Zero Impunity

ZERO IMPUNITY – The impunity for sexual violence in war-related context

There is still much silence about violence against women.

At any longitude and latitude, whether at home, in Hollywood suites or in war contexts, sexual violence against women is often unreported and hardly prosecuted.

Mostly, the perpetrators of these crimes continue to enjoy their impunity, particularly in conflict situations where violence against women is a weapon, a very potent and effective strategy in annihilating the enemy, deployed in order to hit military or political targets objectives, sowing terror among the population, breaking up families, destroying communities, changing their ethnic composition.

Because women generate the future. As in Rwanda where during the 1994 genocide over 100,000 women were raped, in the 12 years of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo they were 200,000. Then in Sierra Leone, Liberia, in the former Yugoslavia, now in Libya.

Rape is not only sexual violence, it’ s a war crime. Far from being a collateral damage, something inevitable in any armed conflict, war-related rape is a heinous crime against humanity to prosecute and punish as such. Rape is “sexual assault”, is a tactic of war. It must be screamed out loud and outright, just like a girl does before the United Nations General Assembly in the final animated scene of ZERO IMPUNITY.

Presented at the FIFDH in Geneva, ZERO IMPUNITY by Nicolas Blies and Stéphane Hueber-Blies in a combination of animation and real interviews is part of a transmedia project developed as a mediatic weapon to fight impunity related to sexual violence.

Based on a wide range of online support (investigative reports, petitions, animated documentaries, public space events) ZERO IMPUNITY is not only an awareness raising campaign, laudable in itself, but also a plunge into the institutionalized mechanisms of impunity. Definitively, ZERO IMPUNITY is a call for action.

A project of investigative journalism of international scope made up of six investigative reports conducted by 11 international independent press partners acting to make people aware of the subject and give voice to the survivors of sexual abuse starting from some of the most dramatic theatres of war: Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic to end up in the corridors of power of the United Nations, the C.I.A., the French army.

ZERO IMPUNITY starts in Syria with Nora. She was eleven when she was tortured and sexually abused in a Syrian government prison. She was hold hostage and detained for 45 days because of being the child of man considered to be a “terrorist”.  In the last eight years many, if not all, Syrians not being loyal to the Bashir al Assad regime have been misleadingly included in terrorist lists.

Nora was drugged, raped and sexually mutilated, she can’t remember how many men abused her. When she went out of captivity, her mother Fatima tells, Nora looked as she was 25 years old. She didn’t want to come back to school but only get married because “I know now what happens between men and women”, she said.

Like her thousands of children experienced the same type of violence, the former director of Aleppo’s civilian prison Bassam al Aloulou admits.

“[…] roughly 1000 of the 8000 prisoners were minors. Damascus ordered us not to differentiate between minors and adults [..]. Minors were no longer kept separately from the other prisoners. They were raped by prison guards [..]. I only applied the law, the order from Damascus to open the cells.” 

From the very beginning children were targets of sexual violences. A systemised  procedure to annihilate the families of alleged terrorists.

Ukraine and the story of Alias

In Ukraine where for five years a political and strategic has been fighting behind the mask of ethno-nationalism, sexual violence is committed by both pro-Russian and pro Ukrainian forces. Alias was on the wrong side. In May 2014, just few days after the referendums on self-determination of the “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic (DNR)” in Eastern Ukraine, Alias, who was living in Kiev, was stopped at a checkpoint run by pro-Russian separatists. She was accused of having contacts with two Ukrainian activists she was interrogated for six hours, driven to the house of a militia soldier and raped (with a bullet) for four days. She managed to escape and leave for Kiev. Alias decided not to fill a complaint against the man as the territory was under separatist control.

Not only women need to be defended from sexual violence. Although women are the main victims of mass rapes, sexual abuses are committed also against men with the aim of getting information from them. Not only in Syria.

Sexual abuses, sodomy, humiliating treatments. Torture. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other secret locations of new method of interrogation techniques that would forever change the face of the United States.

In the aftermath of September 11 the White House delegated the C.I.A. to trigger the “War on Terror”. The Bush administration legalized new methods of interrogation for terrorist suspects. ZERO IMPUNITY revolves around testimonies of who was part of that operating system. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, feared that the CIA’s techniques would spread to the army. He was right, quickly starting in fall 2002 the army started using the enhanced interrogation techniques created by the CIA.

“Sexual humilation was meant to break prisoners resistance […], forced nudity was humiliating. Forced anal examinations were justified with medical reasons […], nothing was legal.” 

It was torture, rape. From 2002 to 2005, it was routine for Dick Cheney. The images of Abu Ghraib showing naked prisoners piled on top of each other in a pyramid shocked Americans and increased hostility and hatred felt by many Muslims.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld quickly blamed these abuses on a few isolated soldiers, a few “bad apples”. A few soldiers who the situation got out of control. Although President George W. Bush declared to be strongly committed to end torture no one faced prosecution for the crimes committed.

Barack Obama, on his part, refused to declassify many of those photos of Abu Ghraib, while Donald Trump, with his usual love of improvisation, has recently expressed admiration for the CIA’s methods without even imagining what they are.

Sassi is 37 and a father of three children. He work as an elevator repairman. He was 22 in 2001 when he left France for Pakistan. He ended up in a Bin Laden training camp over the border in Afghanistan. he was captured by Pakistani soldiers handed him over to the US-run camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“They used a lot of sexual humiliation techniques on men from the Middle East,” former Guantanamo detainee Sassi said. “These men had never had contact with a Western woman, and even less so with a naked woman pretending to give herself to him. They were traumatized. They were more afraid of that than of being hit.”

SEA, “Sexual exploitation and abuses”. In the Central African Republic, a United Nations task force has brought to light cases of violence and sexual abuse of minors and children by Congolese soldiers of the MINUSCA peace mission meant to protect, with about 13,000 peacekeepers, thousands of civilians displaced by the bloody conflict between the Séléka Muslim militias, and the “anti-Balaka”, Christian militias.

French soldiers on the ground with the Operation Sangaris, were implicated in the allegations of abuse carried out by UN peacekeepers. With the arrival of the UN blue helmets, prostitution in the Central African Republic was increasing. Pretending to be a hairdresser, a journalist from the Zero Impunity team managed to enter a brothel hotel in Bangui, habitually frequented by French soldiers.

Many children (41 according to a survey) were victims of sexual violence. No French military was submitted to justice thanks to a preliminary agreement signed by the governments of French and Central African Republic on immunity from local jurisdiction.

The Central African Republic actually gave up its criminal jurisdiction over persons who committed criminal offenses in its territory. Immunity agreements between sending and territorial states, that have become a standard practice, make it even more difficult to fight against the tradition of impunity for sexual violence in armed conflict. Most regrettably, thanks to these agreements rape falls under the umbrella of the military conduct, covering any sexual offense. A matter of military courts concern.

Crimes that are removed from the jurisdiction of national proceedings and, even worse, from the international penal court. Crimes that go unpunished, victims who have no chance to get justice.

Let’s make indignation an engine of change, take action, join the Zero Impunity Campaign.

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