Women in Goma marched in the streets to celebrate the defeat of the M23.
For many months, I have heard tragic reports of rising conflict from our partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eastern DRC has been engulfed by conflict since 1994, when Hutu militias fled across the border from Rwanda—where they had just slaughtered Tutsis and moderate Hutus in one of the most organized genocides of the 20th century.
But in the last week, we have started seeing signs of hope. The notorious M23 rebels have finally surrendered, after years of unrelenting attacks against both civilians and the DRC military.
Here in DRC, people have been celebrating this important milestone. Women have dressed in white to show their support to the Congolese army and government in Goma and Kinshasa. There is a festive mood in the air.
However, grassroots advocates for peace are also calling for caution. People are waiting to see what happens next and how the pending peace negotiations between the government and the M23 unfold. Still, this is a huge step toward breaking the cycle of recurrent violence in the Eastern DRC. We hope the United Nations and the Congolese army succeed in fighting the remaining rebel groups. There will be challenges ahead, particularly when human rights groups seek justice for war crimes—but this is a huge first step.
Read on for reflections on this news from AJWS partners in Goma and Bukavu, DRC, who will continue working with their communities to recover from this conflict and demand their basic human rights.
On Saturday, the International Day of Peace, AJWS grantees and other women’s groups in North Kivu gathered to protest ongoing conflict and finalize a joint statement to Mary Robinson. This activist’s sign reads, “Mrs. Robinson, we want justice and not impunity.”
On September 21, the International Day of Peace, many of AJWS’s partners around the world were pushing for peace, justice and reconciliation in their communities and countries. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where fighting has escalated due to a standoff between armed groups, civilians have increasingly become the targets of violence, particularly women and children. AJWS’s grantees and allies in DRC are particularly working to address sexual violence in North Kivu province, the epicenter of the recent fighting. Read More
Click to view a webcast of the UN's first panel on women human rights defenders.
On Tuesday, June 26th, the United Nations Human Rights Council assembled its first panel on women human rights defenders (WHRDs) as part of its annual consultation on women’s human rights. The panel reviewed the current context for women human rights defenders and presented recommendations to the UN and member states on pursuing gender-specific programs for protection of WHRDs.
In the course of their activism, women human rights defenders challenge deeply entrenched attitudes and powerful patriarchal institutions. They confront threats similar to their male peers as well as those that are specific to their gender. WHRDs are disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence and sexual harassment. In addition, they often face attacks on their reputations through the strategic use of negative stereotypes. These attacks can have severe consequences, including loss of employment, home and custody of children.
On this International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, we have something to celebrate. Fifteen years after signing the UN convention, the DRC has taken a major step forward in advancing human rights. After months of delay, the DRC finally changed its penal code and adopted a law criminalizing torture on July 13th.
Local and international human rights activists fought and waited for this victorious day to arrive. Among them is AJWS’s fearless partner, Action des Chretiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture (ACAT), based in North Kivu in eastern DRC. ACAT’s mission is to fight against all forms of human rights violations, including torture and death penalty. ACAT actively investigates and monitors human rights abuses in North Kivu, one of the most affected areas by the ongoing armed conflict in the country. For years, government security forces, including police and the army, have inflicted unimaginable suffering on civilians and detainees alike through torture.