Pan African Lawyers Union pays tribute to Women
On this International Women’s Day, we at the Pan African Lawyers Union pay tribute to African women lawyers, human rights activists as well as women from different backgrounds and careers.On this special day, we are honored to bring to you inspiring views and messages from the following prominent African women lawyers :
Madam Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC)
Dr. Helen Kijo-Bisimba, Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre in Tanzania
Madam Osai Ojigho, Deputy Executive Director of Alliances for Africa.
Madam Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
Madam Fatou Bensouda is the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). She is a Gambian lawyer, former Attorney General and senior civil servant, international criminal law expert and Gambia’s first expert in international maritime law and the law of the sea. She worked as a Legal Adviser, Trial Attorney and Head of the Legal Advisory Unit of UNICTR before joining the ICC as Deputy Prosecutor in 2004. Madam Bensouda received the ICJ International Jurists Award in 2009 and the World Peace Through Law Award in 2011. The African Magazine Jeune Afrique has named her the 4th most Influential Personality in Civil Society in Africa for 2011.How do you promote women rights and justice for women through your position ?The Rome Statute explicitly recognizes gender violence and gender crimes, specifically proscribing them. The Statute obliges the Office of the Prosecutor to ensure that these crimes are effectively investigated and prosecuted. The first goal I set for my tenure upon taking office, is to continue to pursue gender crimes as defined by the Statute ; I have made the structural and consistent investigation and prosecution of these crimes a priority. I have committed to doing my part in this regard and have taken various initiatives to ensure that these crimes are given the priority they deserve. Earlier this year, I appointed a Special Gender Adviser whose appointment will help to further strengthen the strategic gender analysis and prosecutions of sexual and gender-based crimes, further strengthen the institutional approach to a range of gender issues and enhance relations with critical actors, including grassroots women’s organizations in the situations under our investigation. My Office is working on the development of a sexual and gender-based crimes policy to be completed by the summer. My Office and the Special Advisor are working hard to ensure this policy will provide guidance and clarity regarding the on-going and future prosecution of sexual and gender based crimes. This policy is intended to further strengthen our work towards ending impunity for gender-based crimes, advancing global accountability and reinforcing the application of the rule of law to crimes of sexual violence. In your view, what is the significance of International Women’s Day in conjunction with international justice ?International Women’s day serves as a reminder that there is still much to be done ;that women are still being subjected to unnecessary violence. In some societies today, such violence is still denied. Ignored. The victims shamed. In other settings, the crimes are minimized, trivialized, denigrated and the victims are silenced, destroying their credibility and further violating their dignity, so abusers can continue unimpeded. This is why a billion people rose in 207 countries to say no to sexual violence on February 14th.With justice, including through the ICC, a new era has begun. The body of the ICC’s first cases signal to the world that change has come and that impunity for gender crimes must stop. The law is a powerful tool to shed light on these crimes, give a voice to the victims and punish the perpetrators. This is the only way to change behaviour. What do you think should be the role of women lawyers for the development of the legal profession and rule of law in the African continent ? As I have said, we have come a long way but there is still a lot to be done. Women still suffer the brunt of violence in conflicts both as combatants and as sex slaves. In our collective efforts to change this, women should take the lead in eliminating violence against women. Women should strive to transform public response to sexual crimes in national jurisdictions. No longer can you remain silent. No longer can anyone look away. No longer should we let the perpetrators get away with it. Together we can shape the change we want and how to implement that change at the national levels. For my Office, we will continue to ensure that we bring charges of sexual and gender crimes in all cases where there is evidence of the commission of these crimes. But the ICC can only play its part, and to a limited extent through cooperation at all levels with the national judicial systems. I hope women lawyers on the continent can continue this work and help advance the message for change. What is your message to the community of African legal professionals and women as a whole from different backgrounds and careers, on the International Women’s Day ?Throughout my career as a lawyer and a Prosecutor, I have always placed a big emphasis on encouraging women, and especially African women, to take their chances and believe in themselves and in their true potential. Empowerment is the key. As women, as sisters, as mothers, I strongly believe there is nothing we cannot achieve. With the International Women’s Day we celebrate the achievements of the last centuries ; we remember those that have fought so hard for women’s rights, that stood tall and wrote History.My thoughts and prayers go to our sisters in Uganda, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the Central African Republic, in Guinea and in Darfur, who were subjected to unimaginable violence ; and to those everywhere in the world, who continue to suffer from massive rapes, other types of gender based crimes and their consequences. Gender and sexual crimes have gone unreported and unpunished for far too long, with so much shame and misconceptions involved. The time to act to change this is now and I hope that one day we will celebrate this day again to mark the end of violence against women as a weapon of war. I wish you all a happy women’s day.
Dr. Helen Kijo-Bisimba, The Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre in Tanzania
Dr. Helen Kijo-Bisimba is a lawyer, human rights activist and the Executive Director and one of the founding members of the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC). The LHRC is a non-governmental organization striving to empower the public, promote, reinforce and safeguard human rights and good governance in Tanzania. She has a strong collaboration with PALU. Together with PALU and the Tanganyika Law Society they brought before the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights the case of The Tanganyika Law Society and the Legal and Human Rights Centre v. The United Republic of Tanzania and Reverend Christopher Mtikila v. The United Republic of Tanzania. Dr Kijo-Bisimba holds a PhD in law and human rights from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. She is the first Tanzanian woman to receive the Tanzania Woman of Courage Award in 2008 in recognition of her commitment, perseverance and determination in pushing the agenda for human rights and social justice.How do you promote women rights and justice for women through your position ?There are several ways in which I promote women’s rights and justice. I speak out on women’s rights where ever I get a chance to do so. In my position as the LHRC Executive director, I have ensured that we have a gender policy at work place so that the organisation mainstreams gender in all its programmes, governance and management structures. I also have ensured that we have a gender unit in the organisation which coordinates women and children’s rights issues. Specifically we coordinate the Anti FGM coalition which fights against all harmful traditional practices. There is a specific Project on Maputo protocol calling of domestication of the protocol. I also use the media to inform our society women’s rights issues. In all our paralegal programmes we have a specific topic on the rights of women. For the women who have specific justice issues such as inheritance , marital problems, gender based violence as well and custody and maintenance of children they are assisted free of charge at the LHRC legal aid clinics.In your view, what is the significance of International Women’s Day in conjunction with international justice ?The day is a reminder to the society of women’s rights and it raises awareness to anyone who is not aware or does not care. It is also an opportunity for women to share experiences and to learn from best practices. This is an opportunity for women to come together to encourage each other. Role models are seen. It is a time to take stock of the gains in changes of laws and practices from the local to the international level.What do you think should be the role of women lawyers for the development of the legal profession and rule of law in the African continent ?To take up litigation of public interesting cases related to women’ s rights issues on various legal issues discriminative to women. For example the issue of discriminative inheritance laws in Tanzania, the citizenship laws etc. What is your message to the community of African legal professionalsand women as a whole from different backgrounds and careers, on the International Women’s Day ?The community of African legal practitioners and women in the practice should practice knowing that they have a duty to ensure they use law to promote women’s rights and stand up for Justice. They should know that many African women are poor and lack legal knowledge, in this case they have a role to assist women in Africa to know of the laws, and the rights they have. Where possible they should assist women to pursue their rights and make sure men and women who are violators of women’s rights are helped to change. The States of Africa have to be reminded of the obligation that have in this area. Let us realise the dream of an Africa where Justice for women is real.
Madam Osai Ojigho, Deputy Executive Director at Alliances for Africa
Madam Osai Ojigho is a Human Rights Advocate, Gender Activist, Legal Consultant and the Deputy Exeutive Director of Alliances for Africa (AfA), an African-led International non-governmental human rights, peace and sustainable development organization, mainly focusing on Women’s Rights. Her areas of expertise are the African regional human rights system
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