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'We have to think very seriously about what it means to sustain a resistance against the tyranny that is part of everyday life for women' - Andrea Dworkin

The recent passing of UN Resolution 1820 that recognizes sexual violence as a threat to human security has been received with mixed reactions from various quarters. Women’s rights activists note with concern the fact that this resolution is less comprehensive and a duplicate of 1325 that already acknowledges the impunity of sexual and gender based violation and also echoes the fact that amnesty granted in post conflict situations shall not include sexual violence. UN Resolution 1320 and 1325 come in the wake of various other protocols and frameworks internationally and within the African continent.

In addition to the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) and CEDAW, others include; The African Union adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2003 and it was ratified and entered into force in 2005. Article 10 of the Protocol calls upon states to ensure women’s participation in conflict prevention, management and resolution at local, national, regional, continental and international levels; while Article 11 urges States to protect asylum seeking women, refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons, against all forms of violence, rape and other forms of sexual exploitation, and to ensure that such acts are considered war crimes, genocide and/or crimes against humanity and that their perpetrators are brought to justice before a competent criminal jurisdiction.

UN Guidelines on Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings (2005) to enable communities, governments and humanitarian organizations, including UN agencies, NGOs, and CBOs, to establish and coordinate a set of minimum multi-sectoral interventions to prevent and respond to sexual violence during the early phase of an emergency.

UNHCR Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons: Guidelines for Prevention and Response (2003) address the problem of sexual violence against refugee women and girls. It recommends the participation of refugees in designing and implementing programmes to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and offers tips on how to monitor and evaluate their effectiveness. In the event of abuse or violence against women, the guidelines detail the various responses required to help victims, including the need for legal redress and access to medical and psycho-social support.

Both the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1994) and the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court (1999) classify rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack as a crime against humanity.

The 2007 declaration from the International Conference of Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Regional Parliamentarians meeting in Kinshasa took cognizance of the important role women play in the promotion of peace, security and development; and acknowledged that gender constitutes an essential factor in the implementation of the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region signed in Nairobi on 15 December 2006 by the Heads of State and Governments. It is clear that the question is not about the lack of policy frameworks, but rather an enabling environment within which they can be enforced and lived in order to make a difference to the lives of women.

The pieces that form this special issue of Pambazuka are some of the papers that will form the debate at a Pan African conference on SGBV to be held in Nairobi from July 21 – 23, 2008. This conference reconvenes under the call for a move from Establishing Frameworks and Norms on SGBV to Action. We see this conference as an opportunity to engage substantively on effective strategies to address impunity on the African Continent. We bring together 120 participants, who include members of parliament from the Great lakes region, East Africa and the horn of Africa, policy makers, representatives of regional institutions (ICGLR, SADC, COMESA, EALA) as well as civil society actors and women’s rights activists from across the continent to concretely map out action points at a Pan African and regional level to end impunity on SGBV.

In addressing impunity on SGBV, the conference zeroes in on the question of compensation and protection for survivors of SGBV and one of the frameworks within such analyses have taken place has been within transitional justice paradigms. Prof Mutua’s article serves to unpack transitional justice frameworks that he argues have become en vogue within academic and activist spaces. He acknowledges their value but alerts that they are just that – transitional and that in the context of SGBV, it is imperative to recognize the deeply gendered dynamics that would hamper any chances of justice if attention is not paid to the deeply held misogynistic tendencies in our societies. Lydia Bosire’s piece continues with this thread by looking at transitional justice within the context of three conflict torn countries and how this has played out for women survivors of SGBV in these contexts; what gains and losses.

The sites of activism for SGBV have not only occurred within civil society and Hon. Bernadette Lahai’s piece from Sierra Leone looks at parliament as a site of struggle. She engages us on the progress that has been made through a variety of bills to ensure that survivors receive an element of protection in this post-conflict society. This is complemented by Eileen Hanciles piece from FAWE that examines this organization’s lobbying and advocacy initiatives with policy makers towards the creation of ‘safe spaces’; beginning with a policy and legal framework. Both of these pieces do not shy away from noting that the battle has not been worn and that there still exist opportunities and institutional threats that could hamper enforcement.

Okio’s piece on ACORD’s work in Northern Uganda draws our attention to the complexities of responding to social injustice by speaking to the unique circumstances that survivors of SGBV find themselves in, within the context of this longstanding war. By highlighting the challenges she concludes by noting that not enough has been done to mitigate the effects of this war for those who are returning home.

The intersections between violence against women and issues such as HIV/AIDS, land rights, trade regimes have become common sites within which organizations are developing these struggles. Carolyn Angir and Ayodeji Ajayeoba provide an understanding of compensation and protection in humanitarian settings by engaging with Action Aid’s International – Africa’s interventions in these settings.

As organizations that subscribe to a Pan African agenda whose basic tenets recognizes the need for African solutions to African problems, it is apt that Ambassador Liberata Mulamula’s piece presents us with an understanding of some of the work that the ICGLR has made towards ratification, popularization and enforcement on the ICGLR protocol on suppressing sexual violence specifically in the Great Lakes region. We recognize through this piece that effective strategies can only emerge through multi-sectoral and multi- stakeholder support.

We trust that this issue will be illuminating and not only spur the already existing energies across Africa engaging on SGBV but also enhance the momentum enough towards ending impunity. Indeed the optimism on which Ambassador Mulamula ends her piece is critical to connecting with the words of Andrea Dworkin noted above.

* This conference is organized by ACORD International in alliance with The Kenya Human Rights Commission, The Great Lakes Parliamentary Forum on Peace - Amani Forum, African Women’s Development Fund, Action Aid International-Africa, International Planned Parenthood Federation and Urgent Action Fund - Africa.

*Awino Okech is a feminist activist and researcher currently living in Nairobi, Kenya