With the first Review Conference of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) under way in the Ugandan capital Kampala, women are crying out for justice for gender-based violence inflicted upon them during the civil conflict in the country's north.
"Women who were raped, those who were once abducted and have since come back with children, as well as those who have lost property during this conflict are all crying out for some form of justice," says Jane Adong, Legal Officer of the Hague-based Women's Initiative for Gender Justice (WIGJ).
"For instance, there is a group (of women) who are saying they don't know where to go to seek justice for gender based crimes. So what role is the ICC playing, they ask? Is there a court in Uganda to try such crimes?
"What about the fate of those children who were born in captivity? And the abducted ones? … Clear commitments; that's what women want," says Odong.
Women from different parts of the world who are attending the conference also want an active voice and equal representation in matters of conflict resolution and peace processes. They want clear commitments from both the ICC and state parties on the way forward in seeking justice for women survivors of gender-based violence inflicted in armed conflict in their respective countries.
They fear that the perpetrators of such crimes remain a threat to peace and security as long as they are not arrested. From the conference, they expect to find out about the status of the warrants and to know whether they will receive justice, where and when.
To date, the ICC has opened investigations in five countries -- Central African Republic; Sudan; Uganda; Democratic Republic of Congo; and Kenya -- of cases of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. It has publicly issued twelve arrest warrants and one summons to appear. The leader of Uganda's rebel Lords Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, and Sudan's President Omar Bashir are among those who have been issued warrants but not yet been apprehended.
"So long as the perpetrators are out there, these women sleep with one eye open and the other one closed," Adong says.
Among other issues, the two-week Conference will review the overall success and impact of the Rome Statute. It will assess the complementarity and cooperation of states as well as the impact of the Rome Statute system on victims and affected communities and peace and justice."The cooperation of states is vital to the Court's long term success, particularly in ensuring that arrest warrants can be executed," says Carla Ferstman, Director of REDRESS, a UK based NGO that advocates for victims rights.
Amira Mohammed Khair, Sudan Programme Officer with WIGJ, agrees."Communities in Sudan are among the most long-suffering due to the lack of government cooperation. When victims first heard about the ICC and the international system they were so optimistic. But now there is a great disappointment among them," says Khair.
According to Khair, the issuance of an arrest warrant on President Bashir has negatively affected women in refugee and internally displaced people camps in Darfur and neighbouring Chad.
"The expulsion of International NGO's by Bashir is having great consequences on the affected communities and especially women who take risks fetching firewood and water from long distances, exposing them to intimidation and rape by both government and janjaweed militia," Khair explains. Fearful of the possible repercussions, affected communities will not cooperate with the justice system.
Women say with greater representation in peace processes and conflict resolution, they could bring significant changes for women affected by armed conflict. But women continue to be sidelined in peace processes in spite of several U.N. resolutions that support women's participation. "We can't continue calling women ‘guests' like they call the women participating in the Darfur Peace process. It is as if they are not part of the negotiations. At times they can even be asked to go outside because certain matters are going to be discussed," Khair says.Ferstman agrees: "Victims are no longer the silent bystanders who must suffer in silence. Mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court are there to provide victims' with an independent voice, to enable them to be heard in safety and dignity and to ensure that they achieve justice that is meaningful.