South Sudan

Transcription of UNMISS Press Briefing on the International Women Day, 08 March 2017

News and Press Release
Originally published

Introduction – Deputy Spokesperson Shantal Persaud - Morning all, and welcome to the United Nations weekly press briefing, which is also being broadcast live on UN Radio Miraya, and good morning to all our listeners out there. Also Happy International Women’s day to all, and this week’s briefing will focus very much on what is being done by the UN family in South Sudan in respect to supporting the rights of women and girls and how it benefits everyone. The theme which is being marked globally is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”

I am joined this morning by a number of colleagues, her on my left we have from Ms. Kasumi Nishigaya Head of the UNMISS Gender Unit, who has also worked for UNDPs Global Program on Women Peace and Security, and has also served as Senior Gender Advisor for JICA the Japan International Corporation Agency. Ms. Nishigaya is joined by her team Ms. Ruth Kibiti , Gender Affairs Officer and Major Bettina Military Gender Advisor on my right

Good morning to you all and welcome…………….,

Before we begin I would like to read the message from the Secretary General on IWD. Women’s rights are human rights. But in these troubled times, as our world becomes more unpredictable and chaotic, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed. Empowering women and girls is the only way to protect their rights and make sure they can realize their full potential.

Historic imbalances in power relations between men and women, exacerbated by growing inequalities within and between societies and countries, are leading to greater discrimination against women and girls. Around the world, tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women’s rights, to entrench sexism and defend misogynistic practices.

Women’s legal rights, which have never been equal to men’s on any continent, are being eroded further. Women’s rights over their own bodies are questioned and undermined. Women are routinely targeted for intimidation and harassment in cyberspace and in real life. In the worst cases, extremists and terrorists build their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls and single them out for sexual and gender-based violence, forced marriage and virtual enslavement.

Despite some improvements, leadership positions across the board are still held by men, and the economic gender gap is widening, thanks to outdated attitudes and entrenched male chauvinism. We must change this, by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world.

Denying the rights of women and girls is not only wrong in itself; it has a serious social and economic impact that holds us all back. Gender equality has a transformative effect that is essential to fully functioning communities, societies and economies.

Women’s access to education and health services has benefits for their families and communities that extend to future generations. An extra year in school can add up to 25 per cent to a girl’s future income.

When women participate fully in the labour force, it creates opportunities and generates growth. Closing the gender gap in employment could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. Increasing the proportion of women in public institutions makes them more representative, increases innovation, improves decision-making and benefits whole societies.

Gender equality is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the global plan agreed by leaders of all countries to meet the challenges we face. Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls specifically for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and this is central to the achievement of all the 17 SDGs.

On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Kasumi Nishigaya: - Thank you very much Shantal good morning to my colleagues from the media, how do you do, and my name is I Ms. Kasumi Nishigaya I work as Chief of Gender Unit of UNMISS, Gender unit has a mandate to implement U.N Security Council Resolution 1325 Women, Peace and Security. Recognizing that men, women ,boys and girls experience of peace and conflict are quite different our role is to promote the participation of women in public decision making and also preventing the occurrence of SGBV against them and also protecting them from those atrocities as well . Within the mission, we work closely with the forces and other substantive sections like senior women protection advisor’s office, and we do provide advisory technical support and also training activities for all the Mission to be able to acquire capacity, to be able to address gender concerns in peace keeping contexts. I would like to highlight that we have a presence not only in the mission’s headquarters but also in the ten field offices. Our gender officers, who are mostly females, are part of the first root on the ground, to reach out to the women to hear their experiences, hear their voices, and bring their opinions to the table of UN Security Council through the medium of SRSG’s good offices. It is my pleasure to share with you that the Global Open days Initiative which is important dialogue process between the women and civil societies of South Sudan and SRSG is already opened. So our colleagues are already facilitating this dialogue in sub-national levels in ten different locations so that their voices are heard in peace building activities. What I want to suggest to you is that according to the rule of law survey of UNDP women in this country have literacy gap and also gap in access to information. So we do recognize the challenges that women face whenever they embarked on public decision making laws and participating in peace building activities, so in this regards we have made a strong support in accessing women through electronic media especially Radio Miraya, through which we normally share our key messages from time to time.

Shantal: Ok, a little bit of background there from my colleague Kasumi on what the UN is doing in regard to Security Council resolution 1325 to have more inclusive participation of women. Next over to you Bettina, to talk a little bit about what the forces are doing?

Major Bettina Stelzer (Military Gender Advisor)- I am currently the gender advisor for the military in UNMISS. Part of our work is to protect the civilians here in South Sudan, conduct patrols and also report on sexual and gender based violence. The challenges that the forces face with regard to female members is the limited amount of members that are deployed. The office of the military affairs of the UN is continually working on it. They have recently launched an initiative to increase the number of female members deployed. As we know how important it is to include women in the patrols to interact with the local community, we consistently noted that lack of women peace keepers’ impacts on the ability of the forces to engage with local women. So during patrol and dialogue with women as well as men it is essential to have a good understanding and have good situation awareness. The inclusion of women in operation and security patrolling actions is also necessary from an operational view point, as we know that cultural practices prevent some women engaging or even speaking or confiding with male peace keepers. We also know that security assessments that are provided by women can vary and can be significantly different to those provided by men.

We also know that because women and girls are disproportionally affected in conflict and are the majority targets of sexual and gender based violence, it is absolutely imperative to engage and speak with women as well as men in order to understand the area of operation so that we can acquire this security information, then it enables us to plan and make the appropriate security decisions to better protect civilians. So therefore we need to listen to the security concerns for the women and girls and we are working towards ensuring that more females are deployed in order for this to be achieved. And this is imperative to show that the military side of UNMISS achieves our mission mandate.

Deputy Spokesperson Shantal Persaud : Thank you Betina, Ruth

Ruth kibiti – I am sitting here representing the Office of the Senior Women Protection which is a thematic office and our main objective is to implement Security Council Resolution 1888 on Women Peace and Security and this office is basically coordination, an advisory, thematic, entity which works closely with Human Rights Division where we have women protection advisors and we also work closely with gender unit which has also women protection advisors. Our main objective is to focus on uniform personnel who commit various types of conflict related sexual violations, we are at the moment focusing on six, forced rape, and gang rape, forced prostitution, forced sterilization forced abortion, all these are issues that we are focusing on when we are training SPLA and also South Sudan Police Services. The reason why we are focusing on these uniform personnel is because they have been identified as committing the highest number of crimes linked to conflict and that is why we are helping them to be able to understand the implications and consequences of the crimes they are committing when they are doing their work. His excellency the President of the Republic of South Sudan on the 11 of October 2014 signed a Joint Communique on with the Special Representative of the Secretary General on sexual violence in to conflict and also Riek Machar signed a Communique, but he did not sign the Communique Jointly with the SRSG for sexual violence because he was not with the government then.) But the Joint Communique lists a number of things the government should do and how they should clean up the armed forces and the specialized forces to stop committing conflict related sexual violence in order for the SPLA in government and SSPNS to be removed from the black list, but now the process is slow but we are beginning to see some positive signs that actually they could eventually begin to implement. What we are saying is that forced marriage when it occurs after a rape incident and the soldier is made to marry the woman, it does not exonerate him from committing an international crime. And when we engage with the SPLA we are trying to help them understand, remember the levels of literacy and so on and we are hoping that at one point the army will be a proper army and will be called a national army.

UNMISS Deputy Spokesperson – To our Radio Miraya listeners who’ve just tuned in ,you’ve come into the weekly UN Press briefing and we are joined by colleagues from the UNMISS Gender unit who have been talking about the security council resolution 1325 which is a mandate to have a more inclusive participation of women in peacekeeping to better identify associate and deal with some of the issues women in conflict societies endure and we also heard from Major Bettina who is from our force side on some of the activities we are doing on PoC sites and women community groups and also how more female peacekeepers are being deployed to deal with some issues . We’ve also heard from Ruth Kibiti who also talked about the extensive training given to SSNPS and SPLA on violence being committed against women . So now we will open up the floor for questions from the media

Question and Answer

MBC TV – There are a lot of women right violations in South Sudan. Do you have a clear strategy to fight and combat this behavior? Do you have a budget for that, how much?

Catholic Radio Network- There was an incident in Kubi village along the Juba-Nimule road, it happened last month, we never heard from UNMISS nor the Gender Section, have you taken any action? Because a big number of women have been raped by uniformed men, and they identified the culprits last week on Friday, and some of them are afraid to speak out, they are hiding in the bush. It’s a big challenge for women and they are taking it as a taboo. What actions are you taking to help those women so they can speak out and help them, and avoid the STDs from that sexual violence?

Ruth Kibiti - Thank you, issues of sexual violence, under the Security Council resolution 1888, which focuses on conflict related sexual violence, and as I indicated earlier, we are focusing on rape and gang rape, forced marriage, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, and forced of abortion in the case of South Sudan only. So yes, we have come up with a strategic initiative on how to engage with various government institutions, specially armed institutions, armed forces and police to be able to help them understand. Because you see, the point is that most of these military officers don’t seem to even know their own code of conduct, or the rules and regulations of operations, so when they go into operations they are not aware, nobody is giving them instructions on what to do and what not to do.

The senior leadership of SPLA argues that when they go into operations, it’s always an emergency; they don’t have time to engage in giving them any instructions. So when they commit all these kinds of crimes they even don’t know that they are committing crimes. Some of them are saying: “but we will end up marrying the girl”. But traditionally we would pay something, some compensation and she becomes a wife. We are telling them that the international criminal law and the international humanitarian law does not allow you, nor exonerates you from being a criminal even when you marry her as a wife. You will have her in the house as a wife but the law will still require that the perpetrator be prosecuted. He has committed a crime, it is against her wish, he has violated her human rights and on top of that they have continued to re-victimize her by forcing her to stay with someone who raped her. So we are explaining all this to them so they can understand, we are not doing it alone; we are doing this with the military themselves.

The SPLA in South Sudan has a lot of challenges; when you see an officer wearing a uniform you would imagine that he attended a military academy but none of them have attended a military academy. You hear that the army is integrated with the forces of David Yauyau, where did they train the forces of David Yauyau? He defects from SPLA as a captain and comes back to SPLA as a general after three years. Where did he get the skills to become a general? To be able to function at that level? To be able to manage the command and responsibilities?

As a result we are going to help them, the Office of the SRSG on sexual violence in conflict together with a team of experts on rule of law and conflict related sexual violence is helping South Sudan come up with an action plan for eliminating conflict related sexual violence and clean up the army to that it can become a professional army and be de-listed from the list they are now sitting on. And because they are sitting on this list, not only the army but also individuals sitting on the list, individuals with command responsibilities such as Paul Malong the general chief of staff of the SPLA. He has issued several command orders in December on ending violence against women and recently appointed a focal point on sexual gender based violence to monitor how the trainings are proceeding. By the end of this year we want to see the rates of sexual violence coming down because most of the staff would have been reached with the right information.

For the training; the budget is coming from the Office of the SRSG on sexual violence in conflict, we are providing technical expertise, and we are also providing the materials. All we need to do is train them so they can train their lower ranks in return. We are training senior commanders with command responsibilities. We have trained about 180 and by the end of next month we should have covered all nine centers in South Sudan.

Human rights are following up on these investigations. Thanks to the trainings, the SPLA has already identified some of the perpetrators of the Kubi rapes. You must recall that when we are handling survivors of sexual violence, we are very careful; we don’t want to re-victimize the survivors. To be able to interview a survivor of sexual violence you must get the consent from the survivor, consent is paramount and if the survivor wants you keep that information and not share it, you must respect her confidentiality.

For those who are in the bush at the moment, it’s because of the stigma attached to rape; any raped woman in South Sudan has her future as a married woman jeopardized. If they have stayed more than two – three weeks in the bush and have contracted STI, it is maturing. If they have contracted HIV AIDS then it’s becoming complicated. But if we have accessed them before 72 hours these issues would have been taken care of. They would have been given Pep treatment to stop them from getting HIV infection, STI infection and any pregnancy that might occur at that particular stage.

Human rights are talking to the communities to be able to get the right information so that we begin to engage the SPLA. The bishop was very clear; it was the SPLA that raped and the SPLA has identified some of the soldiers who raped and they are currently under arrest. We have also made it very clear that when an SPLA officer commits that kind of incident of rape they cannot be tried in a martial court because they have raped a civilian, so they should be taken to the statutory courts.

Juba Monitor newspaper – My first question goes to the military. You’ve talked about the inclusion of women in the peacekeeping force, which you said will improve the working relationship within the UN peacekeeping force. What is the proportion of women in the peacekeeping forces in South Sudan compared to men? And how many, according to you, should be added?

The second question goes to the gender officer: There are cultural practices that sometimes prevent women from raising issues that are of concern. For example, women are not allowed to speak in gatherings, what they say will not be taken into consideration. So what are you doing to clear out these kinds of things?

Asahi Shimbun- Under what international law do you prosecute those criminals who have committed rapes and all atrocities committed in the war here in South Sudan? You have mentioned earlier that you can trial them locally or internationally, how do you do that? Internationally in South Sudan?

Major Bettina Stelzer ( Military Gender Advisor)- About your questions in regards to force composition and females currently deployed; we currently have 3% of the force deployed are women, we are in the process of increasing that to 15% by the end of 2017, and that’s under the initiative that I stated previously from the office of military affairs. The UN is working with all member states and other countries to increase that percentage. It is very important to get as many females on the ground so that we actually interact with the local community. The force in some cases are the first people on the ground that contact some of the villages, particularly in the remote areas so therefore it is imperative that we do deploy more females so that the female population has that ability to discuss their security concerns that they otherwise wouldn’t discuss with some other male force members. Just in light of the last questions we’ve had; on the force’s challenges that we have, particularly here in South Sudan is trust given the fact that the majority of the perpetrators, particularly in relation to sexual gender based violence are uniformed personnel, particularly being SPLA and IO; we need to gain that trust because we are wearing a uniform and that can have an impact on the peace of mind. So that is one of the challenges we face; getting the local community to actually trust uniformed personnel. We have to continue increasing our levels of females deployed so we can gain that trust.

Ruth Kibiti – For example a cultural practice in South Sudan of early marriage for the girl child .We are saying to them that let’s allow the girl child to go to school. Education is a tool for the empowerment of women. We should not force girls to be married early even if it’s their culture. And we also explain to South Sudanese that culture is dynamic. It keeps on changing. And when they send the boy child to school leaving the girl child at home, they are committing a serious international violation of human rights. They are discriminating against the girl child. And we are helping them to understand through awareness creation, through advocacy, role plays, so that the community can understand that girls have rights and that girls have to enjoy certain freedom. And one of the freedoms is to allow the girls to go to school because education is empowering, and to stop forcing the girls to marry at an early age. We are not saying that South Sudanese culture is not developed, it’s a strong culture. But we insist that the cultures around the world are dynamic, they keep changing. We cannot talk about gender equality in South Sudan unless we have a significant proportion of women who have gone to school and are ready to take up certain responsibilities.

There are also other cultural traditions also such as scarification, which is a violation of their rights because none of these children gave their consent. According to the convention of the rights of children, a child below the age of 18 years cannot give consent to any particular initiatives to happen in their bodies’ .So we have identified several cultural practices which we tell the communities this should not happen in the new era, because it doesn’t add value to the lives of girls. We are also looking at forcing girls out of school to get married for parents to get cows. You know the girls are performing very good at school, she is number one in the class and yet the father will come and say she has to get married. if you want to gather evidence on the number of girls who have been forced out of school and some of them are refusing go to the prison . You can see how many girls are in the detention centers because their parents brought them for disciplinary mechanisms. They are not charged for any offence but they keep them there until they agree to marry the person. So we see there are very many that we need to talk about through awareness raising.

As journalist you may have been following the story of Bosco Ntaganda, he was one of the leaders of the armed groups in the DRC. When he was arrested and taken to The Hague, all charges were dropped, but he was convicted for sexual violence. It’s the same thing in South Sudan, the international human rights law, the international criminal law will be used. If the law of South Sudan will not be strong enough to try them, they will be tried in international court, most likely The Hague, because you see they have violated an individual’s human dignity and her right to life and when this rights are violated it is like the when you are raped as a woman half of you has died, the one that is still living is the one that you are breathing in. There is a lot of stigma in South Sudan associated with rape. So there are very few incidents where the survivor is taken through psychosocial support and been able to pick up and lead a normal life. We are also helping them to get out of this stigma, consider it like any accident that had happened.

As for the SPLA once a person is identified as perpetrator of sexual violence, he cannot continue to serve in the SPLA, he cannot get pension in the SPLA , he cannot perform any in other uniformed security institution military institutions and at the end of the day he cannot get any benefits from a DDR . The person cannot be given any amnesty because that is a very serious offence. And we are also saying the SPLA must pay compensation for the women that have been raped and the must pay for their medical treatment. Because the responsibility falls now on SPLA to ensure that these women receive proper medical treatment.

The Dawn –My question goes to the Gender Advisor, you did mention that lack of proper training in the military as to why they commit rape and other human rights violations against women. Do you have some statistics on woman who have gone through sexual violence? And how would you rate gender equality in the country?

Ruth Kibiti – We don’t have any statistics as of now, because we haven’t combined them, we are pulling them together , and for us to issue statement on statistics we must have evidence that if the person goes to court tomorrow ,he must be convicted on that evidence . So it is too early for us to come up with the evidence, investigations are still going on for cases that have been identified, and for us to share the information with the external world, we should be a 100% sure that the evidence is comprehensive and can convict a perpetrator on that. So we are yet to release a statistics but once they are released of course we share them through the human rights report and as of now the cases are still under investigation, the figures given are still under investigation, the evidence is not yet there.

In terms of gender equality the transitional constitution on this is very comprehensive on this .It gives us 25% in the Republic of South Sudan , but the crisis is the 25 percent is being implemented at the top , but once you get into the county , the statistics really disintegrates and you don’t see the women . As you go to the local government you don’t see the statistics of 25% , they kind of disappear . So at the higher level, national assembly, government, you see the statistics. But this statistics we are talking about terms of the women in leadership. We are not even looking at the number of women who are Director Generals, undersecretaries, occupying other key positions, ambassadorial positions; we haven’t gone to that kind of statistics. As you go through those specialized positions, you’ll see the number of women shrinking, because they are talking, “O they don’t have the right qualifications ...”

MBC TV – How can you describe the human rights situation in South Sudan?

Ruth kibiti – we describe it as very serious and needs urgent attention, not only from the international community but urgent attention from all South Sudanese. Everybody must talk about ending violations of human rights. When we were doing the joint implementation plan for the joint communique, where we had representatives from the Ministry of defense and we said we had identified six cases of males who had been sodomized and had the evidence, people argued that can’t happen in South Sudan. A particular officer who heard this was so shocked that we realized that he needed attention. This is because some of the things are against your tradition. So we are saying the Human rights violations in South Sudan, a young man raping an old woman who could be his grandmother , would you say that’s a normal situation ? But we are also saying when you rape or gang rape a woman, you don’t even know her health status, she could be HIV positive or have other STIs . When the guns are silent and the war is over , you are going to see former SPLA , SSNPS and national security agents who will go down with illness that you will not be able to explain . When you steal cattle for example the shame will be on you , but when you rape a woman , the woman will be victimized . But after the guns are silent, the shame will be on perpetrators.

UNMISS Deputy Spokesperson – Thank you, in case you have just tuned in to the press briefing, we have been listening to colleagues from the Gender Advisor’s unit talking about some of the gender issues across the country. That brings as to the end of our press briefing today. Just before we wind up we would like to apologize on behalf of our colleagues from UN Women who were also supposed to participate in the press briefing. They were called on by the government for a women’s day event . But for the media here, let me just alert you to the fact that UN women are partnering with Facebook to feature a 24 hour live chat and you can learn more about that by visiting the UN women website and that is taking place today. Once again thanks for joining us , that brings us to the end of today’s press briefing .