacetime situations. It is perpetrated in the public space, in the street, public transport, but also in the private sphere, in the workplace or within the couple. It mainly affects women and girls, but also men and boys. The statistics are frightening : in sub-Saharan Africa, 39% of girls are married before the age of 18 which contributes to early and forced marriage often leading to sexual violence [3]; in some countries, including Somalia, Egypt, Guinea or Djibouti, more than 90% of women and girls face genital mutilation [4]; marital rape is a form of violence that remains taboo but extremely common: 71% of Ethiopians say that they have been physically and / or sexually abused by their partner [5]. In Egypt, 99% of women are victims of sexual harassment and 91% declare they do not feel safe on the street [6].

In several countries confronted with conflicts or crisis, including Central African Republic or South Sudan, rape is commonly used as a weapon by both government forces and armed groups. This violence has terrible consequences both physically and psychologically (among others) for the victims, their entourage and the whole society. Most of this violence remains unpunished. Victims of sexual violence committed in Darfur (Sudan), during the post-election violence in Kenya or during the 28 September 2009 massacre in Guinea [7], continue to demand for justice and reparation. Inadequate laws, lack of training of police and judicial personnel, gaps in investigations and prosecutions, stigmatization of victims, lack of access to protection and support services, including the too frequent prohibition of abortion in case of rape, are some of the obstacles to proper care of victims, justice and reparation.

“The Guidelines contain practical measures that reflect the reality of the needs and challenges faced by victims as well as by the organizations and practitioners who assist them. The text focuses around survivors, and seek to respond to their concerns and needs. It is a text of quality, which, if implemented, can help to reduce the scourge of sexual violence for our continent.”

Mabassa Fall, FIDH representative to the African Union

The Guidelines provide specific guidance to states towards the elimination of sexual violence and its consequences, in accordance with their regional and international obligations. The text is aligned with some of the most progressive standards in the fight against sexual violence, which echo the concerns voiced by civil society organizations during the drafting process.

The Guidelines include several progressive provisions to combat impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence. For instance, in the text, the Commission urges states to take the necessary measures to ensure that prescription does not apply to the most serious sexual offences / those qualified as crimes under the law. If this provision is implemented at national level, it will guarantee that victims will have access to justice throughout their lives.

The Commission also calls on states to ensure that, depending on the circumstances, the statement of the victim can be sufficient proof of an act of sexual violence in the absence of any other corroborating evidence. This provision will strengthen victims’ access to justice by mitigating the frequent lack of evidence in cases of sexual violence.

The Guidelines also include progressive provisions on victims’ support. For example, the Commission urges states to ensure that health-care providers do not refuse access to services on medical abortion because of opposition from a third party or conscientious objection. For minors victims of rape, this implies that they should have access to medical abortion without the need for prior approval from parents or guardians, where there are valid reasons to believe that these minors could suffer reprisals, violence, threats, coercion, abuse or abandonment.

FIDH and LHR urge African Union member states to take ownership of each recommendation of these Guidelines, to ensure they are broadly disseminated to and implemented by relevant services and administrations, and to adopt the necessary reforms as a matter of urgency.

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