Grace Lagulu was only 15 years old when she was abducted by the Lords Resistance Army, LRA, in 1987. She was forced to become a sex slave and bore two sons by a rebel commander who is now dead.
“I was an orphan,” she said. “I was abducted along with my brother, who was later killed in captivity. I was severely beaten.”
Lagulu explains that not only is she now struggling to bring up her two children, while facing stigmatisation from the local community for her past, but that she has also been diagnosed as HIV positive.
“I don't see a future ahead of me. I don't know what will happen to my children when I die,” she said.
Lagulu laments that, despite the trauma she has been through, she is receiving no support to help her recover.
“I have heard that a lot of survivors have been assisted, but I have never had the opportunity to receive any help,” she said.
Lagulu's sense of isolation has been compounded by the thought that those men who abducted and abused her have never been apprehended.
“I am now calling for justice,” she said. “I feel the perpetrators should be punished.”
It is this apparent failure to adequately address the needs of these victims of sexual violence that prompted Women's Initiative for Gender Justice, an NGO, to issue a list of demands at the International Criminal Court, ICC's review conference, which was held in Kampala between May 31 and June 11.
“Women want prosecutions, implementation, prevention and a voice,” said Brigid Inder, executive director of the organisation. “Women want national and international prosecutions for gender-based crimes. [They want] implementation of the Rome Statute by governments and also the ICC.”
In a recent paper, Advancing Gender Justice: A Call to Action, Inder outlined some of the most pressing issues facing women, and suggested how the ICC, the court's member countries and the United Nations might work together to resolve them.
The paper recommends the strengthening of institutions and claims that many international judicial bodies, including the ICC, significantly lack the capacity to deal with gender issues.
The paper also calls on ICC member states to fully incorporate the gender provisions of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, into national law and highlights the need for more international funding to support women's rights and legal advocacy.
“Victims should have genuine and meaningful opportunities to participate in the justice processes locally, nationally and internationally,” said the paper.
It also made a special reference to the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, calling for effective prosecution of sexual crimes in the country and proper enforcement of the 2006 Sexual Violence Act.
Women's rights groups have expressed disappointment that Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, the first alleged war criminal to stand trial before the ICC, was never charged with sexual violence crimes, despite witnesses testifying that such abuse did take place.
Last year, victims' lawyers tried to introduce the charge of sexual slavery to Lubanga's existing charges of conscripting child soldiers, but judges ruled that this would prejudice the defendent's right to a fair trial.
The failure to include sexual violence crimes to Lubanga's initial confirmation of charges has been particularly distressing for women in the DRC, where rape has been widely deployed as a weapon of war.
On the island of Idjwi, which is located in the centre of Lake Kivu in eastern DRC, one victim of rape, who did not want to be identified, told IWPR that no steps have been taken to bring her attackers to justice.
“In Idjwi, there are only customary courts, which have no jurisdiction over rape,” she said. “To get access to justice, I would have to do move to the city of Bukavu, but I do not have the [financial] means to do so.”
Inder, from Women's Initiative for Gender Justice, noted that the work of the ICC in each of the five countries where it has opened investigations is vital for the well-being of women.
“For many women, [the ICC] is their greatest hope, for some perhaps their only chance for justice, for someone to be held accountable for what happened to them, with the hope that this should not happen to others,” said Inder.
Gladys Oyat Ayot, a member of the Greater North Women's Voices for Peace, an NGO in northern Uganda, says that being able to access justice mechanisms is an important part of the recovery process for women who have suffered gender-based crimes.
“Women in armed conflicts suffer physical, psychological and emotional pain, which they live with for many years, long after the conflict has ended,” she said. “In most cases, such suffering is increased when the women fail to get redress.”
A colleague of hers, Jane Akwero, added, “The wars in the world today have shifted their battlefields to womens' bodies. Every warring party has turned its guns on women because, when women are raped and abducted, the warring party feels victorious. In the context of northern Uganda, the women have lost everything.”
One rape victim in western Kenya, who did not wish her name to be used, told IWPR that she was placing all her hope for justice on the investigation that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, ICC chief prosecutor, had recently begun in the country.
The woman claims that she was assaulted by a group of men on January 27, 2008, as she tried to flee the violence that tore through her home town of Navasha. She says that the rape was so violent, her womb was irreparably damaged and had to be removed.
More than two years after the rape, the woman still lives in a state of fear. Distrustful of the authorities and worried that her attackers, who left her for dead, could return, she moves from house to house, never remaining longer than a few days under one roof.
She says that she has no faith in justice ever being done by the Kenyan legal system, because she claims that those in power are from the same tribe as the men that raped her.
“I hope that the ICC will intervene in our situation,” she said. “The government here doesn't reach all people equally. Moreno-Ocampo should quicken his investigation so that we can have certainty for the future.”
But she says her hope is tempered by the fear that the investigation could be thwarted by the Kenyan government.
“Moreno-Ocampo should not listen to the words of high-profile people in the government because they will only cheat him,” she said. “He should come and talk to us, in Navasha. If Moreno-Ocampo came here, I would meet him and give evidence.”
Moreno-Ocampo visited Kenya in May, but did not travel outside of the nation's capital. He met victims who were brought to Nairobi by human rights organisations in the city.
To date, the ICC has opened investigations in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, DRC and Kenya.
Although the majority of cases before the ICC include some form of gender-based component, Inder complains that many such charges have been watered down and that the underlying ICC strategy for gender crimes is not robust enough.
None of the ICC's LRA indictees has yet been arrested and two have died whilst on the run.
“So long as the perpetrators are out there, these women sleep with one eye open and the other one closed,” said Jane Adong, legal officer for Women's Initiative for Gender Justice. “They know that any time these perpetrators can come back.”