Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Panel 2: Security Council Resolution 1325: Women, Peace and Security

Madeleine Reese, Head of Women's Rights and Gender Unit, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, began her presentation by noting the limitations of international law as a tool of social transformation in post-conflict zones. She observed that progress in this arena has been tremendously slow, such that what often passes for success in the context of international law might not be so regarded elsewhere. In evaluating the potential of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, she stated that while it contained some 'packages' which would prove useful in improving women's political participation, ultimately its recognition of women as agents for social change was muted - particularly in its language, which advocates the participation of women 'where possible'. This presentation followed a broader theme which emerged in the papers presented at the conference: that blackletter law has little impact in the absence of proper implementation, backed by solid gender analysis. Ms. Reese argued that polarisation during conflict begins before conflict and is ultimately the product of social norms. While formal justice mechanisms were therefore important, they were unlikely to bear fruit unless regard was had to issues of recognition and redistribution.
First, it was important to ensure that transitional justice processes described women's experience of conflict accurately. Procedure and process ought to be adapted to fit the emotional and practical needs of participating women. To illustrate the problems which can arise in practice, Ms. Reese cited examples from the ICTY; including women travelling unaccompanied to the Hague to participate in the tribunal and unsupported on their return home. The jurisprudence on rape itself also generates difficulties for female victims. The requirement to prove that the victim did not consent deterred women from participating in the Yugoslav and Rwandan tribunals. Ms. Reese advocated more intelligent prosecution to overcome this difficulty. For example, prosecuting sexual violence against women as torture (as is often done in the case of sexual violence against men) would overcome the consent requirement. Second, women's social and economic rights ought to be enhanced so that they could overcome the social barriers which tended to exclude them from post-conflict negotiations. Ms. Reese argued that temporary special measures of positive discrimination ought to be applied post-conflict.

Col. Ben Klappe, Military Judge/Judge in the District Court Arnheim/Netherlands Defence Academy, presented ongoing efforts to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers. He began by noting that UN peacekeeping forces have been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse since the Balkan missions in the early 1990s. Col. Klappe's own presentation centred on allegations made against UN peacekeeping personnel in Bunia, DRC in 2004. The most recent set of allegations is contained in the Save the Children report No One to Turn to, published in May 2008, which claimed that sexual violence perpetrated against children went largely unreported. Col. Klappe outlined the following UN initiatives which aimed to tackle this problem:

Col. Klappe argued that a key obstacle in this area was the difficulty in disciplining perpetrators. Disciplinary power extends at most to repatriation and sending States retain exclusive criminal jurisdiction. The Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations mandated the development of a legal framework enabling criminal prosecution. The 2007 model memorandum of understanding between the UN and sending countries has shored up possibilities for enforcement. In the memorandum, sending countries undertake to bring the full force of their legal sanctions to bear in enforcing agreed standards of conduct for troops. Another important recent development from the victims' perspective is the General Assembly's adoption in 2007 of a victim assistance strategy. Under this strategy, victims would receive assistance to address their needs which could include medical treatment, social support, legal services or material care.


Lt. Col. Oliver Barbour, Irish Defence Forces/GBV Consortium, dealt with two related areas. First, he touched on the work of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence which has 14 members, including two Irish government departments as well as Irish human rights, humanitarian and development agencies. Its objectives are: to ensure that actions to prevent and respond to GBV are visible and systematically addressed in the work of its member agencies; to document and share resources on the prevention of GBV and to develop an advocacy strategy to promote awareness of and improve actions on prevention of GBV. The Consortium's Advocacy Group works to raise awareness of the consortium’s work and GBV, and is promoting the development by the Irish government of an effective Irish National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325. During 2008, the Consortium will build on its current training and dissemination work and will also host an international conference in Dublin.
Second, Lt. Col. Barbour discussed the wide range of attempts to integrate a gender perspective into EUFOR's recent operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His core message was that gender issues ought to be given effect at a practical operational level. In explaining the successes of efforts in the DRC, he discussed a number of key initiatives:
  • gender issues had been incorporated into the planning stage of the mission and eventually formed part of the operational plan.
  • a gender advisor was appointed to the EU OHQ to provide basic training for OHQ and FHQ personnel
  • reports on gender issues were compiled weekly.
  • a gender issues soldiers' card was developed which provided for a zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • women were specially trained to take part in patrols along with soldiers.

Lt. Col. Barbour reported that, as a result of these efforts, the force's credibility among local women and among influential women's organisations improved tremendously. However, he expressed concern that the legal officer was appointed gender officer at FHQ as he suggested that this 'double-hatting' undermined the importance of the role.


Summary provided by PhD candidate and IRCHSS scholar Máiréad Enright.

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Monday, 30 June 2008

Panel 3: The Role of Transitional Justice in Addressing Crimes of Sexual Violence

The second afternoon session, examining the response of transitional justice mechanisms such as truth commissions, trials and reparations to sexual violence was as depressing as it was informative. The three speakers brought experiential, methodological and geographic diversity to their papers, but the recurring theme was the immense difficulty of responding adequately to the psycho-social trauma of mass rape in the post-conflict environment.
Fionnuala Ní Aoláin focussed her discussion of truth, DDR and reparation mechanisms, but concentrated mainly on the limits of our understandings of harm. She argued that the exclusionary emphasis on sexual violence fails to fully understand the problem of women’s experiences in conflict situations. She used an examination of the afore-mentioned mechanisms to illustrate the gap between what women cite as harms and those that Truth Commissions and courts say are harms. Prof. Ni Aoláin also referred to the consistent criticism of transitional justice that it replicates the centuries-old division between the public and private sphere, reflecting make fears of violation over those suffered by many women. Similarly, the emphasis of transitional mechanisms on primary harms instead of secondary harms marginalises the experience of women who experience the latter in the same way as the former.
Professor Penny Andrews spoke of her extensive experience of transitional justice in South Africa, prefacing her remarks with the sobering observation that sexual violence rates have reached “epidemic” levels after 1994. Though international law has had a major impact on legal development in the State, it has not translated into protections for women bar in some encouraging isolated cases highlighted by the speaker. As Prof. Andrews pointed out, “a legal edifice can be in place but it doesn’t addresses attitudes”. A theme running through the three speaker’s comments was the inadequacy of transitional justice to respond to “ordinary” rape and the need for multi-faceted approaches. Prof. Andrews’ brief treatment of the Jacob Zuma case and the racialisation of gender-based violence shows how far justice and freedom in the private sphere are from the ostensible freedom in the constitution and state structures.
Judge Teresa Doherty, currently sitting in the Special Court for Sierra Leone and formerly of the Papua New Guinea Magistrate, High and Supreme Courts brought her experience in these courts to illustrate the difficulties of trial-based responses to gender-based violence. As presiding Judge in the AFRC trial, she has been responsible for crafting original jurisprudence on the crimes of forced marriage and sexual slavery. Prosecutions for rape and sexual violence remain all too rare so it was comforting to hear of this progress. Nonetheless, Judge Doherty’s references to trial of gender-based violence and sexual slavery in Papua New Guinea were once more sobering, capped by a tragicomic tale of a man who beat his wife to death who came before her court unable to understand that domestic chores might be subject to division between man and wife. In concurrence with her two preceding speakers, Judge Doherty stressed the necessity of education, and incontestable argument in light of the three discussions.

Summary provided by PhD candidate and Government of Ireland Scholar Pádraig McAuliffe.

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Panel 1: Responding to Sexual Violence – Recent Developments in International Law

The first panel session focused on the role played by International Law, and in particular, International Tribunals, in responding to Sexual Violence in conflicts. The session provided both an account of some positive developments in the area as well as problems, in respect of law (both International and domestic), and cultural and political challenges in responding to sexual violence.
The first speaker, Dr Kelly Askin, opened the session with an account of how the past 15 years has the recognition of Gender Based Violence (GBV) as a human rights issue. Taking the conference through the key court decisions from the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, she informed the conference that the cases have established that GBV can be prosecuted as a war crime even in cases of defendants who were “in charge” rather than directly involved in the crimes. However, setting the tone for the rest of the speakers, Dr Askin went on to note the many missed opportunities and acquittals, and the fact that it takes sustained pressure for these crimes to be successfully prosecuted in practice. She also noted that now that the International Tribunals had set down the jurisprudence, it was time for the domestic courts to “step up” and do more to prosecute GBV.
The downbeat tone was picked up by the next speaker, Professor Doris Buss, who presented findings on the legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Reporting on the “bleak” record of the Tribunal she noted that there was a very low success rate in prosecuting sexual offences. Problems were found at all points in the system – investigations, prosecution and trials. Professor Buss noted that whilst in International Law rape had become visible as a mass crime, it remained almost invisible at the point of the individual; and whilst International Law has developed significantly in relation to prosecuting GBV, the institutional and the cultural problems continue.
The final speaker, Amira Khair, presented a disturbing account of the practical experience of working with women victims of sexual violence in Sudan. The experience made clear how Sudanese law is not a solution to GBV, but is in fact part of the problem. The law on rape exposes the victims to further abuse, as it requires four male witnesses to establish a victim did not consent to the sexual act. Without these witnesses there is a danger that the victim could be prosecuted for adultery because she had sex outside marriage. The law therefore does not provide the space for victims to seek legal protection and/or justice; something reinforced by the cultural context of not speaking out in relation to sex.
The session concluded that International Tribunals using International Law were only part of the way in which rape victims can obtain justice. Local courts, truth and reconciliation commissions, reparations, all had a part to play in tackling GBV after a conflict. It also took courage on the part of the legal players; which in itself was a telling issue as Professor Buss concluded “How did we get to the point where it needed courage to convict someone for rape?”

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Tuesday, 13 November 2007

First ICC Trial to Begin in March 2008

The International Criminal Court has decided that Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga will be the first person to be tried before the Court (ICC decision). All evidence is to be turned over to his defence by December 14th of this year. Lubanga is charged with recruiting child soldiers in the Ituri district of the Congo. The trial is scheduled to begin on March 31, 2008.

The Ituri district saw some of the most intense violence in the Congo and the background is described in this HRW Report:



The war in Ituri is a complex web of local, national, and regional conflicts that developed after a local dispute between Hema and Lendu was exacerbated by Ugandan actors and aggravated by the broader international war in the DRC. National rebel groups such as the Congolese Liberation Movement (Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo, MLC), the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie-Mouvement de Libération, RCD-ML) and the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie-Goma, RCD-Goma) have supported local militia in their conflicts as a way to expand their own base of power in the DRC transitional government or perhaps even to derail negotiations. These national groups, as well as local ethnic groups in Ituri, have been and, in some cases, still are supported by the Ugandan, Rwandan and DRC governments. Ituri is now the battleground for the war between the governments of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC which have provided political and military support to local armed groups despite abundant evidence of their widespread violations of international humanitarian law.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Hunger Strike at the ICTR

JURIST reports that forty prisoners in Tanzania who are awaiting trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have gone on hunger strike in protest over the Prosecutor’s application to transfer them for trial in a Rwandan national court. The ICTR’s mandate runs only until December 2008, therefore we can perhaps expect that more applications of this nature will arise in order to ensure that the ICTR completes its work within its given time frame. The prisoners’ protest, however, that the Rwandan courts can not guarantee them a fair trial.

The problems surrounding transfer of prisoners of this nature and, indeed, the fate of people acquitted by the international tribunals (can they be returned to the country in which the alleged crimes took place? Are they prohibited from seeking asylum because of suspicion of involvement in war crimes, crimes against humanity etc…) have not attracted much attention in the scholarship, but Kevin Jon Heller (U Auckland) has a working paper on SSRN about the issues surrounding the destination of acquittees that raises some interesting points. The paper is a working piece and, some might say, could pay more attention to jus cogens or non refoulement but the issues that it raises are expressed in Heller’s characteristic evocative style and it comes recommended to anyone with an interest in these issues.

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