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Ethiopia: African women combatants and promoting humanitarian rules

02-12-2005 News Release 05/91

A conference was held in Addis Ababa last week to discuss how women combatants can help promote humanitarian and human rights norms.

At the invitation of the organization Geneva Call and the Program for the Study of International Organizations at Geneva's Graduate Institute of International Studies, 40 women currently or recently involved in armed opposition groups from a dozen sub-Saharan African countries exchanged views on their experiences.

The first such conference was held in August 2004 in Geneva, bringing together women involved in armed opposition groups from 18 war-torn countries around the globe. This regional follow-up was then organized as a means of further engaging with armed opposition groups on issues central to respect for humanitarian rules and human rights.

Two members of the ICRC took part as facilitators in last week's conference. For some years now the ICRC has been endeavouring to gain a better insight into the many ways in which women experience war as either victims or participants. The organization attaches great importance to discussing this issue as a means of promoting compliance with humanitarian law.

Among other subjects of deliberation, the participants identified what they felt should be the limits to attitudes and actions in armed conflict and explained whether these arose from their own traditional and religious values, personal beliefs, or group ideology or code of conduct. They then considered the extent to which those limits are consistent with humanitarian norms. They exchanged views on how to improve knowledge and understanding of international humanitarian rules, compliance with those rules by armed groups, and their ability, as women, to influence the conduct of other members of their respective groups.

In addition to humanit arian rules, the conference also dealt with the following questions: What are the international human rights norms particularly relevant to women and how can they best be met? What problems do women and girls face in the process of disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating into society, and what benefits do the participants expect from this process? What are the obstacles facing women involved in armed groups when it comes to participating in peace negotiations and assuming leadership positions in a post-conflict period, and how can these obstacles be overcome?

The issues of advocacy, networking, information-sharing, capacity-building, training and improving skills were highlighted as important to women's role in leadership, in promoting humanitarian and human rights norms, and in bringing about disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants into society.

The African Union hosted the opening ceremony.

A report on the exchanges, along with the participants'recommendations, will be published at the beginning of next year.

    

    

 For further information on Geneva Call and this conference, and to access the report when it is published,  

 call +41 22 879 10 50.  

 For more information from the ICRC on women and war, please consult "Focus" on our website  

 or contact:  
 Florence Tercier Holst-Roness, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 34 51  
 Annick Bouvier, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 58