Workshop: Prosecuting sexual and gender based violence crimes at international courts and tribunals: recent advances and ongoing challenges

 

Systematic sexual and gender-based violence are increasingly recognised as defining characteristics of contemporary armed conflict. A range of international measures has been adopted in response to sexual violence committed against women in post-conflict settings. In particular, throughout the 1990s the international gender justice movement sought to extend opportunities to address sexual violence against women through international criminal law, and in particular the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC drew critical lessons on investigating and prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence crimes from earlier UN ad hoc tribunals, including the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), which have been at the forefront of advancing international criminal law with respect to the prosecution of those accused of crimes of sexual and gender-based violence during conflict.

Inspired by the development of this critical jurisprudence on gender based violence crimes, the UNSW Australian Human Rights Centre hosted a workshop and lunch-time book launch on ‘Prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence crimes at international courts and tribunals: recent advances and ongoing challenges’.

The workshop featured panels of current and former prosecutors from the ICTY, academics and practitioners who reflected on the challenges, experiences and lessons learned from international, regional and hybrid tribunals, highlighting the potential and limitations of the legal framework in responding to sexual and gender-based violence crimes.

The first panel challenged current and former prosecutors of the ICTY from Australia to reflect on the obstacles to investigating and prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence crimes, as well as the key legacies emerging from the ICTY, and what more needs to be done to cement these legacies in other tribunals. The panel included Michelle Jarvis, Principal Legal Counsel, ICTY; Judge Julia Baly SC, NSW District Court Judge and former Trial Attorney for the Office of the Prosecutor, ICTY; and Graham Blewitt, Magistrate and former Deputy Prosecutor, ICTY.

The second panel broadened the regional and institutional scope of the workshop to include reflections by academics on the challenges of prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence crimes in other justice settings. In particular, Dr. Rosemary Grey, Melbourne Law School, focused on the evolving practice regarding the prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Prof. Sarah Williams, UNSW Faculty of Law, presented some of the current challenges regarding the crime of forced marriage during the Khmer Rouge regime within the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Prof. Andrea Durbach, UNSW Faculty of Law, presented recent research reviewing the Women’s hearings in South Africa, Peru, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Japan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Guatemala as an alternative accountability mechanism for transitional justice. Finally, Kirsten Keith, also from the UNSW Faculty of Law, reflected on her experience supporting the prosecution team to hold Charles Taylor accountable within the Special Court for Sierra Leone for sexual violence crimes, particularly forced marriage.

The final panel centred on victims of sexual and gender-based violence crimes from the perspective of representatives of nongovernmental organisations working at the forefront of responding to crimes in the field and advocating for greater accountability through justice mechanisms. Anna Griffin, NSW International Humanitarian Law officer, Australian Red Cross, spoke of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ approach to responding to sexual violence crimes within an international humanitarian law framework, and the challenges of implementing the principles and legal norms in practice. Jonathan O’Donohue, Legal Advisor for Amnesty International, presented on the rights of victims and the extent to which they are or are not being implemented and promoted through international criminal justice and what impact this has on victims.

 

For a full programme and participant biographies, please click here.

 

Acknowledgement

This Workshop is linked to an Australian Research Council Discovery Project: DP 140102274. For more information on this research, please visit: http://www.ahrcentre.org/topics/transformative-reparations-combat-sexual-violence-against-women-post-conflict-settings