Sexual violence in armed conflict.

Author:Jurasz, Olga

This panel was convened at 9:00 am, Saturday, April 12, by its moderator, Dawn Sedman of Oxford Brookes University, who introduced the panelists: Tonderai Chikuhwa of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; Chris Dolan of the Centre for Refugee Law, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda; Olga Jurasz of Open University; and Kimberly Theidon of Harvard University. *


By Olga Jurasz ([dagger])

The topic of prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) by international criminal courts and tribunals is not new. Since the mid-1990s, international criminal tribunals have been successfully prosecuting crimes of SGBV committed during the armed conflicts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This groundbreaking step, starting with the decision of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Prosecutor v. Akayesu, (1) opened up unprecedented avenues of ensuring accountability for acts of SGBV at an international level. While the arguments can be easily advanced regarding the efficiency of individual criminal tribunals, as well as various flaws in defining some of the gender-based crimes in international law, the precedents set by cases such as Akayesu and Prosecutor v. Furundzija (2) introduced a new chapter in international criminal law. The jurisprudence of international criminal tribunals confirmed that acts of SGBV committed against women (as well as men) are an international crime and that perpetrators of such crimes are to be held accountable. Furthermore, it has also been shown that women as well as men can be prosecuted for committing acts of SGBV. This can be illustrated by the ICTR's decision in Prosecutor v. Nyiramasuhuko, where Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the former Minister for Family Welfare and Advancement of Women in Rwanda was held guilty of crimes against humanity, in particular, rape. More recently, the charges of rape and other forms of sexual violence as crimes against humanity were included in the ICC arrest warrant for Simone Gbagbo. (3)

It is fair to say that the prosecution of SGBV at an international level is a genie that is certainly not going back into the bottle. However, every new process (legal or otherwise) is bound to have its flaws, and the process of seeking international justice for gender-based crimes has indeed been paved with many obstacles. Nonetheless, with terms of the individual International Criminal Tribunals coming to an end and with the Special Court for Sierra Leone most recently completing its mandate, all eyes are now on the ICC as the only international criminal court.

In my remarks, I would like to focus on three points. Firstly, I would like to explore the prosecution of SGBV at the ICC so far and the challenges associated with this process. Secondly, I would like to comment on the way that SGBV is (mis)understood and (mis)conceptualized by the ICC. Finally, I would like to offer some reflections on what can be done in the future (and on what is perhaps already being done) to strengthen the process of building gender justice at...

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