In celebration of this International Women’s Day, and in keeping with the year’s theme of Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality, we take a look at the role of the Rome Statute system of international justice in fostering a lasting global culture of gender equality.
The goal was agreed last year by the UN General Assembly as a fundamental element of its sustainable development agenda until 2030.
International Women’s Day brings into focus the urgency of the work of the ICC to end impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide crimes women and girls.
Global civil society in the Coalition for the ICC calls on all governments to promote justice for women and girls by ratifying the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, and by implementing its landmark gender provisions at the national level.
The UN sustainable development goals and the Rome Statute system
The Rome Statute is the first international treaty to criminalize persecution on the basis of gender. The Statute also requires that the entire body of ICC law be interpreted and applied in a non-discriminatory manner, including with respect to gender.
The Rome Statute is one of the first international treaties to extensively address sexual and gender-based crimes (sgbc) as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and in some instances, genocide.
It recognizes rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilizations, gender-based persecutions, trafficking of persons particularly women and children, and sexual violence as among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.
The ICC’s first cases either did not touch on sexual violence or resulted in acquittals on sgbc charges. The verdict in the trial of Congolese politician Jean Pierre Bemba is due on 21 March 2016. The case is the first at the ICC to focus on rape as a weapon of war. The ongoing trial of Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda trial saw judges confirm for the first time all sgbc charges brought, including trafficking in persons. The case against LRA commander Dominic Ongwen features the highest number of sgbc charges to date at the ICC.
While forced marriage and female genital mutilation are not explicitly mentioned in the Rome Statute, the ICC prosecutor is arguing the Statute can be interpreted to cover forced marriage as a crime against humanity in the case against LRA commander Dominic Ongwen. According to the OTP’s sgbc policy, the prosecutor will continue to test the ICC’s jurisdiction over acts of sexual violence, including female genital mutilation.
The Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) is an institution promoting restorative justice for victims of Rome Statute crimes. Among other activities, the TFV has coordinated with local NGO partners in Northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide psychological rehabilitation for entire affected communities, with a particular emphasis on sgbc.
These partnerships promote shared responsibility and peaceful coexistence among community members. Partnerships in DRC further provide materials support to improve economic status, rebuild community infrastructure, and create employment opportunities for women. The TFV is waiting for a security crisis to subside before launching such programmes in the Central African Republic.
The Rome Statute requires fair gender representation in the ICC’s staff and officials, including on the judges’ bench. The Court determined that as of March 2015, women constituted 48.1% of the Court’s professional posts.
While women occupied more than half of the lower professional positions, they are severely underrepresented at the higher levels.
ICC President Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi along with with vice presidents Joyce Aluoch and Kuniko Ozaki are women, as is ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
The Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, an active advocate for gender justice at the ICC, collaborated with local Ugandan partners and WITNESS to produce a short documentary entitled “No Longer Silent,” featuring testimonies of women abducted by the LRA. The film calls for reforms to Uganda’s Peace, Recovery and Development Plan to ensure women’s access to justice, land, housing, livelihood, and psycho-social and medical assistance.
The aftermath of sexual violence against women can be as destructive as the crimes themselves, often leading to cultural stigma and, in some instances, honor crimes. The Rome Statute notes the particular significance of protective and enabling technology for sgbc survivors testifying in ICC proceedings.
The ICC’s outreach programme also uses technology, such as video-streaming, to bring local affected communities, including sgbc victims, closer to judicial proceedings in The Hague. Such was the case with Dominic Ongwen’s confirmation of charges hearing in January.
In 2015, the ICC prosecutor launched the OTP’s Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes, the first document of its kind for an international court or tribunal. The OTP appointed a special gender advisor, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice Executive Director Brigid Inder, to help draft the comprehensive policy.
At the 2015 Assembly of States Parties, Swedish Minister of Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke commended the the OTP’s new policy paper on sgbc, which guides the OTP’s activities while providing states gender-sensitive expertise for incorporating the ICC’s sgbc provisions into domestic law. Kuhnke added that information exchange with civil society, including women’s rights groups, proves vital during the national implementation process.
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