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Developing a Global Agenda for Gender Justice

FRIDAY FILE: Gender based violence is a staple of conflict throughout the world. What are some of the key issues and spaces for gender justice advocacy in 2010?

By Kathambi Kinoti

At the recent ten-year review conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC), one of the side events was a Women’s Court: a space for women to ‘testify’ about their experiences during and after armed conflict in their countries. This event, organised by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, drew attention to the particularized harms that women and girls experience during armed conflict, the need for multiple forms of accountability and reconciliation, and the fact that crimes against women continue to be under-investigated and prosecuted. Everybody loses in war, and women, no matter on what side of the fault lines they find themselves, go through certain experiences simply because they are women.

Brigid Inder, Executive Director of the Women’s Initiatives, says of the Court: “The idea was to provide a platform for women directly affected by armed conflict to provide testimonies about their own experiences and those of their communities. All of them spoke of the widespread gender-based violence committed by militias and national armies, the aggression of their governments against their own citizens, the political interests supporting these conflicts, and the need for justice and a permanent end to the fighting.”

This year is especially significant for gender justice: The ten-year review of the Rome Statute has been undertaken; it is fifteen years since the Fourth World Conference on Women was held and ten years since Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was passed; the long anticipated stronger, better resourced UN women’s agency has finally been established; and there have also been several key spaces convened for gender justice advocates by the Women’s Initiatives.

The role of the United Nations in delivering gender justice through its various institutions, instruments and processes, has been under the spotlight. The Rome Statute which established the ICC was the first major global acknowledgement by states of the gendered manifestations of conflict, and their first commitment to address this. As Cleo Wilder wrote in the run-up to the review conference: “Given the trenchant opposition which the Women’s Caucus [predecessor to the Women’s Inititatives] faced from certain states and NGOs, and despite compromises made to placate the sceptics, the achievements of Rome were far reaching and unprecedented.” The Statute defines as crimes against humanity and war crimes a whole range of crimes commonly perpetrated against women during war.

As well as Resolution 1325, the UN Security Council has passed Resolutions 1820 and 1888 aimed at protecting women in conflict-affected areas, facilitating mechanisms for redress and ensuring their representation in peace and reconstruction processes.

Crime of Aggression

The ten-year review conference of the ICC – which took place in Kampala, Uganda from May 31 to June 11, 2010 – addressed the definition of the crime of aggression and outlined the ICC’s jurisdiction in relation to this crime. The permanent members of the UN Security Council wanted to retain their absolute power to decide when a state is an aggressor and what sanctions to take against it. With Russia’s aggression against Georgia, the French presence in Rwanda and the invasion of Iraq by the United States (backed by the United Kingdom), the Security Council members hardly have a history of clean hands in this area. According to Inder, the legacy of the Iraq war has politicized negotiations on the crime of aggression for the past eight years. “Despite a change of administration in the US,” she says. “The invasion of Iraq, which Kofi Annan, the then Secretary General of the UN, described as illegal in 2002, was one of the most politically defining elements of the negotiations regarding a crime of aggression.”

In the end a crime of aggression was adopted albeit with limited jurisdiction granted to the ICC. Although the crime has been included in the international criminal code it is not complemented by a mechanism which can effectively ensure accountability. ”As often happens,” says Inder. “The practice of justice lags behind the law. We will see change happening at a very slow pace but now at least the crime is defined and the Security Council has to share aspects of its jurisdiction with the ICC, which in the past it did not have to consider.” She believes that progress on these issues is related to the larger need for comprehensive Security Council reform.

Reviewing ICC’s Work

The Review Conference was a moment to take stock of the ICC’s role in the past decade in prosecuting and deterring war and genocide-related crimes. The stock-taking process focused on four facets of justice:

  • Impact of the Rome Statute on victims and affected communities: how these parties perceive and experience justice;

  • Complementarity: The ICC is a court of last resort and states have a duty to ensure that justice is upheld in local jurisdictions. In many cases the local justice systems do not have either the political will or the legal infrastructure to effectively prosecute crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC, particularly gender-based crimes, and especially where local laws do not recognize these kinds of crimes or where anti-discrimination policies are weak or non-existent.

  • Cooperation;

  • Peace and justice.

Women’s rights activists had a strong presence at the ICC ten-year review conference. The Women’s Initiatives organised a 35-member delegation of women’s rights activists from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Uganda. According to Inder, plans to have Sudanese women join them were cancelled after Sudan’s authorities issued threats against anyone attending the review conference and denounced them in the media as being “traitors” who were “compromising” the country’s constitution. To give volume and visibility to the roles and experiences of women in conflict-affected areas, the Women’s Initiatives held the Women’s Court which consisted of four panels moderated by experts in peace and justice: Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, ICC Registrar Silvana Arbia, Elisabeth Rehn of the ICC Trust Fund for Victims and Bukeni Waruzi of Witness. From the women’s testimonies to the Court, it was clear that crimes perpetrated against women are prosecuted at a far lower rate than other conflict-related crimes.

The Women’s Initiatives launched a call to action on specific priorities for advancing gender justice:

  • Greater gender capacity in judicial systems around the world;

  • Implementing the Rome Statute and its extensive gender provisions and ensuring that domestic laws and processes meet the standards set in the Statute;

  • Facilitating meaningful victim participation in justice processes;

  • Ensuring that the Trust Fund for Victims is well resourced and significantly assists women victims of armed conflicts;

  • Developing stronger jurisprudence on crimes perpetrated against women;

  • Ensuring that states cooperate with the ICC by arresting suspects and handling surrenders by those indicted for offences;

  • The appointment by the United Nations of the first woman chief mediator in a UN-sponsored peace process;

  • Adherence by the UN to the implementation of its own Security Council resolutions by ensuring the participation of women in peace talks and guaranteeing that peace agreements provide an end to impunity for acts of sexual violence.

International Gender Justice Dialogue

Another important space for gender justice work was convened by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice in collaboration with the Nobel Women’s Initiative, in April 2010, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. At this forum, diversity of actors came together to contribute to conceptualization and action towards a global gender justice plan. The participants at the International Gender Justice Dialogue discussed how to pursue gender justice through formal mechanisms such as the ICC and by influencing the frameworks and methodologies of peace talks so as to infuse them with feminist analysis. Ideas from the Dialogue, along with issues which have emerged from other meetings convened by the Women’s Initiatives over the past two years, are providing the basis of a three-year global agenda for gender justice which will be completed by early 2011.

Inder says that in the future the Women’s Initiatives will convene regional and thematic gender justice dialogues as a way of contributing towards the building of a global movement of gender justice advocates and shaping justice and peace initiatives around the world.