Welcome to “Women Around the World: This Week,” a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week’s post, covering from May 27 to June 3, was compiled with support from Becky Allen and Anne Connell.
Chad’s former president convicted of war crimes Hissene Habré, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, was found guilty this week of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including charges of murder, torture, rape, and sexual slavery. A statement from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described Habré’s crimes as “numerous, calculated, and grave.” Habré’s eight-year term as the president of Chad was marked by the systematic killing of an estimated 40,000 people and the targeting of ethnic minorities in the country’s south. During his trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers, a hybrid court created within the Senegalese judicial system to prosecute international crimes committed in Chad, four women offered testimony about their captivity—along with girls as young as thirteen—in northern Chad as sexual slaves for the dictator’s army. One woman who had been imprisoned at the presidential palace accused Habré himself of raping her. Habré’s sentence to life imprisonment is a landmark ruling for global efforts to bring accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity—particularly gender-based crimes such as rape and sexual slavery—and serves as an important regional precedent for the conviction of a perpetrator of mass atrocities in an African courtroom by African jurists.
Women’s health and safety in Brazil Police forces in Rio de Janeiro arrested suspects this week in a gang rape case that sparked outrage across Brazil last month. Public officials came under intense scrutiny for a sluggish and poorly-organized response to the crime, including failure to collect DNA evidence until five days after the assault. Video of the brutal attack that circulated online depicted a group of up to thirty-three men, several armed, assaulting a sixteen-year-old girl who had been rendered unconscious by drugging. Police made the first arrest last Saturday, with a total of six men arrested thus far. The case has brought significant attention to the issue of violence against women in Brazil, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, which sees between 6,000 and 7,000 rapes reported each year. A number of high-profile incidents of assault on public transport, as well as the prevalence of street harassment, have put pressure on the local and national government as the country prepares for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Rio de Janeiro’s acting governor Francisco Dornelles called the gang rape “the most heinous of crimes,” and Brazil’s interim president Michel Temer pledged this week to address the nation’s high levels of violence against women by creating a dedicated federal police unit. Concerns about women’s safety in Rio add to a number of questions about the city’s preparedness for the Olympics: last week, one hundred prominent doctors and medical professors penned an open letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) calling for the postponement or relocation of the games due to Zika virus, which poses a significant threat to pregnant women. Some experts claim that Rio de Janeiro’s suspected Zika cases are the highest of any state in in Brazil.
NATO mechanism strengthens women’s participation NATO will establish a new mechanism to institutionalize dialogue with civil society and women’s rights organizations. The aim of the new Civil Society Advisory Panel on Women, Peace and Security is to facilitate formal and sustained dialogue between NATO and women’s groups. The body will meet regularly with NATO Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security Marriët Schuurman and other officials to bolster NATO’s existing work to advance the objectives of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women’s participation in security processes. The panel will provide input across NATO’s secretariat and command structures, including to units responsible for building defense capacities, training armed forces, curbing the illicit use of small arms and light weapons, and combatting terrorism and violent extremism. The Special Representative is currently assembling membership for the panel, which is expected to hold its inaugural meeting during the fall of 2016.