Special Briefing by Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer and Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp

Special Briefing
State Department Briefing Room
Washington, DC
October 2, 2009

MR. CROWLEY: A hale and hearty bunch that we have here on a Friday morning. Good morning, and welcome to the Department of State. Several of you were with the Secretary of State during her trip to Africa and the important visit that she made to Goma on that trip, and then you’ve heard us this week here at the State Department express our concern about the violence in Conakry. And in both cases, you’re seeing the impact that conflicts have, particularly on women and girls, the most vulnerable parts of our global population.

This is a crucial priority for the Department, for Secretary Clinton. And you’ve had some significant activity this week in the intervention that the Secretary had in the United Nations, and we had follow-on testimony yesterday, and we thought we’d bring the two individuals who were up on the Hill yesterday down just to keep a focus on the issue of conflict and the impact that it has on women and the growing challenge of rape as a weapon of war in our world.

So this morning, we have Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer and Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Steve Rapp, who are going to just give you an update on what we’re doing here at the Department. I think Melanne will start off the briefing.

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Good morning. This past Wednesday, Secretary Clinton spoke on behalf of the United States-sponsored resolution in the Security Council, and yesterday, as P.J. just mentioned, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a groundbreaking hearing on the far-reaching global consequences of violence against women. And Ambassador Rapp and I testified at that hearing yesterday.

I just want to put the Secretary’s action at the UN in some context. Security Council Resolution 1888, which was adopted unanimously on Wednesday, strengthens existing UN tools to address sexual violence as a tactic of war. Women are being attacked as part of a deliberate and coordinated strategy in Sudan, DRC, Burma, as they have been elsewhere. The attackers viciously target women and children, who are rarely responsible for initiating the armed conflicts, because it works. Large populations become not only displaced, but destabilized. Women and girls in the DRC, for example, have been brutalized as rapes are perpetrated by security forces and rebel groups alike, and have become pervasive throughout society. Some 1,100 rapes are being reported each month in the DRC’s eastern provinces.

The UN established a clear link between maintaining international peace and security, and preventing and responding to sexual violence used as a weapon in armed conflict. The international community has made some progress. For example, many peacekeeping mandates – Chad, DRC, Sudan – include a request for strengthened efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence. However, much more needs to be done.

Resolution 1888 now calls for the appointment of a special representative of the Secretary General to lead, coordinate, and advance efforts to end sexual violence in armed conflicts. It also requests that the Secretary General identify and deploy a team of experts to conflict situations where sexual violence is likely to occur in order to help governments strengthen the rule of law, improve accountability and impunity, which are very, very, very big problems. Peacekeeping forces should be focused on protecting women and girls while holding accountable those who commit rape and other forms of sexual violence.

So that’s the context in which the resolution was put forward and adopted unanimously, and we are looking forward to the positive impacts from that. And I will now turn to Ambassador Rapp to expand on this.

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Thank you very much, Ambassador. Very good to be here, first appearance here as having become War Crimes Ambassador about four weeks ago. Yesterday in our testimony, I spoke specifically about the legal tools that are available to attack this problem and what’s been developed in the last decade at the international courts, and I was able to speak of my own experience both as leading prosecution teams at the Rwanda tribunal and as chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, the court that has convicted many people in Sierra Leone and its trials there, and is also trying Charles Taylor at The Hague.

As we saw in Rwanda, while 800,000 people were being murdered in 100 days, that crime of murder and genocide was accompanied by premeditated mass sexual violence against Tutsi women and girls. In the Sierra Leone conflict, where we had thousands – the famous mutilations, the long-sleeve/short-sleeves, incredibly brutal act – we had tens of thousands of murders, and we literally had hundreds of thousands of cases of sexual violence. And the widespread and systematic nature of the rape there showed that the sexual violence was not an isolated conduct by out-of-control combatants – sort of the old view of what sex in combat, sex in war was about – but it instead was the dominant tactic for terrorizing, punishing and gaining power over the population, and in entirely too many conflict zones.

And we’re talking also, of course, now about the Democratic Republic of Congo where it’s estimated that there are as many as 40 rapes a day in the small eastern Congo province of South Kivu. It is far more dangerous to be a civilian woman than it is to be a soldier. And we need to respond to this problem. It has been done in the past through these international and mixed accords, like the Sierra Leone accord.

But what we’re very excited about was the unanimous adoption of the resolution which we sponsored, Security Council Resolution 1888, which calls for the SRSG, as Ambassador Verveer mentioned, but also establishes this panel of experts to go into these situations and work on developing the restoration of the rule of law and accountability, and then to come back and to report on what needs to be done, because frankly, we need a stronger response in eastern Congo than presently is there.

There is and there are prosecutions in military courts that have resulted in some convictions. It’s possible to achieve results in the national system, but not sufficient results. And as the Secretary said in her statement after the passage of Security Council Resolution 1888 on Tuesday, we need to look at other alternatives, including mixed tribunals or international involvement, to provide accountability there, because the message clearly needs to be sent that this – that these crimes can’t be tolerated.

Ambassador Verveer has talked about the ways in which sexual violence destroys the very fabric of society, breaks down the ties that hold communities together, and it is exactly because of the fact that it does that, that it is used as a tool in these conflicts to intimidate, humiliate, destroy, captive in enemy populations, and it’s a tactic that the world cannot tolerate. And we intend to exercise our leadership, as we showed this week in the Security Council, to make sure that those responsible are brought to account.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask a couple things about – first, about 1888 and then what the U.S. can do specifically? One, is there any – is there anyone in mind, a candidate in mind, to be this special envoy, or even to be part of this team of experts?

AMBASSADOR RAPP: The – understand this is an appointment by the Secretary General, and we’ll be certainly weighing in, I’m sure, in terms of the candidates.

QUESTION: Well, does the U.S. have a preferred candidate?

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: We don’t have a preferred candidate, but there are several recommendations that are being discussed and put forward. But obviously, as Steve said, this is going to be the Secretary General’s decision. But there are excellent candidates. And there’s a pool of experts ready to be deployed in terms of the expert panel.

AMBASSADOR RAPP: We’re not looking. As I understand it, this is not a situation of now going out and trying to find people and hire them to be part of this team. It’s to draw on the expertise that is there, because we really do need to hit the ground running. And the real value of this process, I think, is it can lead to a multilateral response to the problem, and so we can be working together with other governments to achieve accountability.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, if it has been established that rape is a war crime, which I think it has –

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Sure. I mean, we’ve obtained convictions and –

QUESTION: Yeah. So why is the ICC not the – why is that not the right venue for this kind of thing to be done? And are you at all – you, meaning the United States – at all hamstrung by your non-membership in the ICC, at least in terms of influence?

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Well, first of all, keep in mind that it is indeed within the jurisdiction of the ICC to deal with situations like those in the DRC. But there can only be a hand – a relatively handful of cases brought in any place. And in the principle of the ICC is that – the preference is the cases be brought at the national level. And the ICC only becomes involved with high-level individuals, and only those cases that the state doesn’t have the capacity or the will to handle itself. In the DRC, the ICC has indicted four individuals, three of whom are now in custody. Thomas Lubanga is on trial. It’s part of the allegations and the evidence that’s presented against him that he was involved in sexual violence, though the case deals with child soldiers.

There are two other cases that are coming up for trial very soon – Katanga and Ngudjolo, both involved in the DRC and accused of the crime of sexual violence. And there is a fourth case of an individual, Bosco Ntaganda, who is still at large.

In terms of our policy with the ICC, that’s under review in our government. We’re actively involved in that. We are beginning – certainly, in the second term of President Bush, the United States began to take, I think, an approach of greater cooperation with the ICC. As you recall, we didn’t oppose the referral of the Darfur situation. And both the last administration and this have said that the Darfur situation to the ICC have opposed any effort to defer the prosecutor’s investigation and indictment there that does involve allegations of sexual violence against individuals in Darfur. We’ll see in the future, whether it’s possible, as we develop our policy, that we can work constructively with the ICC on cases in other places where it has jurisdiction.

But that said, if it indicts four or five people in the Congo, that alone won’t solve the problem. There are all these mid-level commanders and others whose units are committing these acts of gender violence. There are the men themselves that are responsible for those acts. That takes a major push within the national system and with international assistance if you’re really going to have accountability. It needs to be a continuum. And there’s no problem with us, at the moment, consistent with the work of the ICC, working at that level to develop a response.

QUESTION: You mentioned Sudan and Darfur, but didn’t the Bush Administration also cooperate with the ICC and the LRA?

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Well, obviously the situation – as you know, the American law, the American Servicemen’s[1] Protection Act, permits cooperation with the ICC in cases involving the specific individuals – there are, of course, people listed there like Milosevic and Usama bin Ladin – but anyone that’s been alleged to have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and it is possible for us to collaborate in those cases.

I can’t speak to exactly what the Bush Administration did in regard to the LRA, the Kony case. But I do know that, obviously, when we’re talking about the people that have been indicted by the ICC in Uganda, the LRA, and we’re talking about those that – indicted in the DRC, we want to see those people brought to justice, and we want to see a fair trial. But we want to see, if they’re guilty of these defenses, that they’re imprisoned. And so it’s very much our policy that the ICC succeed in those cases. To the extent of how much we can cooperate to bring that about, that’s the matter that’s presently under review.

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Can I just add a point to what Steve said? In terms of needing to have a more robust national response to prosecutions – and that’s one of the things 1888 will do, hopefully, is provide, through the experts and others, a strengthening of what’s currently available in countries to potentially explore the possibility of mixed chambers to deal with some of these issues. We are supporting, successfully, rule of law projects in eastern Congo. Some prosecutions have come out of that, but most of them are low-level operatives. Much more needs to be done.

As you will recall, the Secretary raised with President Kabila the issue of those five notorious commanders who have been implicated in rape. And so what we need is a system. Obviously, one system has just been discussed, but we need other tools available within countries to begin to really address this.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Can you address the question of what you can do – not on the legal front, which you’re addressing – but more at the systemic social, cultural front to stop this before it starts, before the crimes are committed?

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Well, obviously, these are deeply entrenched in some ways. Much of the discussion yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went to that point. There have to be efforts made across the board. Certainly, at its root, the kind of violence that is pervasive around the world against women has to do with their very low status, so efforts ranging both from growing their economic possibilities, as well as education, which clearly needs to be addressed and is fundamental across the board.

I mentioned yesterday in testimony about the case of the woman in Pakistan, who several years ago was gang raped. She was supposed to have killed herself because of the dishonor she brought to her family because of what others had done to her. She went on to take a very small settlement she got in a court proceeding to build two schools and she said – one for boys, one for girls, enrolled herself in the school for girls – and she said, “Nothing will change in my village until there is education.”

So certainly, there have to be efforts to go at the root causes. But beyond that, we really need to engage. We need to engage religious leaders, which is being done, for example, in places like Afghanistan where the mullahs are now raising this issue of violence in the Friday services, which is very important. We need to engage men more broadly in addressing this problem. And we need political will. Leaders have really got to confront that this is a serious violation of human rights. It is criminal behavior; it is not cultural behavior. We’ve seen many laws passed in the last several years, but regrettably, many of those laws have neither been implemented nor enforced. So we have a way to go, but there are obviously many, many steps that have to be taken.

QUESTION: I have a question about this panel of experts that you envision taking place. Who – what types of people would be – would these experts be, and what would their mission be on the ground? How quickly would you deploy them? Are they there to begin efforts to prosecute people who are already in custody? Are they there to educate people about the fact that this is considered a war crime? What do you see them doing? And what would be the American position about how we measure whether or not that’s been successful?

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Well – and understand we’re engaging in our own assessments here in terms of what we can do, the American Government, and through AID and the sorts of things that the Secretary was talking about in Goma.

But this is a multilateral effort, and it will look to experts on rule of law, look to medical experts, people that know about security and detention and witness protection. Those sorts of individuals will go out, and to some extent, it will also involve an assessment of what – of where the problems are in the domestic system and the ways to fix them. That then would lead to an assessment that I think would inform governments, and then jointly, assisting processes in the DRC and elsewhere to establish accountability.

But as we recognize, you can have a very good court, you can have very confident judges and prosecutors, but if the witnesses won’t come because they’re intimidated or killed on their way; if you convict people and they escape, which has sometimes happened in the DRC, and they go back and harass and commit the crimes again, you don’t solve the problem.

So it’s important, as I think justice is, that it’s part of an overall problem, and we just want to begin to find ways to impact this thing across the board.

QUESTION: Just from your experiences with the Sierra Leone case, would this type of panel of experts – what could they have done in that situation, and where would you see them doing – what would they do specifically right now and where?

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Well, keep in mind – I mean, many of these courts were preceded by panels or experts that came in and talked about what the problems were and what needed to be done. Then once they come back, it’ll be necessary to determine whether, for instance, what happened in Sierra Leone occurred, where there was then a partnership between the government and the United Nations to establish a court that would include international judges and prosecutors, but also include national people.

It may be that that not – need not be done through a United Nations agreement with the government. It could be done by various countries working together with the Congolese Government to establish, say, a mixed tribunal, where lots of Congolese people could be involved, but also international judges and lawyers and prosecutors and police and security officials could be seconded or detailed in there to assist the process. We want to do it in a cost-effective way.

One of the things you gain with a mixed tribunal – you gain international expertise, but you also gain a measure of independence. And one of the problems that we’ve all had to confront in these conflict zones – for instance, in Sierra Leone where we had cases against people that were allied with the government, is that it’s sometimes difficult for national assistance to do those cases. If you bring in international players, you can provide a greater level of independence and less of a perception, for instance, of victor’s justice.

And so that’s one of the options here. But keep in mind whenever you bring internationals in, there’s going to come a day when they leave, and you don’t want to – everything to go back the way it was. And that’s why it’s so important to partner with the local community to transfer the skills, to find in the legal tradition the talent and everything that exists, as I’ve seen in Africa, everywhere, the strengths that you can build on that would allow you to leave a legacy that will prevent these problems from happening again.

QUESTION: Is there – just technically, there are two mixed tribunals right now, right – Sierra Leone and Cambodia?

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Well, keep in mind --

QUESTION: Or are there more?

AMBASSADOR RAPP: -- the one that’s the more interesting model of it, sort of a follow-on from the Yugoslavia tribunal, is the state court in Bosnia, which the war crimes chamber has had national – an international prosecutor and a national prosecutor, and also mixed judges, which started out being a majority of international judges and have gone to a minority, and soon, the international judges will be phased out.

There are different models that have been followed. Sierra Leone had a majority all the time of internationals. Cambodia, with a little more controversially, has only a minority of internationals, but requires a super-majority to provide for the level of independence. Different approaches can be worked out, but what has to be borne in mind is that there’s a particular legal tradition here, a continental civil law system; whatever is done needs to be consistent with the procedure and the understanding of how law develops there. It’s not us to go in and tell them what to do; it’s for us to go in there and work with them to strengthen their system. And sometimes, the injection of internationals can do that.

We’re not saying that’s what needs to – what will be done here, but I think it’s one of the things that the Secretary talked about, one of the things that the human rights community has talked about. And it looks like it may be something appropriate, given questions of how independent this will be and whether there are those that have been, say, fighting on the government side that may also be implicated in these crimes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just one – a final one on logistic or technically. On the ICTR, what’s the – is there any update on its status in terms of shutting down?

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Well, both the ICTR and ICTY are in completion strategy, originally proposed to complete their trials in 2008 and their appeals in 2010. It – that’s --

QUESTION: Well, but (inaudible) from the last – from the U.S. side, I mean, the last administration wanted at least the ICTR to wrap up quickly.

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Right. Well, understand we’re working to make sure that they finish the work of the court. The ICTR still has a dozen fugitives. The ICTY has two much more famous fugitives, Mladic and Hadzic – but they have 12. They’ve basically indicated that they’re prepared to transfer most of those cases to national jurisdictions but have had trouble transferring them to Rwanda, and are working to try to develop assurances of fair trial and the availability of witnesses and defense and independence if cases are transferred to Rwanda. It’s that difficult issue of how to deal with those fugitives.

Meanwhile, they have a number of very important cases that are very close to judgment where trials have been completed, and they’ll soon be (inaudible) in about a half a dozen cases that are yet to commence. It looks like it’s a situation where most of their – they’ll probably be finishing their trials in 2010 and their appeals thereafter. Obviously --

QUESTION: And that’s okay with this Administration?

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Well, there – we have supported a reasonable completion strategy and want to make sure that they complete their work and achieve accountability there, and we’ve supported budgets that allow for a longer period of this phase-out.

MR. CROWLEY: Dave from VOA.

QUESTION: Yeah. P.J. mentioned in his introduction the incidents in Guinea earlier this week, widely reported that there was a sexual component to some – to these assaults. And I’m just wondering whether Guinea can expect anything more than the rhetoric that the State Department put out earlier this week about those incidents as an action – taking action on that.

AMBASSADOR RAPP: Well, obviously, I mean, the Guinea situation remains quite unsettled in terms of the political resolution and the election and the involvement of Dadis Camara in the electoral process, which we oppose. It’s necessary that there be a fair election that occurs. But the issue of accountability still has to be faced.

After the violence that occurred in Guinea while President Conte was still in power, I know our French allies assisted in providing for a commission of inquiry that would investigate what was then, to some extent, similar acts of scores or hundreds of individuals killed, allegations of sexual violence, including allegations of sexual violence in detention. Frankly, that process didn’t go forward because of obstruction of the prior government, and it’s important that as we move toward what we hope will be a democratic resolution of the situation there, that accountability isn’t forgotten.

Because if you don’t hold people to account for these kinds of offenses, they’ll be repeated; this will be a tool, a technique to intimidate the population in order to keep people in power, in order to gain power. And it’s part of my responsibility, I think, is to make sure that we keep the issue of accountability front and center. There can always be an issue of timing; you may not be able to investigate situations when there are riots in the streets, but there will come a time when you will need to deal with that. And you’ll need to deal with the victims and accountability, and we want to make sure that that day does arrive.

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: And let me just add that it is absolutely critical in all of these cases, regardless where they occur, that prosecutions take place as they must in terms of the accountability. Because without that deterrent, we’re not going to see the kind of change that we need to see around the world. So it’s critically important not just that women who are traumatized and physically harmed in significant ways, but are enabled to heal but also understand why they need to cooperate with justice to bring these kinds of cases to justice. And that is one of the issues in DRC, trying to work with women to understand why, given what they’ve been through, which they just want to forget and heal themselves, why it’s really important for them to also cooperate in the system of justice so that these things cannot happen to other people in the future. And that will only be the case to the extent that all the things that have been discussed here in terms of a justice system work their way through, that there is accountability and that the people who perpetrate these crimes are prosecuted for them.

AMBASSADOR RAPP: One of the things that came out of the hearing yesterday that I was quite taken by was a discussion by several of the other witnesses about the need to involve women in the negotiating process. I mean, often it’s soldiers negotiating with soldiers to forget and sweep under the rugs the crimes committed by both sides, and that the involvement of civil society, of women’s groups, having worked in Africa with those groups that are out there, and they exist in Guinea as well – there’s a very active movement for women’s rights and victims’ rights in Guinea – that you include them in this process and insist that their agenda comes to the fore and that that’s not forgotten, because if it is forgotten, you’ll just have another incident like this in the future.

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: And one of the things that’s frequently put on the table in the situations trying to bring some settlement are amnesty, across-the-board amnesty on rape cases, that they not be viewed as significant or prosecutorial in the – in putting the wraps on a conflict in terms of ending the conflict. There will be a lot of discussion in the days ahead about the need to have women engaged more significantly in peace processes and settlements and reconstruction. Peace deals can’t hold unless the community buys into them, and women represent a great part of the needs that need to be determined, need to be dealt with, and their participation is absolutely critical to achieving what these peace settlements are designed to achieve: ending this once and for all in a way that takes the community forward, reconstructs, and brings justice to bear for all the people who have suffered under the circumstances.


[1] Service-Members

PRN: 2009/995