Rape is a war crime
History was made recently at the International Criminal Court (ICC) when former Congolese vice president Jean Pierre Bemba was found guilty of murder, rape and pillaging during the 2002-2003 conflict in the Central African Republic.
Observers said the decision was historic for two reasons.
First, it marks the first time that the ICC has found a commander guilty for actions committed by his troops, under the concept of command responsibility. Second, and more significant, the verdict “marks the first ICC conviction for rape and gender-based violence.” Before this, the use of sexual violence was considered part and parcel of the general “fog of war.”
Even more noteworthy is the fact that the decision was made by three women judges of the ICC: Judge Sylvia Steiner of Brazil, Judge Joyce Aluoch of Kenya, and Judge Kuniko Ozaki of Japan. All three justices, said the background material, “are well respected with distinguished legal careers in their own countries and on the international stage.”
“But in reading the findings—where the court found that not only was rape committed against numerous women and men by the forces commanded by Bemba, but also that these forms of sexual violence were part of the modus operandi of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo troops that he led” said a commentary—“one can’t help but wonder if a panel of three men would have come to the same conclusion. International criminal law has made tremendous strides in the last 20 years in recognizing the real injury and trauma that sexual violence inflicts on its victims, but it is also fighting centuries of established norms where rape was seen as a regrettable, but acceptable, part of war.”
The unanimous decision marks a significant step forward for the ICC in breaking new ground in international law, observers said. “But it also highlights how important the diversity of jurists is in holding leaders responsible for their crimes,” they said, noting that the three justices “may have made a difference.”
Although this is the first conviction for rape at the ICC, reports said, it is not the first time international tribunals have tackled gender-based violence.
“But understanding the importance of holding fighters and commanders responsible for gender-based violence was a slow endeavor. Advocates for a stronger stance on gender-based violence in international criminal law often point to the now-infamous exchange between Judge Navanethem Pillay and the prosecution during the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda [ICTR]. A local politician during the genocide who oversaw the killing of Tutsis in his jurisdiction, Akayesu originally did not face charges of sexual violence. But after several witnesses testified to the extensive use of rape and sexual violence by the accused and those he commanded, Judge Pillay—the only woman in the trial chamber on the case—pursued the testimony and questioned the prosecution’s choice to not include sexual violence as a crime against humanity.” (Pillay would later serve as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights).
The fight to include sexual violence as one of the grounds in deciding culpability for war crimes was carried further by several women’s rights groups, which filed an amicus brief with the ICTR detailing the importance of including sexual violence in the court’s purview. The intervention worked; the Akayesu case is now known for not just the first time an international tribunal found a person guilty of genocide, but also the first time a tribunal found that rape and sexual violence constituted independent crimes against humanity.
Louise Chappell of University of New South Wales noted that “through its judgment [in Akayesu], women were recognized as individuals, as members of a group as well as having a reproductive role. For once, the woman of international law was seen as being multidimensional.”
That ruling, relatively early in the work of the ICTR, helps explain why the ICTR became the vanguard tribunal in establishing sexual violence and gender-based crimes as serious breaches of international law, worthy of prosecution at the highest levels of international criminal law. In 2014, even as the ICTR prepared to wrap up its final cases and close down, it released a best practices guide for the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence based on the experiences of the tribunal.
And speaking of gender justice, “Women for Leni,” a support group behind the candidacy of Rep. Leni Robredo for vice president, invites the public to take part in “PiliLeni Na!” a fund-raising and publicity event for the candidate, as well as the launching of a new ice cream flavor called, what else, PiliLeni.
The event takes place at Papa Diddi’s et al., a snack and ice-cream bar on Maginhawa Street, which is fast turning into the foodie street of Quezon City, on Sunday, April 10 from 4-7 p.m.
For P1,000, supporters can take home a pint of PiliLeni ice cream, a reference to Robredo’s Bicolana roots. For P500, patrons can partake of three scoops of ice cream, one of which will be, of course, PiliLeni. So, what’re you waiting for? PiliLeni na!
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