WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN ARMED CONFLICTS IN THE WESTERN REGION OF CÔTE D’IVOIRE
Sexual violence in war time is a grave and dehumanizing act. From ancient wars to modern conflicts, as populations suffer the pang of guns, women and other vulnerable groups endure untold additional harms. These harms include, but are not limited to sexual violence, manifesting as coerced undressing, gang rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, involuntary abortion, compulsory sterilization and undesirable prostitution. They have left behind indelible mental and physical scars on the victims thereby violating their fundamental human rights. Côte d’Ivoire could not escape this sad reality during the country’s armed conflicts as many women were subjected to sexual atrocities. International Jurisprudence and United Nations Resolutions prescribed that such crimes vest on victims the right to rehabilitation. Therefore, this research examined the effectiveness of the rehabilitative measures put in place for the female victims of sexual violence in the Ivorian Western region armed conflicts from 2002 to 2012.
The study adopted a qualitative design employing semi-structured interviews guide to collect information from victims, witnesses and government officials of Western Côte d’Ivoire. Purposive sampling and snowball techniques were adopted in the selection of respondents facilitated by the officials of the Ivorian Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Data were content-analyzed and presented thematically with victimology, inevitability of sexual violence in armed conflicts and feminism serving as theoretical frameworks.
The findings showed that the modus operandi of the Ivorian fighters in the perpetration of sexual violence ranged from forced separation of couples to gang rape in village rape houses, from roadblock rapes to sacrificial rapes. The victims who included infants, teenagers, and old women were traumatized, polyvictimized and revictimized. Many of them vented their feelings through anger, self-defense, isolation and suicide. Both international and local communities responded to the victims’ plight with the Ivoirian Government providing legislative, judicial, administrative and social reparative measures. Yet, these responses were inadequate and fraught with challenges such as the non-implementation of international treaties, flaws in the Ivorian laws, under-reporting of crimes,poorly conducted investigations, denial of victims’ rights by the traditional justice system, and lack of access by some of the victims to the reparative bodies.
The study concluded that the haphazard implementation of rehabilitative programs had left the victims traumatized and ostracized from their families and communities as they are unable to engage in regular community affairs. Thus, the thesis recommended that the United Nations monitor the rule of law in the country. The Executive, through its Ministries of Women Affairs and Defense should ensure that reparative machineries be brought closer to the victims. The Legislature needs to enact laws affirming the UN guidelines for the compensation of victims and the Judiciary should train its personnel to deal appropriately with the sensitive nature of sexual violence. Côte d’Ivoire and the international community need to ensure that the effective rehabilitation of victims is attained.
Keywords: Armed conflicts, Côte d’Ivoire, Sexual Violence, Rehabilitation, Women’s rights.