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Test Case Burundi: Will the African Union Protect Women’s Rights?

January 21, 2015 — The focus of the African Union (AU) this year is the promotion, advancement and protection of the Rights of Women. AU leaders and heads of state have been meeting this week for the 26th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, and will be dedicated to finding ways of ensuring that women’s rights are at the forefront of the AU agenda.

But the question remains, will the AU rise to the occasion of protecting women’s rights given its past record?  AIDS-Free World and other actors have documented and collected credible evidence of widespread acts of politically motivated rapes against Zimbabwe female opposition supporters. In that instance the AU failed to act and did nothing to protect the women. The AU did not call for an investigation into the rapes, nor did it condemn the Mugabe government for its treatment of women and its failure to punish state and party agents involved. 

The question of protecting women from rape as a strategy of war and intimidation becomes all the more pertinent as Burundi continues to burn, and war is waged on women’s bodies. The UN has reported that security forces in Burundi have used rape as a tool in their attack on opposition supporters. It is a cheap and expeditious strategy, one that ravages women and their communities long after the political campaigns have ceased. If the AU is indeed committed to the protection of women’s rights in Africa, the perpetrators of this politically motivated rape in Burundi, and of the 2008 rapes in Zimbabwe must be brought to account. The women of Africa need the voice of the AU if their rights are to be fully protected, especially from abuse by their own governments.

AIDS-Free World urges the AU in light of its theme for 2016, to condemn all present and past forms of politically motivated rapes against women. The AU must also take action to operationalize the African Court of Human Rights so as to offer women an alternative to seek justice, when impunity prevails at the national level.