Global Justice Center Blog

Beyond Killing: The Critical Role of Gender in the Recognition, Prevention and Punishment of Genocide

GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and international law barrister Sareta Ashraph wrote an op-ed in Just Security on the importance of recognizing the role that gender plays in genocide.

One of the women who did manage to escape was Nadia Murad. Nadia, along with the rest of her village of Kocho, was trapped by ISIL until August 15, 2014. Then, ISIL executed most of the village’s men and older boys, and forcibly transferred women and children deeper into ISIL-controlled territory. After enduring three months in captivity as a sex slave, Nadia, who was 21 at the time, escaped through her own bravery and with the help of a Muslim family. Now, she campaigns to bring attention and justice for the Yazidi genocide, and the sexual violence committed as an essential part of ISIL’s annihilative violence. This week, she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

Her acceptance speech came one day after the 70th anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly’s adoption of the Genocide Convention, which first codified the crime of genocide. The Convention’s understanding of the crime of genocide owes much to Raphael Lemkin, whose work, reflections, and advocacy spurred the international community and the then-fledgling United Nations to action. The Convention sets out binding legal obligations on States to not commit, and to prevent, suppress and punish genocide. These obligations did not protect Nadia and other Yazidis captured by ISIL in August 2014. ISIL’s genocide against the Yazidis was largely not prevented by the international community, and no prosecutions for genocide have yet occurred. This is not unique, as recent reports about attacks on Myanmar’s Rohingya community indicate. Despite the Convention’s venerated status, there has been relatively low compliance with the legal obligations it entails.

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Nadia Murad, Dr. Denis Mukwege, and the Promise of Justice

By: Sofia Garcia

In 2008, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. It states that sexual violence in war and armed conflict constitutes a war crime as well as a threat to international peace and security. Ten years later, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege for their continued efforts to end sexual violence in conflict and focus international attention on these war crimes. Recent international crises such as the Yazidi genocide by Daesh and the Rohingya genocide in Burma have again reminded us of the ongoing fight against sexual violence in conflict and rape as a weapon of war. Ms. Murad and Dr. Mukwege are leaders of the international efforts to bring justice to victims of these heinous crimes and build a world in which women and girls are protected from the sexual and gender-based violence in conflict. Their courageous work has fostered discourse around wartime rape and sexual violence, bringing victims one step closer to justice and perpetrators one step closer to accountability.

Nadia Murad became an advocate for the Yazidis after she escaped enslavement by Daesh fighters in 2014. She is a part of the Yazidi ethno-religious minority targeted by Daesh during the genocide. That year, she was one of more than 6,700 Yazidi women taken prisoner by Daesh in Iraq. She is the founder of Nadia's Initiative, an organization dedicated to "helping women and children victimized by genocide, mass atrocities, and human trafficking to heal and rebuild their lives and communities." Ms. Murad’s tireless advocacy to ensure that sexual violence is eradicated from conflict situations and that rape can no longer be used as a weapon of war is a promise to all survivors that they are no longer invisible in the eyes of the international community. For far too long, rape and sexual violence were not regarded as weapons of war. Today, activists like Ms. Murad are working to ensure that victims of sexual and gender based violence receive proper forms of justice and reparations.   

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How Gender Shaped the Rohingya Genocide

GJC Legal Adviser Elena Sarver published a blog post in Ms. Magazine on how gender shaped the Rohingya genocide.

In August 2017, the Burmese military launched a wave of violence against the Rohingya—burning villages, massacring civilians and subjecting survivors to horrific acts of sexual violence. These attacks occurred after decades of discrimination in the forms of restricting access to healthcare, denying citizenship rights and limiting marriages and the number of children.

Now, Rohingya refugees face their second winter in the refugee camps of Bangladesh as the international community seeks accountability for these atrocities.

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New Report Provides First Comprehensive Legal Analysis of the Role of Gender in Genocide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – December 7, 2018

[New York] – Today, the Global Justice Center (GJC) released the first comprehensive legal analysis of the gender-based crimes of genocide. Over the past four years, the world has witnessed at least two genocidal campaigns—against the Yazidis in Iraq and against the Rohingya in Myanmar. Widespread sexual and gender-based violence was central to both, as in the genocides in Darfur, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Guatemala. The new report, Beyond Killing, details the role that gender plays in the commission of genocide and the role it must therefore play in efforts to prevent and punish it.

For too long, the understanding of genocide has centered on killing, a genocidal act that most often impacts men. Women and girls are more likely to survive the initial wave of killings—facing enslavement, beatings, starvation, degradation, and other acts that form constitutive acts of genocide. Survivors of these abuses are not just witnesses to the genocide: they are its intended targets and require accountability and reparations. When the gendered, non-killing crimes of genocide go unrecognized, women and girls, in particular, are denied justice for the abuses they have suffered.

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Destruction of the Spirit: The Critical Role of Gender in Genocide

Genocide is a crime of destruction, an attempt to annihilate a group of people and render them irrelevant, invisible, and eventually forgotten. Popular conceptions of genocide have long characterized it mainly as a crime of mass killing, the majority of victims of which tend to be men. During genocidal campaigns, women and girls are more likely to survive the initial killings but face enslavement, beatings, starvation, degradation, and other atrocities that form constitutive acts of genocide. Survivors of these abuses are not just witnesses to genocide; they are also its intended targets. When these gendered, non-killing crimes are not recognized as genocide, women and girls are denied justice for the abuses they have suffered.

Across continents and cultures, genocide is carried out along gendered lines. The first step is often the separation of groups by gender and age for distinct treatment.  When Daesh captured thousands of Yazidi in August 2014, they executed males over 12 years old, and sold women and girls into slavery. During the Rwandan genocide, members of the Hutu militia tore clothes off children to ensure boys were not dressed in girls’ clothing as a means of escaping mass killings. Once separated, women and girls experience distinct and destructive genocidal acts.

Though they are frequently not regarded as genocidal, these acts can in fact form the basis for the four non-killing crimes of genocide: causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children to another group. For an in-depth legal analysis of the role of gender in genocide, see the Global Justice Center’s whitepaper, Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law

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