How the Sausage Gets Unmade

We've been talking this week about how to stop rape in conflict. As with many massive social changes, I think one of the greatest obstacles to eradicating this atrocity is the common belief that it can't be done. I tried to address that some in Monday's piece, but I thought we could all use a little more nitty-gritty. So I went straight to the source: Liz Bernstein. Bernstein is not only the founding Director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, but is also a former Coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). 

For those less familiar with ICBL, the important thing to know is that it worked. Five years after the official launch of the campaign, 122 states signed the ban treaty, a feat which earned the campaign and its leader, Jody Williams, the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, stockpiles of the weapon and landmine-contaminated-land have both been drastically reduced, and the only states known to be currently using landmines (as of 2009) are Burma and Russia. While the campaign still has real work to do (including compelling the United States to participate), it has already accomplished much more than many thought would ever be possible. 

I asked Liz to walk us through how she got involved in ICBL, how their campaign worked, and what elements of that campaign are transferable to the new coordinated effort to stop rape in conflict. I'm just going to let her roll here, because she had a lot to say, and all of it's more important than the few leading questions I interjected when we talked.

Take it away, Liz:


I was doing peace work in Cambodia, seeing the effects of landmines there. I learned about Jody Williams and wrote to her, as well as Rae McGrath, who came on behalf of Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights to document the impacts of landmines. So: starting with the very basics of seeing what you’re seeing in the field, then connecting the dots of we have to do something about this, and oh, there are some people trying. Let’s see if we can work together.

I worked with the researcher on the ground to help him do his job so that we could have better information that we could use for advocacy, and then wrote to Jody to see what we could do in Cambodia that other people were doing elsewhere. That was in the early 90s, when they were just starting the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The war was just ending in Cambodia, but landmines were still killing people. Our approach was multi-faceted. We helped those who were aiding survivors in communities in Cambodia, called for more money and more programs and more support there. We made ties early on with Franca Faita and other workers in a factory Valsella, owned by Fiat, who were at the time making landmines. Working with the Italian Campaign to Ban Landmines, we sent women from Cambodia, so the workers learned what was happening with what they were doing, and women from Italy came to Cambodia. They held demonstrations and protests in Valsella—made banners saying ‘Why do we have to kill to work?’—and got Fiat to stop making landmines.

We made global links with those who were producing the landmines physically (in this case a weapons manufacturer) and politically—countries that were enabling or allowing production or trade—as well as putting pressure on the Cambodian government and local officials. One of the biggest things we in Cambodia had to contribute within the international campaign was the voices of survivors, and people talking for themselves about what it was like living in communities affected by land mines, and demanding it end. We brought Cambodian survivors to negotiations in Geneva, talking about rules of use of when it is ok and not to use land mines. We held demonstrations in front of the Palais des Nations. Survivors and campaigners would be in the streets, in front of their cars, giving them flowers with a message from a survivor. Survivors spoke with media, met with the negotiators, found them in the lunchroom and washrooms. Bringing people who were affected by landmines to political spaces where people were talking about the issue helped moved the discourse from a disarmament one to a humanitarian one.

What was great about the landmine campaign, and is the same now with the new campaign to stop rape in conflict, is the power of people working together with a common objective, and within that, having freedom to do what they want to do, and what works best in their country.  We had a common international plan and goals we wanted to see achieved, and we never left a meeting without a plan for the next phase. But, we wanted to have people develop their own plans in their own countries. A peace march with monks and nuns in Cambodia may be a great tactic there, but not necessarily in Brazil or Colombia or the U.S. So we shared ideas and promoted creativity and encouraged people to do what they thought would work in their countries to tell their decision-makers that they needed to take action. The story of the Italian factory workers inspired some activists in Minnesota, at another weapons production facility, for them invite Cambodians to Minnesota to do similar things. The sharing of strategies and tactics inspires other people to riff on them, and find creative ways to demand action from their political leaders. Whether it's writing their MPs or whether it's organizing demonstrations or shoe piles at the Eiffel Tower or organizing 'freedom from fear' dances to raise money for survivors, whatever sparked their creativity and imagination to help toward these goals, which were so clear in terms of banning the weapon, demining, and supporting survivors, raising money for communities.

Because at the end of the day they're all elected officials, they're accountable to us, and we have to tell them what we want them to do. And how we do that, whether it's a letter or a tweet or whatever, for some it's organizing a demonstration in one of their halls of power or introducing a motion in the parliament or at negotiations with the UN or whatever it is, it all adds up to the power of so many people telling them that it's not acceptable and they want them to do take political action to make it stop. Now.

For the new campaign, in addition to individual and community-based action, national organizations in countries will be working on country-specific strategies. Those may be funding commitments in some countries like ours [Canada], and in other countries may be political and work around ending impunity, following up on specific cases and things like that. While trying to advance prevention of rape in conflict, protection for civilians and rape survivors, and effective prosecution of those responsible, we'll be calling for things like the right to reparations, including medical and psycho-social care, holistic support for survivors and communities, and delivery of court decisions of financial compensation. We’ll be calling out countries whose rape laws inadequately protect and prevent sexual violence. When the international protection mechanism fail women, like in Mali and Syria and so many countries today, we’ll be mobilizing the campaign’s members and influential individual voices to demand more effective measures, following up on specific cases and things like that. Other times it may be holistic support for survivors and communities.

Some national strategies are going to include the introduction of motions in parliaments and country-level specific legislation where it's needed. We’ll also work around implementing the UN five security council resolutions relevant to this campaign.

We’ll be calling on countries who don't have action plans to make national action plans, That’s an official plan of what they're going to do in their country, with targets and specific actions. It’s really important. It sounds boring and people's eyes glaze over at "national action plan" but it is a commitment at a national level that we can hold our leaders accountable to. Activists will continue to push for them and for better ones, ones that include things like engaging civil society in developing the plan, and that include specific actions with timelines and commitments that can be measured. Only 36 countries have national action plans so far. The U.S. just launched its plan in December 2011, and ours here [in Canada] was adopted in 2010. In Africa there are only nine countries that have them.

One of the other strategies is bringing it to regional political bodies—the African Union Summit in January, the summit in Asia in November—activists are organizing to go to these political regional events to advocate for regional action.

Stopping rape in conflict is not the same as “ban land mines now.” The solutions may not be as straightforward as one treaty and everyone sign. But a lot of things are the same: we were told we were idealistic and utopian, and it was never going to happen. The methods and tools we envision are much the same: people getting together from around the world with a common objective and working together. Then make the most of that power of collective political action with strategy and time-bound commitments toward progress. It's the same as if we go back to anti-slavery campaigns or civil rights or the suffragettes. The power of people working together for social and political change and demanding what they want to see of their governments, and using ALL of their creativity and all of  tools in the campaigning toolbox including awareness-raising, lobbying, and nonviolent direct action.

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