Bearing Witness: A new report on women in conflict zones

October 6, 2011

http://asiasecurity.macfound.org/blog/entry/111bearing_witness/

The Centre for North East Studies & Policy Research, based in New Delhi and Guwahati, and the Heinrich Boll Foundation, have just released a report on the impact of conflict on women in Nagaland and Assam, two states on India’s northeastern frontier. The study is based on intensive field work and documentation in these areas.

The researchers set out to speak primarily to victims of trauma and PTSD. But in Nagaland, they identified seven kinds of trauma, and found it hard to restrict their conversations to respondents that primarily fit their research design. Their listing of seven kinds of trauma brought home just how profound the impact of conflict can be and how long this impact can last (pages 10-11). Apart from the trauma experienced by individual women when they themselves were assaulted, they also experienced the trauma that others in their family, clan or village suffered or that they witnessed. Moreover, hearing of assault and traumatic experiences, either across generations through family stories or as researchers, also had an impact. Those interviewed experienced the hopelessness of their cause, however righteous, as trauma. Displacement, the loss of place and history, was another source of trauma. Being forced to interact with and adapt to the ways of others—even the ‘other’—contributed to traumatisation.

In Nagaland, the research team found that given the nature of Naga society, trauma was experienced by the village collectively, and people were hesitant to identify themselves individually, as if to suggest their own experience was somehow worse. Naga women drew sustenance from the support system provided by their traditional structures and institutions like the church. Whether or not women knew about the different laws that governed their region, they spoke to the brutality of the Indian security forces.

“All women respondents had stated that conflicts had affected all aspects of daily normal life whether they were socio-economic, health, education, etc. People cutting across class, clans, villages, gender, age, etc., had suffered tremendously over the years due to different conflicts… There were also many discords and tensions in society. There were divorces and broken homes. Conflicts had generated an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion as well as fear.” (page 27)

What the researchers stress is the need for counseling and legal services and for education about the same, so people could seek help. This is borne out by what they learnt in Assam too, except that the research team adds the need to generate and make available livelihood and educational opportunities, the absence of which was identified here as leading to trauma. Timely relief and rehabilitation was also stressed. Where Naga society already has such platforms, it is recommended in Assam that, “Women committees must be formed in conflict affected villages which check any sort of physical or structural violence against women and human trafficking issues.” (page 44)

The importance of this study is two-fold. First, it is based on really sound field research—thoughtful conversations sensitively reported. The report is full of stories that the research team heard and they are the heart of this report, bringing to life the experience of multiple generations living with a conflict that is sometimes with the state and sometimes (or at once) internecine. The research team has used photographs, film and research notes to capture and communicate the experience of women in Nagaland and Assam. This is an unusually comprehensive effort. Second, Nagaland and Assam are important Indian states, but even so, underreported and understudied in the Indian context. A project that begins to look at the marginalized in a marginalized region thus acquires tremendous importance for researchers and policy-makers, but also for other citizens of the same state. And so does the multimedia documentation and communication effort. The research team explicitly points to the limited scope of this project and states that more studies of this sort are needed; they are absolutely right. In the meanwhile, it is important to make this study widely known. Again, it may be accessed at the C-NES website: http://www.c-nes.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/The-final-report-of-HBF.pdf

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Once more, with feeling: Hillary Clinton visits Chennai

July 20, 2011

http://asiasecurity.macfound.org/blog/entry/111once_more_with_feeling_hillary_clinton_visits_chennai/

Chennai’s shiny new Anna Centenary Library auditorium was packed. We assembled early, from noon onwards, for Secretary of State Clinton’s speech. The speech was scheduled for 3 p.m. but we were told 2:30 p.m. And so we filed in with small purses, no water—the high and might, rich and famous, bold and beautiful, and students of Chennai and some of us besides—and lunch becoming a past-life memory, and waited.

I know why I was willing to wait. It was my way of showing appreciation to a politician who has put in her time on issues of real concern and who may well be remembered for placing gender justice on the State Department agenda with a minimum of opportunism attached.

And so when she came in at exactly 3, the crowd gave her a standing ovation. The very brief welcome by the Librarian was much nicer than the usual ceremonial welcome with soporific speeches. And Ms. Clinton led the applause when the Librarian said this was Asia’s largest public library. Since most of us haven’t been inside yet, we joined more sceptically.

Ms. Clinton’s speech was very much in the same mode as President Obama’s Parliament speech (see my post on this). As she checked off her hat-tips and tut-tuts, I could have sworn the speech had the same structure—which is not really an issue. Diplomatic speeches are not cutting-edge policy statements. So what were these?

She opened with a “vanakkam” which got her a round of appreciative applause. Then she talked about how happy she was to come to Tamil Nadu and Chennai, and said nice things about culture and history and contemporary American connections to this town (which in the past includes the Ice House and the fortune that founded the Secretary of State’s alma mater).

Why was India so important to the US? Because the Obama administration believes that much of the history of the 21st century would be written in Asia, she said. And then elucidating “how to inject content” into the Indo-US relationship, she tipped her hat to democracy, pluralism, opportunity and innovation as “bedrock beliefs” that the two countries share.

Reiterating the US’ support for India becoming a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council in a reformed UN system (whatever that means, whenever that happens!), the Secretary of State said that the US welcomed India assuming a global leadership role. But she asked: What does global leadership mean and what does it mean for Indo-US relations? In that moment, I thought we were back in November 2010, listening to President Obama.

And after a little while, came the little nudge about Burma. Yes, India has interests and investments in Burma, so the US was happy to see the Foreign Secretary meet Aung San Suu Kyi. The words left unspoken: But really you can do more if you decide to, and if you want to assert your position as a leader, you should. If this annoys Indians because it sounds like a lecture, it is also not untrue—power comes at a price. President Obama reminded Indians of this in several ways through his visit but never as explicitly as in his Parliamentary address. And both he and Secretary of State Clinton subtly pointed out that US support for India’s claim to such leadership would depend on India’s willingness to shoulder its costs and responsibilities.

Of course, this nasty medicine was served with plenty of sugar: India had so much to offer in support of the democratic transitions in West Asia; Ms. Clinton described India’s Election Commission as the ‘gold standard.’ Apart from democracy, climate change, nuclear non-proliferation and sustainable development (especially agriculture in arid areas) were three areas where India had something to offer, in her view.

The Secretary of State identified the Asia-Pacific and South and Central Asia as two regions where the US and India could work together. Chennai, she suggested, was a very good location from which to speak about these, since it was a reminder of India’s old connections to this region and its maritime history. The main point to this cooperation was trade; open markets and freer trade would make everyone prosperous. But the language of Ms. Clinton’s speech was colourful and evocative; she recalled the Silk Road and called for the creation of a web of Silk Roads that an entrepreneur in Chennai might use to get her products to a customer in Central Asia.

In this part of her speech, Ms. Clinton said Tamil Nadu was an example of what was possible when everyone enjoyed equal rights in a society, and then used that as a way to introduce Sri Lanka into her speech. When she said, every citizen deserved the same hope, there was a buzz of approval. But this was also the one place where she made a very strong statement that peace is not possible when the peace process ignores women’s rights and minority rights. But in spite of the passion with which she spoke these words, the audience in Chennai did not really react. It must have been as disappointing to the speaker as it was to this blogger.

In fact, after her ‘vanakkam,’ the only real response Ms. Clinton got came when she quoted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wish that he should be able to travel so freely across the subcontinent that he could eat breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. Interesting, when you consider how much criticism he currently receives. The applause was so great that she paused to say, applause is not enough.

Anyway, having spoken about Sri Lanka in Chennai—acknowledging the city’s interest in that country’s affairs—she made sure to talk about India’s assistance to the Maldives and the need for a regional solution to flooding problems in Bangladesh.

The end of Ms. Clinton’s speech was written to be rousing and inspiring but the audience remained cold.

Anti-Americanism comes very easily to Indian audiences, but I want to ask those gathered in that room why they were there. They were never going to hobnob with the Secretary of State; so that cannot be the motivation. They were not moved by the content and seemed largely disinterested in it. They were just not there; and as I have written this post and reflected on it, the watery applause they gave Ms. Clinton makes me wonder. What brought them to that room? Interactions (even non-interactive ones like this!) are a two-way street and both parties go under the scanner.

So my question to those who planned this event is: what was the point of having so many people—many very busy—gather in a room for so long just to listen to Ms. Clinton breeze in, speak and breeze out? You could have screened this and had a discussion. Or had her take some questions.

What was in this event for Ms. Clinton or the gathered Chennaiites? It’s not so clear at all. She got a tired, somewhat dehydrated and restless audience for a speech that didn’t need them to be there. They got an afternoon away from work (nice for some, including me) and a chance to meet friends they have no time for otherwise, but really this can’t have been the objective of the US Consulate. Might Ms. Clinton have done better to visit another social service organization, working in the area of child rights, perhaps? Would a town-hall in a college which is off the Consulate’s radar otherwise, have opened new connections?

Other notes:

• Ms. Clinton mentioned “Passport to India,” a programme to encourage American undergraduates to study in India in larger numbers and build connections with India.
• She also used the feminine gender everytime she had an example to narrate in the third person singular… very, very nice, and noted with great approval!

Last question for academics: Analyses of speeches like this one either start with a checklist of desirable mentions and omissions and then scan minutely and critically, or like this one, they are readings of style and structure. As a foreign policy scholar, I wonder, does the first miss the woods for the trees, and does the second fail to appreciate the work on each tree in its emphasis on the woods as a whole?

PS: The State Department’s account is here. Full text of the speech is here.

The good news about post-conflict societies

July 8, 2011

http://asiasecurity.macfound.org/blog/entry/111the_good_news_about_post-conflict_societies/

Tucked away in the 2011-2012 Progress of the World’s Women report is some good news about how changing values are changing the prospects for women in societies that are crawling out of conflict into post-conflict transitions.

The impact of conflict on women is now well-documented. First, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war cuts across time, place and culture. Second, women disproportionately shoulder the burden of displacements and other breakdown of normal life. This makes them more vulnerable to domestic violence, sexual violence outside the home, trafficking and other exploitation.

This report points to and maps the evolution of thinking about this question in international law and it reflects that thinking.

Unanimity seems to have emerged that sexual violence as a part of conflict is unacceptable. The 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognizes rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and other forms of sexual violence as crimes against humanity. The five United Nations Security Council Resolutions that deal with women in conflict echo this thinking. 1325 mandates including women in peace processes and transitional arrangements. 1820 calls for prevention of sexual violence and an end to impunity for sexual crimes. 1888, 1889 and 1960 reinforce these two, calling for measures and precautions to be undertaken by conflict parties, governments and international organizations.

The 2011-2012 Progress of the World’s Women report points to some good tidings. First, this changing international legal environment means that sexual crimes have been prosecuted and convictions have followed in post-conflict trials in at least three contexts, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. It is still a challenge to get women to testify and many obstacles remain from logistical issues like childcare and financial assistance for legal counsel to having more women judges preside in such courts.

Second, as women have been mandatorily included in peace processes, a variety of arrangements have emerged that address their concerns, take cognizance of their conflict experiences and provide for their presence in the politics of post-conflict societies. The report points out (page 100) that where on an average women made up 14% of parliamentary membership in non post-conflict settings, in post-conflict settings they make up 27%. Indeed, the country with the largest percentage of women in Parliament (51%) is Rwanda. Correspondingly, the report shows that 93% of post-conflict constitutions include anti-discrimination causes (as opposed to 61% non post-conflict) and 21% mention violence against women (as opposed to 10%).

As the report states:

“The post-conflict moment opens up the possibility of reframing the political and civic leadership, with women at the centre. Women’s participation in the design of all post-conflict justice mechanisms, in peace processes and in political decision-making is essential for ensuring the post-conflict State advances women’s rights and justice for all.” (page 101)

Progress of the World’s Women: UN Women’s first report

July 8, 2011

http://asiasecurity.macfound.org/blog/entry/111progress_of_the_worlds_women/

UN Women, which came into existence just last March, has released its first report, the Progress of the World’s Women. Acknowledging a century of progress, from 1911 when only two countries granted women the right to vote, the report focuses on women’s legal and political rights and their ability to access justice.

The report marks a return to thinking about institutional arrangements rather than civil society or market-led initiatives. It culminates with a set of recommendations “to make justice systems work for women” based on successful initiatives across the world. Repeatedly, the report makes the case for law as a vehicle of social change and demonstrates the positive impact that including more women in the decision-making process can have.

This remarkable report deserves to be read because it actually serves well as a brief history of the struggle for women’s rights across the world. For instance, it includes a section describing landmark court judgments in this struggle. It works not just as a policy brief but also as a secondary text to a class on global feminism or social change.

The report may be accessed at http://progress.unwomen.org/ The website is also set up in a very user-friendly manner to allow parts of the report to be accessed and used individually.

Women and Peace: A Special Issue

April 22, 2011

http://asiasecurity.macfound.org/blog/entry/111women_and_peace_a_special_issue/

Seminar’s March 2011 issue theme was “Women and Peace.” The problem statement of the monthly symposium states:

DESPITE the voluminous literature on war and conflict, both its causes as also the frameworks underlying various peace accords and post-conflict resolution and reconstruction strategies, there appears significant reluctance to factor in women’s specific experiences, as also their orientations, capacities and skills in facilitating a transition towards a more just and durable peace. Not only is it rare to come across women playing a significant role in peace parleys and accord-making, their concerns and suggestions too are usually relegated to the margins. The episodic nod to the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security notwithstanding, analysis of peace accords and subsequent processes reveals, globally, that this arena remains a male preserve and little has changed on the ground.

The experience in South Asia, be it Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, India’s insurgency affected North East, to name a few, reveals a disturbing tendency to invisibilize women and their concerns. The situation post communal riots in cities or in the Maoist affected regions of Central India is no different. Everywhere, even as it is recognized that women (and children) are the worst affected, little effort is made at addressing their major concerns – reducing the ever-present threat of sexual violence and rape, generating jobs and income earning opportunities, meeting the needs of health and education, and so on, though it is now well accepted that an enhanced status of women is central to family and community welfare. The result is not only flawed and failed accords – often little more than power sharing arrangements between ‘armed elites’, mostly men – but reflects a deeper failure to address the underlying causes of conflict. To state more sharply, processes which marginalize and invisibilize women cannot become the basis for a durable, just and democratic peace.

…This issue of Seminar brings together experiences and reflections from multiple contexts in an effort to visibilize the role of women and their impact on peace processes.

Contributors include Devaki Jain, Reema Nanavaty, Rita Manchanda and this blogger.

War and accountability in Sri Lanka: Leaked report

http://asiasecurity.macfound.org/blog/entry/111war_and_accountability_in_sri_lanka_leaked_report/

Posted on April 16, 2011

This week, leading Sri Lankan daily, The Island, carried excerpts from a leaked report on human rights violations in the last stages of war and post-war Sri Lanka.

Report of the UNSG’s panel of experts on accountability in SL, The Island, April 15, 2011.

The report states:

The Panel’s determination of credible allegations reveals a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka. The Government says it pursued a “humanitarian rescue operation” with a policy of “zero civilian casualties”. In stark contrast, the Panel found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace.

This is not news to those familiar with reports from war-affected areas by organizations like the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna).

Commentary so far from Colombo:

The leaked UN war crimes report: Key points and context, Groundviews.org, April 16, 2011.
DBS Jeyaraj, Report on Sri Lanka by the Ban Ki-Moon Advisory Panel, Daily Mirror, April 16, 2011.