Press Conference on ‘2010 Gender Report Card’ on International Criminal Court

7 December 2010

Press Conference on ‘2010 Gender Report Card’ on International Criminal Court

7 December 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on ‘2010 Gender Report Card’ on International Criminal Court

Even with the lack of reparations, or even basic services for women victims of conflict-driven violence, justice for women was “still an afterthought”, Anne Marie Goetz, Chief Adviser on Governance, Peace and Security at the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said today.

“If anyone doubts the importance of the work of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, let’s remember the rapes this summer in the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] — conflict-inspired rapes that go on all the time,” she said at a Headquarters press conference to launch the 2010 Gender Report Card on the International Criminal Court.

Ms. Goetz said it was “shocking” to learn from the report — penned by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice — about the still-low number of women witnesses and the pattern of rejecting the value of their testimony.  It was all a reminder of how critically important it was to insist on justice for war crimes, she said, adding that UNIFEM was happy to have been associated with the launch of the Gender Report Card, an example of “excellent civil society activism”.

She went on to point out that sexual violence against women in conflict had not even been understood as a war crime until relatively recently, and activism inside and outside the courts had contributed to remedying that.  Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice was one of the best examples of systematic, serious, even scientific, analysis of the situation.  For its part, UN Women would be an important actor in the United Nations system, but there was a long way to go, she cautioned, noting that even when women stood up to testify, they needed enormous support, and that less than 4 per cent of the violations they talked about concerned sexual violations in conflict situations.

Accompanying Ms. Goetz were Brigid Inder, Executive Director of Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice; Amira Khair, Women’s Initiatives Sudan Programme Officer; Maria Solis Garcia, Board Member; and Nanette Braun of UN Women, who moderated the event.

Ms. Inder explained that Women’s Initiatives was an international women’s rights organization advocating for the prosecution of gender-based crimes while working with the women most affected by armed conflicts under review and investigation by the International Criminal Court.  Such conflicts affected Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic.  The 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya had led to another investigation by the Court, and a further probe had been opened in Kyrgyzstan following the violence there in 2009.

The 2010 “report card” was the sixth produced annually, Ms. Inder said, adding that it reviews all major judicial developments, including the opening of investigations, announcements of arrest warrants, witness-protection issues, assistance to victims and outreach activities, among others.  It also reviews the International Criminal Court’s institutional development and its overall progress towards maturity as an international public institution for justice.  The report basically summarizes all major substantive developments related to the Court.

She said monitoring and critiquing the International Criminal Court was one strategy employed by Women’s Initiatives to advocate for gender-inclusive justice and promote the inclusion of women in shaping international criminal law, as lawmakers, practitioners, decision-makers, participants and beneficiaries of the justice process.  The international Court was a relatively new institution, having functioned for just seven years, and it was still developing its own benchmarks and processes, she acknowledged, touching on a few “firsts” for 2010.

For the first time, charges of genocide had been confirmed against an indictee, she noted, saying they included acts of rape and sexual violence; the first trial in relation to crimes committed in the Central African Republic had begun; the first witnesses had provided testimony in relation to sexual violence charges; the first expert witness had addressed gender-based crimes before the Court, in relation to the Lubanga case and the gender dimensions of the enlistment and conscription of child soldiers, and three participating victims had also been allowed to testify; an all women-bench had presided over a trial; and, for the first time, the Prosecutor had exercised his “proprio motu powers” by opening an investigation in relation to the post-election violence in Kenya.

It had also been a year of firsts for States parties, Ms. Inder said, highlighting the crucial decision to treat the crime of aggression as a crime accountable before the International Criminal Court.  Four more States had become Parties to the Rome Statute, bringing to 114 the total number of adherents.  However, progress was seriously lagging in terms of participation by women victims, she said, pointing to their significant under-representation on the Court, as detailed in the report.  The Court had recognized more men than women as victims “in every situation and in each case”, she said, adding that no women had been recognized in relation to two of the three Sudanese cases for which victims’ applications had been received.  Additionally, twice as many men as women on average had been recognized in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda cases.

The gender breakdown of victims was “simply out of kilter” with the crime-base of the conflicts, as documented by a variety of sources, she said, attributing that in part to women’s limited access to the range of media and information sources upon which the Court relied to reach affected communities.  “We are urging the Court to pay attention to that,” she stressed.

Touching on matters relating to the Court’s substantive prosecutions, she noted that 40 per cent of charges for gender-based crimes had been dismissed in cases for which confirmation hearings had been held, with judges mostly citing insufficient evidence.  Several judicial decisions had questioned the quality of the filings, the sufficiency of the evidence, and the linkage between the charges and elements based on the evidence presented.

Ms. Inder recalled that in the Lubanga trial, the first case before the Court involving sexual violence against girl soldiers, the charges had never been brought because they had not been prioritized in the original investigations.  Compounding that, the Prosecutor had proposed a 50 per cent reduction in investigation days for 2011.  “We are concerned that a reduction in investigation days could signal the Office of the Prosecutor intends to, or may simply lapse into, an over-reliance on media sources and other secondary material,” she warned.

Turning to the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba — former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the most senior political figure to appear before the Court — she said the case was important because evidence of sexual violence and charges of gender-based crimes comprised a significant part of the Prosecution’s case.  The trial would involve the largest number of witnesses for sexual violence in any case before the Court, she said, noting that Mr. Bemba faced charges of rape and murder as war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as pillaging as a war crime.  However, more than half the charges of gender-based crimes in that case had been dismissed, Ms. Inder said, owing to an interpretation by the judges which departed from 10 years of practice and jurisprudence in international tribunals and national courts regarding cumulative charging for crimes of sexual violence.

Ms. Khair added that since 2005, when it had begun its work in Sudan, Women’s Initiatives had focused on supporting women affected by the Darfur conflict, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions.

Ms. Garcia said that each year, the Gender Report Card represented women worldwide, including Latin American women, and was a tool to measure the response of judicial systems to femicide, sexual violence and all gender-based violence suffered by women in the region.  Referring to a speech yesterday by the President of Colombia, she said it was “a contradiction” to hear a country defending itself against all violence suffered by women.

To a series of questions concerning the legal position on rape and out-of-wedlock sex in Sudan, Ms. Khair said work was under way to reform the law in question, but women were denied access to justice and medical treatment, and, because they were suffering in conflict areas, they “can’t go and complain”.

Asked how it was possible to produce the requisite four witnesses to rape, she said that, in Sudan, everything possible was done to learn about a rape case from neighbours.  In Sharia, or Islamic law, rape was separate from adultery, and even the Government was trying to get rid of that law.

Ms. Inder added that it would not be possible to reform the law in Sudan without reforming the whole women’s agenda and advancing women’s rights.  Sudan needed a political discourse, which would eventually support a parliamentary discourse.

Replying to another question, she said Women’s Initiatives focused on countries under investigation by the International Criminal Court, so it was limited to that extent.  It needed the Prosecutor to “move from being sometimes a little more around sound bites and headlines [to] around substance and impact”.

Concerning the case against Mr. Bemba, she said there had been a factually strong and compelling opening by the Prosecution at the start of the trial, and several witnesses and victims would testify about issues of sexual violence.  The case was “one to watch; a very significant case”, she added.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.