The world is facing an increasing number of new armed conflict situations, all characterized by widespread sexual and gender-based violence. Gender crimes, rape and other forms of sexual violence are near endemic to conflict and are intentionally used as tools of warfare to terrorize, degrade and punish communities. They also disproportionately affect women.
This International Women’s Day, states and civil society should pledge to support the ICC and the Rome Statute system as an important way to hold perpetrators to account.
The ICC is the first international court to recognize crimes against women as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The Rome Statute also provides protections for victims and witnesses, especially victims of SGBV, and that relevant Court organs have staff with expertise in SGBV.
By supporting the universality of the Rome Statute and the incorporation of Rome Statute crimes into domestic law, states and civil society can help ensure that the perpetrators of such crimes are held accountable.
The Court has come under some criticism for failing to include SGBV charges in some of its first cases. However, to make sure that sexual violence is no longer treated as a collateral crime or marginalized, important steps have been taken by the ICC Prosecutor to ensure that they are no longer overlooked.
This past summer, the Office of the Prosecutor published its Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-based Crimes, the first such document for an international court or tribunal.
The Policy Paper provides procedural guidelines for investigating and prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes. It also aims to promote transparency and predictability in the prosecution of such crimes under the Rome Statute framework.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda:
“The message to perpetrators and would-be perpetrators must be clear: sexual violence and gender-based crimes in conflict will neither be tolerated nor ignored at the ICC. We will spare no effort to bring accountability for these crimes and in so doing, contribute to deterring the commission of such heinous crimes in the future. As a matter of policy, the Office will systematically include relevant charges in its cases on the basis of evidence of criminality.”
At a time where there is an increasing recognition and documentation of the scale and occurrence of SGBV at the international level, International Women’s Day provides a moment to celebrate recent successes in strengthening and promoting women’s rights, as well as reflection on the work that remains to be done. The Coalition and other organizations will continue to work to end impunity for sexual and gender-based crimes and ensure that all victims have access to justice.
Jelena Pia Comella, deputy executive director of the Coalition for the ICC:
“International Women’s Day is an occasion to celebrate accomplishments and advancements for women’s rights, but it is also a time to recognize that much work remains to be done, especially regarding sexual and gender-based violence during conflict. The Rome Statute, with its special gender-related provisions, is an important tool for holding perpetrators of such crimes accountable. By ratifying and implementing the Statute—criminalizing sexual and gender-based violence—states can move closer to ending the commission of sexual and gender-based crimes during conflicts. We call upon all states to do so as quickly as possible.”
Alexandra Delemenchuk, coordinator of International Programs, Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine:
“The role of women and girls in peacemaking and transitional justice is very important, however they are often deprived of this voice and are instead relegated to the role of ‘victims’—of violence, harassment, famine, and torture committed by the parties to the conflict. We believe that the Rome Statute is their chance to access justice and to have this necessary voice heard. Let justice prevail.”
Esther Waweru, programme manager, Equality and Non-Discrimination, Kenya Human Rights Commission:
“Owing to their vulnerability, women and children are subjected to the worst forms of violations that are propagated against them on account of their gender identity and often suffer the greatest brunt of conflict and violence, including politically instigated violence. International criminal jurisprudence has decried rape as a weapon of war, largely affecting women and girls. This development is strongly anchored in the Rome Statute system and has formed a core area of interest and commitment by the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC. National justice systems must, therefore, draw inspiration from these international developments and consciously investigate, prosecute and deliver retributive and reparative justice for sexual and gender based crimes.”
Judith Acana, programme officer, Uganda, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice:
“Today, the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice celebrates International Women’s Day, together with our 6,000 grassroots partners, associates and members, the majority of whom are living in armed conflict countries with situations under investigation by the ICC. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, signed by 189 governments and unprecedented in its recognition of women’s human rights, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health, as well as the experience of women in armed conflict and the need for accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes. The 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration should inspire governments to exercise greater political will to implement this agreement, advance the experience of human rights for women worldwide, and ensure greater safety and security for women and girls during and after times of war.”
Have your say – What steps can we all take to advance women’s rights and stop sexual and gender-based violence?