In the face of the growing terrorism threat in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, UNODC has been supporting the country in reinforcing its criminal justice responses to terrorism, terrorist financing and violent extremism through tailored coordination, collaboration, training and policy development at the response, investigation, prosecution, and trial of terrorism-related offences.
As we remember the persons affected on this International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism it is important we recognize the human toll caused by acts of terrorism and, at the same time, draw attention to the remarkable resilience and strength displayed by individuals and communities affected by these tragic events, including victims.
The significance of this day allows us to honor the resilience of those affected by terrorism, but also to underscore our shared responsibility to contribute to a safer global community. UNODC is committed to play an integral role on this by advocating for justice at all levels and promoting a judicial response to this heinous crime, while supporting countries to prevent and respond to acts terrorism in harmony of the principles of the rule of law and international human rights standards.
Sometimes in life, you find yourself caught between a rock and a hard place. Sometimes the rock is rent, and the hard place is health insurance. Sometimes the rock is your children’s sacrifice, and the hard place is forceful marriage to a member of a terrorist group. Sometimes there are no good choices. Sometimes you have to take the hit. For the sake of your family, for the sake of your children.
On International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, we remember the departed, but we also pay tribute to those who’ve survived, who have shown the most unimaginable strength and who have lived to tell the tale: the women of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.
Mozambique’s Northern province of Cabo Delgado is the epicenter of a conflict claiming to date nearly four thousand lives and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced peoples (IDPs). In addition to civilian casualties, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has been widely used as a tool to terrorize the local population, including the captivity of a yet uncounted number of women, forced to chose between joining the insurgency or seeing their families executed.
One of them agreed to speak to UNODC anonymously. The details of her captivity, identity and current occupation and location have been removed so she wouldn’t be identified and persecuted.
“It is difficult to make that decision, very difficult but at that moment I was thinking that the best for my family is the right option to take, because at some point they said: let's kill the children and she goes with us anyway. It is at that time that you say: I accept to go and leave them under the protection of the Lord who created heaven and earth, I know how difficult it is to take that attitude, but in those conditions, it is the right one.”
Victim? Survivor? Traitor? Hero?
When ethical lines are blurred sometimes these things are hard to distinguish:
- Victim of a conflict you have no part in the making.
- Survivor of years of sexual slavery.
- Traitor to your community and country for choosing to protect your children.
- Hero to your family.
Which one do you think you would be? Which one would you choose to be? Are you able to make a choice at all?
When we hear stories such as this one, we are quick to judge: I would rather die than do this. These people, why couldn’t they have been stronger?
“My uncle was killed and left six children behind in our district. My aunts were taken too, and we had to leave on foot to [location undisclosed], my cousins were raped.”
“Being a wife and a mother, I am the weakest link in this situation. Weak because I have children and I would do anything to protect them, for the sake of my family I forcibly joined the Islamic extremist group and stayed as a spouse for the two years that I remained in captivity.
Other women joined voluntarily out of desperation after seeing their relatives and husbands beheaded and having to feed their children. They followed the group.”
“It is very difficult to assimilate all this: being a woman and pillar of a family, because sometimes I had a chance to escape but what about my children? Who will take care of them in captivity? Will they be beheaded, or will they be released?
In the end, remaining was worth it. Men don’t think twice in this situation; besides they also did not have the time to think; they were beheaded on the spot. It is very sad to comment on this scenario.”
“And then, in the community, you are seen as the traitor, an extremist! And why? Because you made the only decision that was right at that moment? Without thinking about what you went through and lived, without even putting themselves in your place, they judge you and even discriminate against you in the community?”
“It affects my daily life; discrimination affects me deeply when the community calls my children extremists or children of Al-Shabaab. They did not choose this, and I feel guilty for having made the decision I had no choice but to make.
Sometimes I think it would have been better if they killed me, rather than to hear and live, and carry the blame for everything that happened.”
“This situation affects a person negatively. If you do not have support, or better yet, psychological help, you may even die, because you start to imagine the reasons that forced you to make that decision, together with all the suffering you saw and lived in captivity, it hurts until you get to the point of thinking about taking your own life.”
“There are other things I haven't talked about yet, because I don't feel comfortable, the armed groups were very unfair to women.
I won't comment more, and I hope you will excuse me.”
What would you call this woman now?
There are no easy answers.
“There is a very real need for legislators, policy-makers and national authorities to be aware of, and sensitive to, the circumstances and challenges which individuals such as this survivor might confront, and the challenges which complex scenarios can present for Governments in their counter terrorism efforts, while recognizing the absence of clear definitional lines between who might constitute a ‘victim of terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’ in any given situation" says Philip Divett, Program Officer with UNODC’s Terrorism Prevention Branch.
UNODC works with Member States to strengthen their capacity to understand and respond to the rights and needs of women and girls who are victims of abduction and exploitation by terrorist groups, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and has published a Handbook on Gender Dimensions of Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism
. The Model Legislative Provisions
, developed by UNODC together with the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), serve as a model for the review of existing laws and procedures related to victims of terrorism, including victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), and to develop legislation where no legislation exists and support the needs and protect the rights of victims of terrorism.