Are sexual and gender-based crimes still an ICC no-go zone?

06 April 2015 by Ella Sonja West, The Hague (The Netherlands)

At the International Criminal Court (ICC), prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence has been notoriously difficult. Documentary evidence has often proved insufficient and local officials, unwilling to cooperate. Despite such challenges, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), since Fatou Bensouda took over in 2012, has prioritized prosecution of such crimes.

Bosco Ntaganda, for whom the ICC pre-trial chamber unanimously confirmed all charges of sexual and gender-based crimes (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
Image caption: 
Bosco Ntaganda, for whom the ICC pre-trial chamber unanimously confirmed all charges of sexual and gender-based crimes (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)

Still, her success has been underwhelming. 

Since the court began, 60 percent of the charges for sexual and gender-based crimes (SGBC) brought by the OTP have proceeded to trial. Although a decision currently pending in the Jean-Pierre Bemba case may upset the record, so far there have been no convictions. Experts have been wondering why the court appears to be lagging behind here.

A “lack of accurate data to assess the gravity of SGBC due to under- and non-reporting of these crimes” is a frequent problem, says OTP spokesperson Florence Olara. Many victims hesitate to come forward because sexual violence carries a stigma of “uncleanness” that frequently causes families and communities to ostracize them, she tells IJT.

Proving SGBC, moreover, has its own set of criteria, different from other crimes, finds Kelly Askin, a legal officer for international justice at the Open Society Foundation. “Senior leaders are often held accountable, for instance, for mass slaughter, even when they are not present when the crimes were committed. Mass rape – not so much,” she says.  

Want to read more?

We have tailor-made memberships for students, individuals, groups of professionals and large companies and organizations. A subscription entitles you to receive the International Justice Tribune every two weeks as well as become a member of the Justice Tribune Foundation, supporting independent reporting on international justice.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
17 November 2010 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was once a business tycoon, a warlord, a vice-president - and currently still has a seat in DR Congo’s senate. But from Monday he may take his seat in the dock as the most high profile war crimes suspect at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Prosecutors say he bears responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic (CAR), whose citizens are closely following the controversial process.

blog
Bosco Ntaganda at the start of his trial (Flickr/ ICC-CPI)
02 September 2015 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

The trial of Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda which opened before the International Criminal Court Wednesday is a test of the prosecutor’s new strategy to look at sexual and gender-based violence in all of the cases [IJT-179].

In this case,  for the first time, the ICC has agreed that sexual violence against child soldiers by their own commanders could constitute a war crime. 

article
19 November 2014 by Janet H. Anderson

Trial chamber judges heard closing arguments last week in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, the former vice-president of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Bemba’s is the third trial to reach closing arguments at the ICC.

article
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda during the October 2014 status conferences concerning the status of cooperation between her office and Kenya (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
25 March 2015 by Tjitske Lingsma, The Hague (The Netherlands)

This article examines the value the International Criminal Court is increasingly placing on digital data and other technology as a way to reduce reliance on witness testimony. It completes a series by Tjitske Lingsma on the challenges faced by the ICC's Office of the Prosecution. The first article looked at its problems with witnesses [IJT-176] and the second, with intermediaries [IJT-177].

article
14 May 2014 by Tjitske Lingsma, The Hague (The Netherlands)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is facing, for the first time, a case of offenses against the “administration of justice”, behind closed doors. Two lawyers for the ICC defendent Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, plus two other persons, were arrested six months ago for allegedly bribing witnesses. With the unprecedented appointment of an ‘independent counsel’, the questions about how the prosecutor has investigated this case abound.