African Union must tackle conflict related rape say campaigners

International campaigners are calling on the African Union to tackle conflict-related rape when it meets for its 20th Summit today.

International campaigners are calling on the African Union to tackle conflict-related rape when it meets for its 20th Summit today.

“Sexual violence is one of the biggest barriers to building peace and security”, says Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams from the USA, who is the co-chair of the International Campaign to Stop Rap and Gender Violence in Conflict. “Until we commit to ending rape and other forms of gender-based violence we are not going to be able to build healthy and safe communities that contribute to economic development and empower women and girls to reach their full potential.”

The meeting of heads of state during the 20th African Union summit began yesterday in the Ethiopian capital and continues today (January 27 and 28). Much of the summit will focus on recent surges in violence including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the continuing border dispute between Sudan and South Sudan and the recent war in Mali. Rape is a common feature of the conflicts in both Sudan and Mali, as well in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries in Africa. Some post-conflict countries, such as Liberia, struggle with rape as an on-going and daily reality for women.

A delegation of 25 campaign members from across the continent led by Ms. Williams have gathered in Addis Ababa ahead of the Summit to highlight the need for African leaders to take leadership in stopping rape in conflict. The campaign is calling on the African Union to act collectively and is also encouraging member states to take up their own initiatives to prevent rape, protect citizens, and prosecute those responsible for sexual violence.

“We hear many promises from our leaders about the importance of ending violence against women. These politicians are now facing a choice —choose to act or ignore commitments”, said Pauline Kamau, executive director of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.

“Our leaders must show leadership and prove they have the future well-being of Africa and African women in mind.”

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women are once again on the frontlines of violence as the M23 rebellion threatens the east. The number of women and girls being attacked is spiking while the region argues over a military intervention.

Kenya is due to hold elections in March and many fear that post-election violence, which broke out in 2007 and 2008, will once again surface. Accounts of some attacks are already being reported. They tend to be ethnically motivated and target women first.

The civil war in Mali is a direct threat to women’s safety and security, with women again being targeted for sexual violence. As Malian women move into neighbouring countries as refugees they are vulnerable to sexual assault in refugee camps.

On this historic occasion of the 20th Summit it is time for the African Union to bring real change to women at the grassroots level. Women’s protection must be at the forefront of the agenda and the African Union must hold member states accountable for the security of their own populations.

The campaign calls on every head of state taking part at the AU Summit to take leadership to stop rape in conflict—within their own country, within their region, and the continent.