20 Jul A Special Issue in the Journal of International Criminal Justice on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Domestic Accountability: Why Now and Why You (and Governments) Should Read It
The United Nations Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict (the Team of Experts) and the Journal of International Criminal Justice (the Journal) have launched a Special Issue on the progress and challenges in advancing accountability for conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) through national judicial institutions. It has been a bit over a decade since the Security Council created a dedicated mandate to address sexual violence in conflict, and we think that it is time to take stock.
In 2008, the United Nations Security Council stressed the importance of ending impunity “as part of a comprehensive approach to seeking sustainable peace, justice, truth and national reconciliation.” This resolution affirmed the primary responsibility of States to investigate and prosecute crimes occurred in their jurisdictions, reflecting the recently adopted principle of complementarity, underlying the ICC regime. Indeed, this approach represented a shift in expectations: from a period where the implementation of international humanitarian, criminal and human rights law was led by international institutions to a time where national systems of justice are increasingly expected to provide more opportunities for access to justice for victims for serious international crimes.
However, the Security Council also recognized the challenges that confront national systems in fulfilling their obligations to end impunity for CRSV. The Council established the Team of Experts to support national authorities in strengthening the rule of law with the aim of ensuring criminal accountability for perpetrators of CRSV. This Team is formed with staff from DPO, Office of the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict, OHCHR, and UNDP to bring together the pillars of peace, development, and human rights that must be unified to address CRSV.
After a decade, the Team of Experts, together with its partners, has worked to ensure and catalyze efforts of national law enforcement and judicial actors. During this period, the investigation and prosecution of CRSV progressed significantly. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, national courts have issued a number of convictions for rape as a crime against humanity. The Kavumu case, one of these landmark cases for which the Team of Experts provided specific technical support, demonstrated the creative legal approach of local judges. For example, these judges used article 27 of the Rome Statute in an innovative manner to deem irrelevant the immunity of the defendant – a sitting member of the provincial parliament. In DRC, as in Central African Republic, the TOE observed that one of the main obstacles to reporting CRSV is trust in national institutions by the people they are meant to serve and that surveying those perceptions on justice over time is critical to measuring progress and anticipating challenges.
That is why the Team of Experts and the Journal joined to produce this Special Issue. The Special Issue is not merely hagiographic. As national jurisprudence on CRSV grows, it is crucial to examine it. And it is crucial to understand how those with an interdisciplinary background can reflect on improving justice delivered to victims; or how to create an evidence-based record of the widespread use of CRSV globally against women, girls, men, and boys, in conflict and fragile settings that can be used in years to come. It is equally important to understand what challenges persist and emerge: as one example, how the law and political actors have fallen short in acknowledging and responding to different forms of sexual violence perpetrated by violent extremist groups.
On July 21, the Team of Experts, with Columbia University, EUI, HHI, WashU, will launch a seven-part Digital Dialogue Series where these topics will be discussed with some of the leading practitioners in the field. The Digital Dialogues will be held monthly, focusing on different CRSV issues and bringing together different experts from all regions and backgrounds. The Digital Dialogue Series are webinars that can be joined by anyone. They have been designed to ensure that academics, policymakers and practitioners can have open discussions, provoke critical reflections, and hopefully inspire a community of practice with delivering truly accessible and effective survivor-centered justice. We hope you can both read the Special Issue and join us for the Digital Dialogues.