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. 

To read more, click here: Conflict-related sexual violence: what are we talking about? (Part 2)

Bangura, UN expert on sexual violence, to deliver lecture at annual IHL Dialogs

zbanguraDelighted to announce that U.N. Under-Secretary-General Zainab Bangura (left), the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, will deliver the 4th annual Katherine B. Fite Lecture at the International Humanitarian Law Dialogs, to be held August 24-26, 2014, at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. This will be the 8th year that international prosecutors and other experts gather at Chautauqua’s lovely lakeside Athenaeum Hotel to take stock of developments in international criminal law.

And it’s the 4th that IntLawGrrls blog has had the honor of selecting the person who will deliver the lecture in honor of Fite, the State Department lawyer who helped Chief U.S. Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson with thebvs drafting of the London Charter and other duties in preparation for the 1st postwar trial at Nuremberg. (My own 2011 Fite Lecture, which describes Fite’s career, is here.) Bangura promises to be a memorable speaker, given her tireless work as the SRSG since 2012, and her prior service in the government of Sierra Leone. (photo credit) Introducing her will be IntLawGrrl Beth Van Schaack (right), Stanford Visiting Professor of Law and former Deputy, Office of Global Criminal Justice, U.S. Department of State.

Bangura’s lecture is just one of many special events planned for this year’s Dialogs. Other highlights:

fb► Reflections by current and former international prosecutors. Scheduled to take part are International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (left; photo credit) and Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart; Serge Brammertz, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Nicholas Koumijian and Andrew T. Cayley; from the Special Court for Sierra Leone,  David Crane (organizer of the Dialogs, Syracuse Law Professor, and chairman of the Board of the Robert H. Jackson Center), Stephen Rapp (since 2009 the Ambassador-at-Large and head of the Office of Global Justice, U.S. Department of State), Brenda J. Hollis, and Desmond de Silva; and Hassan Jallow, trahan3Prosecutor of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and formerly Prosecutor of the ICTR. IntLawGrrl Jennifer Trahan (left), Associate Clinical Professor of Global Affairs at New York University, will moderate.

tiina► Keynote address by Ambassador Tiina Intelmann (right), President of the ICC Assembly of States Parties.

theidon140►Clara Barton Lecture by Harvard Anthropology Professor Kimberly Theidon (left).

►Roundtable on “Relevance of International Humanitarian Law” featuring IntLawGrrl Leila Nadya Sadat (right),Sadatl4 Professor at Washington University-St. Louis, along with former U.N. Legal Counsel Hans Corell, Professor William A. Schabas, and former U.S. Ambassador David Scheffer, now a Northwestern Law Professor.

zeid►Breakout porch sessions, including one on “Islamic Extremism” featuring Sadat, Scheffer, and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein (right; photo credit), who soon will take up the post of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

val► Year in review by IntLawGrrl Valerie Oosterveld (left), Western Ontario Law Professor.

More information is at the website of the Robert H. Jackson Center, a primary sponsor, here.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann)

Criminal complaint filed over German-Swiss corporate human rights abuses in Congo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn 25 April 2013, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), in co-operation with the British human rights organization Global Witness, filed a criminal complaint with the public prosecutor’s office of Tübingen in southern Germany against a senior employee of the German-Swiss timber trading company Danzer Group. The individual in question, a German citizen, is suspected of breaching his duties by failing to prevent crimes committed by Congolese security forces. There is sufficient initial suspicion that through omission the employee was complicit in rape, inflicting bodily harm, false imprisonment and arson. The public prosecutor’s office of Tübingen is now obliged to further investigate the circumstances of the case and establish whether the Danzer employee is criminally liable.

During the early morning hours of 2 May 2011, a task force of local security forces attacked the village of Bongulu (Équateur province) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). The forces submitted inhabitants of the village to abuse, rape and arbitrary arrests. During the attack, the task force used vehicles belonging to the company Siforco, a subsidiary of the Danzer group. In addition to providing vehicles and drivers, the company also paid the members of the task force for their involvement in the operation.

This incident follows a dispute between the village inhabitants and Siforco, which is based in the area, resulting from the failure of the company to abide by its contractual obligations to provide for social projects in the region.

This incident provides a typical example of the risk for companies operating in weak governance zones of becoming involved in or encouraging the violent activity of local security forces. Almost every day reports of sexual violence committed by state and non-state actors are carried by the media. Women and girls are raped or sexually abused during the course of most military and police operations. As such, the commission of sexual crimes cannot be seen simply as excessive acts of individual soldiers or police officers, but must be looked at in the broader context of the situation in the DR Congo. The European parent companies of firms operating in such environments must adapt their risk management strategy accordingly and must ensure that they are neither directly nor indirectly involved in human rights violations. In these cases organizational safeguards must be subjected to higher standards, which can be derived from existing international standards.

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