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 September 4 to September 10, was compiled with support from Becky Allen and Anne Connell.
Sexual violence in South Sudan Displaced South Sudanese civilians and religious leaders appealed directly to an envoy of representatives from the UN Security Council last Saturday, requesting an urgent deployment of additional peacekeepers to the capital, Juba. In meetings with UN officials, civilians accused government forces of killing and torturing people as well as raping women and girls, including foreign relief workers. A local women’s group testified that women and girls are systematically targeted every time they leave camps to gather food and firewood. While South Sudan’s conflict has long been marked by the use of sexual violence as a weapon by state and non-state armed actors, multilateral organizations and diplomatic officials suggest there has been a surge in instances of rape in recent months. US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called for an independent commission to record testimony from victims and met with government ministries to urge accountability for “ghastly attacks” on civilians.
Russia addresses domestic violence legislation Earlier this summer, Russia amended its criminal code to classify domestic violence as a crime, enabling law enforcement bodies to initiate prosecution of offenders. Now a bill to strengthen prosecution of domestic violence, drafted by Russian rights groups, is ready for consideration by the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament. Similar legislative proposals introduced over the past decade have failed, and it remains unclear if the new bill will be brought to the floor for a vote. Others suggest that the amendment alone is unlikely to reduce stigma associated with abuse or increase reporting of violence. Russia remains one of the few countries yet to adopt a comprehensive domestic violence law, and has not signed or ratified the 2014 Council of Europe Convention on combating violence against women and domestic violence. According to official government statistics, crimes within the home account for 40 percent of all violent crimes and 65 percent of all homicides in Russia, and an estimated 36,000 women are assaulted by partners each day.
ICC prosecutes militant for cultural destruction—not rape Islamic extremist Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi recently pled guilty at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to destroying ancient shrines and religious sites in Timbuktu, Mali. Al-Mahdi was not prosecuted, however, for allegations of rape, forced marriage, and sexual enslavement, despite the presence of thirty-three victims willing to testify and ample evidence that women and girls were targeted by extremists in Timbuktu. Several rights groups have voiced concern that the ICC’s action sends a message is that rape is a less heinous crime than destruction of heritage sites. In response, the International Federation for Human Rights issued a statement that “[we] deeply regret that the charges against al-Mahdi were not widened to include crimes against the civilian population, including sexual and gender-based crimes, whose victims are far too often ignored during accountability processes.” Al-Mahdi faces a maximum sentence of thirty years in prison, but likely will serve only nine to eleven years as part of a plea agreement requested by prosecutors.