The Central African Republic (CAR) has been plagued with conflict, instability and human rights abuses since the country gained independence from French colonialism. The following decades have been turbulent for the country with numerous unelected Presidents or Emperors, who took power by force. CAR is heavily dependent on foreign aid and the assistance of NGOs to provide basic humanitarian needs and security. As one UNDP official has stated, the country is ‘sous serum’ or metaphorically hooked up to an IV.
The UNDP 2012 Human Development Index ranks the country 180 th (out of 186). The ranking, whilst helpful, does not adequately convey the extent of the challenges in CAR. Horrors range from government abuses, extrajudicial executions by security forces, trafficking and forced labour (both adults and children), a prevalence of female genital mutilation and sexual violence.
Conflict again erupted in December 2012, with the coalition of rebels, Seleka, accusing President Francois Bozize of failing to abide by the peace agreements of 2007 and 2011. In May 2013, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, noted the conflict’s devastating impacts upon women and girls, highlighting the continual reports of sexual violence.
Throughout the region sexual violence is a major issue and attempts to combat the devastating effects have regrettably had limited impact. In June 2006, CAR’s National Assembly amended their abortion laws to permit abortions in cases of rape. This legislation has not rescued the survivors of rape from the devastation that resulting
pregnancies can cause however. The US is the predominant humanitarian aid donor to the region with the accompanying policy prohibiting the provision of abortion services.
The saddening consequence of US foreign policy is that girls and women impregnated by rape are routinely denied terminations in donor-funded hospitals, even though such procedures are permissible under CAR law and have designated funding from other donor countries, such as the UK.
The denial of abortion services to women and girls impregnated by rape is a direct violation of their human rights, rights that should be protected and met under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. This specifies that comprehensive and non-discriminatory health care must be available to the extent practicable and
with the least possible delay, highlighting the necessity of abortion services.
Women and girls are victims of gender discrimination due to the lack of action within the international community to ensure that this Convention is upheld. A comparison can be made between a male needing a penile reconstruction surgery after rape and mutilation in armed conflict and a woman in need of a safe abortion. There are no legal impediments to the treatment offered to a male survivor, whereas in many countries there are both legal and practical impediments on the treatment available to female rape survivors.
Abortion serves as a life saving procedure in many cases where there is a lack of maternal care and services, especially for girls whose bodies are not mature enough to carry the child to full term. Due to the denial of the necessary medical treatment many women resort to methods of unsafe abortion that endanger the life of the mother; USAID estimate around 60% of women impregnated by rape attempt to self-abort (and they provide added swab material in birth packs based on this knowledge.
Consideration must also be given to the life-shattering psychological and social effects of rape. In many societies, the burden of ‘shame’ rests with the survivor of sexual
violence rather than the perpetrator. Social ostracism is a common consequence for the survivors of sexual violence. Powerless to fight against this social exclusion they suffer multiple human rights abuses: raped, forced pregnancy, rejected by their communities; most are unable to marry, earn a living or maintain stability in their life.
Serene provides advocacy implementation and training. We try to work in critical areas of concern such as this project.
The culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence is partially maintained by the reluctance to testify as a survivor of an attack. Furthermore, the impunity is
upheld by inefficient or non-existent judicial systems that are often discriminatory towards women. An example of this is the Islamic Republic of Iran that requires
the need for four impartial male witnesses of the crime to be named when reporting a rape.
It is therefore imperative for organisations that receive funding from the US to segregate the US funding so that this policy does not then unintentionally apply to all funding received.
The information given in this paper is but a skimming of the surface of the wide-spread and catastrophic abuse that is sexual violence. The Rape in Conflict Campaign is one of many that advocates for a change in international humanitarian laws to ensure that sexual violence is recognised as an illegal weapon of war. It is also working tirelessly to ensure that abortion services are available to those in need, by circumventing the devastating US foreign policy that is preventing a future for hundreds of thousands of women and girls.
Rape has been practiced in war for centuries. In recent times it has become one of the most prevalent tactics of war, yet so far there has been a disturbing lack of action to combat it. This must change.