Remarks by Stephen Lewis,
Co-Director, AIDS-Free World
at International Women's Day events:
United Nations Human Rights Council Panel
moderated by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay
and Meeting of Council Diplomats
Geneva, March 8, 2012,
8:00 PM CET/2:00 PM EST
Honor Women By Naming And Shaming Zimbabwe
Click here to read this statement on-line or to download a copy as a PDF
March 8, 2012 - Here in Geneva, at the Human Rights Council, on International Women's Day, I have a case
I want to make. It's about Zimbabwe. It should have been made by the United Nations, but it hasn't been made by the United Nations.
Frankly, that's unforgiveable.
Let me set it out. And please bear with me for a few minutes of background, leading to a decisive revelation.
In Zimbabwe in 2008, there were two elections; the second was a run-off, held because Robert Mugabe refused to concede defeat.
They were held in March and June. Between the two elections, there was a terrible campaign of political rape orchestrated by President
Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF.
In Zimbabwe in 2008, there were two elections; the second was a run-off, held because Robert Mugabe refused to concede
defeat. They were held in March and June. Between the two elections, there was a terrible campaign of political rape orchestrated by
President Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF.
The facts are not in dispute. My organization, AIDS-Free World, at the request of a group called The Girl-Child Network,
decided to respond to the women who had been raped and take their stories by way of formal affidavits. On six separate occasions,
accompanied by lawyers from pro bono law firms in Canada and the United States, we traveled to southern Africa and took the affidavits.
We gathered evidence from 70 women. Collectively, they were subjected to 380 separate rapes by 271 different men. In every
single instance, the rapes were committed against women solely because they directly or indirectly supported the MDC, the opposition party.
The raping was diabolical, completely without conscience, merciless in its ferocity, committed by members of Mugabe's Youth
Corps and War Veterans. The pattern of rape was identical and uniform in every part of the country. It was carried out in every province.
There was no doubt as to its orchestration. There was no doubt that it constituted crimes against humanity.
It was rape as a strategy of politics, no different in its execution and result than rape as a strategy of conflict.
It was meant to terrorize the opposition, to destroy communities and families that harbored the opposition, to force women to vote
for ZANU-PF, or to frighten women, their family members and neighbors away from the polls altogether. The fact that women might
emerge as HIV-positive from such horror, mattered not at all.
It is not excessive to say that it was the plan of a madman.
AIDS-Free World meticulously documented the saga and produced a comprehensive report titled "Electing to Rape:
Sexual Terror in Mugabe's Zimbabwe". We launched it in Johannesburg in December of 2009.
It garnered significant coverage in southern Africa, and from that day to this we've been telling anyone who would listen
to us, within the United Nations and outside of the United Nations, that the international community must intervene because this strategy
of rape is historic and it is ongoing. Women will be subject to terrifying sexual assault again during the next elections, expected to be
held later this year.
We went so far as to prepare a case to be brought before the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in South Africa to take
advantage of South Africa's ability to use the legal principle of "universal jurisdiction" - that is, bringing those accused
of crimes against humanity to justice through courts outside their own countries, because the crimes offend us all, and their own
countries won't prosecute. We were frustrated in that objective by the response to another case, also against Mugabe and
Zimbabwe, alleging crimes of torture in 2007. The application of universal jurisdiction is stalled in that case,
because the NPA argued that it didn't have jurisdiction. The decision was appealed. There was no point in our
proceeding until the question of the NPA's jurisdiction was resolved.
Interestingly, the High Court of Gauteng has agreed to hear the appeal at the end of this month, so we will file our rape
dossier before the NPA by May.
But while that may get some of the known perpetrators into jail should they cross into South Africa, the women who have been
raped, will never receive justice, and those who most certainly will be raped in advance of the next election, will not be safe until the
international community intervenes.
AIDS-Free World had resolved to apply pressure in every possible way to forestall a repetition of election-related raping
later this year. But we have frankly felt deeply frustrated and depressed by the impunity that rests like an impenetrable halo over
Robert Mugabe's head.
Why will no one take him on? The days of Zimbabwe's role as a Front-Line state against apartheid are long, long gone.
Everyone - every country on the Security Council - knows of the sexual violence; knows what is being done to the women of Zimbabwe
who dare to support the opposition; knows that a brutal, insensate regime is in power in the country. It appears to make no difference.
In the councils of the United Nations - indeed, here in the affairs of the Human Rights Council, where Zimbabwe has recently
undergone its Universal Periodic Review and appeared before the Treaty Body for CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination
of ALL Forms of Discrimination Against Women just last month - it is de rigueur to rail against dozens
of countries for violence against women, but Zimbabwe is always exempt.
On this International Women's Day, we have to resolve to break the pattern. Incredibly enough, the chink in the armor
of Zimbabwe's impunity has finally been exposed.
Let me explain how it plays out.
Back in December of 2010, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1960. It was focused entirely on sexual violence
in situations of armed conflict, bemoaning the extremely slow progress made in bringing any of the perpetrators to justice. In order
to attempt to correct the situation, and in response to Resolutions 1820 and 1888 also dealing explicitly with sexual violence in
conflict, the Security Council asked the Secretary-General, in his annual reports on the issue, to include " detailed
information on parties to armed conflict that are credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for rape or other
forms of sexual violence ." , and to list the parties in an annex.
It became known as the "Naming and Shaming" resolution. There's no question: it was important progress.
In January of this year, as requested, the Secretary-General submitted his report titled "Conflict-related sexual
violence". And it named names. It went through country after country - Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the
Congo, Libya, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan (Darfur) - identifying the groups and sometimes individual assailants who
were responsible for campaigns of rape between December 2010 and November 2011.
The next section predictably deals with "conflict-related sexual violence in post-conflict
situations", again naming names, or discussing the situation in detail, and citing Central African Republic,
Chad, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste.
As we moved through the reading of the report, my colleagues and I were tormented by the all-consuming focus on
'sexual violence in conflict' that seemed to preclude the inclusion of Zimbabwe. How could we explain to the world, and
to the Secretary-General that sexual violence in conflict didn't always require warring parties? How could we explain that sexual
violence driven by political motives was simply a different kind of conflict, of similar scale and import, needing equally to
And then we came to page 21!
The heading is " Sexual Violence in the context of elections, political strife and civil unrest." I was stunned.
The first paragraph couldn't have been more explicit:
"Situations of civil and political unrest or instability, including pre- and post-electoral violence,
where reports suggest that sexual violence was used to serve political ends and to target opponents, are relevant for the purpose of
reporting under resolution 1960. Sexual violence employed as part of the repertoire of political repression needs to be monitored
as a security threat, as a context in which sexual violence amounting to a crime against humanity may occur, and as a potential
This is the exact definition of Zimbabwe in 2008, and what undoubtedly will be Zimbabwe in 2012. So which countries
does the report name? Guinea, Kenya, Egypt and Syria.
What in heaven's name is going on? AIDS-Free World was appalled by the post-election rape that haunted Kenya; collectively,
we've spent months on it; assigned an intern to gather material; helped to design a conference that addressed it; and the co-Director of
AIDS-Free World and I spent a week in Nairobi interviewing between fifteen and twenty activists, mostly from women's groups, shortly
after the post-election violence.
What they reported was awful; but the scale of the raping didn't begin to approximate Zimbabwe. The Secretary-General's
report ends the section on Kenya with these words: " Generally, Kenya remains peaceful but the political environment is
expected to continue to be charged as the country heads for the next general elections in 2012. Accordingly, there is continued
monitoring and peace-building initiatives . in view of the potential for repeated violence and population displacement."
If Kenya remains ominous for the repeat of sexual violence in 2012, then Zimbabwe is many times more threatening. And as
bad as things have been and are in Egypt, Guinea, and yes, even Syria, Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe beats them all for the scale of
repression and rape throughout the 32 years he has been leading the country.
Why is Zimbabwe missing from the list? Why does the Secretariat allow it to happen, especially when a section of the
Secretary-General's own report cries out for the inclusion of Zimbabwe? The report is seen as a document that will change the
course of history for women. It was debated by the Security Council for the first time just two weeks ago. Any analysis of
the language of the report must conclude that Zimbabwe is the very embodiment of what's being reviled, and is now
definitively within the orbit of the actions to be taken on sexual violence by the United Nations.
So I must ask: why does the Security Council call for naming and shaming and then observe the omission of Zimbabwe
without so much as a word? Nor, I might add, a word from the Human Rights Council. What hold does Robert Mugabe have on the
Permanent Members of the Security Council, or on the member governments of the Human Rights Council? Does no one recognize
the blow to the public credibility of the UN in both New York and Geneva when such obvious matters of principle are discarded?
It can't be allowed to go on. Zimbabwe is now - by fact, by logic, by circumstance, by morality, by behavior - an organic
extension of the Secretary-General's report. It's a travesty that of all the countries named, Zimbabwe is missing.
It smacks of a dreadful hypocrisy; it's an unsettling glimpse into what might be called the collusion of
camaraderie . that cozy male bonding when everyone agrees, behind closed doors, to be silent. It shows unsettling
contempt for the women of Zimbabwe who have been raped by President Mugabe's henchmen.
Someone has to correct this wrong. Neither the Secretary-General himself nor a single member of the Security Council
can explain or defend it. Not after the words in the report.
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