NEWS RELEASES - The International Center for Peace and Human Rights (CIPADH) attended the following conference: “Prevention, Accountability, and Gender: International Responses and Fighting Impunity by Investigation and Prosecuting Sexual and Gender Based Violence”, organized by the Permanent Mission of Finland and the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein as part of the Geneva Peace Week, on November 7, 2017 at the UN headquarters. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Peter C. Matt, Permanent Representative of Lichtenstein, and the panel included Ms. Catharine Marchi-Uhel, head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), Ms. Dianne Luping, Trial Lawyer from the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Mr. Andras Vamos-Goldman, Executive Director of the Justice Rapid Response (JRR). As the title of the conference indicates, the main themes examined were sexual and gendered crimes in conflict areas, and how to adequately investigate and prosecute them. This article aims to provide an overview of the key points raised by all three panelists.
Ms. Catharine Marchi-Uhel, representing the IIIM, whose role is to investigate and prosecute international crimes committed in Syria, was the first to discuss gender-based violence. She began her presentation with a personal anecdote of the testimonies she collected from survivors of sexual crimes during the Bosnian war, in which rape was used as a tool of terror and ethnic cleansing. Marchi-Uhel argued that even after the ICC rulings, the survivors of this gender-based violence faced denial and stigmatization in their home country, thus demonstrating the importance of fair investigations and prosecutions for peace. She then moved on to the Syrian conflict, and argued that sexual violence and gender crimes have been persistent, with noticeable trends and patterns such as crimes occurring in detention, forced marriages or coercive pregnancies. However, investigating them is a difficult task, as sexual crimes are highly unreported and associated with fear. The head of IIIM therefore advocated for the appointment of experts in investigations, the creation of support centers for victims (to assist with the trauma of sexual violence), the breaking down of false assumptions that gender-based crimes only affect women, the reflection of Syrian men and women’s experience in the investigative process, and the passing down of information to local organizations.
Ms. Diane Luping, trial lawyer at the ICC, echoed some of these objectives in her intervention, which she began by giving context on the legal framework of the Rome statute (treaty that established the ICC) for working on gender-based violence. Indeed, the audience was informed that sexual crimes are not necessarily of sexual nature, but are committed against someone on the basis of their gender. For instance, an enforced sterilization qualifies as a sexual crime. Additionally from discussing the prominent cases on which she has worked - such as Prosecutor v Bemba, in which Jean-Pierre Bemba, a military commander, was found guilty of two counts of crime against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) in the Central African Republic –, Luping also expressed concerns about the difficulties the ICC faces in accessing information, especially in light of the alarming rates of underreporting. Finally, she stressed the importance of appointing experts in investigations, as from a legal standpoint, their testimonies are considered more reliable.
The last panelist was Andras Vamos-Goldman, Executive Director of the Justice Rapid Response, a service provider to entities that have the jurisdiction or mandate to investigate mass atrocities. His intervention highlighted the importance of redress for victims, and accountability for perpetrators in attaining peace, and demonstrated that sexual and gender-based violence is no longer beyond accountability, because of pressure from survivors and survivor groups, the increased attention of states, and most importantly the availability of experts from around the world to investigate these issues. He claimed immense progress has been made over the past 8 years, specifically because of the growing expertise in gender difference, placed at the heart of investigations. A compelling argument from his presentation pertained to the credibility of investigating and prosecuting organizations giving victims the confidence that the rule of law will outweigh the “rule of the gun”, thus potentially resolving part of the issue of underreporting. In other words, when accepted by a community, international organizations have the power to break down cycles of violence.
Questions about who should investigate and who qualifies as an ‘expert’ were raised by the audience. The panelists responded that mentoring professionals in related fields is the priority, rather than simple training that could cause harm to the people the information is gathered from, if done inadequately. Furthermore, they came to the agreement that there is a need for bridging organizations (such as the IIIM), that gather information and transmit it to other associations that have the power and qualifications to make good use of them.
By Manon Fabre – Research Assistant at CIPADH