UNHRC points to progress and concerns

Gunmen target Dr Mukwege, founder of Panzi hospital

There is still an awfully long way to go but sex workers in South Africa can now start to imagine a time when they will not be arrested for simply doing their job. When they will not be beaten, robbed and raped because they sell sex. When they will not be routinely abused by police and ignored by health professionals – the very people who are meant to help and protect them.

When they will be able to enjoy the same basic human rights as everyone else.

South Africa has proven to be one of the most progressive countries on the African continent in terms of observing tolerance and people’s rights, especially the rights of minority groups. However, although South Africa has made positive strides in equality and in guaranteeing rights, especially pertaining to sexual orientation, the country has seen a dramatic rise in brutal attacks against lesbians.

“Instead of sitting at home and waiting for flowers on Valentine’s, women have chosen to rise and make demands: making clear that the gift women want is dignity, bodily autonomy, and justice. The flowers can wait,” said Talent Jumo, National Coordinator of the Katswe Sistahood.

OSISA-funded project up for innovating justice prize

“Before we were a country, we knew ourselves to be part of global movements for justice. Now we have come full circle - the poorest Kenyan can claim the gold standard of international justice that her own government has not afforded her. Can turn to the international statutes and conventions that Kenya is signatory to, and under them, seek redress for crimes committed against her.” Shailja Patel - Kenyan activist, playwright and the 2011 Poetry Africa Letters to Dennis poet.

I was in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo last week when the M23 militia entered Goma. Since then, there have been reports of women and children being abducted by the rebels, a practice common throughout over a decade of civil war. The DRC - considered by the UN as the worst place in the world to be a woman - is yet again being subjected to war, violence, and neglect. Yet in very remote areas of the country, some glimmer of hope remains for a just and peaceful future.

The torrid air in the makeshift courtroom was heavy with heat and hate as, one by one, the rape survivors confronted their attackers and relived their New Year’s Day horrors before a panel of judges. The anger and fear from both sides of the room was palpable – with only a few metres separating the rapists from their victims as they testified. One young woman, a newly married bride, threw her bloodied and torn clothing onto the floor as evidence of her ordeal. A 29-year-old mother of five said she was trying to flee into the forest when four soldiers caught up with her.

In 2009, an innovative project began in South Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo to try and bring the perpetrators of sexual crimes to book and so help to combat the prevailing culture of impunity. By supporting mobile gender courts that specifically target sexual crimes, the project sought to bring some measure of justice to communities that had long since given up on the rule of law – and give survivors hope that their attackers would pay for their crimes.

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