Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation
20
Jun

In Geneva, sexual violence survivors lobby international community for recognition and reparations


Survivors of sexual violence demand recognition of and reparations for the harm they suffered. With the support of the Mukwege Foundation, a delegation of women from Congo, Guinea, Iraq and Kosovo met with ambassadors this week in Geneva and participated in a side-event at the UN Human Rights Council.

Oumou Barry from Guinea was beaten and raped when security forces attacked a peaceful demonstration in the stadium in the country’s capital of Conakry in 2009. “Since the events took place, we didn’t receive any help from the government.” She says the government is not taking its responsibility to recognize what happened.

“We survivors demand reparations,” she said at an event in Geneva that was organized by the Mukwege Foundation, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan and the Foundation for Justice & Remembrance for the Issue of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

Symbolic forms of reparations, such as an apology and measures to guarantee non-recurrence are important for the survivors to come to terms with the past.

International community should do more against wartime sexual violence, survivors say

Similar demands were made by representatives from Kosovo, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Vasfije Blair from Kosovo said she and the 20 000 survivors of the rapes perpetrated during the war haven’t received any apology or recognition by the Serbian government, which they blame for the atrocities. Fareeda Khalaf from the Yezidi community in Iraq, who was enslaved and sexually abused by ISIS, urged the international community to recognize the atrocities that were committed against her people as genocide.

Guillaumette Tsongo, a survivor of the pervasive sexual violence in Democratic Republic of the Congo, spoke about the life-long consequences on women as well as their need for support and truth in order to end the stigma.

The women asked the international community to put pressure on countries where large-scale sexual violence occurs. Taking place on the 19th of June, the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the event allowed survivors to share their story and call on decision-makers to abide by their commitment to end conflict-related sexual violence.

Sexual violence survivors meet ambassadors

The delegation of survivors met with the ambassadors of Canada, Finland, Sweden and Norway as well as representatives of the British and Dutch governments.

The survivors, which are part of the Global Survivor Network, had a clear demand: the international community must put pressure on countries where large-scale sexual violence occurs and must support survivors worldwide through an alternative reparations system.

The Mukwege Foundation will continue to support them in realizing this initiative and in sending a pledge to governments, which will help to form a group of like-minded states committed to ending sexual violence in conflict.

Sexual violence survivors inspired by the fight of Asian “Comfort Women”

The survivors of today’s conflicts said they were inspired by the decade-long struggle of Asian “comfort women”, who were held as sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War. The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan shared the testimonies of Korean and Philippine survivors during the event.

“Thanks to their tenacity and courage we are here today,” said Guillaumette Tsongo from Congo. “They paved the way so that survivors can break shame and obtain justice.”

Survivors of sexual violence at a side-event of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

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Reparations are often sidelined but have the potential to transform societies. Reparations can become a tool for change. (Dr Denis Mukwege)

Dr. Denis Mukwege and survivors at the event.

Survivors meet ambassadors in Geneva. All Photos: Michel Juvet