“Rule of Law, Transitional Justice & Gender Politics”: Hague summer school

WT_logo_Grotius_Centre_Summer_SchoolsOur colleague Martine Wierenga writes to encourage readers to enroll in “Rule of Law, Transitional Justice and Gender Politics,” this year’s Human Rights and Transitional Justice Summer School, sponsored by Leiden University’s Grotius Centre for International Law Studies, located at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Here’s a description of the week-long summer school, to be held July 4 to 8, 2016, at Leiden’s Hague campus:

Transitions from conflict to peace mark transformative moments for accountability, justice and gender politics. In many contexts, the very process of transition presents new opportunities to rethink existing gender narratives and inequalities. sanjiBut it also creates certain frictions in relation to gender conceptions (e.g. feminism versus gender inclusiveness), patterns of victimization or agency. In contemporary international practice, there is tendency to ‘mainstream’ gender discourses into legal and political responses. This summer school takes a critical look at this phenomenon. It explores how different institutional approaches, bodies of law and school of thoughts shape gender discourses and conceptions. It pays particular attention to the framing and implications of international criminal justice on gender discourses. It studies newly emerging approaches Teresa_Doherty1towards gender justice in different fields, such as peace settlements, international jurisprudence, fact-finding and reparation practices, as well as violence against boys and men. It also addresses tensions that arise in the interplay of these different fields (e.g., human rights, criminal law, development). It draws on specific country experiences (e.g. former Yugoslavia, ICC situation countries) to examine the nexus between international responses and local context. It further studies gender politics and complementarity.

The week will feature are area of lectures, role-playing, and other learning exercises. As detailed in the programme, the summer school will open with a keynote address by International Criminal Court Judge Sanji Mmasenon Monageng (above right). Later in the week, Justice Teresa Doherty (above left) of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone will lecture on “Gender justice in the field.”

Among other scheduled speakers are 2 IntLawGrrls contributors:

► Dr. Catherine O’Rourke (below left), Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law at Ulster University, on “Gender narratives and politics” (prior posts)orourke-2

► Kate Orlovsky (below right), Programme Researcher, ICC and ICL Programme, International Bar Association, on “Gender Politics and complementarity” (prior posts)

Also slated to give lectures are:

► Dr. Chris Dolan, Director Refugee Law Program, Makerere University, Uganda, on “Violence against men and boys”

Erin Gallagher, ICC Investigator, on “Fact-finding and gender”orlovksy

Michelle Jarvis, Principal Legal Counsel, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, on “International jurisprudence and prosecutorial practices”

► Dr. Alejandro Kiss, Legal Officer, Trial Division, Chambers of the International Criminal Court, on “Reparation policies and practices”

► Dr. William Schabas, Professor of Human Rights Law and International Criminal Law at Leiden, on “Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Efforts to address gender-based violence”

Marieke Wierda, transitional justice expert, on “Introduction to Transitional Justice”

Details and registration here.

Tailoring Protection of Civilians to State Capacity:The Role of Regional Human Rights Protection Measures

Julieta Lemaitre (Associate Professor at Universidad de Los Andes) and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (Senior Researcher PRIO and Director for the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies)

The 2016 UN Agenda for Humanity states that minimizing human suffering and protecting civilians requires strengthening compliance with international law. In response to this call, a new PRIO policy brief offers a complementary vision of protection of civilians (PoC) as a spectrum of possibilities that includes local self-protection efforts, legal strategies, and the practice of judicial and quasi-judicial bodies. The approach is illustrated by the life-cycle of the protection measures ordered for the Colombian Kankuamo by the Inter-American human rights system.

Today, many contemporary armed conflicts and threats to civilians coexist with existing state bureaucracies and civil societies, however fragile. Hence there is a more general need for a better understanding of legal protection measures in relation to the goal of protecting civilians in armed conflicts and the goal of strengthening state capacity to abide by the rule of law.

The PoC agenda arrived at the scene of international politics as a central normative ambition only at the end of the Cold War. When picked up in reaction to the civilian suffering in civil wars and genocide throughout the 1990s, PoC was transformed from a set of limited legal regulations and a doctrine pertaining to the conduct of the military into an organizing principle for international engagement in conflict-ridden countries.

Historically, PoC was understood as a legal principle, within the application of international humanitarian law, as promoted by the International Committee of the Red Cross. From the 1990s, PoC has evolved into a guideline for the intervention of humanitarian organizations. Despite a high international profile, the realization of the PoC agenda has been hampered by conceptual confusion, operational difficulties, and insufficient understanding of how normative developments and the self-protection efforts of civilians can best be aligned. Moreover, the ‘humanitarian imperative’ to protect has involved an increasing militarization of PoC, whereby PoC has become identified with increasingly robust UN peacekeeping activities.

In the 2016 Agenda for Humanity, the Secretary General calls for a concerted global effort to prevent the erosion of international humanitarian and human rights law, demand greater compliance with them and uncompromisingly pursue the protection of civilians.

Responding to this call for a recentring of law in the struggle to protect civilians, we argue that PoC should be imagined as a spectrum of possibilities, with an emphasis on subsidiarity and state capacity. When tailoring PoC to state capacity, international and national legal bodies are the means for holding states with the capacity to protect civilians accountable for their security. PoC is then operationalized through state action and civil society efforts to shape and monitor implementation. This requires an expansion of territorial control by the state, especially by a state bound by the rule of law, and not just the extension of control by state armed forces and paramilitary allies acting outside the rule of law.

Taking a bottom-up approach to this process makes visible how grassroots actors strategically use legal protection as part of their self-protection efforts, and how state response is entangled in its own interests. To that end, this brief makes reference to the successful experience of the Kankuamo people in Colombia, and the complex relation between protection measures and actions taken by both the state and Kankuamo authorities to curb violence against civilians.

You can read this policy brief here.

This policy brief is an output from the project Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice, funded by the Norwegian Research Council under the HUMPOL program. The project aims to ascertain the role and impact of contemporary policies and practices of PoC. The project is organized under the auspices of PRIO and the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies.

Transitional Justice and State Responsibility

If international atrocity crimes are acts so egregious that their impunity cannot be legally tolerated, why don’t we punish States that commit them? I explore this question in my recent article A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing? Transitional Justice and the Effacement of State Accountability for International Crimes, published in the Fordham International Law Journal. States and individuals each may be responsible under international law for the same incidents of mass atrocities: individuals under international criminal law and States under the law of state responsibility. Yet when the international community mobilizes to sanction State-perpetrated atrocities, it moves to punish individual perpetrators and side steps States. For example, a 2014 proposal before the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC made no mention of legal responsibility of the Syrian State for violation of obligations erga omnes. I argue that part of the reason the international community prefers enforcing international criminal responsibility over holding states accountable is transitional justice.

Transitional justice has emerged as the dominant normative framework for how the international community responds to mass violence. Within transitional justice, the legacy of the Nuremberg trials has produced individual criminal accountability as the highest form of legal accountability for atrocities. Transitional justice rejects punishing States for atrocities as illiberal (collective punishment) and illegitimate (lack of positive law). Advocates justified the ad hoc criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda by arguing that punishing individual war criminals was necessary to avoid collective guilt and would promote reconciliation. Transitional justice has focused on legal accountability for individuals and needs to consider what State responsibility offers as a normative and practical matter. Without legal accountability, States enjoy moral and legal impunity for their crimes. States escape their legal obligations to repair the injury they cause and to institute reforms that secure a fuller measure of justice and peace.

The pursuit of State responsibility for atrocity crimes furthers the aims of transitional justice in important conceptual and practical ways. Accountability for international crimes is a bedrock international principle around which the United Nations has organized international transitional justice policy. Rule of law ideals have thoroughly infused the international justice discourse. Yet international rule of law principles apply equally to States. So when, in the name of accountability for international crimes, transitional justice effectively ignores State legal responsibility, transitional justice undermines the international commitment to rule of law.

In the case of mass atrocities, States violate norms of the highest order—genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes—and obligations owed to the international community as a whole. Such transgressions deserve to be acknowledged as such. State-perpetrated mass slaughter of civilians is conducted in furtherance of a State policy, and relies on multiple collective dimensions of the State to advance this criminal pursuit. To the extent that transitional justice pursues international criminal sanctions, these acts when carried out by States also should be identified as wrongs, and offending States should be held accountable.

Continue reading

Guilty Verdict in Guatemala Trial on Sexual Slavery and Sexual Violence as Crimes Against Humanity

After almost a month-long trial, Judge Yassmin Barrios and her two colleagues on February 25 found two military officers guilty of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual slavery and domestic slavery against 11 Maya Q’eqchi’ women. The defendants, former Col. Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Girón and former military commissioner (local army representative in rural areas) Heriberto Valdez Asig, were sentenced to 120 and 240 years in prison, respectively. The first was also found guilty of the murder of Dominga Coc and her two young girls, while the second was also convicted of the forced disappearance of seven men, who were the husbands of the women. The defendants were convicted for both direct participation and for their roles as those in charge of the base.

As narrated in an earlier post, the case had its origins in the families’ efforts to establish legal title to their lands in eastern Guatemala. Local landlords called in the army, which treated the local population as “guerrillas,” detaining the men, who were never seen again. Once the men were captured and disappeared, the women were considered fair game. They were moved to the outskirts of the military base, where they were forced to take turns cooking, cleaning and being raped by soldiers. The judgment found that the victims’ accounts of the rapes, corroborated by former soldiers and men who had been imprisoned and tortured in the military base of Sepur Zarco, were credible and proved the elements of the crime.

Guatemala’s penal code art. 378 is a hybrid of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and includes “inhuman acts against a civilian population.” Earlier cases had established that unenumerated acts could constitute inhuman acts even if not explicitly described in the law, so long as they were criminalized in national or international law. The prosecution and civil complainants (a coalition of women’s groups) presented expert evidence on the criminal nature of sexual violence, sexual slavery and domestic slavery under international law, on the political roots of the crimes in land issues, on military structure and other themes.
At trial, the women covered their faces with traditional shawls to hide their identity. Supporters noted that the women had been subject to stigma and isolation when they returned to their communities, while defense lawyers tried to paint the women as prostitutes who were now seeking to cash in on reparations payments with the support of foreign NGOs. The judges would have none of it, recognizing the courage of the women “for appearing, testifying and publicly denouncing the multiple sexual attacks to which they were subject, which have undoubtedly left them with irreversible post-traumatic stress.” The judges found that the women were treated as war booty, and that the fact that they no longer had husbands made them available, in the eyes of the military, for any kind of abuse.
0b197ffc-afde-4014-85b7-818c0c6869b6_749_499“Acknowledging the truth helps to heal the wounds of the past and the application of justice is a right of the victims and helps strengthen the rule of law in our country, creating awareness that these types of crimes should not be repeated,” Judge Barrios declared.
This is the first case in a national court convicting military defendants for crimes of sexual violence and sexual slavery committed against their own citizens. As discussed here and here, international and internationalized criminal courts to date have been reluctant to, and not very good at, charging and proving these crimes, although upcoming cases may change that. It shows the importance of long-term work with groups of victims – one of the coalition of groups, ECAP – had been providing psychosocial help to the victims for over a decade. It brought together women’s groups (another of the civil complainant groups is called Women Transforming the World), groups working with indigenous women, and human rights groups. And it showed the importance of insisting on making national courts do their job, fighting impunity even under very difficult circumstances.

 

Learning About International Justice on the Ground—The Balkans & War Crimes (Part I)

By Belinda Cooper and Jennifer Trahan

Students of international affairs or international law can learn about the field of international justice through textbooks, films, discussions and lectures in the classroom, but an additional depth of understanding comes from traveling to the locations where crimes occurred, observing tribunals adjudicating those crimes, and meeting in the field with court officials, NGOs and victims.

Each year, we lead a group of master’s degree students from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs on a trip to The Hague, Bosnia, and Serbia to learn about war crimes prosecutions and issues surrounding international and transitional justice. We both work in the international justice field, and over the course of years have built up networks of contacts in both The Hague and the Balkans region; we are thus able to introduce students to a broad variety of actors and institutions and thereby expose them very directly to the controversies and pitfalls, as well as successes, of international and transitional justice.

THE HAGUE

While still in New York, we hold a number of class sessions that provide basic background on the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the ways in which judicial systems and societies deal with the aftermath of mass atrocity crimes. But the trip really begins in The Hague, which puts us on the doorstep of international institutions, even in the literal sense: our hotel is next door to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). That tribunal has been the focus of our Hague visit, but we also bring students to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and on occasion the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

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International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

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NYU Group at the Peace Palace

To provide some insight into the history of the movement for international justice, we spend some time at Andrew Carnegie’s imposing Peace Palace, the home of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Whenever possible, we sit in on trials at the ICTY and ICC; in past years, student have had the chance to view the Karadžić and Mladić trials, Haradinaj, Bemba, and others. Sitting barely feet away from accused war criminals and hearing lawyers, judges and witnesses speak brings home the drama—and sometimes the tedium—of international criminal trials.

In addition, we organize substantive meetings with a wide variety of people involved in the courtroom process: these include the various offices of the ICTY (prosecution, defense, judges, outreach, registry) and the ICC, as well as journalists covering the tribunals. Highlights of past years have included ICTY Judge Theodore Meron, ICC Judge Hans-Peter Kaul, Karadžić defense advisor Peter Robinson, SENSE news chief Mirko Klarin, and many others. Sometimes serendipity takes a hand: this year, the chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Serge Brammertz, passed our students as they waited to enter the building and began a conversation with them. At these meetings, students gain insight into the mechanisms of international justice, and profit from speaking directly to people involved every day in the nitty-gritty of preparing and carrying out trials of major war criminals.

The impression they receive is an understandably positive one of successful, if not always perfect, institutions staffed by dedicated, skilled, and often idealistic professionals. But questions about the efficacy of the tribunals on the ground in former Yugoslavia already arise in our discussions about the ICTY’s reception in the region, its outreach program, and its perceived legacy. These concerns increase in immediacy and intensity once we arrive in the region, and they become a central focus of our discussions.   (To read more, see Part II.)

Go On! Geneva Academy new Master of Advanced Studies on Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law (deadline 29 Feb.)

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The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights has launched a new Master of Advanced Studies on Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law (September 2016–August 2017). Based in Geneva, this one-year program combines in-depth theoretical knowledge with ‘real world’ perspectives. The Faculty comprises leading scholars and practitioners working in the area of transitional justice, human rights and the rule of law – including Professor William Schabas, Dr. Rama Mani and Professor Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The deadline to apply is 29 February (with scholarship request) or 31 March (without).

One of the special features of the program is a concern to link academic teaching and research with practical work and professionalizing activities. The program offers students access to work experience in leading international agencies dedicated to transitional justice, human rights and rule of law concerns. Throughout the year, a transitional justice clinic will be held to serve as a platform for students to share their practical experiences and to facilitate dialogue and critical reflection on specific cases and situations.

The program adopts a highly personalized approach to teaching and academic life by providing individualized guidance and one-to-one counseling for students, namely via personalized academic mentoring, career coaching and the coordination of internships. For more information, visit http://www.master-transitionaljustice.ch.

Casas de la Memoria to Conviction?

From “casas de la memoria” in Guatemala, Peru, and El Salvador to an upcoming international colloquium in Spain entitled “From Past to Future: Memory and the Process of Transition,” the development of collective memory – an enduring and shared memory of events – is taking center stage as one path toward healing the wounds of a tattered national conscience and preventing the recurrence of mass atrocities. But to what extent is collective memory compatible with judicial systems, which tend to be very individual-centered?

An annual online symposium co-hosted by Opinio Juris and NYU Journal of International Law and Politics (JILP) that went live this morning is exploring this very question. The focus of the symposium is The (Re)collection of Memory After Mass Atrocity and the Dilemma for Transnational Justice, my article that was recently published in Volume 47, Number 4, of NYU JILP.

The impetus for this article arises from the challenges I encountered in working with survivors of mass atrocity. The indivisibility of their memory struck me, as did the healing and bonds it generated. As I began to examine the literature on collective memory, I realized that I was not alone in this observation. Scholars from disciplines ranging from sociology to clinical psychology have written about and documented collective memory and its cathartic effects.

My article explores the tension between the preservation of collective memory and another impulse that follows mass atrocity: the desire for justice. Because many judicial systems are heavily influenced by notions of individualism, they are by design ill equipped to accommodate collective memory. Traditional rules of evidence and professional conduct often exhibit a single-minded focus on individual representation by replicating models that assume one client who autonomously makes legal decisions without consulting his or her community. Bound by these rules, attorneys must disrupt or even dismantle collective memory, thereby retraumatizing their clients.

In this article, I offer an alternative. I believe that human rights attorneys should instead endeavor to preserve and promote collective memory. For that reason, I urge a fundamental rethinking of the law’s preference for individual memory in the context of transitional justice. I believe that the inclusion of collective memory would better serve the goals of transitional justice by facilitating a more complete understanding of the collective harms of mass atrocity and possibly advancing reconciliation.

Today and tomorrow, Opinio Juris will feature comments on my article from four distinguished scholars:

Mark A. Drumbl is the Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law and Director of the Transnational Law Institute at Washington & Lee University.
Naomi Roht-Arriaza is Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Hastings College of Law (and a fellow IntLawGrrl!Ed.).
Ruti Teitel is Ernst C. Stiefel Professor of Comparative Law at New York Law School.
Johan D. van der Vyver is the I.T. Cohen Professor of International Law and Human Rights, Emory University School of Law.

Tomorrow, I will respond to their comments. I welcome you to join the conversation by posting your thoughts here.

Burundi: no business as usual

If ever evidence was needed to show that the transition from conflict to sustainable peace is a long, hard road, recent events in Burundi have demonstrated it.

The announcement on 23 April 2015 by President Nkurunziza that he would run for a third term sparked fierce opposition. Although Burundi’s constitution contains a two term limit, Nkurunziza argues, and the Constitutional Court agreed (albeit reportedly under pressure) that his first term does not count because he was appointed by parliament rather than in a general election. Serious protests then rocked the capital Bujumbura, with increasing reports of violence between government forces and protesters. Such reports would have been worrying in any country, but were particularly concerning in Burundi, a country with a long history of mass violence that has been negotiating a protracted and painful transition to peace since the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in August 2000.

The situation then evolved fast. On Thursday 14 May, an attempted coup d’état took place when the president was in neighbouring Tanzania for an emergency meeting with members of the East African Community. The coup has now been quelled, the President has returned to Burundi, and many of those responsible have been arrested. However, the media black-out that has been forcibly imposed on the country through the burning down of the main media and radio houses remains in place, and the situation remains highly charged.

Yet again, it feels like Burundi has reached a crucial junction. In many respects, the government’s actions and words over the next days and weeks are likely to determine whether or not the country’s trajectory will take it closer to civil war or allow it to continue the painful progression towards greater stability. For the situation to diffuse rather than escalate, a number of things need to happen.

First, President Nkurunziza needs to ensure the fair treatment of those arrested – and already there are concerning reports that this is not the case. While the forcible seizure of power is clearly a breach of national and international law and needs to be treated as such, their actions have to be considered within the broader political context in which they took place. Therefore, the president needs to ensure that any action taken not only respects national and international human rights protections, but also is sensitive to the genuine grievances of protesters and others. Ultimately, the president should accept that he is, in part, responsible.

Second, and related, the issue of President Nkurunziza’s third term in office needs to be addressed. The old adage says that that which does not kill you makes you stronger, and there is a danger that, having weathered this threat, President Nkurunziza will emerge emboldened. However, it would be a huge mistake to overlook the strength of feeling that has been, and still is being, demonstrated, quite literally, on the streets of Bujumbura. Renouncing his intention to stand for a third term would avoid conflict and allow Nkurunziza to ensure a proper democratic transition of power.

Third, while much of the attention over the past days has been on events in the capital, Bujumbura, there is a growing refugee crisis in neighbouring countries. Since 2005, the return and reintegration of those who fled previous violence was a crucial component to the broader reconstruction of the country. Now, once again, the return of those who have fled will be a crucial marker of the government’s legitimacy: indeed, the government can prove its commitment to peace by ensuring that those who have fled into exile are able to return voluntarily and with dignity.

Fourth, and facilitating return, it is vital that the government bring its armed elements under control. Allegedly one of the main causes of flight has been threats from, and human rights abuses committed by, the government’s notorious armed youth wing, the imbonerakure (meaning “those who can see from far”). Its continuing presence is likely not only to increase the refugee crisis, but also to prevent those who have fled from returning.

Fifth, press freedom is crucial. The fact that so little information is available within Burundi is extremely dangerous: the vacuum it leaves is inevitably filled with rumour. And rumours generate instability as people are living in fear and uncertainty. Therefore it is vital that a free press be allowed to function as crucial evidence for – and the function of – democratic space.

Finally, it is clearer than ever that the elections slated for June need to be postponed until there is a environment in which they can viably take place in a free and fair manner. Forging ahead with the mechanisms but not the substance of democracy never works. Although the president might appear to have contained the current crisis (although that remains to be seen), an unfree and unfair election will, at best, simply be a holding exercise. At worst, it could fuel considerably more violence as tensions simmering under the surface re-emerge.

Ultimately, the need for equitable governance to become strongly entrenched within Burundi is vital to its political health moving forward. It is important to remember that although President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term was clearly the trigger for recent events, tensions have been simmering in Burundi for some time with the ruling regime being accused of becoming increasingly dictatorial. Local and international human rights organisations have been sounding the alarm for years. This misuse of political power is antithetical to dealing with legacies of violence. It leaves the country in a permanent state of suspended animation, always waiting to see if a trigger will lead to the kind of violence and unrest that has been witnessed over the past days. The people of Burundi deserve far more. And it is the responsibility of their government to deliver.

 

 

Go on! Update: University of Essex Human Rights Summer School

The Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex has just announced full and partial scholarships for their cutting edge human rights summer school courses.  Space is limited, so all interested participants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

The Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex is offering its five day summer school on Human Rights Research Methods from 29 June to 3 July 2015 with a keynote lecture from pioneering human rights defender, Hina Jilani. This will be followed by a second week (6-7 July) of thematic modules on cutting edge issues in human rights. These include:

  • Human Rights, Big Data and Technology (6-7 July)
  • Economic and Social Dimensions of Transitional Justice (6-7 July)
  • Human Rights and Drug Policy (6-7 July)
  • Autonomy and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (7 July)

Participants in the thematic modules will be invited to a keynote panel discussion that will include contributions from leading human rights experts: Professors Paul Hunt, Nigel Rodley, Francoise Hampson, Geoff Gilbert, and Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

For a comprehensive learning experience, participants may combine the research methods module with a thematic module (a discounted rate is available).  An international team of experts will deliver teaching sessions, including leading human rights academics and practitioners. These are essential courses for postgraduate students, academics, lawyers, those working in civil society and international organisations, and importantly, those holding positions in government, including diplomats and civil servants.  The thematic modules are run in conjunction with the Essex Transitional Justice Network, the Essex Autonomy Project, and the International Centre on Human Rights & Drug Policy.

Courses will be held in the verdant English countryside at the University of Essex campus in Wivenhoe Park, an hour train ride from central London.

A full course programme, including enrolment details are available here.  Anyone interested in scholarship applications should email hrcsumsc@essex.ac.uk to complete the short application form.

Recent developments in Colombian jurisprudence on conflict-related sexual violence

During her first visit to Colombia last month, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura drew attention to the issue of sexual violence in Colombia’s five decade long conflict. She met with government officials, survivors and civil society to discuss the progress made in preventing and responding to sexual violence. The conflict, which has involved left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and state security forces, has taken a heavy toll on the civilian population, in particular women and children. Those who have experienced sexual violence want their crimes acknowledged. Ms Bangura’s message was clear: Colombian authorities must work to end the silence and impunity surrounding these crimes.

This is an important message. Despite their prevalence, sexual violence crimes are rarely prosecuted, and impunity levels remain high. However, several recent decisions—in which courts have stressed the need for accountability—reflect positive developments in the judiciary’s handling of these crimes.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court has played a significant role in giving sexual violence crimes visibility. In January of this year, the Constitutional Court issued Auto (Order) 009, in which it noted “with alarm” the persistence of sexual violence as a serious form of gender discrimination. It urged authorities to not only address these crimes, but to comply with their obligations to prevent and ensure their non-repetition. Importantly, it stressed that all parties to the conflict were responsible for such crimes, and referred over 400 sexual violence cases to the Attorney General’s Office for investigation and prosecution.

The Court also highlighted two underreported issues. It noted that sexual violence against children illegally recruited by armed groups persists, in particular against indigenous children. During her visit, Ms Bangura also referred to this issue as well as to the silence that exists regarding the generations of children born out of rape. Additionally, the Court recognized that women are at times targeted for sexual violence and displaced because of their sexual orientation−an aspect of the conflict often ignored.

This ruling follows the Court’s landmark decision of 2008, Auto 092 on women and displacement, in which it acknowledged that women are among those most affected by displacement and that displaced women are particularly at risk of sexual violence. In that ruling, the Court stressed that sexual violence is “a habitual, extensive, systematic and invisible practice in the context of the Colombian armed conflict”. It called on the Attorney General’s Office to investigate 183 cases attached to the decision. Continue reading