The Gender Justice Shadow of Complementarity: Lessons from the International Criminal Court’s preliminary examinations in Guinea and Colombia

In early July 2013, Human Rights Watch reported that one of the alleged perpetrators of the 2009 Guinea stadium massacre, Lieutenant-Colonel Claude Pivi, has been charged with murder, rape and destruction of property. This was an important first step towards holding one of primary suspects of this atrocity to account. It was also a significant moment for the International Criminal Court (ICC), which in 2009 had commenced a preliminary examination –under the Rome Statute’s complementarity provisions – into this massacre, and the Guinean authorities efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators. However, as we point out in a forthcoming article in the International Journal of Transitional Justice [forthcoming: Volume 7 (3)] the Guinean case also highlights the existence of a ‘gender justice shadow’ in relation to the ICC’s complementarity processes, especially in relation to the investigation and prosecution of crimes of sexual violence against women.

Our article considers the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) preliminary examinations of both the Guinean massacre and the Colombian conflict and argues that, on an analysis of  publically available information, the OTP has applied a low threshold when assessing crimes of sexual violence against women against the three core criteria – state action, willingness and ability – of the Rome Statute’s complementarity test, effectively leaving intact impunity for these crimes.

Our argument here mirrors the work of Kevin Heller, who has shown that while the Rome Statute establishes the highest standards of due process for cases before the ICC, its complementarity provisions do not extend due process rights in national jurisdictions. Similarly, we suggest that there is a ‘gender justice shadow’ side to complementarity: the Rome Statute provides the most developed articulation of gender justice of any instrument of international criminal law, yet complementarity does little to extend these measures to the domestic level.

Members of the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, who were so influential in shaping the ground-breaking gender justice aspects of the Rome Statue, were the first to highlight this gender justice shadow. During the negotiations process in the late 1990s, the Caucus cautioned that unless the Rome Statute recognised in its complementarity tests of action, willingness and inability the gender biased features of national penal codes, especially weak substantive and procedural laws to address sexual violence against women, it ‘could result in impunity for crimes of sexual and gender violence’ (Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, ‘Gender Justice and the ICC’, paper presented at the Rome Conference, Italy, 15 June – 17 July 1998, 24; document with the authors). This argument has since reiterated by other commentators and academics (see Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice, Susana SáCouto and Katherine Clearly, and Amrita Kapur).

Our analysis shows that the OTP’s preliminary conclusions about complementarity in Guinea and Colombia have failed to take adequate account of crimes of sexual violence against women. There are questions as to whether the domestic proceedings have addressed either the same persons or the same crimes, particularly where sexual violence is involved. In both Guinea and Colombia, some of the sexual violence crimes documented by the OTP are not included in the domestic penal codes, and a lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess which individuals the OTP is investigating, and whether they have been charged for sexual violence at the national level.

Similarly, it appears that in the OTP’s application of the willingness and ability criteria in these two sites, gender biases in domestic law have been overlooked. Based on the available documentation, it seems there has been minimal, if any, attention given to impartiality in proceedings for victims of sexual and gender-based crimes or the limitations in local laws to allow for investigation and prosecution of a full range of sexual and gender-based crimes.

These problems of apparent non-recognition of gender justice issues in Guinea and Colombia are a legacy of the failure of States to include the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice’s suggestions to expressly integrate gender justice concerns in the complementarity provisions. The prediction made in the 1990s by the Women’s Caucus appears to have become a reality at least in Guinea and Colombia: ongoing impunity for many perpetrators of sexual violence, and little justice for the victims of these crimes. This is, we argue, the gender justice shadow of complementarity.

The positive side of the story is that the ICC’s second Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has professed a strong commitment to gender justice; building around her a team of advisors including Brigid Inder, Patricia Viseur Sellers and Diane Amann, who have high-level gender justice expertise. The creation of an overarching OTP gender policy, slated for release in 2013, will provide the chance for the Office to draw on lessons from its first decade in operation and establish new procedures which embed core gender justice concerns in ongoing and future complementarity assessments. At minimum is hoped that the OTP will provide clear criteria for evaluating action, willingness and ability at the preliminary examination stage in ways that capture existing gender biases in the law. In implementing this policy it will be important that the OTP, and the other arms of the Court, are as transparent as they can possibly be (within a highly sensitive legal context) about their recognition of gender biases when undertaking preliminary examinations and throughout the complementarity process. It is only when such information is available that a complete assessment can be made of the impact of the gender justice shadow of complementarity.

— Co-authored with Louise Chappell and Rosemary Grey.

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2 thoughts on “The Gender Justice Shadow of Complementarity: Lessons from the International Criminal Court’s preliminary examinations in Guinea and Colombia

  1. Pingback: Forthcoming in Int. Journal of Transitional Justice | Women and Conflict Economies

  2. Pingback: The Gender Justice Shadow of Complementarity: Lessons from the International Criminal Court’s preliminary examinations in Guinea and Colombia | Derecho Global

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