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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gender Gets a Raised Profile at the ICC

Besouda and Inder at Coalition Reception for the New ICC Prosecutor. Photo courtesy of CICC

What has caught my attention in recent months is that gender issues have been given a raised profile at the International Criminal Court. Since Fatou Bensouda’s rise to chief prosecutor, the OTP has started placing important emphasis on addressing and prosecuting sexual and gender based crimes. It has also appointed a new gender advisor, Brigid Inder. Inder brings with her years of experience in gender related violence. She is mostly well known through the human rights organization Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, which regularly publishes gender reports on situations of armed conflict. The organization advocates for the accountability of gender crimes through the International Criminal Court.

Inder has stressed the crucial importance of prosecuting gender crimes with the help of the ICC. In a recent address to the Court she made clear that the OTP would need to alter its strategy to enhance its effectiveness. Part of this strategy means undertaking investigations and prosecutions into gender-based crimes and the appointment of more gender analysts and specialists within the organ itself. What I very much like about her approach, is her recognition and involvement of experienced professionals at the Court who understand and who have dealt with gender related crimes. The ‘cherry on the cake’, would be if such professionals were trained or recruited on the basis of their cultural knowledge as well, given the contexts in which they operate. Her approach in accessing women and victims through the use of local organisations, credible enough to understand the issues at play, is to be commended. Such an investment is important, as issues of rape and sexual violence, remain often of the time, a private matter and generally unspoken of, within many African communities. Understanding the culture and taboos at play are therefore essential if victims are to speak out. So in other words, building up the support of local organizations, equipped with adequate cultural knowledge is a step in the right direction if the Court is to increase effectiveness and legitimacy in each of its situation countries.

Separate to this, I’m also wondering if this sudden focus on gender is somehow related to the prosecution of Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former President Laurent Gbagbo now at the International Court? The case is attention grabbing because she is the first woman to be prosecuted by the ICC. The counts against her include murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence  and persecution as crimes against humanity, committed in Cote d Ivoire between December 2010 and April 2011. The attention grabbing part is that she is a woman firstly, and secondly that she is being held accountable for the crime of rape. The words 'woman accountable for rape' are almost in antithesis to each other and in most people's minds don't usually go together. You can refer to the arrest warrant here.