In the second part of a series on gender violence in war, Deepthi Suresh examines why sexual violence is a war tactic and how international bodies are recognising the problem.
The influential International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2000 said that systematic violence referred to the ‘organised nature of acts of violence’ and not ‘random occurrences’. Following similar guideline, in 2008, the UN recognised wartime rape as a strategy used for gaining political momentum during armed conflicts. It has also been a means of torture, terror and punishment to affected populations.
Sexual violence has long been used as a tactic to target civilians during an armed conflict. It is widely acknowledged that socio-economic, political, and physical differences in gender create vulnerabilities. Though it is gender-based violence, tactical rape is then used to control and deliberately destroy whole communities. For example, it is a strategy used to remove populations from a geographic area, which almost amounts to ethnic cleansing. It is therefore, important to comprehend the reality, causes and implications of wartime sexual violence in order to respond to this strategy.
The failure of the state, in allowing women to be victims of sexual violence, is a grave concern. However, there has been some progress in international law pertaining to sexual violence during armed conflicts, particularly in the United Nations. In May 2012, the UK launched its Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative, followed by the United Nations General Assembly (2013) Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is supported by over 150 states. In 2014 a new international protocol on the investigation of sexual violence was launch. These developments illustrate the high-level political actions being taken to address sexual violence in conflict around the world. This shift at the international level may provide a foundation for the much-needed working of the state-level responses to sexual violence.
Despite these international measures, sexual violence continues to be a war tactic, showcasing the lack of compliance with agreed international human rights law. This impedes international responses to humanitarian crises, such as this. However, these steps are still important, as the gradual move at an international level to reject sexual violence during armed conflicts represents the growing understanding that such horrendous acts are a threat to human security and international stability.
To read the previous instalment in this series, click here.
Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash
In the fifth instalment in our human rights series, Lynn Rickard looks at women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
In 2018 we celebrate 100 years since Irish women were awarded the right to vote. In recognising our progress as a nation, we must also recognise nations who are not afforded the same women’s rights.
In today’s instalment we take a look at Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; focusing in on Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia, how far they have come and how far they have left to endure.
Though women in Saudi Arabia recently won the right to drive, according to Amnesty International gender based discrimination remains prominent across the MENA region “notably in matters of marriage and divorce, inheritance and child custody”. As it stands, women in Saudi Arabia require a male guardian’s consent in order to travel abroad, obtain a passport or marry. Amnesty International notes that some women experiencing “gender based violence” are also forced into early marriage.
The Amnesty International Report 2011 noted the case of a 12-year-old girl whose father had forcibly married her to an 80-year-old man for money. Amnesty says local human rights activists highlighted the case and resulted in the girl obtaining a divorce in February 2012.
A 2010 Report by Freedom House explains that gender inequality is built into Saudi Arabia’s governmental and social structures, and is “integral to the country’s state supported interpretation of Islam, which is derived from a literal reading of the Koran and Sunna”. As a result work opportunities for women remain limited with women being employed in single-sex institutions such as education or health care.
Although discrimination against women and girls in Saudi Arabia is prevalent slight changes “in accordance with Islamic law standards” provide a beacon of hope for all women and girls within this region. In a report, Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry announced in July a change in Saudi girls’ public schools. The announcement outlined that from the beginning of fall 2017 certain schools will offer a physical education program during their school term. However, it is not known whether the girls have to get parental permission to enrol.
It may seem that Saudi women and girls’ rights are improving ever so slightly but radical results are yet to be observed as heavy gender based and religious restrictions prevail.
Photo by Majid Korang beheshti on Unsplash
Read our short factsheet about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
What is Israel?
As we use the term today, Israel is a state set up in 1948. It is a state for Jewish people in the Middle East, on the Mediterranean Sea. It was set up as part of a two state solution for peace, following an influx of Jewish refugees from Europe following the Holocaust. Though large numbers of European Jews emigrated to the Middle East during the 1930s and 1940s, there was already a large population of Muslims living there.
Why did they emigrate to the Middle East?
Because they saw it as their historic home, which the Jews had been forced to leave over 2000 years before.
What is Palestine?
Palestine is the historic name for the area that encompasses Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Today, Palestine is the name for the Israeli controlled territory where mainly Muslims live. This is broken up into two separate areas, the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestine is recognised as a state by 137 UN member nations, not including Ireland or America. There has been no consensus in the UN as to whether Palestine is a state, but it has been granted observer status. This means it is not considered a state with the same rights as other members of the UN, but it can take part in some activities, like attending the general assembly.
What are the West Bank and Gaza?
They are the territories that make up Palestine, where most Muslims and Christians live. It is very difficult for people living there to leave, even to go into Israel. Most families moved there during the Nabka.
What is the Nakba?
When the state of Israel was created, the Israeli army sought to take control of certain areas. This led to the destruction of many Muslim villages and homes. Some families keep the key for their houses as a family heirloom, even though most houses were destroyed.
Since 1948 Israel has expanded their territory, meaning most Palestinians have smaller territories to live in.
What does Donald Trump have to do with it?
Most countries don’t recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, because it is on the border of the West Bank and internationally many people see it as the capital of Palestine. As a sanction against Israel’s policies in Palestine, most countries have their embassies in another city, Tel Aviv. This means they will not recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. However, Donald Trump has moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognising it as Israel’s capital, in contrast to most other international practice.
Photo of Jerusalem by Rob Bye on Unsplash
Before their upcoming installation, STAND spoke to the BANBHA Theatre company about how all art is political.
What is BANBHA?
BANBHA is a theatre company founded in 2015 by Cara Brophy-Browne and Tara Louise Morrison. Susie Birmingham is the company’s composer and sound designer.
As a company we aim to create politically motivated theatre which relies heavily on a collaborative ensemble driven process. By beginning every project with extensive theoretical and practical research and maintaining comprehensive archives throughout the process, BANBHA hopes to blur the lines between activism and art, politics and performance, and theory and theatre.
What role do you think the arts play in social activism?
BANBHA are primarily theatre makers. We deal with performance and believe differentiation between art and social activism does not exist. Every march, protest, or canvass, is a performance, every time an actor questions the status quo from a position on stage it is a piece of activism. The art we make hopes to blur the supposed line between art and activism until it can no longer be drawn.
With the recent removal of Maser’s artwork on the Project Arts Centre, what do you think that says about the relationship between politics and art?
We believe that all art is political, whether there is a recognisable icon or not. The power of the message remains in the glimpsed bottom of the Repeal heart and represents the power of art to interrogate what is not seen as much as what is seen. The space outside The Project has been politicised, like so many people in Ireland recently have, no amount of paint can depoliticise that space.
What is your recent installation about?
Our installation, THE RE//PRESENTATION ROOMS, is broadly a presentation of an archive of audio and video material BANBHA gathered last year while working with a group of queer refugees in Athens. While we knew the stories we heard last year in Greece needed to be shared, we struggled with finding an ethical a way to present them.
We asked ourselves how we could share these stories, told through a disparate collection of interviews and videos in such a way that would not impose any new narratives and would not force our own interpretations upon them. Bearing this in mind we decided that the most ethical and political way for that meaning to be made was by the individual audience member. As an audience member walks through the installation, each one may have a different experience with each taking meaning in their own way.
As a frame for this, each one of the rooms should pose questions for the spectator; do gender binaries have a relationship with geographical borders? What is the connection between a European media institution and a Syrian asylum interview? And importantly, where and how do sexuality and political meet?
Why is it important to showcase this work?
Ireland accepts only 3 percent of asylum applicants, migrants get attacked and abused on the streets of Europe daily, and queer Muslims internationally struggle to find a space of safety and solidarity. You have to hope these problems come from a place of ignorance, not evil, and as artists showcasing this work we hope to be one small part of a collective effort the lesson that ignorance.
If you want to see more from BANBHA, head along to their upcoming installation on May 5th and 6th. Funds raised will go to LGBTQI+ Refugees in Greece.
Photo courtesy of BANBHA.
Calvin James is a Dublin born DJ who spent 6 months in the Rojava strip in Northern Syria. There he worked for the Kuridsh Red Crescent who are a 24/7 emergency response service. He went there because he wanted to help the Yazidi population, who face mass genocide by ISIS. He is now back in Ireland and has been running Syria’s vibes for the past 15 months. Syrias Vibes is a music event which supports the innocent victims of the wars in Syria and Iraq by raising money for medical, psychological, and social services for locals in both countries. He sat down with me to tell me his fascinating story.
So how exactly did you get involved, from your Dublin apartment all the way to Northern Syria?
The situation there was always on my mind, but it was when I received an e-mail from my friend in
Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) in April 2015 that things started to happen. He was over there fighting with
the YPG – who are a Kurdish resistance group fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I had no interest in fighting,
but I told him about my social care background. Luckily the YPG were looking for healthcare workers….and before I knew it I was at the airport and making my way to the Syrian border.
So I stayed at a YPG camp for three weeks, but soon had to return to Dublin for personal reasons. At
the time I thought it was a “divine intervention” – a guardian angel telling me to cop on and get
home! But back home I just couldn’t stop thinking of the situation I left behind. So I decided to
return in February 2016.
What was it like meeting the YPG – did you have much training?
It was a good introduction, and there were many other Westerners who were there in a fighting
capacity. Actually, one of the first things I was shown was how to use basic weapons – simply for the
fact that there was always the threat of ISIS or a Turkish intervention, so it was for self-defence
reasons. Apart from that I learned the basics of the Kurdish language, and there was also a small bit
of ideological training.
On your return you started working with the Kurdish Red Crescent. Was there much of a routine
or was it more spontaneous work?
It depended on the day’s events. We were based in a city called Qamishli, which wasn’t
experiencing daily battle but there was always the ISIS threat. The first couple of months were a bit
slow as the rescue centre was being set up. But by April things were in full swing, and I was
responding to ISIS attacks or battles between the Syrian regime and the Kurds. But it was sporadic,
and there were days you spent just hanging about – I became pretty familiar with Syrian Soap
You also came to the assistance of wounded ISIS fighters. It must have been difficult to remain
compassionate and professional at those times…
It was a bit surreal. The first time I met ISIS was in a town called Amuda. We rushed there
because we heard of a suicide bombing – it turned out it was a failed suicide bombing and the ISIS
fighter was in a local hospital. So we went over and there he was, lying unconscious with severe burns,
aged around 22. I actually touched his body for a moment, so that was a bit of a freaky experience.
And indeed, many of the Kurdish Red Crescent would have known someone who was killed or raped
by ISIS. But we always stuck to our ethos of simply helping anyone who needed it.
July 27 th 2016 was a particularly dark day out there. Can you describe what happened?
That was the day an ISIS truck bomb in Qamishli killed 50 people and left 150 others injured. I was
just chilling in my room before hearing the most crazy bang noise, and then the air conditioner in
my room just fell to the ground. There was a massive mushroom cloud outside, and it was obvious
then something serious had happened. So we arrived at the scene, trying to get as many survivors
as possible. It was the most intense heat ever that day, 50 degrees I think. We had no water, so I
ended up drinking some dirty pipe water not caring of the damage it could do with me. Everything
happened so quickly, and some dude just dropped this dead girl on my arms. We rushed to the
ambulance with her and only then realised “what are we doing bringing her to hospital, she’s already
dead” and then rushed back to try and get the survivors – that kind of hazy and panicked state of mind
sums up what it was like. It was actually my Dad’s birthday that day, but unfortunately I’ll be associating
it with something else from now on. Nothing prepares you for a day like that.
How about the local population, what was your relationship like with them?
Overall very good. There would be UN aid trucks passing through Rojava on the way to Aleppo,
and the local populations were frustrated they weren’t stopping in Rojava. I think they felt a bit
neglected by some other organisations. So they really did appreciate any humanitarian assistance
they got, and they saw us as neutral. I also think the fact I was Irish helped, because of ours and
the Kurds shared struggle– there was the occasional Bobby Sand’s reference.
And what about their daily lives – was there much of a sense of normality?
There actually was, and I think absence of normality can sometimes be a bit of a misconception
about parts of warzones. It was definitely the case here any ways – people went to school, had
weddings, socialised, played sports. Myself and some YPG friends even treated ourselves to an
occasional couple of cans, just to get our mind away from it all. Obviously things would have been
different in Aleppo due to the constant chaos. In Rojava though it was “carry on as normal” while
always been aware of the ISIS threat.
Syria’s woes are far from over, but there is a sense that the Assad regime is going to hold. What
do you think that means for the future of the Syrian Kurds and Rojava?
It really depends whether the Assad regime is willing to grant them autonomy. At the moment
I’m reading that he would be open to negotiation on the matter, and I think many of them would
find that satisfactory. But there are still a few issues here and there – for example the Arab’s in the
region don’t always have the best opinion of the Kurds. So there are interesting times ahead to see
how it all pans out. Unfortunately though the Kurds can sometimes be a bit naïve about the United
States’ role in all of this – some of them even have a positive opinion of Trump. They don’t seem to
realise the U.S. might just throw them under the bus when it’s all over, just as what happened in the
Tell me a bit more about Syria’s Vibes – how did the idea come about?
I just felt there was a lack of humanitarian charities and NGO’s in the region – many of them
seemed to be helping displaced Syrian’s in nearby Lebanon and Jordan. So I wanted to leave my
own blueprint, and started raising funds back home through club nights and other events.
Initially we raised funds just for emergency work, but we started to realise that other areas weren’t
being looked after. By this I mean there were still girls in part of Syria receiving no education at all –
and it’s the polar opposite of how things are in the West, children actually want to go to school
there! There was also a severe lack of psychological support for the Yazidi’s, who have been left
traumatised from ISIS horrors. So at the moment we’re really trying to branch out to these
untapped areas and fund some important projects and services.
Your story is inspiring, but what would you say to a young Irish person considering a similar
Learn a language – or two! In all seriousness though, you need to do as much homework as
possible before going out. I was lucky in that I had a very strong base and team, with everyone
looking out for each other and helping each other along the way. So it’s a combination of making
sure you have as much research done as possible, while also ensuring you’re with the right company.
Head along to Syrian Vibes which is happening tonight at The Soundhouse, Eden Quay, 7pm. Check out their Facebook event for details.
Photo: Calvin James with Yazidis
Brian has a degree in International Security and Conflict from DCU, and continues to have a keen interest in the field. He currently works for Concern Worldwide.
Three years since the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine and Russia find themselves at a
perpetual impasse. Daily fighting continues in the Eastern part of the country, with the
current death toll surpassing 10,000 and a further 2.5-3 million people left displaced. With
the Kremlin still denying the presence of Russian troops in the country, combined with a
growing apathetic international community, the fear is that the conflict has become a
The Political Context – Denial, Division, and Apathy
Mistrust and lack of transparency continue to define the conflict, with both sides taking part
in indiscriminate shelling and violence. The source of friction lies in the so called De Facto
states of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”, where Pro-
Russian separatists continue to seek greater autonomy from Ukraine in view of establishing
separate states. Whether this pursuit is backed by the Russian government is something
less clear. On the one hand Vladimir Putin has admitted occasional military support by
Russian forces in Donetsk and Luhansk, but denies them having a regular presence there.
Less ambiguous is the Ukrainian government’s role, whose use of force has drawn criticism
from human rights groups and international monitors. At present, the fighting between the
two groups is mainly concentrated in the cities of Avdiivka and Mariupol.
Internationally, the conflict has taken on a backstage role in light of events in Syria.
Regardless, continued United States support for Ukraine in the form of military training and
non-lethal aid, as well as the continued issuing of sanctions against Russia, means “cold
war” rhetoric remains close to the surface. This has been exacerbated further with the
ongoing debate of whether the U.S should provide Ukraine with lethal aid. Here in Europe,
a lack of political will seems to be the defining characteristic, with neither France nor
Germany offering much inspiration in terms of diplomacy. With Brexit on the horizon this
apathy is only likely to increase, as the UK’s exit may mean it will no longer be able to wield
its influence against Russian aggression.
Human Rights – Repression In The Name of Security
With over 2000 civilian deaths, and over 2.5 million people displaced, the consequences for
ordinary Ukrainian citizens have been devastating. For those who have survived, the highly
nationalistic nature of the conflict means that security forces have created a climate of
suspicion and fear. This was highlighted in 2017 annual reports by both Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch, which outlined how dozens of civilians were held
captive and tortured by both the Ukrainian authorities and Pro-Russian separatists, on
suspicion of collaborating with the ‘other side’ or as part of a “prisoner exchange” strategy –
often on tenuous or baseless grounds. Such developments are particularly concerning in
the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, due to a lack of checks and balances.
Away from the conflict zone, the human rights situation in the now annexed Crimea leaves
much to be concerned, where Russian authorities have targeted dissenters and minority
groups – particularly the Crimean Tatars. Ed O’Donovan works for Irish based NGO ‘Front
Line Defenders’, which seeks to protect human rights defenders at work. He explained how
human right defender’s (HRD’s) in Crimea face many challenges in the newly annexed
region. “Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, the Russian authorities in the
region have consistently targeted HRD’s in an attempt to whitewash the human rights
violations taking place”, said Ed, who describes how the authorities subject HRD’s to
“physical attack, home surveillance, criminal prosecution, and unlawful detention, while
also banning public demonstration in support of minorities.” Indeed, the 2017 Frontline
Defenders award winner is Emil Kurbedinov, a Tartar human rights lawyer who has
documented violations against Tartars and assisted those who are in the firing line. Emil was
arrested by local authorities and sentenced to 10 days administrative detention for
“propagandizing for extremist organisations”. Ed says it’s vital that there is international
support for figures such as Emil “so that we can contribute to his security in a region that is
The Humanitarian Response
Homes, hospitals, schools, and vital infrastructure continue to be devastated by the conflict,
and an estimated 3.8 million people in Ukraine are in need of assistance, according to the
World Health Organisation. GOAL ceased their programme in Ukraine last year, but prior to
that had been aiding families and supporting the isolated and elderly. Sebastien
Lambroschini, who was GOAL’s Country Director in Ukraine but is now working for French
NGO ‘ACTED’, feels it is important that psychosocial support is also a key priority. “You have
thousands and thousands of people who are living within shelling range, that’s obviously
going to have a traumatic effect on them and provoke stress. What makes it even more
difficult is that anything to do with mental health is highly stigmatised in Ukraine, which
means that people won’t often seek help.”
However, Sebastien feels that livelihoods can only be restored properly in Ukraine once the
government starts to look at the bigger socio-economic changes taking place. “We’re
looking at a situation where the whole socio-economic fabric of the region has been
redrawn by the conflict”, he says. “The separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were
once the economic centres for many people from small towns and areas– now they have
lost access to them. It is vital that the government firstly accepts and finds a way to map
out and deal with these new economic realities. It’s the much bigger question at stake.”
The Way Forward
For now the fighting and death toll looks likely to continue, with no end game in sight.
Indeed, unlike the so called “frozen” conflicts which are symptomatic of the Post-Soviet
space, Ukraine represents a conflict that is teetering along gradually without moments of
escalation but without any obvious solutions.
Long-term solutions will require reaching out to moderate factions on both sides and using
their influence to bring compromise and concessions. Nevertheless, a few positive moves
could help de-escalate tensions in the short-term while also improving the humanitarian
situation on the ground.
Suspending lethal aid proposals: Top U.S. officials continue to debate the sending of lethal
aid to Ukraine in the form of heavy weaponry. Such a move, however, would only lead to
more civilian deaths while bringing tensions with Russia to the brink. It is vital that more
moderate diplomats stand up to Neoconservatives in Washington to prevent such a move
taking place, while also ensuring Ukraine’s right to a proportionate self-defence.
Protecting NGO’s and IGO’s: Both NGO’s and Intergovernmental organisations are facing
limitations in their work, particularly in Crimea and the De Facto separatist states. One
example is monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),
who have faced intimidation and threats from separatists during their mission inspections.
Ensuring that those behind such threats and intimidation are held responsible and
accountable would go some way in helping de-normalise such developments.
Continuing Reforms: The IMF has assisted Ukraine with $17.5 billion to improve the
economy and prevent corruption. While there have been some notable changes and
improvements, many lay citizens continue to move to Poland for work. The government
must focus on using these reform packages to support small businesses and reducing
unemployment, particularly in area’s bordering the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic.
Photo Credit: Sasha Maksymenko
Brian has a degree in International Security and Conflict from DCU, and continues to have a keen interest in the field. He currently works for Concern Worldwide.