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Women's Voices eLetter

March 2015

Welcome to the
Women's Voices



Who we are

The Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice is an international women's human rights organisation that advocates for gender justice through the International Criminal Court (ICC) and through domestic mechanisms, including peace negotiations and justice processes. We work with women most affected by the conflict situations under investigation by the ICC.

The Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice works in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and Kyrgyzstan.

Cairo, Egypt
Kampala and Kitgum, Uganda
The Hague, the Netherlands

Download Women's Initiatives publications download In Pursuit of Peacedownload Making a Statement second editionRead Modes of Liability expert paper Read Gender Report Card on the ICC 2014 Read our Legal Eye on the ICC eLetter

Dear Friends,

Welcome to a Special Issue of Women’s Voices, a regular eLetter from the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. In Women’s Voices, we provide updates and analysis on political developments, the pursuit of justice and accountability, the participation of women in peace talks and reconciliation efforts from the perspective of women’s rights activists within armed conflict situations, specifically those countries under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Darfur, the Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.

In addition to Women’s Voices, we also produce a regular legal eLetter, Legal Eye on the ICC, with summaries and gender analysis of judicial decisions and other legal developments at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and discussion of legal issues arising from victims’ participation before the Court, particularly as these issues relate to the prosecution of gender-based crimes in each of the Situations under investigation by the ICC.

More information about the work of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and previous issues of Women’s Voices and Legal Eye on the ICC can be found on our website www.iccwomen.org.

Is the international community abandoning the fight against impunity?

The Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice recently participated in a debate hosted by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) on whether the international community is abandoning the fight against impunity. The debate brought together leading experts and figures in the field of international criminal law, transitional justice, and human rights including Fatou Bensouda (Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court), Betty Murungi (Former Commissioner of Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission), David Tolbert (ICTJ President) and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), to discuss and critically debate the status of impunity. The following is the contribution from the Women’s Initiatives’ contribution to this timely debate:

As an advocate for gender justice in conflict situations under investigation by the ICC, we, together with our more than 6,000 grassroots partners, associates and members, have seen a growing momentum in the international community, including government actors, civil society and international organisations, towards tackling impunity for SGBV crimes.

When we look at the judicial treatment of SGBV crimes through international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, progress in bringing accountability has certainly been mixed. Michael Ignatieff states aptly that “we do ourselves no favour when we comfort ourselves with illusions” and that in order to push the international justice project forward we need to be honest about its shortcomings. Indeed, as noted by Brigid Inder, Executive Director of the Women’s Initiatives, despite the overwhelming numbers –millions of mostly women and girls victimised throughout history and still today by sexual and gender-based crimes – only 16% of those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide have been convicted of sexual violence crimes through international legal mechanisms.

Amongst other reasons, Brigid Inder has described the challenges to accountability for SGBV as being due to persisting “gender-based discrimination, reflected in the selective incorporation of ‘gender’ within legal theories and the incomplete integration of these issues within legal concepts and liability regimes.” Inder has explained that “accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes continues to be exceptional and elusive compared to the scale of its commission. This historic and ongoing marginalisation in the law has created a gender debt, and unless and until we transform both legal norms and gender perceptions we will continue to fail generations of victims/survivors.”

Many governments and organisations, including the Women’s Initiatives, continue to be galvanised by these ongoing challenges, and whilst the overarching picture is disappointing, progress is evident in the efforts by international and domestic civil society actors, most often women’s rights activists, and their work documenting incidents of SGBV and advocating for accountability for these crimes domestically and before the ICC. There are also signs of increasing attention and engagement by local decision-makers and judicial institutions to strengthening systemic responses to such acts.

Recent examples from Eastern DRC include the introduction of a new provincial law by authorities in South Kivu, which expands prohibitions on gender-based forms of violence in the context of an ongoing armed conflict. Local judges in the province have undertaken inspections of police files and queried why the sexual violence cases have not been brought to court. The Police in Province Orientale have initiated monthly meetings with gender justice advocates to review progress on sexual violence cases and to discuss strategies to strengthen their investigative capacity and practices. There is also a growing momentum within Sudan for reform of its rape law in compliance with international standards. Initiated by local women’s and human rights actors and legal practitioners, this effort is now supported by a range of Sudanese political parties, personnel from government ministries, the media and academics. In Uganda, sexual violence was included within the more recent investigations associated with the domestic war crimes court (the International Crimes Division) and future cases before this court associated with the LRA-related conflict are expected to include charges for SGBV. All of these countries have situations under investigation by the ICC and are also sites of important domestic gender justice developments.

In addition to domestic progress, the broader international recognition of the scale of conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes is on the rise. An example is the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, launched by the United Kingdom (UK) government during the UN General Assembly in 2013, which 155 countries have endorsed. By doing so, a large percentage of the international community has agreed that there should no longer be a culture of impunity for those who commit sexual violence in conflict and that bringing those responsible to justice is a critical element of prevention efforts.

The establishment of the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SRSG) by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1888 (2009), introduced another important mechanism to strengthen the global community’s efforts to combat sexual violence in armed conflict. Resolution 1888, which was co-sponsored by more than 60 UN Member States, called for the appointment of the SRSG to provide strategic leadership with governments, including military and judicial representatives, as well as with all parties to armed conflict and civil society, to address sexual violence in armed conflict. A key priority of the SRSG’s Office is “to end impunity for sexual violence in conflict by assisting national authorities to strengthen criminal accountability, responsiveness to survivors and judicial capacity”.

The United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, established in 1996, is an effective multi-lateral mechanism designed to support the prevention of and responses to gender-based crimes. The Trust Fund is uniquely able to disburse funds to local and international organisations, and has supported, since its creation, 368 initiatives in 132 countries and territories, many of which are working to tackle sexual and gender-based violence in conflict.

As part of its Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, the UK also hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London last June. This unprecedented event was the largest international gathering ever held on the issue, with more than 1,700 delegates, including victims/survivors, NGOs and experts, as well as 123 country delegations, including high level Ministers.

Such examples of efforts by UN and ICC member states to end impunity for SGBV are encouraging signs that support for these issues is being mobilised on a larger global scale than we have ever seen before.

Turning to the work of the ICC, while the Court is only one of several mechanisms both globally and domestically needed to end impunity, it is an institution emblematic of international efforts to bring accountability for mass atrocities, including sexual and gender-based crimes. It represents and inspires these efforts in the domestic realm under the principle of complementarity. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Al Hussein states, the ICC is “the most powerful symbol of the progress made in the fight against impunity for international crimes”. There have been several stumbling blocks as expressed by commentators in this debate but with 123 States having signed up, which represents over 60% of all nations, this alone shows a shared resolve to look past sovereign borders towards the larger justice project. The latest state to sign the Rome Statute and join the Court is Palestine, which has chosen to expose itself in addition to other actors such as Israel to potential ICC prosecutions. This speaks to the importance of the Court and its mandate to shine the spotlight of international law upon even the most contentious and long-lasting conflict zones.

In terms of accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes, the ICC’s track record to date is mixed, but its historic roots and some recent developments in its cases show a promising trend. Structurally, the Court’s legal framework represents a concrete advancement in criminalising SGBV crimes as it explicitly provides for the prosecution of the broadest range of such crimes of all international criminal courts and tribunals. The international community for the first time agreed in 1998 to criminalise in the Rome Statute: rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation, trafficking, persecution on the grounds of gender, and other forms of sexual violence.

The Court has also provided a concrete platform for victims to seek to be formally recognised by the ICC, to participate in the legal process and to express their views and interests via a legal representative. This means that for the first time at a systemic level the voices of victims/survivors of rape, sexual slavery and other mass atrocities have the potential to be heard and considered within the judicial process.

The Rome Statute also provides for reparations to victims either through those convicted or the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), which is the first of its kind. The TFV’s mission is to deliver programmes that address harms resulting from genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and since 2008, it has provided support to over 110,000 victims of crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court, including tens of thousands of survivors of SGBV, through physical and psychological rehabilitation and material support.

In reality, regarding the three verdicts issued by the Court so far, there have been no convictions for gender-based crimes, the gender dimensions of the crimes of enlistment, conscription and use of children in hostilities were not adequately considered in the Lubanga case, and the OTP’s appeal of Katanga’s acquittal in relation to acts of sexual violence was withdrawn. We await the final appeal against the last of these three cases, in which Ngudjolo was acquitted of all charges, including sexual violence.

To confront and change this longitudinal record, in 2014 the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) produced the Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes, which outlines overarching principles for the Office as a whole, contains specific operational strategies relevant to each stage of its mandate, and identifies the institutional capacity desirable to further strengthen its performance. As the first policy of its kind produced by an international legal mechanism, this development is a sign of proactive leadership by the OTP on this issue and further indication of the importance being given to these crimes.

As noted at the launch in December 2014 of the Women’s Initiatives’ annual Gender Report Card on the ICC, today, 14 out of 20 ICC cases, and 4 out of 6 ongoing trials, include SGBV charges. In the past year the ICC confirmed all SGBV charges in the Gbagbo, Blé Goudé and Ntaganda cases and for the first time such charges were confirmed unanimously in two of these cases. Perhaps most significantly, in the Ntaganda case, for the first time under international criminal law, a military leader has been indicted for acts of sexual violence committed against child soldiers within his own militia. These new cases also mark a noticeable increase in the percentage of total sexual and gender-based charges being confirmed by ICC judges at the pre-trial stage, with the total jumping from 50% in 2013 to 62.8% in 2014, meaning of the cases reaching the trial stage, 27 out of 43 total SGBV charges sought by the ICC Prosecutor were confirmed.

While great strides have been made towards recognising SGBV crimes, there is no doubt that individual states, the ICC and the international community collectively must intensify efforts to end impunity. The Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, our partners, associates and members remain dedicated to supporting this international progress as well as to the expansion of domestic responses for accountability for conflict-related SGBV. Far from abandoning impunity, local and global developments, including at the ICC, provide clear signs that tolerance for gender-based violence is waning and that a global expectation of accountability for these crimes is stronger than it has ever been.

See the full International Center for Transitional Justice debate on whether the international community is abandoning the fight against impunity.





Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice Visit our website  

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The Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice would like to thank the following donors for their ongoing support:
■ Anonymous
■ Foundation Open Society Institute
■ Oxfam Novib
■ The Sigrid Rausing Trust
■ United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women
■ The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The views expressed in this publication are those of the Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice and do not necessarily represent the opinions of our donors or any of their affiliated organisations.

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