As a delegate of the Public International Law and Policy Group, I recently attended the 18th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In addition to general debates among states parties regarding issues such as funding, election of new judges, and the general well-being of the court, various interesting side events took place, sponsored by states and NGOs. This post will briefly highlight two such side events – the first on The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence, and the second on Timing and Duration of Decision-Making at the ICC.
The first side event, “The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence – Translating the lived experience of sexual violence survivors into law and policy,” was sponsored by Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice (WIGJ) and by Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
The panel was moderated by Melinda Reed from WIGJ, and panelists included Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the ICC, Patricia Sellers, Special Advisor on Gender to the Office of the Prosecutor, Toufah Jallow, Toufah Foundation, Wayne Jordash, Global Rights Compliance, and Howard Morrison, ICC Judge. Opening remarks were delivered by the Swedish Director-General for Legal Affairs, H.E., Mr. Carl Magnus Nesser, and closing remarks were delivered by the Ambassador of Australia to the Netherlands, H.E. Mr. Matthew Neuhaus. Prosecutor Bensouda briefly spoke about her office’s efforts in prosecuting sexual violence offenders, and she emphasized the importance of the Ntaganda case, and this defendant’s conviction for crimes of sexual violence. Judge Morrison spoke about the difficulty of prosecuting and judging cases involving survivors of sexual violence, who may be unwilling to come forward and testify because of their culture and/or because of the inherent necessity of reliving the trauma which court testimony would entail. Special Advisor Seller highlighted the importance of case law in understanding how to prosecute future crimes of sexual violence, and Wayne Jordash described some of the difficulties associated with the international prosecution of crimes of sexual violence, as well as the failure to prosecute sexual crimes in the Lubanga cases. The most poignant moments of this panel, however, included remarks by Toufah Jallow, a young Gambian woman who recently came forward and accused the former Gambian president of rape and sexual violence. Ms. Jallow, who presently lives in Canada, spoke candidly about the assault, violence, and rape which she suffered at the hands of the then-Gambian president, who, according to Ms. Jallow, used sexual violence against her in order to punish her because she had rejected his offer of employment. Ms. Jallow emphasized the necessity to use concrete language when describing circumstances of sexual assault, as well as the need to overcome cultural barriers and speak out against rape and sexual assault. Ms. Jallow described how her own mother, who still lives in the Gambia, presently needed security, and how her mother may still believe that “a good African woman is supposed to remain silent” – event if subjected to rape and sexual violence. Ms. Jallow confirmed that she has already testified before the Gambian national truth commission, where she has repeated the same accusation against the former president. Finally, Ms. Jallow urged everyone to consider survivors of sexual violence as activists, and not simply as victims.
Finally, several panelists spoke about The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence, which can be found here: https://4genderjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/The-Hague-Principles-on-Sexual-Violence.pdf
According to some of the panelists, these Principles will hopefully become an important tool in prosecuting crimes of sexual violence.
The second side event, “It’s about time – revising the timing and duration of decision-making at the ICC,” was sponsored by the Wayamo Foundation and Austria, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Speakers included Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Lichtenstein to the United Nations, Elizabeth Evenson, Associate Director, Human Rights Watch, Lorraine Smith Van Lin, Post-conflict justice advisor, REDRESS, Shehzad Charania, Director of the UK Attorney General’s Office and International Law Advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office, and Mark Kersten, Senior Consultant, Wayamo Foundation, as moderator. Panelists addressed the ICC’s perceived inefficiency – the court’s seemingly long disposition of various investigations and cases. The panelists acknowledged that the ICC has handled a relatively small number of cases since its inception, and that some investigations and cases have taken a long time. At the same time, the panelists nuanced these remarks by noting that the court was an international adjudicative body with a wide mandate and complex cases, and that because of these unique characteristics, the ICC could not be easily compared to a domestic jurisdiction which may handle cases much more speedily. The panelists also warned that efficiency should not trump due process rights and that cutting corners within investigations, for the sake of speeding up proceedings, would not be a desirable result.
In addition to the above-described events, this year’s ASP will feature dozens of equally fascinating side events and more general debate among states parties. Stay tuned.