The Blog offers information about recent decisions by international and internationalized tribunals, as well as relevant events, resources, and developments regarding gender and sexual-based violence. If you wish to contribute to the Blog, please send us an e-mail.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda Launches Preliminary Examination into Sexual Violence and Other Crimes in Burundi

On April 25, 2016, Prosecutor Bensouda announced that the Prosecutor's Office at the ICC is assessing the current crisis in Burundi to determine whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation. Prosecutor Bensouda stated that her office has heard reports that "more than 430 persons were reportedly killed, at least 3,400 people have been arrested and over 230,000 Burundians forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries". The Prosecutor announced that she has received information regarding alleged "acts of killing, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as cases of enforced disappearances". Noting that these are crimes that "appear to fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC" the Prosecutor has elected to open a preliminary examination into the situation in Burundi since April 2015.

Making the Case to end Gender Imbalance on International Courts: Data Matters

The gender imbalance in international courts is receiving renewed attention of late. Recent data show that women are found in dramatically low numbers on the benches of the majority of international courts. A new campaign—GQUAL– the Campaign for Gender Parity in International Representation—seeks to remedy this imbalance. One of the key aspects of the GQUAL campaign is to promote a better understanding of the effects of women's absence or under-representation in these spaces. Parity advocates argue that equal representation of women lends "greater depth, breadth and legitimacy to decisions made by institutions." Others underscore that on its face, it is troubling that women are not part of the very international bodies that are making decisions about war and peace, genocide, and the scope of human rights protections.


The presence of women as investigators, prosecutors and judges has been credited with advancing the cause of gender justice before international criminal tribunals in the past decade. For example, female judges like Navi Pillay (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda), Elizabeth Odio Benito (International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) and Teresa Doherty (The Special Court for Sierra Leone) helped develop jurisprudence that defined rape and sexual violence as genocide, rape as torture, and forced marriage as a crime against humanity.


To fully understand the importance of women in international tribunals, it is important to look at the whole picture. Women's presence as judges and prosecutors undoubtedly matter—but perhaps so does their role as defense counsel. How do we glean at what point of the proceedings their interventions matter the most? Does the presence of women change how female victims and participants are treated as others have suggested? As advocates for gender parity, where can we find the data we need to back up our claims that gender diversity matters? It turns out, it already exists in the form of the Gender Jurisprudence Collections (GJC) created by the War Crimes Research Office and the Women and the Law Program of American University Washington College of Law.


The GJC was created in response to a request by gender justice advocates who lamented the absence of a digital case document repository that was comprehensive, searchable, and keyed to significant gender issues. The GJC now contains more than 31,000 documents issued by thirteen international and hybrid tribunals, domestic courts, and human rights bodies. Users can search the database by up to 30 criteria and more than 130 keywords, including: the manner in which crimes are characterized (such as genocidal rape or rape as torture); substantive elements of the crimes (such as the definitions of consent or coercion); and procedural aspects of prosecutions (such as how courts address witness credibility or handle protective measures).


Perhaps the most underutilized search fields for the database are those related to the gender of the individuals who played key roles in the case. The GJC has an entire section of search fields under the category "Involvement of Women" that allows researchers to search more than 31,000 documents from not only the ICC and the ad-hoc tribunals, but also as far back as the Nuremburg Trials, by fields such as: Female Prosecutor, Female Judge, Female Victim, Female Victim Participant, Female Reparations Applicant, Female Victim Applicant, Female Witness, Female Accused, Female Defense Counsel, Female Civil Party Lawyer, Female Petitioner/Applicant, and Female Petitioner/Applicant Counsel. The addition of these search terms were not a mere afterthought, but incorporated into the structure of the database at an early stage after gender justice experts requested that we start tracking this data.


It has been said that "you can't just add women and stir," and presumably this holds true for women on international courts. The War Crimes Research Office and the Women and the Law Program hope that advocates and researchers will harness current momentum not only to study the impact that the presence of women in key roles has on the outcomes of these international criminal courts, but also to identify specific areas where their presence has changed discourse or strategy in a way that has had positive outcomes for gender justice. This will allow us as a community of advocates to both successfully argue for parity, but also help us to identify best practices that could be shared and evaluated in other contexts, particularly in domestic legal systems.

ICTY Convicts Radovan Karadžić

On March 24, 2016, Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted Radovan Karadžić, former President of Republika Srpska (RS) and Supreme Commander of its armed forces, of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war committed by Serb forces during the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), from 1992 until 1995. He was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment.


The Judges found that between April 1992 and November 1995, Karadžić participated in a joint criminal enterprise (JCE) to spread terror among the civilian citizens of Sarajevo by deliberately sniping and shelling civilians. "Sarajevo civilians were sniped while fetching water, walking in the city, and when using public transport. Children were sniped at while playing in front of their houses, walking with their parents or walking home from school" said the Presiding Judge Kwon, according to an ICTY press release.


Karadžić was also convicted of genocide in the area of Srebrenica in 1995. Presiding Judge Kwon announced "As the President of the RS and Supreme Commander of the VRS, [Karadžić] was the sole person within the RS with the power to intervene to prevent the Bosnian Muslim males [from Srebrenica] from being killed". Instead, Kwon stated that Karadžić personally ordered that the Bosnian Muslim male detainees who were then being held in Bratunac be transferred elsewhere to be killed. The Chamber also found that a vast number of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats in the Municipalities were forcibly displaced from their homes by Serb Forces. Other victims were arrested, detained in detention facilities, often under inhumane living conditions, subjected to torture, beatings, rape and other acts of sexual violence, and then transported out of the Municipalities. Serb Forces also killed many Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats during and after the take-over of the Municipalities, in mass executions or following attacks on non-Serb villages. The Chamber found that, in relation to the Municipalities, Karadžić is guilty of the crimes against humanity of persecution, extermination, deportation, forcible transfer and murder. The Chamber was, however, unable to identify or infer genocidal intent and therefore did not have sufficient evidence to find, beyond reasonable doubt, that genocide was committed in the Municipalities.

ICC Finds Jean Pierre Bemba Gombo Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Including Rape

On March 21, 2016, Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court found Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo guilty beyond any reasonable doubt of two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging). The crimes were committed in Central African Republic from on or about October 26, 2002 to March 15, 2003 by troops over which Bemba had control. The Chamber concluded that Bemba's soldiers directed a widespread attack against the civilian population that included many acts of pillaging, rape, and murder over a large geographical area, including in and around Bangui, PK12, PK22, Bozoum, Damara, Sibut, Bossangoa, Bossembélé, Dékoa, Kaga Bandoro, Bossemptele, Boali, Yaloke, and Mongoumba. The Chamber found beyond a reasonable doubt that the crimes against humanity of murder and rape, and the war crimes of murder, rape, and pillaging committed by these forces were a result of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo's failure to exercise control properly.

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