Introducing Varsha Maria Koshy

It is our great pleasure to introduce our new IntLawGrrls contributor Varsha Maria Koshy!

Varsha is a final year student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. She takes keen interest on various aspects of international criminal and humanitarian law and has written on various issues on the same.  She has previously interned with the Human Rights Commission and the Centre of Policy research which broadened her exposure on various socio-legal issues.

Heartfelt welcome!

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Go On! Blasphemy Law Conference

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Go On! makes note of interesting conferences, lectures, and similar events.

The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law presents the “Claiming Truth: Heresy and Blasphemy in Religion, Law and Literature Colloquium“.

Today, dozens of states across the globe still have anti-blasphemy laws on the books, and a good number continue to enforce those laws. Please join the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights (CLIHHR) to further explore the motivations behind these laws, their consequences, and the challenges faced by those working to abolish them. The colloquium will convene three expert panels to further discuss these issues, and will feature a keynote address by Professor Deborah Lipstadt. Click here to register and for more details.

Write On! Tripathi Foundation Conference

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This installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes calls to submit papers to the Prof. H. N. Tripathi Foundation as follows:

► The Prof. H. N. Tripathi Foundation is holding a conference on “Emerging Trends in Environmental Law & Policy in India” in Varanasi, India on March 30, 2019. It is accepting papers on a range of environmental law topics. Abstracts must be submitted by March 10, 2019 to hntripathi17@gmail.com. 

For more details, click here.

Can we technologize the fight against sexual violence?

This post asks some critical questions about how the struggle against sexual violence in conflict links up with a major trend in humanitarian aid: namely, the turn towards technology and innovation as a strategy to improve the humanitarian sector and to more effectively address humanitarian issues.

What are the potential challenges that might arise with respect to the use of technology for combating sexual violence?  

While I urge cautious optimism with respect to the potential role and relevance of technology to deal with sexual violence as a major human rights issue, there are significant caveats. The use of technology should not be seen as an end in itself. Despite good intentions, technology does not always work as intended. Inadequate problem definitions mean that technological solutions may fail to respond to the real-life problems they have been deployed to deal with. One common reason for faulty problem definitions is that affected populations are often absent from innovation processes: they are not properly consulted or invited to participate in any meaningful way.  The international community must be alert to serious ethical and legal issues that might arise from technological innovations within the aid sector: technology can produce new digital harms, whether through introducing risks, (in)visibilizing the suffering of certain groups, or generating undesirable consequences.

 It has been noted that certain ‘buzzword’ issues in the aid sector – such as sexual violence in war, or innovation – go from being unrecognized, ignored or forgotten to become an industry that appropriates funding at the expense of attention and resources to other humanitarian needs and problems, including addressing root causes. For example, there has been concern that sexual violence ‘crowds out’ alternative framings with respect to women’s insecurity or that criminalization of sexual violence provides overly simplistic messages. 

 The technology optimism and sometimes utopianism permeating the aid sector is articulated in the routine proclamations of digital humanitarian goods as ‘game changers’ or ‘revolutions in humanitarian affairs’. The use of cell-phones, social media platforms, satellites, drones, 3D printers, digital cash and biometric technology has changed how things are done, the speed and cost of doing things, as well as where things can be done from and by whom.  The advantage of these technologies is that they generate massive amounts of data in a field traditionally afflicted by a lack of timely and accurate information. However, this is also where challenges arise: Digitization – the collection, conversion, storage, and sharing of data, and the use of digital technologies to collect and manage information about beneficiaries – increasingly shapes understandings of needs and responses to human suffering, such as sexual violence.

Critics have noted that technology and innovation are presented as the solutions to complex structural problems – and the framing of humanitarian problems accordingly shifts to problematizations being amenable to technological innovation and intervention. At the same time, the optics of being seen to engage in humanitarian activities has acquired its own commercial logic by creating a marketable moral economy of good intentions, which means that for-profit motifs play an increasingly important role in the identification, visiblization and mitigation of human suffering.

Each of these developments warrants careful critical scrutiny – the merger of the two agendas even more so.  

I suggest that in particular, the kind of gendered digital bodies that arises when the struggle against sexual violence is technologized needs attention: Discussions around gender and technology deployments in emergencies have often focused on the gendered (frequently used in this context as a synonym for ‘women’) nature of digital shadows and digital illiteracy. In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on digital risk and digital harms. Importantly, the use of digital technologies creates corresponding ‘digital bodies’ – images, information, biometrics, and other data stored in digital space – that represent the physical bodies of populations affected by conflict and natural hazards, but over which these populations have little say or control. Understanding this double risk – for the physical gendered body as well as the digital gendered body, and the interplay between the two – is crucial for properly gauging the role and relevance of technology in grappling with sexual violence. The point is not that digital and physical bodies are ‘the same’, but that compromising or neglecting the security of digital bodies may be as consequential in compromising the security and well-being of physical bodies.   

To that end, we must continuously reassess our critical questions and strategies. Here are some of the issues we should think about:

  • How does historical and political context shape technology use, and how can the urgency of ending sexual violence legitimate intrusive technological interventions? What are the (acceptable) trade-offs?
  • What does it mean that the struggle against sexual violence is being increasingly quantified and remotely controlled – and based on criminal law sanctions? Do these approaches alone and in combination address the power differences that make sexual violence possible?
  •  How do we produce knowledge about sexual violence? What is the relationship between gender and algorithmic justice? Can technology reshape the application of international legal protection as it applies to gender crimes – and rights? 
  • What happens when sexual violence is reframed from a structural injustice problem to an innovation challenge? What are the risks of technological experimentation?

For more, see  Sandvik, Kristin Bergtora (2019) Technologizing the Fight against Sexual Violence: A Critical Scoping, PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO.

On the Job! Women Enabled International (temporary position)

On the Job! compiles interesting vacancy notices, as follows:

Women Enabled International (WEI) is now accepting applications for a U.N. Advocacy Consultant to provide parental leave coverage for WEI’s U.N. Advocacy Director from May 1, 2019 to mid-December 2019. This is a part-time, temporary consulting position for 20 to 30 hours per week. Duties include implementing legal advocacy strategies to strengthen international standards on the rights of women and girls with disabilities.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and should be received no later than by March 15, 2019. Click here for more details.

The ICC and Côte d’Ivoire: Is Justice Being Dispatched?

In December 2010, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, then Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), warned protagonists of the post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire that “[t]hose leaders who are planning violence will end up in The Hague.” In November 2011, Laurent Gbagbo arrived in The Hague, his transfer to the ICC seen as diffusing tensions after his arrest in April by forces loyal to the internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo was joined by his Minister of Youth, Charles Blé Goudé, in 2014. Having fled to Ghana, Blé Goudé was extradited to Côte d’Ivoire, which sent him to the ICC. At the time, Côte d’Ivoire was not party to the Rome Statute but the country accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction through an Article 12 (3) declaration, reconfirmed in 2010.

Yet, by the time the trial commenced in January 2016, the Ivorian justice system was functioning. Ouattara declared no more Ivorians would be sent to the ICC, insisting on trying Simone Gbagbo at home despite losing an admissibility challenge before the Pre-Trial Chamber, upheld by the Appeals Chamber.

The acquittal of Laurent Gbagbo and Blé Goudé in the ruling on no case to answer of 15 January 2019 spotlights the OTP’s investigation in the Côte d’Ivoire situation. As a written decision is forthcoming, this article will not examine the trial. Rather, it looks at the perception of the ICC at the local level and how it compares to and impacts national justice processes. 

During my research in Côte d’Ivoire, I had the privilege to interview Ivorians from different parts of the country, including victims, witnesses, judges, prosecutors, defense counsel and civil society. Views about the ICC and domestic accountability efforts are polarized. Some strongly support the ICC and maintain high expectations that may now be impossible to meet, while others are adamant Ivorians should be tried by Ivorians, however imperfect the justice.

For many, the ICC has lost credibility. Those who followed the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé trial share concerns as to how it was conducted, from procedural changes, to the OTP’s witnesses turning hostile, suffering memory loss or providing hearsay evidence with low probative weight. Further, the OTP’s sequenced approach­––necessary for securing state co-operation given the limitations of the Part 9 regime––with as yet no public arrest warrants released against supporters of Ouattara who are also suspected of committing crimes during the crisis, has increased the perception of the Court as an instrument for victor’s justice. This credibility deficit has weakened its impact. Early positive developments included domestication of the Rome Statute, with the incorporation of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide into the Ivorian Penal Code in 2015. However, as public perception decreased, related reforms important for local accountability efforts stalled, in particular, a law on witness protection; fortunately, it was passed by the National Assembly in early 2018 but is still to enter into force.

Unfortunately, there has been inadequate reverse co-operation, with requests to the ICC for the exchange of evidence to facilitate domestic investigations substantively unanswered. Further, Côte d’Ivoire lacks technical capacity for DNA and ballistics analysis, with resource limitations among the factors delaying further exhumations. While the OTP has lent some assistance, it would be mutually beneficial to go further. Domestic inquiries are also hampered by witness fatigue, with some witnesses reluctant to co-operate with a Special Investigation Unit (CSEI) after already giving testimony to the ICC and other domestic transitional justice mechanisms previously operating in parallel, including the National Commission of Inquiry (CNE), Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation (CDVR), and National Commission for Reconciliation and Reparation of Victims (CONARIV). Other ICC witnesses declined to testify in local trials to avoid media exposure.

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Introducing Claire Morris

It is our great pleasure to introduce our new IntLawGrrls contributor Claire Morris!

Claire is a part-time PhD student at the University of Essex School of Law, UK, where she is undertaking empirical research on the impact of the ICC on the Rule of Law and transitional justice in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and Kenya. She is particularly interested in co-operation between the ICC and national judicial authorities. Having commenced doctoral studies in 2014, she is currently completing her thesis following substantial field research, including extensive work in Côte d’Ivoire and Tunisia (concerning Libya). Claire is admitted into legal practice in England and Wales and New York, USA. Claire graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, USA, in 2009 with an LL.M in International Legal Studies and the University of Bristol, UK and K.U. Leuven, Belgium in 2007 with an LL.B in European Legal Studies. She prosecutes complex fraud, bribery and corruption at the Serious Fraud Office, UK. She is also a member of the UK Stabilisation Unit’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict (PSVI) team of experts. She has previously worked in The Hague, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Any views expressed in her contributions are solely the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of any organisation with which she is affiliated.

Heartfelt welcome!