Evidence of meeting #39 for Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was support.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Kristin Kalla  Senior Program Officer, Trust Fund for Victims, International Criminal Court

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Scott Reid

We are the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Today, May 17, 2012, we are holding our 39th meeting.

We are returning to the topic of the use of sexual violence against women as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We are, I remind our committee members and our witnesses, televised today. Don't do or say anything you wouldn't want your mom to see, because she might be watching.

Our guest today is Kristin Kalla, of the International Criminal Court.

Ms. Kalla, we invite you to begin your testimony. Thank you for being here.

1:05 p.m.

Kristin Kalla Senior Program Officer, Trust Fund for Victims, International Criminal Court

Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentleman, I would like to thank the subcommittee for this opportunity to address you on the issue of sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is also a personal honour to appear here today, as my mother's family's roots were in Ottawa, going back to the early 1800s, when my ancestors here arrived from Wales and Ireland. It's very nice to be here.

My name is Kristin Kalla, and I am the deputy of the trust fund for victims and also the senior program officer at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. As an international public health anthropologist specializing in women‘s reproductive health, I have spent the majority of the last 25 years living and working in communities that have experienced serious and chronic violence, conflict, and human rights abuses in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and central Asia. I have seen first-hand that the horrific human costs of war and violence devastate people, societies, and the structures that support them.

It has been 55 years since the United Nations first recognized the devastating effect of the most serious crimes on humanity, crimes such as genocide. Since then the Rome Statute has pushed the borders of international justice, for the first time giving a significant role to the victims themselves within an international instrument combining a tribunal, the International Criminal Court, with a reparatory mechanism, the trust fund for victims, responsible for providing court-ordered reparations and rehabilitation assistance to victims under the jurisdiction of the ICC.

In relation to its first role, the court may order money and other property collected through fines or forfeiture from a convicted person to be transferred to the trust fund for the implementation of reparations awards. However, the fund can also complement such awards through voluntary contributions from states and other donors. Our board of directors may determine the extent to which the trust fund will complement court-ordered reparations in accordance with regulation 56 of the regulations of the trust fund.

The trust fund's general assistance for victims is supported by voluntary contributions. It is implemented before the conclusion of the ICC trial, and is not limited to the victims participating in the proceedings before the court. Rehabilitation assistance may be initiated once the board of directors has notified the pretrial chamber of the necessity to provide assistance to victims and where this does not affect the fairness of the trial, as stipulated in regulation 50 of the regulations of the trust fund.

The assistance mandate serves as a very immediate response to the urgent needs of victim survivors and their families who have suffered from the worst crimes in international law. Through its extensive work in the situations where ICC cases are being prosecuted, the trust fund has created a presence on the ground that can serve to inform the court of victims' needs and the operational realities in the relevant situations, as well as provide a mechanism to deliver reparations. The trust fund for victims is learning valuable lessons about the unique role that an international criminal court can play in addressing the rights and needs of victims of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Through regular monitoring, evaluation, and targeted research, the trust fund is documenting and sharing these lessons to inform its work.

But international criminal law is not victim-oriented, and those who expect redress through international judicial settlements have consistently been cautioned against over-optimism regarding the results. Even as victims' issues begin to take a more central stage within international human rights and humanitarian law, the remedies available to victims have been inadequate and inconsistent.

Although women have been known to play a crucial role during and in the follow-up of violence by searching for victims or their remains, demanding justice, and trying to sustain and reconstitute families and communities, most justice and reparations programs have not been designed with an explicit gender dimension in mind, and there is little theoretical reflection as to what doing so would require.

Situations formally open at the ICC include the conflicts in northern Uganda, Darfur, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya's post-election violence, Libya, and now the Ivory Coast.

Today I will only speak about one situation where the trust fund has been operational since 2007, and that is the DRC.

The eastern provinces of the DRC remain in a state of conflict and insecurity. United Nations reports indicate that five million civilians have died as a result of the conflicts since the 1990s.

In November 2003 the Congolese government requested the assistance of the ICC to investigate and prosecute the worst perpetrators, and in March 2004 the first cases were referred to the court. Trials are currently under way, with a first conviction handed down in the Lubanga case just a few months ago.

Multiple reports of mass murder, summary executions, patterns of rape, torture, forced displacement, and the illegal use of child soldiers have been documented in the DRC. It is estimated that at the height of the DRC's six-year war, more than 33,000 children were fighting with armed groups and close to 30% of the children abducted were girls. Since 1996 sexual violence has been used to intimidate, humiliate, and torture hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sexual violence against women and girls has been found to be the most common form of violence and the most widespread form of criminality. Rape has become a weapon of war used to punish communities for their political loyalties, or as a form of ethnic cleansing.

The United Nations Population Fund has reported that 16,000 new instances of sexual violence were recorded across the nation in just a one-year period. There were close to 5,000 new cases in Northern Kivu alone. The UN also reported that over 65% of rape victims during that time were children. The majority of this percentage was adolescent girls, and roughly 10% of child victims are said to be under the age of 10 years old. Because the majority of rapes are not reported due to victims' shame and fear of social repercussions, these statistics should be taken as the bare minimum. Sexual enslavement and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence have also been perpetrated widely against girl and boy child soldiers in the DRC.

We must admit that our collective response to this type of violence has been inadequate. And our failure to respond as an international community is magnified over time because the effects of sexual violence linger long after the violent act, undermining and threatening the potential for peace, reconciliation, and security. Often the international community provides support for security, stability, and reconstruction but forgets the short- and long-term impact of sexual violence used as a tactic of war.

The long-term consequences of sexual violence are many, not only medical but also psychological and socio-economic. The medical repercussions vary and include severed and broken limbs, burned flesh, recto-vaginal fistulas, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and urinary incontinence to death. Adequate medical care for these injuries is very hard to come by in the DRC, and many survivors remain ill or disfigured for the rest of their lives. These are all the more severe the younger the victim is. Young girls who are not fully developed are more likely to suffer from obstructed birth, which can lead to fistulas or even death.

There are also many psychological and social consequences to being the victim of sexual violence. Victims often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide. This can be particularly severe in cases in which men have been forced at gunpoint to sexually assault their daughters, sisters, or mothers, and often with foreign objects.

The most common social consequence for victims of sexual violence in the DRC is isolation from their families and communities. Raped women are seen as impure, frequently leading to their being abandoned by their husbands or having trouble marrying. The most extreme versions of this stigmatization can lead to honour killings, in which the victim of sexual violence is murdered by her family or community due to the belief that she has brought them shame and dishonour. Young women and girls who are cast outside of their homes or leave due to shame will most likely become even more vulnerable to further abuse.

The psychological impact of this type of violence, added to forced conscription and enlistment, only conflates the injuries of former child soldiers in the DRC. Girl child soldier victims of sexual violence face specific consequences from their time in armed forces or armed groups. The social stigma facing these girls is fundamentally different in kind—it lasts much longer, is more difficult to reduce, and is more severe, especially if children are born out of this experience.

A report submitted to the trust fund from a psychoanalyst who supports one of our assistance projects in the DRC highlighted the intellectual and emotional trauma presented by girl child soldiers who are young mothers. Psychologists point out that the psychological effects of conflict on girls differs from the effects on boys. In addition to being, like boys, generally stigmatized and marginalized as rebels, abducted girls have typically been victims of sexual violence. As a result, they also suffer from shock, shame, low self-esteem, and further rejection by their communities and families if they return.

In 2010 the trust fund for victims initiated a study of approximately 2,600 victim survivors throughout northern Uganda and the DRC so that we could better understand the impact of the violence and could assess attitudes toward rehabilitation, reconciliation, justice, and reparations. Interestingly, our results clearly showed a gender dimension related to the impact of violence; that is, violence impacts men and boys differently than it impacts women and girls. Our findings suggest that among the trust fund for victims' beneficiaries, female victims have experienced more severe psychological and social consequences. And they showed that women approach the issues of justice, rehabilitation, reparation, and reconciliation differently than do men in the DRC.

For all questions except one, women reported experiencing more severe psychological symptoms and more negative relations vis-à-vis their families and communities. Women and girls were twice as likely to report that their families were not at all caring. Twice as many women as men reported feeling sad a lot of the time, and just under twice as many reported feeling lonely a lot of the time. A third of women and girls said that they felt distant or cut off from others a lot of the time, compared to only a fifth of men and boys. Overall, 10% of female respondents said that they did not trust their communities at all, and just as many said that they did not feel important in their communities at all.

The girl child soldiers who were raped who were interviewed for the trust fund survey also expressed it themselves: 68% of them declared that they were poorly treated by their communities of origin all of the time, compared to only 26% of male child soldiers interviewed.

In cases where the abducted girls have given birth as a result of rape, they not only suffer from marginalization in the community but are faced with their own daily torment, torn between motherly love for their child and the memory of the rape the child represents. Therefore, we must also ensure that children born out of this act of violence are accepted in the community and are provided with the basic rights and needs that should be afforded to all children.

Our results suggest that the very real and urgent needs victim survivors live with day to day in resource-poor settings, together with the violence they have experienced during conflict, influence opinions about justice, reconciliation, reparation, and accountability. When asked if they feel that they have received justice, over 70% of child mothers who were raped in the DRC said no, versus 21% of former male child soldiers and 17% of children made vulnerable by war.

Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Charges of gender-based crimes have been brought in seven of the 13 cases currently before the ICC, and there are charges of gender-based crimes in the Katanga-Ngudjolo case in the DRC situation.

The trust fund considers its assistance to victims of sexual and gender-based violence a key step toward ending impunity for perpetrators, establishing durable peace and reconciliation in conflict settings, and successfully implementing United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1880, and 1889. To do so, the trust fund has adopted three strategies. First is to mainstream a gender-based perspective across all programming. Second is to specifically target crimes of rape, enslavement, forced pregnancy, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Thrid is to promote women's and girls' empowerment, a fundamental requirement of any rehabilitation, reconciliation, and peace-building process.

Currently the trust fund supports 34 projects, which reach an estimated 82,000 victim survivors and their families in both northern Uganda and the DRC. Of these beneficiaries, over 5,000 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including 200 girls abducted or conscripted and sexually enslaved by armed groups and 780 children of women victimized by campaigns of mass rape and displacement in eastern Congo, are supported.

The trust fund supports local and international partners, like Oxfam-Québec, to provide physical and psychological rehabilitation and material support. These are legally defined categories, which in practice can mean many things.

Physical rehabilitation may include reconstructive surgery; general surgery; bullet and bomb fragment removal; prosthetic and orthopedic devices; referrals to health services, like fistula repair, and HIV screening, treatment, care, and support.

Psychological rehabilitation may include both individual and group-based trauma counselling; music, dance, and drama groups, to promote social cohesion and healing; and community sensitization around the rights of victims and promoting reconciliation.

Material support may include access to safe shelter, vocational training, reintegration programs for former child soldiers, support for village savings and loans, education grants, and classes in accelerated literacy.

The trust fund has several projects involving war-affected women and girls as key stakeholders. One of these projects in particular captures both the scale of sexual violence experienced in the DRC and the potential for hope that these women and girls receiving support embody.

For example, the trust fund has been supporting one of our international partners in Ituri province, in eastern Congo, to run an accelerated learning program and day care centre for girls who gave birth while in captivity. Many of the girls face stigmatization from their communities because of their past as child soldiers and the sexual violence they have experienced. For these young women their babies can be an additional source of social stigma, an impediment to their education, and a constant economic burden. Their own parents also reject many of these abducted girls when they return with their children.

Rehabilitation efforts have focused on sensitizing parents of the former girl child soldiers to their responsibilities, so they can become involved in the education and rehabilitation of their daughters and grandchildren, thus reconciling the bond between these girls, their children, and their families.

The trust fund, for example, has supported parent committees and has encouraged efforts of these committees aimed at income-generation activities in order to generate the money needed to pay for school fees. This long-term effort is accompanied by psychological support, outreach, and peer education. The school, supported by the trust fund, in turn gives these girls a chance to regain the education they lost while in captivity and to develop a positive bond with their children.

Now in the fourth year, the project continues to see substantial impact, on several fronts. Perhaps the most immediate and powerful impact is on the strength of the mother and child bond. As they tend to their babies in the centre's day care, the young mothers learn they are not alone and that their babies can in fact be a source of pride. Only several months into the school year, most girls begin to carry their children in public while wearing their school uniforms. It's a very public statement that being a student and a mother is not a source of shame; rather, it is a sign of remarkable achievement.

In South Kivu, the trust fund is supporting action for living together, or ALT, a local organization that has been active in Bukavu since 1999. ALT works with Bukavu's Panzi General Hospital, where it runs the DORCAS transitional house for victims of sexual violence who are unable to return home after their treatment.

Panzi General Hospital treats at least 10 victims of sexual assault daily, averaging 3,600 cases per year. An estimated 16,000 victims of rape, some suffering from obstetric fistula, have been treated at the hospital since 2000. Survivors are often able to stay at the transitional house for as long as they need, and they are provided classes in reading, writing, and handicraft production.

Many trust fund partners supporting victims of sexual violence have caseworkers, social workers, and counsellors on staff to work with victim survivors. One partner in North Kivu, for example, employs an in-house psychologist to help build local capacity to respond to trauma associated with sexual and gender-based violence. This includes training in therapy, interview techniques, and more. As part of her assistance, the trainer works directly with some of the most traumatized of the 550 survivors receiving support from this trust fund project.

One woman who was raped by a demobilized soldier in North Kivu could not speak at first when the counsellor sat with her to hear her story. She could only communicate with gestures. According to the counsellor, she would lock herself in the bedroom and cry every day, disgusted by life. At first she refused treatment, but she eventually opened up, speaking first to the counsellor about her trauma and then to the group of women the counsellor regularly brought together to share their stories. Before treatment, she told them her heart would beat uncontrollably fast. She was consumed by panic attacks. Now, through the trauma counselling, she says her heart is healing. In her latest group session, she said that she had come to forgive the man who raped her and, with the worst of the depression and stress behind her, is now focusing on building the tailoring business she established with help from the trust fund.

It is important for the international community and national authorities in countries like the DRC to support the development and strengthening of judicial mechanisms designed to offer remedies and reparations for victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Although it is impossible to fully undo the harm caused by these most serious crimes, it is possible to help survivors of sexual violence recover their dignity, rebuild their families and communities, and regain their place as full members of their societies.

The trust fund for victims at the International Criminal Court has seen this first-hand through our rehabilitation assistance program in the DRC. Protecting current and future generations from suffering the destructive trauma and costs of war requires that the international community work together to prevent the start and spread of violent conflict. Alleviating the root causes of conflict and providing the impetus for non-violent resolutions of disputes involving women will help create a more peaceful world. The costs of prevention are minuscule when compared with the costs of deadly conflict.

The trust fund remains encouraged by our brave local partners. Many are grassroots women who work tirelessly to support and empower survivors of sexual violence. We are also grateful to governments such as Canada's that prioritize assistance to survivors of sexual violence through bilateral programs in the DRC.

The trust fund at the International Criminal Court relies on the generous donations from states' parties and others to fulfill its mandate for rehabilitation assistance and reparations. Although we have never benefited from voluntary contributions from Canada, we certainly hope that our engagement with you here today is the first step toward collaborating on behalf of survivors of sexual violence and gender-based violence in situations under the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Thank you. I'm available to respond to your questions.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Scott Reid

Thank you very much. That was a very thorough presentation.

I think we'll find these question-and-answer sessions to be very much worth our while.

We begin with Mr. Sweet.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Kalla, you said you spent 25 years working in areas where there's been serious and chronic violence and conflict with human rights. I thank you for being here for your testimony as well as for enduring what some of us would shrink back from having to witness on a daily basis.

How would you characterize the relationship between the ICC and the Congolese government?

1:30 p.m.

Senior Program Officer, Trust Fund for Victims, International Criminal Court

Kristin Kalla

Thank you for your question and for your very kind comment.

It's a little bit hard to tell, given that there is a new government in place. Just a week ago, a new minister of justice was appointed in the DRC, so we are still waiting to see. Certainly the prosecutor and the registrar interact much more with the DRC government than the trust fund does.

I would say from our side that we interact quite closely at the provincial level and also link up with the demobilization program for former child soldiers. We receive quite a lot of referrals from the government's program for the former child soldiers. This aids in incorporating them as part of our rehabilitation assistance. We're in a transitional moment right now with the DRC government, so it's hard to comment beyond that.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Okay. You're encouraged, though, at the moment, you'd say, as far as what you've seen so far? You're hopeful?

1:30 p.m.

Senior Program Officer, Trust Fund for Victims, International Criminal Court

Kristin Kalla

I think hopeful, cautiously optimistic.

May 17th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Okay, that's fine.

On page 9 of your remarks you mentioned this growing strength of the mother-child bond, even to the point where they were carrying their child wearing their school uniform, etc. You also spent much time telling us, and other witnesses have told us, about this very serious situation culturally, socially, that women deal with after they've gone through the terrible brutality of being raped, and everything that this means psychologically and physically, and then they're shunned by their own community. On this aspect of the mother-child bonding and being more public, do you see any change in the cultural attitudes toward women who have been raped? Is there some hope there as well?

1:30 p.m.

Senior Program Officer, Trust Fund for Victims, International Criminal Court

Kristin Kalla

I think this is one of our finest projects. Although it is quite small in terms of the number of women and their children and families who are involved, we've been able to measure the impact. As social scientists, we wanted to do this over time, longitudinally, whereby the young girls are accepting their children, and their families are accepting these girls and their children back into the fold; I think this is very unusual. My experience working in development humanitarian efforts, especially in the health sector, has not necessarily focused in this way through the responses in their sexual violence programs. I think this is a prime example of where we need to scale up this kind of response, and where perhaps other programs could be modified as well.

I think when you focus your response on the young mothers and their children together with their families, you see changes very quickly. As I said, we saw them in the first four months, whereby their parents were accepting them, as well as feeling empowered that these girls could go back to school. Often they were taking care of their grandchildren and accepting them back into the family. So yes, there's hope.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Great.

You mentioned something that surprised me: that in the DRC, 30% of the child-soldier recruitment is female.

1:35 p.m.

Senior Program Officer, Trust Fund for Victims, International Criminal Court

Kristin Kalla

That's correct.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

I know this is a huge undertaking to psychologically counsel someone who's been a child soldier and reintegrate them. Of the over 30 projects that you're doing right now, are you funding any programs for child soldiers to deal with that issue?

1:35 p.m.

Senior Program Officer, Trust Fund for Victims, International Criminal Court

Kristin Kalla

Yes. In fact, 30% of them are girls, but also girls have a variety of different roles when they're conscripted and enlisted. Often they're not necessarily going into combat, but they have roles as bush wives, they are sexually enslaved, they have other roles that they play. But, indeed, it is around 30% in the context of DRC.

I think one important thing to note is also the DDR program in the DRC, which is the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program, did not necessarily have a gender perspective. I think this program has been evaluated, and I think this is one of the weaknesses. Very few girls came through that program in DRC, so often these girls did not benefit from the rehabilitation efforts in the same way that boys did. This is where we saw a gap in that program, and where we decided to place quite a lot of emphasis in terms of our efforts. We have little funding, but where we are able to provide that support, we want to make a difference. We have seen that by focusing on these girls, our support has gone very far in terms of their ability to recover, reintegrate, and we're also training them in terms of some livelihood support. We've incorporated village savings and loans, for example, with some of these young women so they can also work together and support each other.

Again, I think more has to be done. This is a small effort, and I think other bilateral and multilateral programs should perhaps look at re-emphasizing some of their work to specifically target former girl child soldiers.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Scott Reid

Mr. Jacob, you have the floor.

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ms. Kalla, I thank you for coming to testify about a very important situation. You began by talking about the strengths and weaknesses of international mechanisms. I will therefore go to the heart of the issue.

Various mechanisms exist at the international level to protect women from sexual violence during the conflict. In your opinion, what are the main strengths and weaknesses of international mechanisms, including the Trust Fund for Victims, the International Criminal Court, the departments and agencies of the United Nations, as well as diplomatic initiatives?