Chadian women win a victory for women everywhere!

On May 30, 2016, after Chief Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam, of the Extraordinary African Chambers, read the decision against former Chadian despot Hissène Habré, there was momentary silence, and then all heaven broke loose: “After Kam delivered the verdict, it took a minute for the full weight of it to sink in. Then a quiet ululation went up from the victims’ benches. It was the widows, a row of brightly dressed women who had travelled from Chad to see what would happen to the man responsible for the deaths of their husbands. They stood and threw pieces of black cloth on the floor. After decades of waiting, they could finally celebrate. The courtroom erupted in cheers, and in weeping.” Jacqueline Moudeina and Delphine Djiraibé “clung to each other in relief.” Khadidja Hassan Zidane, Kaltouma Deffalah, Haoua Brahim, and Hadje Mérami Ali had broken decades of silence to report on the systemic and brutal sexual violence committed directly by Habré as well as his forces. From beginning to end, this is a story of women organizing, persevering and never giving up. Hissène Habré was brought to justice because women refused to accept injustice.

Habré ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990. When his reign of terror ended, people set to demanding justice instantly. Delphine Djiraibé returned from exile in 1990, and seeing the situation, founded the l’Association tchadienne pour la promotion et la défense des droits de l’homme, the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, which she presided over until 2003. Jacqueline Moudeina returned from exile in 1995 and immediately set to work with Delphine Djiraibé. In 2004, Moudeina became President of the Association, and is to this day. The two set their eyes on the prize, and kept it there steadily for twenty six years, and that prize is more than one man. The prize is justice.

Moudeina and Djiraibé involved Human Rights Watch and others to do both research and to advise on legal matters. They joined with Souleymane Guengueng, founder of l’Association des victimes des crimes et répressions politiques au Tchad, the Association of Victims of Political Crimes and Repression in Chad, and Clément Abaïfouta, who took over when Guengueng had to flee. Then they set to work. In 2000, representing seven Chadian women, Modeina filed the first human rights complaint against Habré. The next year, Moudeina was almost killed by a hand grenade assault, which sent her to France for a year for medical care and from which she still suffers pain, fifteen years later: “The grenade became a challenge for me, to live and continue the legal work, and so I did.”

For many, the turning point of the trial was the testimony of four courageous women who gave direct witness to the sexual violence and exploitation they had suffered. Khadidja Hassan Zidane described the violence Habré had committed directly against her, and the other three testified to what they had experienced and witnessed. Their testimony changed the tenor of the proceedings and added to the charges against the torturer. Where originally Habré was charged with torture and murder, in December sexual slavery and rape were added to the charges. As lain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima, noted, “They were just women in the middle of the desert with soldiers, abused for a very, very long period of time. We fought very hard for the sexual violence to be brought back. Women suffered so much under Habré. It puts the whole sexual violence aspect back in the middle of the case, and it was very unexpected, to be candid.”

They were just women, women who suffered so much, and women who day by day year by year refused anything other than justice. The lawyers, the witnesses, the widows burst into weeping, cheers, embraces and applause, as should we all.

Haoua Brahim, on the left, leaving court in September

(Photo Credit 1: Coalition for the ICC / Twitter / Ruth Maclean) (Photo Credit 2: Le Monde / AP / Jane Hahn)

Regret haunts the world

Regret is in the air this week. You might say, regret is the name of the game and, even more, the game of the name. From Geneva to the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in Zimbabwe, to Guinea, it’s been a week of declarations of regret.

On Monday, in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, thousands gathered in peaceful, and courageous, protest, to demonstrate their opposition to the military dictatorship of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who seized power in a military coup last December. Reports suggest that as many as 157 people were killed by soldiers who opened fire on them. Survivors and witnesses also reported, “A number of women taking part in the demonstration were stripped naked and sexually assaulted by security forces”. This has been described as “most shocking to the wearied citizens in this predominantly Muslim nation” who were “`profoundly traumatized’ by what had happened to the women in the stadium”.

The government of neighboring Liberia, a country that knows something about militarized sexual violence, issued a statement: ““The government of the Republic of Liberia has expressed grave concern at the events unfolding in neighboring Republic of Guinea, and has learned with profound regrets of the deaths of over 90 persons during a demonstration in Conakry on Monday, September 28, 2009”.

From Conakry, “Guinea’s military junta leader has expressed regret over the bloodshed in the clash between the opposition and security forces in the capital Conakry, Radio Senegal reported on Tuesday.” Death merits “merits” regret. Rape and sexual violence are clothed in silence, deep and profound.

In the same week, it was revealed that Nestlé had been purchasing dairy products from the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in the Mazowe Valley, about 20 kilometers north of Harare, a dairy farm recently taken over by Grace Mugabe. Once this was discovered, other connections were revealed. For example, DeLaval: “DeLaval, a leading equipment firm based in Sweden, is part of the giant Tetra Laval group owned by the Rausing dynasty”. They had sold a ton, actually tons, of equipment to Gushungo. Their response: “.Jörgen Haglind, a spokesman for Tetra Laval, said: “Tetra Laval was not previously aware of this transaction and we can only regret that the control functions within DeLaval have failed as this transaction should never have been approved.””  On Tuesday, “Delaval’s international spokesperson and vice-president of marketing and communications, Benoit Passard, said….”We regret that this has happened. We first made contact with the SA Dairy Association and then a long list of investors. The Mugabe name was never mentioned. This has come as a surprise to us and we would never have done business with them had we known this was who we were dealing with.””

Tuesday was a big day for expressions of regret. On Thursday, Nestlé Zimbabwe “ditched” Gushungo, without any expression of regret but rather an explanation of market forces. Perhaps those would include the threatened global boycott. We’ll never know. By Thursday, the government of Guinea was no longer expressing regret for anything, but rather claiming outside agitators and other nefarious forces were at work in Monday’s demonstration.

What is regret? “To remember, think of (something lost), with distress or longing; to feel (or express) sorrow for the loss of (a person or thing)…. To grieve at, feel mental distress on account of (some event, fact, action, etc.).” Regret is lamentation, grief, sorrow. Regret is loss.

In Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith, Cherokee scholar, feminist, rape crisis counselor, activist, woman, tells a story of regret: “`Assimilation’ into white society …only increased Native women’s vulnerability to violence. For instance, when the Cherokee nation was forcibly relocated to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears in the nineteenth century, soldiers targeted for sexual violence Cherokee women who spoke English and had attended mission schools….They were routinely gang-raped causing one missionary to the Cherokee, Daniel Butrick, to regret that any Cherokee had ever been taught English.”

As Smith records for Native women in the United States, as the women of Guinea and Zimbabwe understand deeply, as women in Sweden and Switzerland might know as well when they consider DeLaval and Nestlé as elements of their own well being and comfort, sexual violence is a State policy. It is not an exceptional event, but rather is woven into the very fiber of State security and national development. Ask the Sudanese women refugees in eastern Chad, who have no place to hide from or escape the daily sexual violence.

The United Nations Security Council this week voted to request the appointment of a special representative to address sexual violence in armed conflict zones. After the vote, “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon … immediately following the text’s adoption…. expressed regret that previous responses to sexual violence had not been able to stem the scourge.”

Were the Security General to express regret, or the leader of Guinea, or the corporate representatives, or the clergy, or anyone in public office or private spaces, for sexual violence, it would have to be more than a simple pro forma apology. The one expressing regret must perform and demonstrate grief, lamentation, sorrow, must understand and teach a lesson of loss. Until then, regret haunts the world … profoundly.

(Photo Credit: Rhizome)


Everyone is astounded: Chadian women making freedom

Africa may face centuries of poverty. Social Watch has developed a basic capabilities index  that shows that economic growth does not necessarily produce drops in poverty levels. In fact, “the basic needs required to escape poverty persists; even more, it is increasing, in spite of impressive economic growth in most developing countries.”  Meanwhile, according to the Social Gender Equity Index, “More than half the women in the world live in countries that have made no progress in gender equity in recent years.” And this has nothing to do with lack of resources. It’s about decisions that governments, that people in government, mostly men, make … freely.

Everyone is `astounded’: “Reed Brody, a campaigner with Human Rights Watch, said it was `astounding’ that 60 percent of the world’s countries have made no progress in recent years in expanding female access to education. He called for increased investment in the realisation of basic entitlements as part of a `human rights stimulus package. When you free women from the discrimination and poor health that they face in their daily lives, you unleash the powers of half of humanity to contribute to economic growth,’ he said ‘.” `Free women’ to become productive laborers; `free women’ to sell their free labor freely? At the heart of the human rights version of women in the world is precisely this liberal bourgeois capitalist model: the problem with women is women aren’t free laborers.

As long as freedom is viewed as an economic term, as long as freedom is `justified’ because it produces and reproduces `economic growth’, there will be no freedom. But don’t worry. Global warming will lead to a perpetual food crisis. In the by and by of the perpetual food crisis, we will all be free to starve. According to climate researcher David Battisti, “This is going to unfold in the next 100 years.” So, the developing world need not worry about basic this and gender that. Time is no longer of the essence, time has become the substance.

Where is all this food not going? According to Mike Davis, to urban slums in the global neoliberal metropole. For Davis, the failed state is more often than not a failed city, and the role of empire is to figure out what do about the failures: “The most interesting thing happening right now is the joint efforts of the US and Brazil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I would argue that the US sees that effort as a possibility to test and develop strategies to stabilise cities by means of security measures, city planning and social efforts.” The militarization of social space is not new, and, as women have known for centuries, it emerges as much from boardrooms and bedrooms as it does from war rooms. There must be something more interesting.

How about this: a hundred or so women in Chad, carrying knives and sticks and who knows what else, march through the streets, organize, take charge, do things. Cécile Moutouba. Larlem Marie. Others who chose to remain anonymous. Freedom.

Freedom, not because it’s economically viable, but because it’s freedom. The refusal to accept bare life, the refusal to accept extermination, the refusal to accept violence, the refusal to accept `the acceptable’, the refusal to accept failure. These hundred or so women in Chad are making freedom, and that production is as real as any goods production, as any economic growth that doesn’t pull women out of poverty or anything else.

(Photo Credit: Unicef/Giacomo Pirozzi)