Despite their wounds and destroyed lives, despite their stigmatisation by family and community, survivors are the true heroes for justice, speaking out against their persecutors by testifying in court, in public forums and in the media.
Today, on the World Day for International Justice, we honour the many survivors of wartime sexual violence whose courage and perseverance challenge injustice everyday.
After the recent conviction of Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda by the International Criminal Court, Tatiana Mukanire, the national coordinator of the Survivor Movement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, responded, “As victims of these atrocities, we salute the work done by the ICC, which tempers our anger and gives us hope. Deep down, we are inspired that other criminals can be charged so that the hearts of thousands of raped women can find some solace and the millions of souls lost to years of violence in DRC may finally rest in peace.”
Tatiana Mukanire is not only the national coordinator of the Survivor Movement in DRC but also a survivor of sexual violence in conflict herself. She attends conferences and public forums all over the world speaking out on behalf of survivors to amplify their voices. She participates in SEMA, the Global Network of Victims and Survivors to End Wartime Sexual Violence facilitated by The Mukwege Foundation. SEMA unites survivors and survivor activist groups in a network of support and advocacy.
If the Ntaganda conviction holds on appeal, it will be the first final conviction for crimes of sexual violence including rape and sexual slavery at the ICC.
Dr Denis Mukwege, Congolese gynaecologist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate commented, “This long-awaited decision shows us that the humanitarian community has both a moral and legal obligation to draw a red line against war criminals. From those who target civilians, to those who rape, to those who disembowel pregnant women and to those who use girls as slaves, all war criminals must be prosecuted and tried.”
If upheld, the Ntaganda case will be an official precedent and paradigm for other state courts to replicate. Legal professionals can henceforth wield this conviction as a powerful weapon against war criminals and in defence of survivors. The Ntaganda decision will not only be heard in parliaments and courtrooms, but also echo across countries and local communities where justice is silent.
The ICC trials can have grave effects in justice systems and politics. Dr Mukwege continues,
“The decision in The Hague is a step in the right direction but we must not forget that the instigators of violence in this region continue to hold positions of power in institutions and within the security and defence forces; and as a result, they continue to perpetrate crimes with impunity.”
International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has committed to investigate and enforce the punishment of grave crimes against women and girls. We applaud her and her team’s conviction of Bosco Ntaganda on 15 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including the landmark counts of rape and sexual slavery. Despite this successful case, the unsuccessful cases that have come before cannot be forgotten. Cases must be formed and prosecuted thoroughly. Too much is at stake for more mistakes to be made. Other criminals such as Ugandan war criminal Dominic Ongwen are still on trial.
Yet the ICC must press on boldly. Today, sexual violence in war still thrives in a climate of impunity and inaction. Courts in Central African Republic and South Sudan are in need of precedent. With the Ntaganda conviction under its belt and by continuing to aggressively prosecute rape, sexual slavery and other crimes against women as war crimes, the International Criminal Court can step past its failures and become an archetype for state courts- both in jurisprudence and leadership.
On this day, the World Day for International Justice, the anniversary of the Rome Statute, we encourage the Court to continue to listen to survivors. Just as the Ntaganda case should be held as a model for other courts, so should the bravery of survivors be a model for the prosecutors and humanitarian community.
We implore the Court to stay vigilant and courageous in their prosecutions and the interpretation of their mandate. In this way, the Court can be an instrument for not only justice but peace and the true healing of survivors as well.
“As victims of this inhumane cruelty, we are relieved but we look forward to other heartless warlords like Bosco Ntaganda being put away for good, so that they can never harm anyone ever again. Only then will we truly know peace in our hearts, the peace that has been forcefully torn out of us for too long. Let this conviction not only be an example, but the first of many.” –Tatiana Mukanire