VViolence and sexual assault have increased around the world since the start of Covid-19, in what the UN has called a “Pandemic in the shade”. Even before the pandemic, one in three women suffered physical or sexual assault globally, the World Health Organization reported this week.
In Africa, the impact has been particularly acute. In the first half of 2020, an increase in reported cases led Liberia’s President Weah to declare rape and all forms of gender-based violence. a national emergency.
The UN mission in the Central African Republic reported a 27% increase in rape cases., and in Kenya 4,000 schoolgirls supposedly got pregnant during school closings, many at the hands of family members and state officials.
The same has happened in my country, South Africa. Gender violence (GBV) has been exacerbated through lockdown measures, making girls and women more vulnerable to attack and reducing their ability to access support systems.
Support centers recorded a 65% increase in calls from women and children confined to their homes. Last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the establishment of a National Council on Gender Violence – but rape and femicide continue unabated.
The rule of law, access to justice and due process are basic components of gender equality and remain the foundation through which people’s rights can be defended and enforced. Yet courts have closed, trials have been suspended, and victims have fewer legal services available when they need them most. What indicated by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, “resources are being diverted from the criminal justice system towards more immediate public health measures to deal with Covid-19.”
The problems persisted long before the pandemic. Deep social divisions, political conflicts and underfunded institutions have put the rule of law to the test in many countries, leading to civil unrest and often war. In these situations, limited state authority and anarchy favor the prevalence of sexual violence and allow a culture of impunity.
Recognizing that a weakened rule of law facilitates the conditions conducive to sexual violence, the international community has taken steps in recent years to strengthen the capacity of governments to deliver justice to survivors.
In 2009, the UN Security Council settled down a team of experts to support national legal systems to address impunity, improve criminal accountability, and foster a holistic approach to addressing sexual violence in conflict.
Since then, the team of experts has led impactful engagements in some of the world’s most challenging contexts, including the Central African Republic, Mali, and Sudan. Furthermore, the momentous creation of two special international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda featured strong resolutions from the international community that incidents of sexual violence must be punished and perpetrators must bear criminal responsibility. Successful prosecutions have followed, giving many hope.
However, if we are to eradicate the issue of sexual violence in its entirety, our efforts to ensure that protection and legal remedies are provided to current victims must be accompanied by a concerted effort to ensure justice for victims of historic war crimes. .
For many survivors, justice remains unattainable. The Lai Dai Han are the sons of two Vietnamese women raped by South Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War. They have been waiting for justice for many decades, during which time they have faced stigma, shame and prejudice. Despite his difficult situation, the South Korean government has never recognized Lai Dai Han or investigated the allegations. Without ensuring justice for marginalized groups, the international community is not doing all it can to address sexual violence and hold all perpetrators accountable.
The protection of women depends on rectifying the past. Holding perpetrators to account, regardless of how long ago the crime was committed, is essential to eradicate impunity and prevent future atrocities. What indicated last year by Pramila Patten, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence in Conflict: “There are countless stories that are shrouded in silence and left off the historical record … in this climate of intersecting crises .. It is time to amplify and reactivate women’s voices. “
However, as we have learned in South Africa, fighting gender-based violence will require more than legislation and pious political speeches. It will require fundamental changes in deeply ingrained patriarchal relationships and in the macho macho mentality that does not respect the essential equality, humanity and inviolability of half the world’s population.
We live at a crucial moment in history, where we have the opportunity to create a more equitable, just and peaceful world.
Let’s use the crisis as an opportunity to apply lessons learned, rectify past misgivings, and support our neighboring states to strengthen the rule of law and empower survivors of injustice.
FW de Klerk is the former state president of South Africa
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism