This Article advocates for better access to justice and a more comprehensive accountability system in refugee camps. Refugee women are frequently subject to sexual violence and sexual exploitation in the country of refuge, and find themselves without ways of redressing these fundamental rights violations. This Article uses the sexual violence and sexual exploitation that was documented in refugee camps in Guinea in 2002 as an illustrative case study of the protection problems faced by refugee women in many parts of the world. The author argues that the host government, UNHCR, and various non-governmental organizations operated together to fulfill state-like functions in long-term refugee camps, but their efforts left accountability, access to justice, and enforcement of women's human rights laws sorely lacking. The movement toward rights based refuge -embraced in varying forms by the aid providers in Guinea--provides a theoretical and practical framework for greater rights recognition, but has not yet delivered a complete response to the specific human rights violations faced by refugee women. If rights-based refuge is to succeed in refugee settings like Guinea, aid providers must make the protection of women's human rights a central concern by instituting a robust, multi-layered system of accountability to which all refugee women have access.
Women and girls in refugee camps around the world are deeply vulnerable to sexual violence and sexual exploitation. (1) Not only are many of these women subject to sexual violence when fleeing their home countries, but they find themselves in desperate need of food or shelter, in perilous security situations, and often without the protection of family members in their countries of refuge. Sexual violence and sexual exploitation, which in many contexts have deep cultural roots, but which are greatly exacerbated in the refugee setting, constitute violations of refugee women's fundamental human rights. In emergency and post-emergency situations, protecting the rights of refugee women is both a task of crucial importance and a task that has not yet been adequately met.
Refugee women lack access to justice and accountability mechanisms. Over the past decade, there have been broad attempts to incorporate human rights norms into refugee responses. Many of the actors that provide relief to refugees--including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ("UNHCR") and a committed cadre of international non-governmental organizations ("NGOs")--have embraced the concept of rights-based refuge. However, rights-based refuge--which recognizes the fundamental human dignity and rights-bearing nature of the refugee--must be interpreted in a more generous and comprehensive manner in order to be fully effective for refugee women. Looking at rights-based refuge through the lens of sexual violence tests the commitment of aid providers to this re-conceptualized notion of humanitarian aid. As of yet, rights-based refuge has not found a way to incorporate fundamental mechanisms for accountability and access to justice. Without these crucial tools for protecting the human rights of refugees, the movement towards rights-based refuge remains incomplete.
The sexual violence and sexual exploitation that was documented in refugee camps in Guinea in 2002 (2) provides an illustrative case study of the problems faced by refugee women in many parts of the world. During this period, Guinea's refugees were cared for by a trio of aid providers--the host government, UNHCR, and various NGOs--that is representative of the actors in camp governance in many other refugee situations around the world. In Guinea, much like in other refugee settings, this trio of aid providers delivers a broad range of state-like functions from security to health care. However, the trio of aid providers in Guinea in 2002 struggled to offer strong mechanisms for accountability and access to justice. Since 2002, many aid providers in Guinea have taken positive steps towards rights-based refuge by finding ways to redress sexual violence and sexual exploitation. However, despite the efforts to incorporate rights-based refuge into aid delivery, Guinea still lacks a comprehensive and durable model for providing accountability and access to justice for refugee women subject to sexual violence. By examining the structure of aid delivery in Guinea, this paper aims to make the case for a more substantial incorporation of accountability mechanisms in refugee settings around the world.
This paper starts by giving a brief overview of the waves of refugee flows into Guinea since 1990. I review the particular protection concerns of refugee women and discuss the responses of the Guinean government, UNHCR, and the NGOs working in Guinea at the time. Second, I examine the parallel human rights initiatives of this trio of aid providers--all of which recognize the rights-bearing nature of refugees--and argue that all three developments lay the groundwork for rights-based refuge, but ultimately fail to offer a complete response to the specific human rights violations faced by refugee women.
Third, I argue that the Guinean government, UNHCR, and the NGOs operate together to fulfill state-like functions in the refugee camps, but that their lack of coordination leaves accountability, access to justice, and enforcement of women's human rights laws sorely lacking. Finally, I conclude that if rights-based refuge is to succeed in refugee settings like Guinea, aid providers must make the protection of women's human rights a central concern by instituting a robust, multi-layered system of accountability to which all refugee women have access.
I. GUINEA'S LONG-TERM REFUGEE CRISIS
A. Refugee Influxes and Long-Term Camps
Since 1991, successive waves of refugees from the West African sub-region have poured into Guinea. (3) More than 90% of these refugees--amounting to more than 500,000 people--came from Sierra Leone or Liberia. (4) Following outbreaks of violence in 2001-2002, scores of refugees arrived in Guinea from Cote d'Ivoire as well. (5) For Guinea, a country of around 9 million people (6) and one that ranks in the bottom 30 countries on the human development index, (7) these refugee numbers are overwhelming. The refugee influx in Guinea is proportional to the United States of America absorbing more than 16 million refugees in a ten-year period. (8)
As is characteristic of many refugee flows, most of the refugees arriving in Guinea were women and young children unaccompanied by male family members, because many of the men and older boys had been recruited to fight in their home country's conflicts. (9) Many of the women and girls who sought refuge in Guinea had been subject to extensive sexual violence before leaving their home countries of Sierra Leone, (10) Liberia, (11) and Cote d'Ivoire. (12) Guinea was under pressure to absorb huge numbers of refugees and to do so in a way that responded adequately to the horrific abuses the refugees had suffered before fleeing to Guinea.
Almost all of these refugees flooded into an interior, forested district that curls southwards and juts into Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote d'Ivoire. The Forest Region is primarily rural and is one of the poorest areas of Guinea. The area, which has a population that is ethnically distinct from the ruling Soussous (13) and is geographically distant from the capital Conakry, has not seen significant investment in public infrastructure in decades. (14) The enormous influx of refugees exacerbated the already alarming poverty in this part of Guinea. (15) The Forest Region does not have the economic or environmental infrastructure to absorb large numbers of refugees, and the increase in population rapidly led to deforestation and competition for agricultural land. (16)
When the refugee crisis began in the early 1990s, many of the refugees in the Forest Region were absorbed into local villages. (17) During this period, the impact on the host population was relatively positive. For instance, as the public health specialist Wim Van Damme argues, while refugees were largely living among the host community, the provision of health services to refugees also benefited the host community. (18) As the refugee influx grew, however, and the numbers became overwhelming, many refugees gravitated toward UNHCR camps. Initially, these camps were mostly along the borders, dangerously close to the violence from which the refugees had fled. Some refugees, mostly men with marketable skills, continued to live in the towns of N'Zerekore, Macenta, and Gueckedou, or in nearby villages. However, because many of the refugees were women traveling alone or with young children, they lacked the resources or skills to find means of survival outside the camps. The wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone continued unabated, and so by the late 1990s the camps had become semi-permanent, long-term settlements for hundreds of thousands of people. As with many other refugee situations, finding a permanent, or "durable," solution to this refugee crisis eluded the political actors in the field. (19) The Guinean government, like many other host governments in countries of first asylum, was deeply reluctant to accept the refugees as permanent citizens. (20)
As more refugees arrived in Guinea, tension between hosts and refugees increased, a phenomenon that had a particularly severe impact on refugee women. The government took various measures hostile to refugee protection, periodically closing the borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia. (21) Resentment among the host communities increased in part because refugees in camps had greater access than Guineans to resources, such as income generating loans, food distribution, and primary education, that lead to the realization of social and economic rights. (22)
The deterioration in host-refugee relations accelerated when militia violence in the neighboring countries bled over the border in late 2000. Violence had initially spilled over into Guinea in mid-1998, and hit-and-run raids took place throughout 1999. (23) In late 2000, these attacks took on a "new level of intensity and sophistication" when intense fighting broke out on both sides of the Liberian-Guinean border near Gueckedou. (24) These cross-border incursions further disrupted life in the Forest Region of Guinea, (25) leading to fatalities, injuries, and sexual crimes against women. In addition, the incursions caused considerable internal displacement of both Guinean nationals and refugees. (26) The violence caused major economic disruption and compounded domestic instability. (27) In September 2000, Guinean president Lansana Conte appeared on radio and television and issued a public plea to protect the country from rebel attacks. (28) As a result, mobs in Conakry attacked and raped Sierra Leonean refugee women living in the capital city. (29)
After the incursions in 2000-2001, UNHCR became increasingly concerned about deteriorating security in the camps near the borders. (30) Throughout 2000, the Guinean camps had been infiltrated by rebel groups. (31) One particular cross-border attack in 2000--in which one UNHCR international staffer was killed and another abducted--spurred UNHCR to begin relocating the camps. (32) Not all refugees were willing to relocate, fearing the hostility of Guineans farther from the borders. (33) In addition, the Guinean government was reluctant to permit further movement of Liberian refugees to the interior of the country. (34) Nonetheless, during 2001-2002, UNHCR moved the majority of camp-based refugees to new camps away from the borders. (35)
Three different groups provided aid to refugees in Guinea throughout this period: the Guinean government, UNHCR, and various NGOs. As more and more refugees were settled in camps, this aid took on a long-term character. The camps became the equivalent of small towns, with sophisticated community-service structures, including schools, marketplaces, hospitals, and income-generating opportunities. (36) But the trio of aid providers still managed the camps in an emergency framework (for instance, by preventing agricultural cultivation). Such a framework is damaging to the long-term welfare of refugees who remain in camps for years, in part because it discourages the development of economic self-sufficiency. (37)
In 2002, when the reports on sexual violence in Guinean refugee camps came to light, it became clear that the camp construction and operation had systematically disadvantaged women and left them vulnerable to sexual violence. (38) For instance, when the new camps were established, families of refugees were given a plot of land and materials with which to build shelters. Women without male family members had to rely on NGO staff and other refugees for construction assistance. (39) Other aspects of the camp design, such as water-gathering points and food distribution methods, exacerbated the extent to which women had to rely on men for assistance, thereby making them more vulnerable. (40) Job opportunities in the camps usually went to men, leaving women without independent means of income. (41) Although refugee women had been settled in these camps for years, aid providers did little to redesign operations to reduce vulnerability. Since 2002, some NGOs implemented micro-enterprise schemes and other income generating projects focusing on women's self-sufficiency. (42) However welcome these efforts are, they are only the first step in a systematic and comprehensive solution to refugee women's vulnerability.
Given that there were very few long-term solutions for these refugee women while wars were raging in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the camps effectively functioned as long-term settlements. (43) None of the three traditional "durable solutions" used by UNHCR--return, resettlement, or local integration--were viable long-term solutions for most refugee women in Guinea during this period. (44) For almost a decade, return to Sierra Leone and Liberia was blocked by ongoing war. Global awareness of the needs of West African refugee populations was low, and as long as there was no ideological or political purpose to their admission, many refugees from the West African sub-region remained outside the scope of resettlement. (45) Language barriers and escalating tension between refugee and host populations made local integration hard. (46) While a small handful of the most vulnerable refugees were resettled in Western countries, and some of the best-educated refugees (mostly men) were integrated into francophone Guinean society, most women and girls were left to languish in camp environments. With durable solutions elusive, the camps took on the character of long-term settlements.
B. Consistent Violations of the Rights of Refugee Women
Guinea's long-term camps, like many other refugee camps, are unstable environments where altered economic and social factors aggravate women's existing cultural vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation. (47) In early 2002, the extent of sexual exploitation in Guinea's refugee camps--and the fact that some aid workers were among the perpetrators--caught the eye of the international press. (48) Two reports released in 2002--one by UNHCR/Save the Children (UK), (49) and one by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) (50)--detailed specific cases of adolescent sexual exploitation perpetrated by aid workers. The UNHCR/Save the Children (UK) report accused sixty-seven aid workers from forty-two aid organizations of perpetrating sexual violence against young girls. (51) The workers were accused of demanding sex from refugees in exchange for food or services.
In response to the UNHCR/ Save the Children (UK) report, OIOS conducted an in-depth investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation throughout the West African sub-region. (52) In spite of its critique of the methodology and conclusions of the UNHCR/ Save the Children (UK) report, the OIOS report also found cases of sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers, albeit much reduced compared to the allegations in the UNHCR/ Save the Children (UK) report. (53) The OIOS report looked at forty-three cases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, (54) and found that ten cases could be substantiated against aid workers (one United Nations Volunteer, one peacekeeper, and eight NGO workers). (55) OIOS concluded that, although it could not independently verify the cases in the UNHCR/ Save the Children (UK) report, there was considerable cause for concern. (56) OIOS pointed to reports from groups of unconnected refugees and internally displaced people spread throughout the region as evidence that sexual exploitation was a problem in the camps. (57)
Although crimes such as these are chronically underreported, legal aid workers in Guinea during this period found that many women and girls traded sex for basic necessities, such as food or plastic sheeting, while others were sexually assaulted in isolated areas of the camp, and still others were subject to domestic violence. (58) The refugees most vulnerable to sexual exploitation were women traveling alone, women as single heads of families, children in child-headed households, children in single-parent households, and orphaned children. The majority of children involved were girls between the ages of 13 and 18. (59)
Sexual exploitation and sexual assault are violations of the fundamental human right to personal security. (60) This right is detailed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the Convention on the Status of Refugees. (61) The UNHCR Executive Committee acknowledges that violations of this fundamental right inflict serious harm and injury on the victims, their families, and their communities. (62) Refugees do not forfeit this basic human right when they cross a national border, and they should be able to enjoy their rights to life and security of person regardless. (63) Furthermore, the exploitation is in some cases a violation of Guinean penal law, though victims often encounter serious practical obstacles when trying to assert their rights in Guinean courts. (64)
Desperate need--in addition to underlying cultural factors--was at the root of much of the sexual exploitation and domestic violence in Guinean camps in 2002. The UNHCR/Save the Children (UK) report alleged that women and girls exchanged sex for basic necessities. Payment was rarely in cash terms; the victims received small "gifts" of palm oil, plastic sheeting, ration cards, grain, or soap. (65) One young refugee mother illustrated this dependence on exploitation by asking, "If I tell you the name of the NGO worker I have to sex [sic] with, he will get fired, and then how will I feed my child and myself?" (66) An NGO worker in Guinea told a UNHCR assessment team that "no girl will get a job in this camp without having sex with NGO workers." (67) The OIOS Report states that some fourteen- and fifteen-year-old girls claimed that teachers in refugee schools gave out instruction, supplies, or grades in exchange for sex. (68) Caregivers and family members were often aware of the exploitation, but they, like the victims, felt it was the only way to get food and other basic necessities. (69)
The perpetrators were primarily men in positions of relative power who control access to goods and services in the camps. (70) They may have included: personnel of humanitarian aid organizations; government employees overseeing refugee affairs; security forces, including peacekeepers; and influential members of the refugee community, including political and religious leaders. (71) Those who occupied these positions of power were primarily men; for instance, the Guinean army and police who were delegated to provide security to the camps were staffed almost entirely by men. Partly owing to cultural influences, those in positions of leadership among the refugee community were often men, even though women made up a far larger proportion of the refugee population. (72) While aid …