A short interview with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, in which she is explaining the purpose of the 566 page report on the human rights violations in DRC from 1993 till 2003.

The report was in the making for the past two years and it seems like the main recommendation is that the Government and the people of DRC should find solutions for transitional justice. Although, the peace accords were signed, there are not being respected. The 200 raped civilians in August are not an isolated case of violence. Eastern DRC is not a region of peace, therefore, it’s hard to imagine a working lunch between the government and the rebel groups.

The voice of the High Commissioner is calm all the way through the interview. In her words, the 600 analyzed cases reflect the consequences of long term instability and conflict in Eastern DRC. Does her tone then reflect UN’s apathy towards endless grave breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law in Kivu?

White Night, Paris. October, 2009.

Wake me up when the revolution comes!

Did you ever ask yourself, how long can a winter sleep last? Can it be that we are rocked to sleep every night every day by the sweet promises of the neoliberal ideology? Sweet dreams turned into a nightmare a long time ago. Why are only a few people screaming?

Foto: Katja Gönc

Opportunity, Positive Impact, Lessons Learned, Enhanced Implementation. These are just few terms frequently used at the Beijing +15 conference that will end later today at UN headquarters in New York. Review of the achievements in the last 15 years regarding the rights of women seems to be rather a language compilation of positive terms produced in the last decade than a list of positive achievements. We have seen a mountain of smart political discourse, yet we were hoping for action.

Couple of words on UN’s vocabulary. The discourse of international community does not reflect itself in opportunities seized to protect women from violence nor in universal impact of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, although almost all UN member states have signed the declaration. One of my all time favorites is the combination of lessons and learned. Of course, every new challenge produces new experience that can be regarded as a lesson for the future. On the other hand, learned implies that the new knowledge (lesson) will be used to improve future handling. The paradox of lessons learned in the UN system is that the same mistakes are made over and over again. Moreover, a mistake made twice is still a lesson learned.

Did the Beijing +15 produce a positive impact? Yes. The commitments were reiterated, the text was reread, consensus on action is still strong, language has been reinforced, and dialogue on multilateral level continues. If lessons learned on this two-week session will have a visible positive impact on livelihoods of women around the globe, well, like always, let us evaluate that in 15 years from now.

Go to the UN Webcast site. Scroll through the channels. When you get to the end of the list, you will stumble upon the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. During next two weeks the Beijing Platform for Action will be reviewed in New York. Unfortunately, this seems to be the least important item on the UN’s agenda.

In 1995, as United Nations celebrated its 50th anniversary member states’ representatives have gathered in Beijing “determined to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity” (Beijing Declaration). Fifteen years later it is time to draw the line and calculate the result.

Has the status of women improved during the last decade and a half? Are more girls in schools? Do they have property rights? What about female genital mutilation? Early marriage? Or, let us ask similar questions for the developed countries. Are women equally represented in leading positions? Can they rise above their gendered roles? Are women supported in their struggle to become, for example political advisers on countries like Sudan or experts on disarmament? Do developed countries care about gender based violence at home and overseas?

On the paper, we have come a long way since the Beijing Conference in 1995. However, we have produced more paper than action. For example, UN SC Resolutions 1325 and 1820 are seen as groundbreaking papers to compliment the Beijing Declaration, but so far they have not been fully implemented; and partiality does not lead to the goal of human security!

The Review Conference was opened with a speech of not the first men of the house, but his deputy Ms. Asha-Rose Migiro. Although, delivered with diplomatic politeness, the facts helped her to deliver the unpleasant message: “So, while we have seen advances in the past 15 years, we have not seen enough.” (full speech, March 1, 2010)

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excerpt of Ms. Migiro’s, UN Deputy Secretary-General, opening remarks:

Women still outnumber men among the world’s poorest people. Many women work in vulnerable and low-paid jobs without social protection. And around the world, women are still generally paid less than men for the same work.

Two-thirds of illiterate adults are women – a statistic that has not changed in 20 years. Unpaid domestic and care-giving work remains a predominantly female realm, limiting women’s opportunities for education, training, employment and political activity.

Only 25 countries had reached 30 per cent or more women parliamentarians in 2009. This marks a significant increase from 1995, but it is still insufficient.

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,

We have also seen limited progress on reproductive health. Maternal mortality remains unacceptably high. Almost all these deaths could be prevented.

So, while we have seen advances in the past 15 years, we have not seen enough.

A hot day at work. August, 2007.

A few meters from the interstate road from Flagstaff to Tuba City  lies a field of dinosaur tracks.

Under a wooden stall Navajo men wait for curious travelers to follow a small handwritten sign leading from the road deeper into the Arizona desert. Once there, the tracks of instinct creatures complement the story of indigenous people in the US.

Foto: Katja Gönc

Sexual violence is a weapon of war. In Darfur, rape became the main military strategy of the government-backed militias. Sometimes, only the threat of this horrific act is enough to make people flew from their villages; abandon their homes, community life, and their place of economic independence.

Nevertheless, even when everything is left behind, people in Darfur cannot escape sexual violence. Once in camps for internally displaced near the border of Chad or in refugee camps in Chad, civilians are still under the constant threat of rape, sexual slavery, sexual torture, mutilation and rape-resulting pregnancies.

Traditionally, the collection of firewood is a women’s task. UNHCR supplies camps with food, blankets and tents, but not with fuel needed for the preparation of food. Therefore, women have to leave the protected land to collect branches and bush wood, exposing themselves to rape. Sexual violence does not only leave a trauma and medical consequences, but it also excludes women from their social network. In Sudan, no matter the context of a civil war, the women are still blamed for the rape.

Women who become pregnant as a result of rape are at risk of being abandoned by their husbands, rendering both the women and their children extremely vulnerable. Some infants may be abandoned or neglected by their mothers due to attitudes within the community or the response from the local authorities.” (Human Rights Watch, 2005)

As human rights activist Tomo Križnar explained, the stigma of rape pushed many women out of their communities. Now, they wonder through the region avoiding rebel factions and trying to survive. On his recent trip to the border area of Chad and Sudan Križnar meet a group of out casted women. “I was completely astonished on their capability to survive by subsisting upon roots,” he told.

When negotiations for peace between North and South Sudan started in 2002, a new conflict escalated in the western Sudan. There is no better description of the Darfur crises, observed by so many, than the one of the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. From the tribune at the UN General Assembly he delivered the following words describing Darfur:

“Where continuous spectacle of men and women, and children driven from their homes by murder, rape, and burning of their villages makes a mockery of our claim as international community to shield people from the worst abuses.”

In 2006, many world leaders expressed similar words of outrage. The term genocide was in the air. Darfur became a synonym for murder, rape, abuse, and torture. Non-governmental organizations became involved in the border region of Chad and Sudan, where civilians were forced to flee from the violence of the government allied militia Janjaweed. For nearly three million people and counting, a new life began in the camps.

“Although the crisis in Darfur has generated more commentary, reports, and media coverage in recent years than the twenty violent years of the second Sudan civil war in the South, few have understood that the disaster is not some spontaneous eruption against neglect, misgovernment, and racism, but the latest episode in the forty-year tragic conflict for control of the great basin of the Lake Chad.” (Robert O. Collins, A History of Modern Sudan, p 272)

Last week news agencies reported on the meeting between Sudan’s president al-Bashir and his counterpart from Chad Idriss Deby. (Reuters, 9.2.2010) To find a compromise that will end the agony of the Lake Chad basin conflict, it will probably take more than just one high-level tea party. While war crimes accused leaders sip their tea, the rest of the world should re-play the Kofi Annan’s speech to the General Assembly.

In a decade the international community was not able to provide for human security in the region. Only their reports have been updated, because the death and IDP numbers are continuously rising.