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Statement Nadia Carine Fornel Poutou towards the UN Security Council during the High Level Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict

“On the 17th of July Cordaid partner Nadia Carine Fornel Poutou, president of the Association of Central African Women Lawyers, addressed the United Nations Security Council on their work in the Central African Republic during the High Level Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Her organisation works for the protection of human rights and the care of SGBV survivors by providing legal assistance, psychosocial support and medical referrals. Here you can find her statement”

Your Excellencies, fellow activists, dear guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I am Nadia Carine FORNEL POUTOU, Executive President of the Association of Central African Women Lawyers. Our organisation works for the protection of human rights and the care of SGBV survivors by providing legal assistance, psychosocial support and medical referrals. Among others this is provided through our so called ‘listening centres’ where paralegals and psychosocial workers aim to improve accountability of perpetrators and help survivors coping with their traumatic experience for example through psychosocial support. As an active member of civil society, I have several years of professional experience in the promotion and defence of the rights of women and children, the fight against impunity and the legal treatment of gender-based violence in the Central African Republic.

I would like to thank the German government for this opportunity to share some thoughts on the situation of sexual violence in the Central African Republic. I hope that my statement will encourage all those present to continue our important work to put an end to these horrific practices.

To understand the situation we face on a daily basis in CAR, I would like to share the story of one of the women and girls we supported over the last few years:

I am 17 years old; I grew up in Bangui. In 2013, the Séléka entered the city. Four men arrived at our home, while I was there with my mother and my little sister. They were tall and dressed in military garb, their faces veiled by black cloth. One of them asked where the men of the family had gone. My mother replied that there were no men left. They slapped my mother and walked up to my little sister and threw her to the ground. While she was crying, one of the soldiers ripped off her clothes and brutally pushed her to the ground. As I watched with tears in my eyes, their leader said they should do the same thing to me. I was in a lot of pain and despite my screams they didn’t stop. The pain in my belly lasted a month. I was taken to the hospital in Bimbo, where I was told that I was pregnant but the child had died in my belly’.

Your Excellencies, fellow activists, dear guests, ladies and gentlemen:

In 2019, the total number of GBV cases managed and recorded by organisations working on (S)GBV in CAR was 13,028 cases, among which 12,249 involved females, compared to 779 cases concerning males. Physical assaults, rape and sexual violence accounted for half of the cases.

15% of the (S)GBV cases recorded by AFJC concern men and 85% women. This is potentially an under-representation of men, who are even more stigmatized when they fall victim to these crimes. These serious human rights violations are rooted in conflicts and prevailing gender and socio-cultural norms.

For more than two decades, the Central African Republic has faced repeated armed conflicts with disastrous consequences for the population, not to mention widespread sexual violence, mainly committed against women and girls. The perpetrators are mostly members of armed groups. Often, they target people based on their ethnic or religious background, or because their area of residence is supposedly populated by rival militias. In some cases, the security forces that are deployed to protect civilians (both national and international) also commit these atrocities, deepening public distrust of these security forces.

Survivors are of all ages, including children under 10 years of age. Rape is often committed by multiple perpetrators, sometimes as many as 20 per person, in public, in front of family and community members,

ripping apart the social fabric. In addition to the security and socio-economic consequences of the conflict throughout the country, the civilian population in general and women and children in particular, are affected by serious human rights violations, such as the confiscation and occupation of land and the recruitment of children into armed groups.

Since the beginning of the crisis, protection services have been either dysfunctional or absent entirely.

Measures have been taken by the government with the support of the international community, namely the creation and establishment of a state structure – the Joint Rapid Intervention and Repression Unit for Sexual Violence against Women and Children (UMIRR), the creation and operationalisation of the Special Criminal Court (SPC). The reform of the justice sector contributes to the restoration of the authority of the State and the confidence of the population in the justice system.

Likewise, the Government is attempting to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1820 and 1888, which recognize and condemn rape as a weapon of war and a crime against humanity.

The issue of security remains a major concern for true and fair justice in CAR where perpetrators and survivors of these crimes live side by side in the community.

Impunity cannot be fought in a context of insecurity, nor can we talk about justice in a context where weapons circulate freely.

Your Excellencies, fellow activists, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

We ask you as members of the Security Council to:

Ensure that MINUSCA will,

  • Effectively ensure the protection of civilians against serious violations of International Humanitarian Law, as stipulated in their mandate;
  • Strengthen the Central African Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces so as to ensure their effectiveness, inclusiveness and accountability, especially on (S)GBV and SEA violations;
  • Secondly, we ask members of the Security Council to support local civil society organisations by:
  • Strengthening their efforts – in particular those of women’s rights organisations – for survivors of (S)GBV in their economic empowerment and reintegration into society;
  • Meaningfully consulting us as local organisations so as to improve and ensure access to UN mechanisms for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence;
  • Strengthen investments in holistic care for survivors. For example, by investing in funding for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and access to justice;
  • Thirdly, we ask members of the Security Council to support the development of the judiciary system, by:
  • Strengthening the Joint Rapid Intervention and Repression Unit (UMIRR), which fights (S)GBV, so that it is autonomous and able to objectively handle the cases submitted to it ;
  • Supporting the ordinary national courts and the Special Criminal Court by encouraging them to consider cases of conflict-related sexual violence with the utmost attention, and ensure the protection of survivors and witnesses throughout the judicial process ;
  • And finally, advocating for conflict-related sexual violence to be given special attention by all transitional justice mechanisms, both judicial and non-judicial.

Survivors are particularly in need of a functioning, effective and gender-sensitive justice system and other mechanisms to bring perpetrators to justice and provide reparations to survivors.

Lastly,

the Council must inquire about the efforts of the peacekeeping mission, in line with its solid WPS mandate, to address this critical gap in services and justice for survivors and also to ensure the equal and meaningful participation of women in the peace and electoral processes, including in the implementation of the peace agreement and in the upcoming presidential election.

Your Excellencies, fellow activists, dear guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to working together for a future without sexual violence in the Central African Republic