Searching for gender justice

How and when will the Rome Statute and Security Council Resolution 1325 actually contribute to the delivery of justice to a critical mass of the world’s women?

Laura Turquet Joanne Sandler
10 May 2010

Despite the best efforts of Volcano Eyjafjallajokull, the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice and the Nobel Women’s Initiative managed to convene the International Gender Justice Dialogue in Puerto Vallarta last month, bringing together a brain trust of individuals and organizations that are pounding on the doors of national, regional and global justice institutions to put justice for women on the agenda.


The gathering was held to develop a three-year global agenda to advance gender justice focused on use of accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court, international tribunals and peace processes. The timing is critical. Two 10-year anniversaries are upcoming this year– of the Rome Statute that established the ICC, which will be marked with a review meeting in Kampala in June, and of Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, to be commemorated in October in New York and worldwide. In both instances, advocates will celebrate the success of pushing global justice and security institutions to recognize the centrality of women’s rights to both justice and security. But the slow pace of change and continued absence of accountability will also be highlighted. In the past 17 years of special courts for Kosovo, Timor, Sierra Leone and others, not one senior military political leader far from the battlefield has been convicted for gender crimes, including sexual violence. In the 10 years since Resolution 1325 was agreed, still, not one woman has been appointed chief mediator in UN-sponsored peace talks.


The question remains: how and when will landmark decisions and resolutions like the Rome Statute and Security Council resolution 1325 actually contribute to delivery of justice to a critical mass of the world’s women?


In the context of international law, getting the right jurisprudence in place is critical and it was pointed out that much has been achieved in terms of defining gender-based crimes in international courts in just a decade. As Brigid Inder, Director of the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice argued, we need “justice cognizant and inclusive of the gender dimensions of violence…informed by intentionality of acts of sexual violence perpetrated by men against women, sometimes by men against men, and rarely by women against women”.


Making the procedures of justice gender sensitive is equally important. Firstly, because if they are not, women witnesses and victims will not come forward, making prosecutions more difficult. Rape is perhaps the only crime in which the victim is more stigmatised than the offender. And secondly, because if the experience those women have in court re-traumatises them, even if the right result is achieved, justice will not have been served. As Kristin Kalla, the Executive Director of the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims persuasively argued, justice for women who have been subjected to appalling crimes of sexual violence is as much about the process, about being heard respectfully and sensitively, as the outcome. Chavi Nana, the assistant to the ICC’s special gender advisor, Catharine MacKinnon pointed out that women will come forward and tell their stories if they are treated in the right way. So, on both counts, getting the processes right is critical. The role of women’s organizations here is indispensable.


One panellist said “Any time ngo's are not watching or pressuring the courts, sex crimes are ignored. If the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice didn’t exist, there would not be a fraction of the attention to gender-based crimes.”  And as Peace laureate Jody Williams said at the opening of the Dialogue , “Even if we have laws and proclamations on gender justice and inequality, it is only a beginning. It doesn’t necessarily translate into justice or equality for the majority of women.” Widney Brown from Amnesty International pointed to the potential of the ICC to move forward the principle of complementarity, whereby national governments are required to reform their domestic laws to meet the standards set out in the ICC in addition to their existing commitments under treaties such as CEDAW.


2010 provides a wealth of opportunity for higher level advocacy and commitment, and participants at the Dialogue raised many concrete and workable ideas on the process required to transform gender-biased justice institutions and to construct a global agenda to advance gender justice. These included:     


Learning from the work of the Women’s Initiatives work at the ICC, we need robust advocacy focused on the other courts, such as International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda to hold them to account and move the agenda forward. Currently, no such sustained lobbying and monitoring exists.

The presence of qualified, full time gender advisors in criminal tribunals makes a difference to whether and how well evidence is presented at the ICC, and ensuring that victims and survivors are supported. Funds are needed to sustain the presence of these advisors.

There continue to be attitudes amongst judges of international criminal tribunals that sex crimes are a lesser priority or inevitable. There is reluctance to prosecute military leaders far from the field of action for sex crimes, but there is no such reluctance with other types of crimes. Judges who fail or are reluctant to take these crimes seriously are not suitable for these positions. Judicial accountability is crucial to ensuring more just application and further development of jurisprudence in this area.

There is a need for searchable database of jurisprudence on sexual violence and gender-based crimes, accessible for advocates, judges and court officials. The War Crimes Research Office at the Washington College of Law is working on providing this vital information.

Reparations can be an important route to justice for women and the ICC is currently developing guidance in this area. Recognizing that no one size fits all is important. Individual payments to survivors are not always the most effective forms of justice. Sometimes, collective awards are preferable, especially where a group of victims has suffered similar harm. To inform this thinking, it is crucial to ask the women themselves how they perceive justice and what they want, which is the aim of research by the Trust Fund for Victims.

It is past due for the United Nations – as well as regional organizations that broker peace deals - to have a formal standardized protocol that ensures representation of women’s civil society groups in formal peace negotiations. The United Nations and donors for particular contexts should build incentives into peace processes to inspire the negotiating parties to put forward delegations that are at least thirty percent female. Donor countries could make this happen by, for instance, offering to pay for extra seats for all negotiating parties under the condition that they are filled by a woman.

All mediators and judges should receive gender-awareness training and briefing packages before beginning their assignments, ready with examples of gender-responsive jurisprudence, gender-responsive language for peace agreements, best practice, ways of engaging with women’s civil society, and a context-specific analysis of women’s situation.

Women’s participation in international criminal courts and in peace processes requires budget support.  Travelling costs, lodging costs, childcare costs, capacity building costs, and costs of physical protection must be covered.  Women’s human rights defenders in donor countries that espouse support for the Rome Statute and for Security Council resolution 1325 should hold their governments accountable to earmark a percentage of their financial support to peace negotiations or international and regional criminal tribunals to enable participation of representatives of women’s civil society organizations as both sources of expertise, as well as to monitor and build accountability for commitments made.

Women’s human rights advocates who have achieved recognition and influence for their extraordinary contributions – such as the six women Nobel laureates of the Nobel Women’s Initiative – must be willing to use their power and networks to amplify the voices of those who are calling on justice and security institutions to deliver for women.  What the Nobel Women are doing is a model for other groups – from former Supreme Court Judges to former heads of state – who can join together to further highlight the need to deliver justice for women.


Jody Williams’ reminder to participants to take into account the majority of women remains a priority. We have to demand that wars and crimes against women should be prevented in the first place.  International tribunals are designed to go after only a handful of high level perpetrators. Women have hope that the ICC will bring accountability and recognize crimes against them. But justice and accountability cannot be separated. In atrocity situations, there are thousands of perpetrators and no court in the world can prosecute them. What are the other forms of justice that women want? How can their countries and communities provide this and how can the international community support effective efforts to do so?




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