ICC Assembly of States Parties 2018: Day Four

Yesterday, the fourth day of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties, was focused on consulations on the annual ‘omnibus’ resolution, which is titled “Strengthening the International Criminal Court and the Assembly of States Parties”. This resolution is usually quite lengthy, as the 2017 resolution shows – and covers a wide range of issues. It addresses the goal of universal ratification of the Rome Statute, and invites states not yet parties to the Rome Statute to ratify. It also reiterates the obligations of States Parties under the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the ICC. It calls upon States Parties to cooperate – legally, politically and diplomatically – with the Court, including on arresting individuals for whom a warrant of arrest has been issued. Other issues it tends to cover are: the relationship of the ICC with the United Nations and other international organizations, the relationship with the Netherlands as host state, the activities of the Court (such as the Prosecutor’s implementation of her office’s Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes), upcoming elections, working methods, issues related to victims, staff recruitment, complementarity, the Independent Oversight Mechanism, the budget, amendments and participation in the Assembly. Negotiations on this resolution will continue on Monday, December 10th.

A number of side-events also took place on the fourth day of the Assembly, including sessions on the prosecution of war crimes in Iraqi Kurdistan, the situation in Georgia, the role of Latin America and the Caribbean in the adoption of the Rome Statute, transitional justice in Mexico, and the link between the ICC and environmental law.

With this post, I introduce Sarah Nimigan, who is blogging for IntLawGrrls today. She is currently at the Assembly as a delegate of the Canadian Partership for International Justice. Sarah is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario (Canada) with specialization in Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction. Her dissertation addresses the problems facing the International Criminal Court through the African experience. More specifically, her research traces theSarah Nimigan active role taken by various African delegations in negotiating the Rome Statute from 1993-1998 to better explain and situate the criticisms levied against the ICC today. She holds an LL.M. in International Human Rights Law from the University of Exeter (United Kingdom) and a Master of Arts in Political Science with specialization in Migration and Ethnic Relations. Both her LL.M. and M.A. degrees focused on sexual and gender-based crimes within the contexts of international criminal law and transitional justice.

Heartfelt welcome to Sarah!

ICC Assembly of States Parties 2018: Day Three

Slovenia Signing ICC

Day three of the 2018 ICC Assembly of States Parties focused on state cooperation and the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute.

The day opened with a special plenary meeting on the topic of “20 Years After Rome: Back to the Major Challenges of Cooperation”.  The discussion focused on cooperation related to arrests, financial and other types of investigations, and enforcement of sentences. Slovenia signed its agreement on enforcement of sentences with the ICC at the plenary [above, photo credit: CICC]. Many states made three minute interventions during this plenary, including Austria for the European Union, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Palestine, South Korea, Spain, Uganda, Uruguay, United Kingdom and Venezuela. Spain pledged to enter into additional cooperation agreements with the ICC.

The afternoon plenary was titled “Rome Statute 20 years – Addressing current and future challenges”. The plenary began with a video on the 20th anniversary, available here. This was followed by a panel discussion with representatives of the African Union, Chile, the Coalition for an ICC (CICC), Costa Rica and Romania, and Prof. John Dugard of Leiden University. This was followed by state interventions. As noted by Bill Pace of the CICC, and echoed by others, some of the innovations of the Rome Statute are under threat today.

The General Debate also resumed today, with seven civil society speakers taking the floor to make statements, including Human Rights Watch.

The day was packed with 12 side events, and a reception hosted by the CICC and the City of The Hague. For an excellent summary of these side-events, please see the CICC’s summaries here.

Marie-Laure Tapp joins the IntLawGrrls symposium today with a two-part blog post on domestic prosecutions of individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Syrian conflict.

Marie-Laure is a lawyer and LL.M. Candidate (International and Transnational Law) at Université Laval. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and International Development from McGill University and degrees in Civil Law and Common Law, also from McGill University. She completed her articles at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva and subsequently worked as a volunteer legal advisor in Mali with Lawyers Without Borders Canada and in Nepal with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. She was involved with Université Laval’s

Marie-Laure Tapp

Marie-Laure Tapp

International Criminal and Humanitarian Law Clinic and works as a translator and team supervisor for the translation of the Updated Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention, a partnership between Université Laval and the ICRC Delegation in Paris. Her main areas of interest (which are numerous) are the respect and dissemination of international humanitarian law and, on the international criminal law front, the principle of complementarity and universal jurisdiction. She is also very much interested in human rights investigation and advocacy. She has also been involved in several human rights education and access to justice initiatives over the past 10 years.

A heartfelt welcome to Marie-Laure to this IntLawGrrls symposium!

 

 

ICC Assembly of States Parties Symposium 2018: Day Two

ICC ASP Day 2The focus of Day Two of the 2018 International Criminal Court Assembly of States Parties meeting was the General Debate, with States Parties, observer States, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations giving statements. [photo credit: Marieke de Hoon via Twitter]

Several states stressed the importance of beginning the search soon for a new Prosecutor for the ICC. While Fatou Bensouda‘s mandate does not end until June 15, 2021, the process of identifying suitable candidates will certainly take some time. Some states indicated the need for early elections (i.e. in December 2019, rather than waiting until December 2020).

Some states made financial commitments, including Ireland and Japan, which respectively pledged 175,000 Euros and 52,000 Euros to the Trust Fund for Victims.

Unsurprisingly, the Philippines reiterated that it was withdrawing from the Rome Statute, which will take effect in March 2019. Venezuela made a negative intervention regarding the referral of the situation in that country to the ICC. Chile and Canada (as two of the referring countries) exercised their right of reply, which was followed by a defensive Venezuela, accusing Canada of human rights violations.

Bill Pace, long-time Convenor of the Coalition for an ICC, announced that he would be stepping down after 24 years. The room erupted into sustained and heartfelt applause to thank him for his tireless dedication to the cause of international criminal justice. [photo credit: CICC]Bill Pace

The day finished before all of the NGO speakers on the list could make their interventions. The General Debate will hopefully continue at a later date during the Assembly.

Today, IntLawGrrl Ariel Wheway blogged about the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression and a side-event organized by Liechtenstein. Canada, the Netherlands and Justice Rapid Response also held a side-event, this one titled “Investigating International Crimes at the National Level: Realizing the Promise of Complementarity in the Gambia and the Case for Specialized Expertise”. Other side events were hosted by Ireland, Uganda and the ICC Trust Fund for Victims on reparative justice for victims in the Rome Statute system; Netherlands, South Korea and Parliamentarians for Global Action on the Rome Statute system in the Asia-Pacific region; Chile, FIDH and others on the role of counsel in victim participation; and FIDH on the Central African Republic. Former US Ambassador-at-Large on War Crimes Issues, Stephen Rapp, spoke at a side-event focused on Myanmar and Afghanistan.

Stay tuned for more IntLawGrrls coverage of the 2018 ICC Assembly of States Parties!

ICC Assembly of States Parties Symposium 2018: Day One

I am pleased to introduce this year’s IntLawGrrls symposium on the International Criminal Court (ICC) Assembly of States Parties (ASP). The 17th session of the Assembly runs from December 5-12 in The Hague, Netherlands. [credit: Marie-Laure Tapp, CPIJ] ICC ASP by Marie-Laure Tapp

The Assembly will discuss and adopt resolutions on a number of issues considered annually, such as the ICC’s budget. It will hold a plenary discussion on cooperation – as one of the key challenges facing the Court – on Friday, December 7. Additionally, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute of the ICC. The Assembly will hold a plenary session on Friday, December 7, to celebrate and assess this anniversary. It will also hold a plenary discussion on the topic of “achievements and challenges regarding victims’ participation and legal representation after 20 years of the adoption of the Rome Statute” on Tuesday, December 11. Additionally, there are numerous side events considering the 20th anniversary. This IntLawGrrls symposium will cover all of these topics – and more!

Today, at the opening of the Assembly, states began with a moment of silence in honour of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and to remember victims of mass atrocities. Assembly President O-Gon Kwon of South Korea spoke, urging states in arrears to pay their outstanding contributions. The Prosecutor of the ICC indicated that she will launch her office’s report on preliminary examinations during a side-event on Monday, December 10. She also urged states to execute the ICC’s arrest warrants, and pressed states to provide the ICC with the financial resources it needs. The Netherlands, as host state, announced that it would make a voluntary contribution of one million Euros to the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims, earmarked for victims and affected communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. A number of states also made pledges during the General Debate to contribute to the Trust Fund for Victims (Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia), or to conclude a cooperation agreement with the ICC (Costa Rica).

The first two posts in this symposium are by Ariel Wheway, on the crime of aggression; and Marilynn Rubayika, on the Bemba case. Both are attending the Assembly as members of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice.

Ariel is an IntLawGrrls contributor based in Ottawa. Welcome back to the IntLawGrrls, Ariel!

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Ariel Wheway

Marilynn Rubayika earned a Juris Doctor and a Licence in Civil Law from the University of Ottawa in 2017. She is the 2018-2019 Public Interest Articling Fellow at the Canadian Centre for International Justice. Her main interests are the victims’ participation regime at the International Criminal Court and questions related to sexual and gender-based violence. She has recently worked directly with victims ofinternational crimes. Previously, Marilynn completed legal internships at the International Humanitarian Law department of the Canadian Red Cross and at the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Section of the Canadian Department of Justice. She also volunteered for the Philippe Kirsch Institute and completed a volunteer legal advisor mandate with Lawyers Without Borders Canada in Ivory Coast. A heartfelt welcome to Marilynn to this IntLawGrrls symposium!

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Marilynn Rubayika

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.

ILAC launches report of Guatemalan justice sector and calls to extend CICIG’s mandate

We at the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) launched our assessment report of the justice sector in Guatemala on October 10, in Washington D.C., and on November 6, in London (the report is available both in English and Spanish). ILAC, established in 2002, is an NGO based in Stockholm, Sweden, which conducts rule of law and justice sector assessments, coordinates programs, and engages in policy dialogue. As a consortium of over 50 professional legal organizations along with individual experts, we gather legal expertise and competencies from various contexts and legal traditions to help rebuild justice institutions and promote the rule of law in conflict-affected and fragile states.

ILAC’s report of Guatemalan justice sector

ILAC’s assessment team traveled to Guatemala in October 2017, and met with over 150 Guatemalan judges, prosecutors, lawyers, human rights defenders, and business leaders to assess the role and capacity of courts and prosecutorial services. The team also examined several thematic issues facing the justice sector in Guatemala today, including the legacy of Guatemala’s conflict and impunity, disputes involving development projects on land claimed by indigenous peoples and local communities, criminalization of protests, and violence and discrimination. 

“A fragile peace”

Although Guatemala has been at peace for over 20 years, its history of inequality and a civil war that lasted over 30 years have left a legacy of impunity, corruption, racism, and violence which fundamentally threaten stability and equitable development. Since 2006, however, justice sector actors have been supported by the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (known as CICIG) which aims to investigate criminal groups undermining democracy. CICIG may conduct independent investigations, act as a complementary prosecutor, and recommend public policies to help fight the criminal groups that are the subject of its investigations. This is an innovative institution for the United Nations and is unique in the sense that it combines international support, independence to investigate cases, and partnerships with the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office.

While the assessment report identifies ongoing rule of law challenges in Guatemala, it highlights the vital role CICIG and its current Commissioner, Mr. Iván Velásquez of Colombia, play in supporting the Attorney General’s Office to address the identified challenges. In fact, the majority of our recommendations are reliant upon CICIG’s continued presence in Guatemala as the country’s judiciary is not yet equipped to address and resolve corruption and impunity on its own. The American Bar Association, an ILAC member, has stated that:

it would be impossible to instill the rule of law within Guatemala at this time without the support of an international body. While many prosecutors and judges have – at great personal risk – performed their responsibilities with integrity, the pressures on the criminal justice sector writ large are so great that it is not currently able to operate independently without international support.

An abrupt end to CICIG’s mandate may also potentially result in backsliding of judicial and prosecutorial independence and integrity. Our report therefore includes a specific recommendation for a four-year extension of CICIG’s mandate.

In light of this recommendation, it is also worth noting that CICIG currently enjoys widespread public support in Guatemala and, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, “is a rare example of a successful international effort to strengthen a country’s judicial system and policing.”

ILAC joins call to extend CICIG’s mandate

Our assessment report comes at a crucial time as the future of CICIG is in jeopardy. In August, Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales announced that he would not extend CICIG’s mandate beyond its current expiration date in September 2019 (note that CICIG is currently investigating President Morales for illegal campaign financing). President Morales simultaneously barred Mr. Velásquez, who at the time was in the United States, from re-entering Guatemala. Subsequently, President Morales ignored an order by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court allowing Mr. Velásquez to return (the Constitutional Court has reaffirmed that order just this past Thursday). President Morales has also developed a rhetoric accusing CICIG of presenting “a threat to peace” in Guatemala and constructing “a system of terror.” 

Our report is an acknowledgement of CICIG’s role in laying the foundation for a stronger and more resilient judicial system in Guatemala. And, in order to continue to build upon this foundation, we join the call for Guatemala to recommit to the work of CICIG under Mr. Velásquez and for an extension of CICIG’s mandate.

While we are neither the first nor the only observer to point out these challenges to the rule of law, we hope that the report will provide clear notice to state authorities that failure to address the documented and well-understood obstacles to the independence and effectiveness of the justice sector can only be taken as unwillingness to strengthen the rule of law in Guatemala. Without an effective and independent system of justice, the rule of law and human rights cannot be secured.

In a future post we will elaborate upon how the current situation in Guatemala reflects the challenges and opportunities for promoting justice globally in the context of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and particularly SDG 16.

To learn more, you can read the report press release here.

You can follow ILAC on Twitter here

Call for abstracts

STUDYING WAR CRIMES:

The ethics of re-presenting mass violence in research

When do descriptions of harm become academic sensationalism rather than re-presentations of violent materialities? Can academic interest and engagement in mass harm ever avoid voyeurism? How can sensational violence be ethically re-presented in research? Across disciplines theorizing mass harm, a consensus is emerging cautioning against sensationalism in re-presentations of perpetrators, victims, crimes, and sufferings, seeing detailed descriptions of violence as academic voyeurism. Yet, how comfortable a read can research that has violent profusion at its core become, before the distance created by language becomes an ethical – and analytical – challenge in its own right?

This edited volume invites experienced scholars to address thoroughly the ethics of doing research on mass harm in general, and of re-presenting and describing mass violence, harmdoing, trauma, and suffering in their own research in particular. Drawing on a range of methodological approaches and empirical cases, the book will address how mass violence and war crimes are brought into research – both as an ethical, a sensational, and an analytical matter.

We ask contributors to reflect on their re-presentations of mass crimes, violence and justice, seeing re-presentations both as an issue to do with individual and disciplinary research ethics but also as a matter to do with power and material structures of academic knowledge production. The purpose is to encourage active engagement with a research ethics that goes beyond ‘procedural ethic;’ to expand the discussion on responsibility for the stories we hear, read, analyze, and re-tell; and to address in-depth the ethics of listening, seeing, and telling in research on mass violence and war crimes.

The book will be relevant for all researchers who wish to engage ethically with the study of mass violence and war crimes.

We invite abstracts that explore the ethics of re-presenting mass violence in research.

Abstracts may also cater specifically to:

  • The ethics of caring, seeing, listening and re-presenting
  • Selection and exclusion: whose stories are told?
  • Understanding harm/understanding as harm
  • “Thick descriptions” and sensationalism
  • Breaking the silence vs silence as choice
  • Emotions, positionality, and reflexivity

Submission guidelines:

Abstract of no more than 500 words to be submitted by November 30th, 2018 to editors at studyingwarcrimes@gmail.com. We only accept original contributions and the abstract needs to clearly demonstrate the chapter’s contribution to the volume.

Please include a 150-200 word bio highlighting your affiliation, work experience and credentials in the field of war and mass violence research.

Further process:

After an initial screening and by December 15th, 2018, editors will invite 8 contributors to develop their abstract into a full chapter (5-7000 words) to be submitted by April 15th 2019. We will apply for funding for a lunch-to-lunch workshop for contributors in May 2019. The final submission date for full chapters will be in August, 2019.

Routledge (Taylor&Francis Group) initiated our work with this collection, and has expressed a strong interest in publishing the book.

About the editors:

Sladjana Lazic is a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Peace Studies (CPS) at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT). She holds a PhD in Political Science from the Norwegian University for Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, on victims’ perspectives on transitional justice and legitimacy.

Anette Bringedal Houge holds a PhD in Criminology and Sociology of Law from the University of Oslo on conflict-related sexual violence, perpetrator re-presentations, and international criminal justice. She has published her research in e.g., Aggression and Violent Behavior, British Journal of Criminology and Criminology and Criminal Justice. Anette is the Head of Humanitarian Needs and Analysis at the Norwegian Red Cross.

Feminism and the Kenyan TJRC (Part 2)

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Women singing at the launch of the TJRC public hearings in Garissa (April 2011)               (Kenyan TJRC)

Addressing the first feminist critique – the failure to address systemic and structural violence that tends to affect women disproportionately – was easier for us to address compared to other truth commissions given our broad mandate and, in particular, the requirement that we investigate violations of socioeconomic rights. To better analyze systemic and structural issues, including those related to socio-economic rights, we needed to address effectively the second critique – the failure to encourage active participation of women, a failure that had already been experienced by the Mutua Task Force.

 

In addition to dedicating specific parts of our statement-taking form to capturing the experience of women; training our statement takers on gender sensitivity, and ensuring a high percentage of female statement takers (43 percent), we also conducted thirty-nine of what we called women’s hearings in each of the places where we held public hearings. Our challenge was not just to encourage women to participate and speak to the Commission, but also to elicit testimony about violations and related issues experienced by them. The experience of previous truth commissions suggests that women who are willing to speak about past violations tend to speak as witnesses and observers concerning incidents that happened to others, usually the male members of their family. The characterization of such testimony as indirect is itself problematic, as it tends to de-emphasize the secondary effects of violations on family members and community members and more fundamentally emphasize the individualistic, rather than community-oriented, aspect of violations. While women may testify about what happened to others in their family or community because they are reluctant to testify about themselves, they may also focus on violations directly experienced by their family and community members because they see themselves as part of those larger social entities and, thus, are more likely than men to see such violations of “others” as affecting them, their families, and their communities directly. Nevertheless, we were concerned that some women might feel reluctant to share their own direct experiences of violations out of fear rather than because they adopted a more holistic approach to violations and their effects.

In addition to holding women’s hearings in each place where we held public hearings, we often had a prominent woman activist from each community testify about the experience of women generally in that community. We were able to do this in part because of the strong working relationship we had developed with Maendeleo ya Wanawake, the largest women’s membership organization in Kenya. We were thus able to explore at the local level some of the broader systemic, institutional, and cultural issues faced by women. To further broaden this analysis, we devoted one of our national thematic hearings to women. The purpose of the thematic hearing was to supplement the individual stories we had heard in the field – both from witnesses as well as local activists – with a more national and even international perspective on the broader systemic issues facing women in Kenya. Continue reading

Feminism and the Kenyan TJRC (Part 1)

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Commissioners Tecla Namachanja and Margaret Shava at the launch of public hearings in Garissa (April 2011)       (Kenyan TJRC)

In 2004 a task force chaired by Professor Makau Mutua travelled throughout Kenya to determine whether a truth commission should be established to address historical injustices.  In their report, the task force observed that while their provincial hearings were “on the whole” well attended, the number of women participating in the hearings was “low.” The experience of the Mutua task force mirrored that of truth commissions generally. Female participation in truth commission processes worldwide has been low, leading more recent truth commissions to create special units to encourage the participation of more women. Kimberly Theidon discusses attempts to incorporate a greater gender sensitivity to transitional justice processes, focusing in particular on Peru.

 

Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke pose three sets of questions as part of a feminist critique of transitional justice generally.  First, where are women (both representation and participation in transitional justice design and process)? Second, Where is gender (where are the voices and experiences of women with respect to conflict, human rights violations and justice)? Third, where is feminism (referring to the feminist critique of justice and its applicability to transitional justice)?

Feminist critiques of truth commissions tend to focus on two issues. First, truth commissions ignore or do not devote sufficient attention to systemic, structural, and institutional violence that tends to affect women disproportionately. Second, truth commissions are not designed to encourage the participation of women, and thus perpetuate the silencing of women in those societies.

The drafters of the Kenyan legislation establishing the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission were sensitive to these critiques, requiring that there be gender balance among the commissioners (we began with five male and four female commissioners); requiring that the chair and vice chair be of opposite gender; including sexual- and gender-based violence in the violations we were to investigate, and suggesting that we put into place special mechanisms and procedures to address the experiences of women. During most of our operational period, our CEO was a woman; and during the fourteen months when we conducted most of our external activities (statement taking, public hearings, investigations, and other outreach activities), our acting chair was a woman – in fact Tecla Namachanja Wanjala was the first woman to serve as the chair of a truth commission. Continue reading

A Transformative Approach to Personal Laws

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Indian Supreme Court with both gains and loses. Notably, in the Sabarimala judgement, Justice Chandrachud observed that the rationale used by the Bombay High Court in Narasu Appa Mali v State of Bombay, which held that personal laws should not be subject to fundamental rights, is not sustainable. Chandrachud, however, only overrules Narasu on the point that customs are not subject to fundamental rights.

This exposition in itself is unremarkable since the Supreme Court in Sant Ram v. Labh Singh had already held that customs are subject to a fundamental rights challenge. The ratio of Narasu Appa Mali only extended to uncodified religious law which hasn’t been modified by either custom or usage. Thus, while the outcome remains unchanged, the observation by Chandrachud that the reasoning of Narasu is flawed, segues into the question of whether personal law can be counted as law and thereby lays the groundwork for a challenge to personal laws when it arises.

What are personal laws?

To set some context to the debate, it might be useful to understand what personal laws are. The idea that religious sphere is entirely distinct is of recent vintage it was through a process of construction during the British era that a separate space was carved out for certain religious laws, generally governing family matters like marriage and divorce. Thus, the first point to note is that there is nothing inherently personal about personal laws. The scriptures gained jurisdiction over certain matters because the colonial state said so, and this determination was due to sociopolitical rather than religious reasons.  It is untenable therefore to think that the body of laws referred to as “personal laws” derive their validity from religion, rather than the state. Second, personal laws were shaped by male elites of each religious community using the colonial state. For example, with regard to Hindu personal law, there was a forced homogenization and enforcement of Brahmanical law. Today, many personal laws are alleged to promote the subordination of women and other minorities. However, to have a fundamental rights review, ‘personal laws’ has to fall under the definition of ‘law’ or a ‘law in force’ in Article 13 of the Constitution.

Narasu Appa Mali v State of Bombay

The petition in Narasu challenged validity of the Bombay Prevention of Bigamous Hindu Marriages Act, 1946 which sought to render bigamous marriages void as well as criminalize the offence of bigamy. What the Court ultimately ended up deciding was the question of whether coming into force of constitution, muslim polygamy is void because it violates Art. 15. This might be explained by the dominant narrative prevailing in the country during the early 1950s. At the time the judgement was pronounced, the Hindu Code Bill was still in deliberation and the general sentiment was that only the Hindus were being ‘punished’. It might be useful to keep this context in mind while evaluating the rationale of the two judge bench.

Prior to determining whether muslim polygamy is unconstitutional, the Court had to answer the question of whether it is law in the first place. To answer this question, the Court looked at Article 13 and applied the principle of ‘Expressio Unius Exclusio Alterius’ i.e. the expression of one excludes the other, and its present application. It characterised customs & usages as deviations from personal laws and relied on Article 112 of the Government of India Act, 1915 which had discussed customs as different from personal laws, to say that personal laws cannot be laws under Article 13. The inclusion of various provisions in the Constitution that relate to state regulation of personal law, such as Article 17 (Abolition of untouchability), Article 25 (Freedom of Religion) would be redundant had the drafters wanted to include personal laws within the definition of law. It further relied on Art. 44, which asks the state to endeavour to build a Uniform Civil Code, to say that there is a presumption by the drafters that different personal laws will exist even after independence. Moreover, Article 44 and Entry V of the Concurrent List seems to suggest that the drafter’s intent was to give this power to the legislature and not the judiciary. It also referred to Article 372 of the Constitution. Pre-constitutional laws continue in force by virtue of this Article, and that they can be amended by the President. The Court reasoned that since the President had no power to modify personal laws, personal laws do not derive their validity from Article 372 of the Constitution.

Re-evaluating Narasu Appa Mali

Narasu has never been challenged in the Supreme Court. Previous decisions such as John Vallamottam v Union of India and C Masilamani Mudaliar v Idol of Sri Swaminathaswamiswaminathaswami which are commonly cited as examples of the Court subjecting personal laws to a fundamental rights review, only dealt with codified personal law.

However, there is some literature offering a contrary view. Krishnan argues that the term ‘includes’ in Article 13 is an inclusive definition. For example, Art. 13(3)(a) does not use the word “common law” and yet we subject that to Part III. There is no evidence to suggest that the drafter were referring to the Government of India Act, 1915 in drafting this section. As Bhatia argues, Article 17 could have just been incorporated by way of abundant caution. The corrosive and pervasive nature of caste discrimination could have made the framers include a specific article prohibiting untouchability as an extra measure to leave nothing to chance.  Moreover, the scope of Article 25 is way broader than personal laws.  It protects an individual’s right to practice her religion rather than protecting religious norms or rules. Article 44 is located in Part 4 of the Constitution (Directive Principles of State Policy) and therefore casts no positive obligation on the State. Many Directive Principles duplicate obligations that would arise from fundamental rights themselves.

However, the question ultimately comes down to how we understand our constitution. Should we read the Constitution textually, debating the technical points of law or should we read it as a transformative document capable of bending the moral arc of the Indian polity towards justice. In the words of Chandrachud-

“Custom, usages and personal law have a significant impact on the civil status of individuals. Those activities that are inherently connected with the civil status of individuals cannot be granted constitutional immunity merely because they may have some associational features which have a religious nature. To immunize them from constitutional scrutiny, is to deny the primacy of the Constitution.”

Not only was the Constitution transformative in the sense that it indicated a break from India’s past, but it also has a transformative potential. At the heart of transformative constitutionalism is vision of change, a redemptive potential. By subjecting personal laws to a fundamental rights challenge would mean acknowledging how some of these laws have becomes sites of hierarchy and subordination, where minorities like women and lower castes are denied equal moral membership of society. A transformative vision places the individual dignity at the forefront of its endeavours and values constitutional morality over societal morality. Here’s hoping that when the challenge to personal laws comes, it is also on these grounds.