Calling the Ghosts: The Rights of Women and Gender-Based Violence
by Andrea Holley, Manager of Outreach and Public Education, Human Rights Watch
The genocide that occurred in the former Yugoslavia repeated many of the worst human rights abuses of the 20th century: detention camps, mass executions and disappearances, and ethnic violence taken to its extreme. Human rights violations took on new forms as well, one of the most horrific being gender-based violence and rape.
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, ratified in 1948, is one of the oldest documents in international human rights law. It bans acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, created in 1981, contains countless provisions to protect and provide certain rights for women. Violence against women is still one of the most prevalent human rights problems in the world today. When war breaks out and a society devolves into a state of violence, the abuse of women often takes a specific and targeted form.
The tribunals that followed the genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, prosecuted those found responsible for ordering rape or committing rape on a mass scale. In the newly formed International Criminal Court, systematic rape will be prosecuted as a crime. The court will seek to convict the perpetrators and provide some sort of compensation to the victims for their suffering.
The dynamics among the women who survived gender-based violence are part of the story told in Calling the Ghosts. The survivors in the film share a bond that provides them with relief but also makes their pain again immediate. It is heart wrenching to hear them talk about their experiences. Clearly, while talking about it may help, they will never fully recover. Their wounds, like physical injury, leave scars and have a similar debilitating effect that shrapnel, bullets, and mines leave on their victims.