Horrors of a Rape Trial in India: A Saga of threat for masturbation or delivery of Justice?

Introduction

About 50% of the Indian male population is positively traced with a sexual dysfunction which creates hindrances in basic human instincts, leaving one crippled with ignominy. Impotence is the inability in developing or maintaining a penile erection sufficient to conclude the act of intercourse to orgasm and/or ejaculation occurring biologically which is mainly of two types-physical and psychological. Unlike sterility, potency is transitorily dependent on various factors. Untreated Impotence results in sexual sadism. The Mental Healthcare Act 2017, disregards sadism or psychologically generated impotence, indirectly making India the “impotence capital of the world.”

Secondly, the atrocious Impotence Test prevailing chiefly is considered a decisive piece of evidence in cases of rape. This embarks the beginning of torture in the Indian Criminal Justice System. The inhumane approach adopted by the Indian Penal Code in giving discretionary powers to the police officers attacks the scheme of the Indian Constitution. Despite the generic relevance of the test in most cases, routine practice violates Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Indian Constitution. In this article, we highlight the extraneous essence of the impotence test in light of the Indian Criminal justice system and the Indian Constitution.

The terror of the Impotence Test

Traditional female-centric laws pertaining to sexual offences in India butcher male integrity and violate their basic human rights. Checking the potency in rape cases remains a significant practice of law. The relevance of potency extends to adoption, nullity of marriage and divorce along with sexual offences.

Section 53 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.) showers “unfettered discretionary power” on police to believe that an examination will afford evidence for the case and wistfully magistrates are ousted of such powers. The lacunae in the provision can be identified as:

Firstly, according to acclaimed Modi’s Indian Medical Jurisprudence, the potency test establishes the capability of committing the alleged sexual acts but the hamartia is the laxity of courts in considering situational and psychological factors, resulting in varying opinion of courts on similar matters.

Secondly, force may be used by the police authorities on the unwilling person to collect samples, otherwise threat of masturbation performed on him is invited caused by wrongful interpretation. Religious seers,like Raghaveshwara Bharathi and Asaram accused of rape faced a similar threat. The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018, bifurcates consent required in taking bodily fluid into two instances, written Consent  in crimes with less than 7 years of punishment and no consent for crimes with punishment of more than 7 years. The clear legislative intent is to differentiate between the two which gets contradicted by the unchecked power given to police authorities in deciding the necessity of performing the examination. Thus, the Indian Penal Code violates the ‘due process of law’ of the Indian Constitution.

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State Sponsored Persecution of Uighur Muslims in China

It is a well known fact that the People’s Republic of China is infamous for carrying out human rights violations on a large scale. Right now, an organized state sponsored reign of terror is being perpetuated by the authoritarian regime against the Uighur Muslims  of the country. The Uighur Muslims are an ethic Turkish minority group residing in the northwestern region of Xinjiang province of China. This region is known as Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). 

Ever since Chen Quanguo , the Chinese Communist party secretary, has been given the charge of XUAR, the crimes against the Uighur Muslims have considerably increased through their illegal detention in internment camps. Though there is little information about the treatment of detained Uighur Muslims in these camps, some credible sources have reported that detainees are forced to live in prison like conditions in these camps and are subjected to torture on a regular basis. Apart from these, the Uighur Muslims are also subjected to state surveillance so as to ensure that they are prevented from practicing Islam in any form or manner. Furthermore, the Chinese government has also adopted the policy of harvesting human organs from the Uighur Muslim community. 

Beijing has often responded to accusations about illegally detaining Uighur Muslims by terming the detention or internment camps as ‘re-education centres’ for the betterment of the Uighur Muslim Community. However, this is a poor attempt on Beijing’s part to thwart any criticism by the international community.

China’s Violation of International Law

The mass detention of Uighur Muslims, prevalence of torture against detainees, lack of information about the whereabouts of the detainees and the harvesting of their organs constitute crimes against humanity. Article 7 of the Rome statute of the International Criminal court lays down the criteria as to what specifically constitutes Crimes against Humanity and that criterion is being fulfilled by the Chinese government. Crimes against humanity take place when civilians are subjected to continuous human rights violations which are ignored or perpetuated by the governing authorities. According to Article 7(2) (a) of the Rome statute , crimes against humanity are committed in accordance with the state’s formal policy as in the case of China.  Additionally, according to the Rome statute, persecution of a community on the basis of religious or cultural ground also constitutes a crime against humanity.

Application of Human Rights Law

There are four major conventions on human rights and China is a party to all four of them. These are the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination , the International Covenant on Economic, social and Cultural Rights , Convention against cruel and other, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Through the unjustified mass detention of the Uighur Muslims, China has been flouting the above mentioned conventions and has drawn widespread criticism from around the world. 

Crimes against Uighur Women 

China is also a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It is arguably the most widely violated convention by China when it comes to Uighur Muslims. Reports have emerged that Uighur Women are subjected to rape, medical experiments, forced sterilization and their menstrual cycles are often disrupted so as to prevent them from procreating. Apart from that, China is also implementing a ‘ Pair Up and Become a Family’ program under which Uighur women are forced to live in the same household as communist party officials so as to acquaint them with the ethnic Han Chinese culture. All these are indicative of the fact that China has been violating the CEDAW. 

Conclusion

Under the garb of combating religious extremism, China has adopted policies against the Uighur Muslim Community which have resulted in the creating of genocide like situation in the Xinjiang province. The cultural genocide that is being committed by China deserves much more attention from the world. Owing to the country’s global influence, it hasn’t received the kind of backlash that it deserves from the world community.

New Women in International Law Scholarship Prize

The Inaugural Women in International Law Interest Group (WILIG) Scholarship Prize Committee (Lori Damrosch, Adrien Wing, Viviana Krsticevic, Nienke Grossman and Milena Sterio) is excited to create the inaugural WILIG Scholarship Prize.

The WILIG Scholarship Prize aims to highlight and promote excellence in international law scholarship involving women and girls, gender, and feminist approaches. Although scholars have utilized gender and feminist analyses in international law for at least a quarter of a century, such approaches frequently fail to permeate the mainstream of international legal scholarship and practice. This prize, awarded every two years, recognizes innovative contributions to international law scholarship that theorize or utilize a feminist lens or lenses, highlight and seek to address topics disproportionately affecting women and girls, or consider the impact of international law or policy on gender more broadly.

WILIG’s Scholarship Prize Committee invites all ASIL members to submit a single article, chapter, or book published in the last three years, for consideration. Self-nomination is welcome, as is nomination of others. The Committee will consider the following criteria in granting the award, and encourages nominators to include a brief cover letter describing how the submitted work meets these criteria:

(1) Appropriate Substance. The work utilizes a feminist lens or lenses, addresses a topic that disproportionately affects women and girls, or considers the impact of international law or policy on gender more broadly.

(2) Innovative. The work addresses topics not covered by previous scholars, highlights diverse perspectives on law and policy, uses new theoretical or methodological approaches, or applies theoretical or methodological approaches to topics in new ways.

(3) Learned. The work demonstrates in-depth knowledge and expertise concerning a topic.

(4) Impactful. The work has affected or has the potential to affect the way scholars and policy-makers view or address a particular topic or issue going forward.

Please email your cover letter and scholarly work to lschnitzer@ubalt.edu with subject line “WILIG Scholarship Prize Submission” by June 15, 2020. Questions about the prize can be emailed to wilig@asil.org.

The WILIG Scholarship Prize will be awarded at the WILIG Luncheon at the 2021 ASIL Annual Meeting.

Conflict-related sexual violence: what are we talking about? (Part 1)

In the context of the author’s attendance to the 18th Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court, this blogpost aims at sharing knowledge about conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and providing a preliminary understanding of the issue. It first explores the use of CRSV through history. Then, it highlights how it targets both women, girls, men and boys. Last but not least, this blogpost depicts the slow development of international tribunals’ responses to this scourge.

I. Conflict-related sexual violence is an old phenomenon…

According to the United Nations, CRSV refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict. The term also encompasses trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual violence or exploitation, when committed in situations of conflict. 

The French NGO We are NOT Weapons of War stresses that sexual violence used as a weapon of war has always been present in conflict, even though its victims have long seemed invisible. This idea is also supported by Stand Speak Rise Up, a non-profit organization from Luxembourg. In its white book, we can read that sexual violence in conflict is not new and the historical roots of this phenomenon are deep: from the Viking era to the Thirty Years’ War and the Second World War, rape has been part of the “spoils of war” throughout history, a weapon of the victors and conquerors. War rape is rarely the result of uncontrolled sexual desire, but rather a way to exert power and install fear in victims and their community. 

In the 1990s, the conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region marked a major turning point in the use of sexual violence as a weapon to weaken and subdue vulnerable populations or to advance a political agenda. The Stand Speak Rise Up white book explains that CRSV was methodically organized and implemented in cold blood on a very large scale. Sexual violence in particular was also a tool of submission and terror at the end of the Cold War. 

Still nowadays, sexual violence can play a vital role in the political economy of terrorism, with physical and online slave markets and human trafficking enabling terrorist groups to generate revenue from the continuous abduction of women and girls. As an example, the Yezidi community in Iraq suffered and still suffers from these crimes, as the so-called Islamic State continues to target women and girls, abducting them and reducing them to sexual slavery and forced marriages. 

Perpetrators of such acts are often affiliated with States or non-State armed groups, including terrorist entities.

II. …that targeted and still targets both men, boys, women and girls…

In September 2019, during the United Nations 74th General Assembly, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict recalled that conflicts exacerbates existing gender inequalities, exposing women and girls to various forms of sexual and gendered-based violence. Women and girls, in particular, suffer sexual violence in the course of displacement, navigating their way through checkpoints and across borders without documentation, money or legal status. It is also important to note than men and boys also suffer from conflict-related sexual violence . 

Conflict-related sexual violence refers to incidents including rape, gang rape, forced nudity and other forms of inhumane and degrading treatment in a context of armed conflict. A disturbing trend is that sexual violence is increasingly perpetrated against very young children. The Secretary-General emphasized that during the Colombian civil war, that has lasted for 50 years, rebels systematically used sexual violence against the civilians, targeting women as well as their children. The Colombian Constitutional Court has recognized “a widespread, systematic and invisible practice.” It is also important to keep in mind that both men and women can be perpetrators. 

Colombia’s Constitutional Court issues landmark decision recognising victims of reproductive violence in conflict

A month ago, on 11 December 2019, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued an important decision recognising that women and girls who suffered forced contraception and forced abortion by their own armed groups should be recognized as ‘victims of armed conflict’. The decision is one of very few in the world to specifically recognise reproductive violence as a form of harm committed against women and girls in times of conflict. It thus sets important legal precedent in recognising a form of gender-based violence that has long remained invisible. Although the full written decision has not yet been made available, a summary of the decision has been published. In what follows, I analyse this summary.

Helena’s case

The case was brought by Women’s Link Worldwide on behalf of Helena (pseudonym), a young woman who had been forcibly recruited into the FARC at the age of 14. While with the FARC, she was forced to take contraceptives (injections) and forced to undergo an abortion when she became pregnant. She suffered significant and long-lasting health consequences as a result of the unsafe conditions in which these procedures were forcibly carried out. Continuing to suffer negative health consequences, Helena fled and was in hiding for many years until the peace deal with the government was signed. In 2017, she submitted an application to be recognised as a victim and to seek reparations under Colombia’s Law on Victims and Land Restitution (Law 1448). This law, adopted in 2011, recognizes victims of the armed conflict and confirms their rights to truth, justice and reparations. It includes provisions on the restitution of land and other reparations, and requires that special attention be paid to the needs of specific groups and communities, such as women, survivors of sexual violence, trade unionists, victims of forced displacement, and human rights defenders.

The agency charged with the registration of victims under this reparations framework (UARIV), however, subsequently denied Helena’s claim for victim status. In doing so, UARIV had relied upon an article in Law 1448 that denied victim status to members of illegal armed groups (Article 2(3)), and held that, in any case, Helena’s claim was submitted outside of applicable timelines set out in Law 1448. Helena fought this decision; while the first instance court did grant her access to government-provided medical support, her claims for recognition as a victim and for reparations under Law 1448 were dismissed in both first and second instance. She thus appealed her case to the Constitutional Court, who heard the matter in 2019, and issued this landmark decision at the end of last year. Importantly, Helena’s case was selected for review by the full panel of nine judges, rather than being decided upon by a panel of three judges. This illustrates the importance the Constitutional Court attached to the issues.

Constitutional Court’s decision

In its December 2019 decision, the Constitutional Court firstly found established that Helena was the victim of grave violations of her fundamental rights. The Court subsequently held that in dismissing her application to be registered as a victim of the armed conflict, UARIV violated Helena’s fundamental rights on two grounds. Firstly, UARIV had violated Helena’s rights as a victim by failing to interpret the applicable rules in accordance with established constitutional principles of most favourable interpretation, good faith, pro personae, and the primacy of substantive law. Secondly, UARIV failed to properly substantiate its decision by neither acknowledging the acts of forced abortion and forced displacement Helena suffered, nor by recognising that Helena’s specific circumstances constituted force majeure, preventing her from submitting an application within designated timelines.

The Court acknowledged that, on its face, Article 2(3) of Law 1448 allowed for the denial of victim status to ex-combatants who demobilised as an adult, and that, under this interpretation, Helena would have to seek reparations through other mechanisms, not including Law 1448 (as Helena fled the FARC after she turned 18). However, the Court also questioned whether this exclusion in Article 2(3) was consistent with Colombia’s obligations towards victims of the armed conflict, noting in particular the coercive nature of the practice of forced contraception and abortion within the FARC and that these acts were often perpetrated upon girls under 18, or upon young women who had only just reached the age of maturity.

According to the Court, denying Helena the right to be recognised as a victim under Law 1448, therefore, would violate her rights to access justice and to timely and adequate protection measures. Noting the principal obligation on the state to recognise victims of sexual violence as victims in such a way as to guarantee their rights to integral reparations, the Court also held that as a victim of sexual violence committed within an armed group, Helena would not have access to other avenues of reparations beyond Law 1448. As such, for the Court, registration in the Register of Victims constituted her only available avenue to adequately repair her fundamental rights.

Importantly, the Court held that the exclusion stipulated in Article 2(3) could not become an obstacle to reparations for victims of sexual violence who, as ex-combatants, were forcibly recruited into those illegal armed groups at a young age. Such a rigid interpretation of Article 2(3), according to the Court, would thus create an unconstitutional lack of protection and vulnerability. The Court also reiterated the state’s obligation to provide immediate, comprehensive, gender-sensitive and specialised health care to all victims of sexual violence by armed actors for such time as deemed necessary to overcome the physical and psychological health consequences of such violence.

For this reason, the Court relied upon the principle of declaring a ‘constitutional exception’ (la excepción de inconstitutionalidad) as provided for in Article 4 of Colombia’s Constitution to overrule the applicability of Article 2(3) of Law 1448 to Helena’s case. Pursuant to this principle, when faced with a conflict between an ordinary legal norm and a constitutional norm, the Court may declare a constitutional exception to preserve rights guaranteed by the constitution in a specific case. In this case, the Court held that relying upon this principle was the only way to guarantee Helena’s fundamental rights and to find an adequate balance between Colombian law and Colombia’s international legal obligations under international humanitarian law and international criminal law. Not doing so, the Court stressed, would give rise to consequences that it held to be unconstitutional. As such, the Court rendered Article 2(3) of Law 1448 inapplicable to this specific case.

The Court thus ordered:

  • that the decision by UARIV not to include Helena in the Register of Victims be declared void;
  • that within 10 days of the date of its decision, UARIV admit Helena to the Register of Victims on the basis of her having suffered forced recruitment as a child, sexual violence (including forced use of contraceptives and forced abortion), and forced displacement;
  • that within 15 days of the date of its decision, UARIV reinstate the provision of psychosocial and medical assistance to Helena to address the emotional, mental health and physical effects of having suffered sexual violence;
  • that in the provision of integral reparations to Helena, UARIV take a gender-sensitive approach to ensure her fundamental rights; and
  • that the health services provide and guarantee access to Helena to immediate, comprehensive, gender-sensitive, specialised care for as long as necessary to address the physical and psychological consequences of the violations she suffered.

Significance of the decision

In finding in favour of Helena’s registration as a victim of the armed conflict, this case establishes that ex-combatants who were forcibly recruited into illegal armed groups and suffered sexual violence, as well as reproductive violence, within those armed groups may seek victim status and thus have access to reparations under Law 1448 – a right they did not have before – regardless of the age at which they demobilised or fled. Beyond the significance of this finding for the claimant in this specific case, therefore, this decision also sets important legal precedent in recognising that victims of sexual and reproductive violence within armed groups are victims of armed conflict. This follows earlier jurisprudence by the International Criminal Court in the Ntaganda case (here and here; see also this 2017 post by IntLawGrrl Rosemary Grey). The Colombian decision is also one of very few in the world to specifically recognise reproductive violence as a distinct form of harm committed against women and girls in times of conflict.

As part of the case, the Court received 17 expert briefs from national and international human rights organisations, women’s rights organisations, academics and international experts, including one from the author of this blog post (written jointly with Ciara Laverty). In our amicus request filing, we offered the Court a comprehensive overview of the way in which reproductive violence long remained invisible in international law, how it is increasingly being recognised, and why it should be recognised as a specific and distinct form of harm, including when committed within armed groups.

Reproductive violence is a widespread yet understudied phenomenon that occurs in times of both conflict and of peace. It can have serious physical, mental, emotional and other consequences that persist long after the violence has occurred. It is a form of victimisation connected to but also different from sexual and other violence, due to the distinct harm it inflicts and the underlying value it is said to violate, i.e. reproductive autonomy. Although reproductive violence affects individuals of all genders, there are distinct forms of harm and violence that are inflicted only upon women and girls because of and directly targeting their sex-specific biological reproductive capacities, such as forced contraception, forced abortion and forced pregnancy.

Historically, however, there have only been few instances where such violence has been independently recognised and considered. This left reproductive violence relatively invisibilised in international law. Nonetheless, current developments reflect a growing recognition that reproductive violence constitutes a distinct form of violence that should be independently recognised as violating specific, individual rights and may also constitute (international) crimes in certain circumstances. This decision by the Colombian Constitutional Court recognising the specific victimisation of female ex-combatants through forced contraception and forced abortion thus contributes to providing greater legal recognition to a form of gender-based violence that has long remained invisible in international law.

Importantly, in addition to claiming her rights as a victim through the constitutional action that was the subject of this decision, Helena has also requested participation as a victim in case 007 before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. As such, further jurisprudence, including on individual criminal responsibility for acts of reproductive violence such forced contraception and forced abortion, may be forthcoming in Colombia.

Stay tuned!

ICC Assembly of States Parties Symposium: Day One

ICC Prosecutor at ICC ASP18

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Dec. 2, 2019 – Photo Credit: ICC

Welcome to IntLawGrrls’ symposium on the annual meeting of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Assembly of States Parties (ASP). The 18th session of the Assembly runs from December 2-7 in The Hague, Netherlands.

This year’s ASP will hold a plenary discussion on inter-State and regional cooperation initiatives for the effective implementation of the ICC’s mandate. It will also consider threats and challenges to the ICC, ways to strengthen the Rome Statute system, the 2020 ICC budget, preparations for the ICC elections of six new judges and a new Prosecutor taking place at next year’s ASP, victims’ rights, and potential amendments to the Statute, among other issues.

ASP President O-Gon Kwon opened the ASP, noting that “[t]his year the Assembly faces key decisions on the way forward in view of the anticipated review of the Court, one that would ultimately strengthen the Court and enable it to successfully confront the challenges that it faces today.” He also congratulated the newest state to accede to the Rome Statute, Kiribati, which deposited its instrument of accession on November 26. It will become the 123rd State Party.

ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji began his speech in a very direct manner, stating that “During the past 15 months, the ICC has been subjected to unprecedented threats in a very public way, from leading officials of the incumbent Government of a powerful country”, referring to the September 2018 speech by former US National Security Adviser John Bolton. Bolton threatened ICC officials with various sanctions to deter them from opening an investigation into the Afghanistan situation and potentially implicating US citizens. That threat was subsequently reiterated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the cancellation of the Prosecutor’s standing travel visa to the United States. Eboe-Osuji said: “These threats were made in a very plain and unvarnished attempt to subvert the ‘course’ of action of a legitimate multilateral judicial institution.” He continued, “notwithstanding that the Court will do its work undeterred, I must urge, in the most fervent terms, that YOU, the States Parties to the Rome Statute, must do all that it takes – and be prepared to do more – to counter these threats, in all their ramifications.” The Prosecutor’s appeal on her request to open an investigation into the Afghanistan situation will be heard at the ICC this week.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda presented an overview of her Office’s successes and challenges from the past year. The successes include the opening of an investigation into the situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar, while the failures include the acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé and the judges’ denial of her request to open an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan (currently on appeal). Referring to international divisions, she stated that “it is precisely at times like these when international criminal justice and indeed efforts to address gross human rights violations are under assault; when we are witnessing a clash and crisis of fundamental values, the courage and conviction must guide our actions to protect our common values and goals as defined under the Rome Statute”. She noted that attacks against the ICC will undoubtedly rise as the Court increases its work in more situations.

The General Debate also began today, with statements from numerous states. Echoing ICC President Eboe-Osuji’s theme, many states highlighted the need for States Parties to robustly defend the ICC against external threats to its work and its independence. States also referred to measures aimed at reviewing the Court’s performance as being essential steps in reinforcing the Court’s effectiveness. A number of states discussed the specific challenges facing the Prosecutor when investigating and prosecuting sexual and gender based crimes.

Some of the speakers today also called for the adoption of an amendment to the Rome Statute to include starvation as a war crime in situations of non-international armed conflicts. This amendment would mirror the same crime aready listed in the context of international armed conflicts.

Many states were focused on the 2020 elections of the next Prosecutor and six new judges, calling for transparent and objective processes to nominate and elect the most highly qualified individuals to lead the Court. Both Georgia and the United Kingdom announced judicial candidates for those elections.

One side event to take note of today was the launch of “The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence”, which aim to translate the lived experience of sexual violence survivors into law and policy. These were created as a result of consultations throughout 2019 with more than 500 survivors, over 50 civil society organisations, legal practitioners, academics, and policy makers.

Members of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice present at the ASP will join this symposium each day to provide their views on ongoing developments at the Assembly.

 

 

 

Gender-based crimes: A monumental day for the ICC

When it comes to prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes, there have been few days as significant as today in the ICC’s twenty-one-year long history. The day began with a conviction for sexual violence crimes against male and female victims in the Ntaganda case, followed by the first attempt in any international criminal court or tribunal to prosecute gender-based persecution.

Rosemary Grey (University of Sydney) and Indira Rosenthal (University of Tasmania)[1]

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Safeguarding women after disasters: some progress, but not enough

Hundreds of Mozambicans were killed and thousands made homelessrecently by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth. Almost immediately, there were reports of a sadly familiar story: women being forced to trade sex for food by local community leaders distributing aid.

Globally, international organisations appear to be grappling with the issue more seriously than before. Yet reports about sexual exploitation keep coming. How does the aid community strategise to protect women’s safety in disaster situations?

Over the past 15 years, I have done research on sexual exploitation of displaced women in Uganda and Colombia. I have also worked with a variety of humanitarian organisations on accountability and legalisation. Through this, I have identified the factors necessary to bring justice to the victims of predatory aid workers.

Sexual exploitation must be recognised as a real and widespread problem. There must be staff and management accountability. Transgressions must be sanctioned through disciplinary or penal measures. But there are also major dilemmas that need to be understood and tackled by governments, agencies and, most importantly, local communities.

Sexual exploitation in aid

The sexual exploitation of disaster and conflict victims is a global – and longstanding – phenomenon. Over the last 25 years, there have been radical changes in the standards of global public morality around the conduct of personnel working for international organisations and NGOs when vulnerable adults and children are involved.

Nevertheless, the willingness to see sexual exploitation as an inherent feature of the international community’s intervention to bring development, humanitarian aid or peace has been much slower to evolve.

It was only 24 years ago that UNHCR issued guidelines on sexual violence and refugees that expressly mentioned international refugee workers as being implicated in sexual violence against refugees.

The sexual abuse of vulnerable women and girls in several African countries by international aid workers was recently described as “endemic”. It was also noted that perpetrators easily moved around the sector undetected.

Several recent cases have been reported from Cote d’ivore, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

These have involved aid workers and peacekeepers, as well as local aid workers and government employees.

In my research on refugees, accusations concerning “sex for resettlement” registration surface regularly. I found these to be frequent while working on refugee resettlement in Kampala 15 years ago. Despite the UNHCR’s promise to reform, similar accusations keep resurfacing, most recently in Kenya. The time has come for the international community to seriously debate the power mechanisms embedded in the resettlement process that enable sexual exploitation to fester.

What will fix the problem?

The first step is to organise accountability.

Humanitarian accountability first emerged as a concern in the 1980s. It was institutionalised in the 1994 Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief . The 1996 Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda was a defining moment.

That report resulted in several sector-wide initiatives. Five years ago efforts were made to streamline these in the revised Core Humanitarian Standards.

Throughout this period, sexual exploitation has been considered the worst possible behaviour humanitarian workers can be guilty of. But it has not been clear what constitutes exploitation and in which relationships it takes place. The lack of a definition, the unwillingness to articulate and enforce robust norms for professional behaviour and the absence of effective complaint mechanisms and protections for whistle-blowers have contributed to a culture of impunity for predatory behaviour against aid recipients.

Early policy responses to sexual exploitation were concerned with reputational issues. But over the past 15 years the humanitarian sector has seen a flurry of institutional initiatives to grapple with this specific issue. The effort to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse is led by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

The aid sector is now engaging in “safeguarding exercises”. These emerged after the Oxfam scandal in Haiti. The organisation was seen as failing to act on sexual misconduct by staff in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, and then to have attempted a cover-up.

Safeguarding includes all actions by aid actors to protect staff from harm (abuse, sexual harassment and violence) and to ensure staff do not harm beneficiaries.

This broad definition represents both a welcome recognition of the scope of the problem and an opportunity for a comprehensive approach. But it also creates some new challenges. Three are particularly worth noting.

The challenges

Who gets a voice: There has been vocal concern about the lack of inclusiveness in how safeguarding is practised. Critics have noted that a safeguarding industry was hatched with little attention to local and national context or participation. There is a view that safeguarding is yet another Western-centric practice. I think this critique is true. But it also creates a dilemma: should global norms about sexual exploitation in international aid be up for local negotiation?

Regulation and criminalisation. In recent years, there have been calls to regulate foreign aid actors more robustly. This is understandable. Aid actors have operated with a great deal of license and even impunity under the humanitarian banner. But drawing up new laws also creates problems. This is particularly true in a context where African civil society generally is under pressure from new restrictive laws that curtail their activities.

Responding to the call to “do something”, the international community has embraced criminalisation and criminal prosecutions to promote and strengthen the fight against impunity. But opting for criminal law and the courtroom rests on a deeply simplistic framing of structural power imbalances in aid. Legal strategies are costly and slow. The focus on sexual violence in disasters and conflicts also risks crowding out concern for other aspects of women’s lives.

Localisation: Since 2016 there has been a significant focus on the localisation of aid. The Charter for Change focuses on contracting, resource allocation, transparency and communication. It highlights the importance of not undermining local capacity. The process is generally painfully slow and a shockingly small percentage of international aid funding is actually allocated to local actors.

At the same time, there is a persistent call for international actors to do, control and know more about what goes on locally to limit corruption, incompetence and abuse. This call comes partly from media in donor states addressing taxpayers, but also from watchdogs within the sector.

This is also the case for sexual exploitation. In its report, Human Rights Watch demands that “international partners, particularly the UN, should ensure greater oversight of the conduct of local officials during the distribution of humanitarian aid”. This will not come for free.

The question is how a balance can be found between control and localisation – and who gets to determine what this balance should be.

This post was originally published at https://theconversation.com/safeguarding-women-after-disasters-some-progress-but-not-enough-116619. For an extended critical commentary on the rapid rise of the Safeguarding concept in the aid sector, see https://jhumanitarianaction.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41018-019-0051-1

CCIL 2018: “The Role of International Criminal Law and the ICC in Responding to the Alleged Crimes Perpetrated Against the Rohingya”

On November 1 and 2, 2018, the Canadian Council on International Law (CCIL) held its annual conference in Ottawa, Canada. This conference is touted as one of the premier international law conferences in the world, bringing together scholars and practitioners from across Canada, the United States and Europe. This year’s topic was “International Law at the Boundaries,” which recognized the role of non-state actors and ideas that seek to push international law to its limits.

One particular panel discussed three important, and even novel, issues within international criminal law: (1) jurisdiction over crimes committed by a non-state party; (2) sexual and gender-based violence; and (3) the role of social media in contributing to these crimes. “The Role of International Criminal Law and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Responding to the Alleged Crimes Perpetrated against the Rohingya,” examined the ongoing situation in Myanmar and the ICC’s role in holding perpetrators of international crimes accountable. Fannie Lafontaine of Laval University’s Faculty of Law and the Canadian Partnership for International Justice chaired the panel of three speakers: Payam Akhavan of McGill University’s Faculty of Law, Valerie Oosterveld of Western University’s Faculty of Law, and Kyle Matthews of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.

Akhavan discussed the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crimes committed against the Rohingya. This has been an area that has required some thought because Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, and therefore the Court does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory unless a referral by the United Nations Security Council is made (which has not happened yet and has been suggested to be unlikely). Akhavan highlighted how the ICC’s jurisdiction is currently being established through the crime of forced deportation as an underlying act of the crime against humanity. Forced deportation involves the crossing of international borders, and because the act of deporting the Rohingya ended on the territory of a state that is a party to the Rome Statute—Bangladesh—the Court has jurisdiction to try those responsible for forcing the Rohingya into Bangladesh.

Oosterveld ended the panel with a discussion of sexual and gender-based violence in the context of the Rohingya. She discussed the many ways that Rohingya women and girls are targeted and then humiliated through public gang-rapes to promote terror, and even ‘branded’ by their perpetrators biting them. Men and boys suffered similar treatment in detention from their captors trying to gain information.

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Violent Extremism and Terrorism in the Scope of Women, Peace and Security: an Uncomfortable Relationship

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Credit: UN Photo/DN (http://www.un.org/en/sc/about/)

The most recent and very controversial resolution of the United Nations Security Council(UNSC) Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, Resolution 2242 of 2015, has started to be implemented by the member states: a very recent example is Bosnia and Herzegovina. To date, Bosnia and Herzegovina has adopted three National Action Plans (NAPs) to implement the WPS agenda in its legal, judicial and administrative bodies for the periods of 2010-2013, 2014-2017and 2018-2022. Although the first two NAPs have not engaged with counterterrorism (CT) or countering violent extremism (CVE), the third NAP has a specific section regarding the measures for CT and CVE. In the NAP of 2018-2022, greater involvement of women in the initiatives for CT/CVE is highly encouraged.

The engagement of women with the CT and CVE programmes has developed in a very problematic way. The international framework on CT and CVE was established by UNSC Resolution 1373 (2001), immediately after 9/11. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin’s review of 43 UNSC Resolutions regarding the CT/CVE agenda pointed out that the agenda made only a handful of references to women and/or sexual harms. Thus, the CT and CVE agendas were gender-blind. Whereas the WPS agenda, at least initially, was trying to bring a gender lens to the peace and security concepts, CT/CVE resolutions have remained detached from the UNSC WPS purposes and agenda.

Very recently, this detachment has been terminated, not through the application of a gender-sensitive lens to the CT/CVE, but through the engagement of the WPS agenda with the CT/CVE programmes. With the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2242, CT/CVE discourse has been introduced to the WPS agenda.

In Resolution 2242, the SC

“(…) expresses deep concern that acts of sexual and gender-based violence are known to be part of the strategic objectives and ideology of certain terrorist groups, used as a tactic of terrorism, and an instrument to increase their power through supporting financing, recruitment, and the destruction of communities (…)”

To tackle this, the SC

“(…) urges Member States and the United Nations system to ensure the participation and leadership of women and women’s organizations in developing strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism which can be conducive to terrorism(…)”

Integration of CT/CVE with the WPS agenda through “strategic essentialism” presented women as “an untapped resource for countering violent extremism” (page 31). Feminist scholars have been concerned with the language in the resolution which essentializes women “as wicked purveyors of extremist violence or virtuous saviours of sons, husbands and communities” (page 282).

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s latest NAP echoes this language of Resolution 2242. “Women and children” are depicted as the main victims of violent extremism and terrorism.  The NAP acknowledges the presence of “radical communities” in Bosnia and Herzegovina and encourages international partners, the non-governmental sector, academia and religious communities to cooperate in order to “protect” the main victims of violent extremism and terrorism: “women and children”.

A major problem with both Resolution 2242 and the Bosnian NAP of 2018-2022 is the “over-simplistic understanding of the causes of extremism, and the solutions”(page 108). Such an approach seems palliative; the reasons for the emergence of violent extremism and terrorism in societies are simply ignored and instead the aim is onlyto treat the symptoms.

In addition, Resolution 2242 leaves the meanings of “violent extremism” and “terrorism” open. Similarly, Bosnia and Herzegovina barely specifies the measures for tackling violent extremism and terrorism. This prevents us from gaining any insight into the meaning and scope of “violent extremism” and “terrorism” in the Bosnian context. Expansion of the WPS agenda and alignment of the CT/CVE  and WPS agendas “does not mean that women will be included in defining what constitutes terrorism” and violent extremism. This very point creates concerns for feminist scholarship since the ambiguous and “customizable” scope of violent extremism and terrorism might lead to the securitization and instrumentalization of the WPS agenda, and to the legitimization of the SC.

This is not the first time that international security has intervened in the WPS agenda. In an earlier resolution, Resolution 1960 of 2010, the SC brought forward “targeted sanctions” against perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict, which was a “counterproductive development in the contemporary collective security approach to women, peace and security”. Such security-oriented interventions sideline gender equality and aim to “empower” women with the only purpose of providing security in the affected societies.

As Diane Otto has pointed out, any so-called successes in the feminist theory and practice should always be weighed against their consequences. Integration of the CT/CVE into the WPS agenda is presented as a success by the UNSC since this integration could reduce the impacts of terrorism and violence extremism on women. However, as WILPF reminds us, “inclusive” strategies are more often than not used to justify the use of force.

Although Resolution 2242 has already been adopted in Bosnia and Herzegovina and many other countries through NAPs, legal, judicial, and administrative bodies and women’s rights NGOs should cautiously put the NAPs into practice by constantly examining the potential impacts of CT and CVE programmes on women.