UN Committee Advances Treaty on Crimes Against Humanity

NEW YORK — A United Nations committee today passed a resolution that advanced the International Law Commission’s draft treaty on crimes against humanity. If eventually adopted by states, it would be the first stand-alone treaty that specifically addresses a broad range of obligations, including duties to prevent and punish crimes against humanity.

Introduced by the Gambia, the final resolution passed by the UNGA Sixth Committee was co-sponsored by a cross-regional group of over 85 countries and creates an “interactive format” for debate on the substance of the draft treaty over the next two years. The resolution represents significant progress after the topic has stalled in recent years following resistance from Russia, China, and its allies.

In 2021, prominent international law experts and practitioners from around the world — including former International Criminal court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda — signed a statement arguing the treaty would “close a crucial gap in the current international framework on mass atrocities.”

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“Today’s resolution represents the most significant progress on the treaty since work on it began in 2013. For too long, victims of atrocious crimes around the world have languished without a comprehensive international framework that specifically targets these crimes and requires the international community to prevent and punish them. As an organization dedicated to combating gender-based crimes around the world, we’re heartened to finally see action on this critical treaty after so many years.

“Year after year, progress on the treaty was stymied by a small cadre of authoritarian countries determined to halt human rights measures at every turn. In these cases, procedural objections were used as a cover for opposition to the treaty itself.

“We can’t allow this gap in the international legal system to exist any longer. Perpetrators of sexual and reproductive violence, enslavement, deportation, and other crimes against humanity are growing more emboldened thanks to an increasingly-weakening international order. We need this treaty now more than ever.”

International Law Weekend: The Crimes Against Humanity Treaty

Panelists

  • Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch
  • Alexandra Lily Kather Emergent Justice Collective,
  • Ambassador Alexander Marschik, Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN
  • Mosammat Shahanara Monica, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, Global Justice Center
  • Leila Nadya Sadat, Washington University School of Law

On Crimes Against Humanity, Protect the UN Sixth Committee’s Integrity With Action

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed co-authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Enthusiasm for negotiating and adopting a new global treaty on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity has been growing since the issuance of a model draft treaty 16 years ago, particularly after the United Nations International Law Commission (ILC) submitted a final set of draft articles to the General Assembly on Aug. 5, 2019. Although paragraph 42 of the ILC’s report recommended the “elaboration of a convention by the General Assembly or by an international conference of plenipotentiaries on the basis of the draft articles,” progress on this important treaty has stalled in the U.N. General Assembly’s Sixth Committee. But there are ways the Sixth Committee, the U.N. General Assembly panel that considers legal issues, could make progress on the ILC’s draft text, thereby fulfilling its role within the U.N. system and increasing the likelihood that this critical treaty will be negotiated and adopted in the near future.

The Sixth Committee Deliberations over the Past Three Years

When the ILC’s text was introduced to the Sixth Committee in 2019, it was not the first time the idea of a new treaty had been floated at the General Assembly. The ILC had assiduously canvassed State reactions since beginning work on the topic in 2013, and the draft took into account extensive State comments. Thus, a significant majority of States in 2019 were willing to proceed quickly to a Diplomatic Conference to negotiate the treaty, which Austria offered to host. A handful of States demurred, however, asking for more time to study the draft, and an even smaller number opposed the treaty entirely. The result was a disappointing resolution “taking note” of the draft articles and promising to revisit them the following year. Austria, joined by 42 other States, expressed disappointment.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic made matters worse. Strict limitations on working methods were imposed, causing the Sixth Committee to adopt a technical rollover resolution again simply “taking note” of the draft articles. This time Mexico, joined by 13 other States, voiced concerns that this ran the “risk . . . of getting caught in a cycle of consideration and postponement of the articles without concrete action, which could undermine the relationship between the General Assembly and the ILC."

Read the Article

Options to Advance the ILC Draft Articles on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Humanity

  1. This Memorandum identifies three potential avenues to advance the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on Crimes Against Humanity to the next procedural step. It is intended as a practical, not a technical, guide.

 

  1. The Draft Articles on Crimes Against Humanity have widespread support from States, yet opposition from a few States has caused them to stagnate in the United Nations General Assembly Sixth Committee due to the Committee’s tradition of acting by consensus.

 

  1. Option 1 is for the Sixth Committee to act, by breaking consensus, if necessary. It could establish an Ad Hoc Committee to examine the Draft Articles on Crimes Against Humanity. Alternatively, there is precedent for moving directly to a Codification Conference or working directly on the Draft Articles as a Committee of the Whole.

 

  1. Option 2 is for the General Committee to shift the Draft Articles on Crimes Against Humanity to the Third Committee or the Plenary of the General Assembly.

 

  1. Option 3 is to pursue the development of a treaty on crimes against humanity either outside of, or adjacent to, the United Nations.

 

Download the Full Letter 

Options pour faire avancer le Projet d'articles de la CDI sur la prévention et la répression des crimes contre l'humanité

RÉSUMÉ

  1. Le présent mémorandum identifie trois pistes potentielles pour favoriser la progression du processus d’adoption du Projet d’articles sur les crimes contre l’humanité élaboré par la Commission du droit international. Il a une visée pratique et non pas technique.

 

  1. Le Projet d’articles sur les crimes contre l’humanité bénéficie d’un large soutien de la part des États. Cependant, l’opposition de certains États a bloqué le processus au sein de la Sixième Commission de l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies dont les décisions sont traditionnellement prises par consensus.

 

  1. L’option 1 consiste à inciter la Sixième Commission à jouer un rôle proactif pour relancer le processus, en rompant si nécessaire la tradition du consensus. La Commission pourrait mettre en place un comité ad hoc chargé d’examiner le Projet d’articles sur les crimes contre l’humanité. Une autre possibilité serait de se fonder sur un précédent autorisant directement le transfert du texte vers une conférence de codification ou son examen en commission plénière.

 

  1. L’option 2 consiste à inciter le Bureau de l'Assemblée générale des Nations Unies à transférer le Projet d’articles sur les crimes contre l’humanité à la Troisième Commission ou à une séance plénière de l’Assemblée générale.

 

  1. L’option 3 serait de poursuivre l’élaboration d’un traité sur les crimes contre l’humanité soit en dehors de l’Organisation des Nations Unies, soit dans le cadre d’un processus parallèle au système onusien.

Download the Full Letter 

Expanding Justice for Gender-Based Crimes with a Treaty on Crimes Against Humanity

Excerpt of Just Security article by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Legal Advisor Danielle Hites.

Over the last 30 years, the world has seen progress, largely due to feminists, in delivering justice for gender-based crimes — particularly sexual violence. However, most of this progress has relied on retrofitting gender-specific experiences into pre-existing legal frameworks that didn’t care much for gender. Take, for example, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s groundbreaking finding of rape as an act of genocide in the Akayesu case, or much of the jurisprudence out of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia related to sexual violence, including finding rape as a form of torture. These precedents were built on gendered readings of crimes whose definitions make no explicit reference to sexual or gender-based violence.

The Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) was certainly an improvement on the Genocide and Geneva Conventions in its explicit codification of sexual and gender-based crimes. But the last 20 years of the Court’s practice have also shown its limitations, with only two standing convictions for sexual and gender-based crimes.

Given this track record, a new convention on crimes against humanity could be a gamechanger for the effective prevention and prosecution of gender-based crimes.

Read the Article

International rule of law: historic firsts in ICC’s conviction of Dominic Ongwen

Excerpt of International Bar Association article that quotes GJC Legal Advisor Danielle Hites.

Danielle Hites is a legal advisor at the Global Justice Center and previously worked at the Coalition for the ICC. She was pleased the Court foregrounded victims and did not just charge sexualised and gendered crimes under the catch-all category of sexual violence.

‘There were also charges of enslavement in general, torture and outrage upon personal dignity. It was an important distinction’, she says. ‘They’re recognising that sexual and gender-based violence can’t just be siloed into one category, there are gendered elements to all of these crimes and they can be committed in gendered ways and often are’.

But recognising the gendered perpetration of crimes in court is very difficult – partially, Hites says, because it is a more specific kind of harm, but also because the legal frameworks for convictions were created to make it more difficult.

Reaching this conviction for forced pregnancy was particularly challenging, as the Court noted in its discussion, because of the history of its incorporation into the Rome Statute. Hites says, ‘there were so many countries that either didn’t want forced pregnancy included in the Statute because they were concerned that their own national laws on reproductive autonomy would be implicated, or they felt it was already covered by unlawful detention or rape.’

Because of the resulting narrow definition and ‘ridiculous’ high standards for conviction of the crime, Hites says, there are ‘so many barriers to access to justice’.

Read the Article

Joint Statement Opposing Trump Administration Measures against the International Criminal Court

The undersigned organizations express their deep concern regarding today’s announcement by Secretary of State Pompeo and other senior U.S. officials that the United States, among other things, has invoked emergency powers in order to threaten asset freezes and other punitive actions against officials of the International Criminal Court, their family members, and those who assist their investigations. 

The International Criminal Court exists because it is difficult to hold government officials and other powerful actors accountable when they commit grave human rights abuses.  That impunity, in turn, is corrosive to the broader rule of law, the prospects of lasting peace, and respect for the dignity of all.  Since the ICC’s establishment in 2002 as a court of last resort, diverse coalitions of faith-based organizations, human rights advocates, legal practitioners, victims of atrocities, and other constituencies have often looked to it to complement and reinforce their work for justice.  Like all other human institutions, the ICC has room for improvement. Nevertheless, from Uganda and the Central African Republic to Darfur and the situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar, the ICC continues to play a vital role, filling gaps in the justice system by independently investigating and prosecuting grave atrocity crimes when national authorities do not do so, or when they seek out help.

Download the Letter

President Trump Announces Sanctions Against ICC Officials Investigating US War Crimes in Afghanistan

NEW YORK — President Trump issued an executive order today authorizing sanctions against International Criminal Court (ICC) employees involved in investigating potential war crimes committed by US military forces in Afghanistan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

“This reckless attack on the ICC is just the latest attempt by the US to evade accountability for human rights abuses and undermine critical international institutions. The ICC’s investigation is only necessary because the US has failed to meaningfully investigate or prosecute its own forces for human rights abuses.

“The court has confirmed that this investigation clearly falls under parameters set by the Rome Statute, which established the ICC. The US is not a party to the statute, but Afghanistan is, and the US cannot escape accountability just because it commits crimes in other countries.

“This destructive move by the Trump administration is the latest in a long campaign of hostility towards international institutions, including its recent decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization. Once again the US is further cementing its belief that it is beyond reproach and above the law.”

International Criminal Court Approves Investigation into Afghanistan War Crimes

NEW YORK – The International Criminal Court ruled today that an investigation into war crimes committed during the conflicts in Afghanistan could proceed. This investigation would include any crimes committed by US forces. 

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

"The I.C.C. was established to bring perpetrators of humanity's most serious crimes to justice — no matter where they're from nor how powerful they are. This ruling is a historic victory for the global rule of law. The United States has shown itself entirely unwilling to hold the perpetrators of its torture program to account and has actively tried to impede the court’s investigation. The international community — especially nations who are a party to the ICC — should support this critical step towards justice."

Reproducing Impunity: Gendering the Draft Convention on Crimes against Humanity

The Draft Convention on Crimes against Humanity offers an opportunity to improve accountability for grave violations of international law; however in its current form, it continues to limit justice for sexual and gender-based violence.

The International Law Commission (“ILC”) undertook the task of compiling a Draft Convention on Crimes against Humanity in 2014. In the ILC’s first draft, it replicated the definition of crimes against humanity verbatim from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (“Rome Statute”)[1] for the sake of expediency, sparking unprecedented engagement from gender groups and experts to reform the provisions. As a result, during the final cycle of the ILC drafting process, 20 of the 33 states that submitted comments and a cohort of 23 UN experts called for the removal of an outdated definition of gender that failed to recognize a basis for persecution and limited justice and accountability for such crimes.

Removing the gender definition was a crucial step towards recognizing that it is not enough to merely replicate existing language without reckoning with legal developments and the gendered dimensions of mass atrocity crimes. However, the call did not go far enough to address the draft treaty’s inadequacies on sexual and gender-based violence, including restrictive definitions of torture, enslavement, and other sexual and gender-based acts “of comparable gravity” that constitute crimes against humanity. This factsheet will focus on one such crime under the treaty—forced pregnancy.

Download Fact Sheet 

Bringing a Gendered Lens to Genocide Prevention and Accountability

By Maryna Tkachenko

More than 70 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, mass atrocity crimes are still carried out in systematic and, equally important, gendered ways. The lack of emphasis on the gendered nature of coordinated crimes not only jeopardizes international security but also ignores the multi-layered reality of genocidal violence. The most recent genocides against the Yazidi and the Rohingya populations are clear instances of the international community neglecting to prioritize a gendered lens in preventing and punishing genocide.

On 22 May, the Global Justice Center and the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) held a panel on “Gender and Genocide: Engendering analysis for better prevention, accountability, and protection” to examine critical gaps within the framework of analysis for atrocity crimes. (Read GJC’s white paper Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, & Obligations Under International Law to learn more about the ways in which female experiences of genocide are too often removed from the analysis of genocidal violence.) 

Breaking Decades of Silence: Sexual Violence During the Khmer Rouge


By: Maryna Tkachenko

April 17, 2019 marked the 44th anniversary since the Communist Party of Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge) took over Cambodia. While in power, the party sought to create a Cambodian “master race,” resulting in years of repression, forced labor, torture, and massacres. While the recent trials at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) convicted two Khmer Rouge leaders of genocide, the issue of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated by the regime was not at the center of discussions.

After decades of silence, survivors of sexual violence are speaking out about their experiences. Working toward justice, accountability, and peace building becomes a challenge when survivors are at risk of being blamed and discriminated against. Hence, in an effort to eradicate the stigma and facilitate transitional justice processes, women in Cambodia are demonstrating the ways in which Cambodian society is impacted years after the Khmer Rouge regime ended.

What Does a Gender Perspective Bring to Crimes Against Humanity Genocide, and War Crimes?

From May 02, 2019 6:00 pm until 8:30 pm 

At LSE Center for Women, Peace and Security, Wolfson Lecture Theatre

Overview:

The event marks the public launch of the Gendered Peace project which is funded by the European Research Council. In 2014 the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched its Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes to strengthen “expertise and commitment to the prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes”.  Notwithstanding this ambition, five years on, the Court’s track record remains disappointing and it would appear that much more work must be done.  

This event is designed to open up a discussion on the multi-dimensional nature of the core categories of international offences through a gender perspective to evaluate progress, identify setbacks and explore future options.  What does a gender analysis add to our understanding of these offences?  How can international criminal law better deliver on gender justice?

Speakers:

  • Patricia Viseur Sellers, International Criminal Lawyer 
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center
  • Christine Chinkin,  Professional Research Fellow 

 

Much More Than Language: How the US Denied Survivors of Rape in Conflict Lifesaving Care

Excerpt of Women Under Siege op-ed by GJC Deputy Legal Director Grant Shubin.  

On Wednesday, April 23, 2019, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2467 during the Council’s annual Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. .

After months of German-led negotiations, passage of the Resolution ultimately came down to sexual and reproductive health (SRH)—specifically, whether the U.S. would veto its inclusion in the final text.

The U.S. justified its position by claiming that SRH is a euphemism for abortion services. Not only is this not true—SRH includes, among other things, contraception, safe abortion services, HIV prevention, and prenatal healthcare—but even if it were, abortion services for survivors of sexual violence save lives.

Unsafe abortion causes the deaths of 47,000 people each year and leaves another 5 million with some form of permanent or temporary disability. They may suffer complications, including hemorrhage, infection, perforation of the uterus, and damage to the genital tract or internal organs. In fact, the consequences of denying abortion services have been found to be so severe that it can amount to torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment.

The international community cannot become accustomed or complacent to the Trump administration’s use of domestic politics to hold international rights hostage. Because it is more than just words that are given up last minute on the floor of the Security Council—it’s women’s lives.

Read the Full Op-Ed

Myanmar and Accountability for Grave Crimes

From April 10, 2019 12:00 pm until 1:30 pm

At American University Washington College of Law, Room NTO1

Co-hosted by the Global Justice Center, War Crimes Research Office at American University Washington College of Law, and Human Rights Watch

Since August 2016, Myanmar's security forces have conducted a systematic campaign of brutal violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority, escalating decades-long policies of persecution and discrimination. While all members of the Rohingya population were targeted for violence, gender was integral to how the atrocities were perpetrated.

Justice for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity is unlikely in Myanmar's domestic courts. So what are the options for justice? Please join us for an important discussion of opportunities and challenges for accountability in Myanmar with:

Panel:

  • Stephen Rapp, former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center
  • Param-Preet Singh, Associate Director in the International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch
  • Naomi Kikoler, Deputy Director, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Moderated by:

  • Susana SáCouto, Director, War Crimes Research Office at American University Washington College of Law

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Lunch will be served. Please RSVP at https://www.wcl.american.edu/secle/registration and see the attached flyer for more information.

Download Invitation

When Reporting on Rape Stands in the Way of Justice

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine blog post by GJC Communications Manager Liz Olson.

As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya survivors fled to Bangladesh over the past two years, the abuse they suffered in Burma has made headlines.

Their stories are horrific—recounting brutal episodes of torture, murder and sexual violence, often committed in public and in front of family and community members. In different ways, so are their experiences with the press.

Some Rohingya survivors of sexual violence have reportedly been interviewed as many as 70 times each by media outlets, UN bodies and non-governmental organizations—posing serious challenges to the health and safety of survivors and to future justice efforts.

At first glance, the idea that sexual violence can be over-documented may seem counterintuitive. Don’t we want as much evidence as possible to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes? In practice, however, uncoordinated and overzealous documentation harms both accountability efforts and the well-being of survivors.

The adage that “sex sells” is true in advertising and seems equally true in reporting, even in the coverage of atrocity and human rights abuse. As journalists and advocates cover stories of sexual violence in conflict, we must make sure not to sensationalize or exploit survivors’ suffering in order to make an impact.

Read the Full Post at Ms. Magazine Blog

Brain Trust: Legal Limits to the Use of the Veto

From March 8, 2019 9:00 until 17:00

At Foley Hoag, LLC

Question at Issue:Are there legal limits to the use of the veto by the Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council blocking action in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes? Or is the veto in such circumstances a carte blanchethat can be utilized at the complete discretion of the permanent members?

Proposition:There arelegal limits to the use of the veto power in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Three arguments support this conclusion:

  1. The veto power derives from the UN Charter, which is subsidiary to jus cogensnorms. Thus, a veto that violates jus cogensnorms, or permits the continued violation of jus cogensnorms, would be illegal or ultra vires. The Charter (and veto power) must be read in a way that is consistent with jus cogens.
  2. The veto power derives from the UN Charter, which states in Article 24(2) that the Security Council “[in] discharging [its] duties” “shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.” A veto in the face of a draft resolution aimed at curtailing or alleviating the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes does not accord with the Charter’s purposes and principles.
  3. A permanent member of the Security Council that utilizes the veto power also has other treaty obligations, such as those under the Genocide Convention, which contains an obligation to “prevent” genocide. A Permanent Member’s use of the veto that would enable genocide, or allow its continued commission, would violate that state’s legal obligation to “prevent” genocide. A similar argument can be made as to allowing the perpetration of at least certain war crimes, such as “grave breaches” and violations of Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. (Given that under Article 103 of the Charter, the Charter trumps inconsistent treaty obligations, this argument may only apply where treaty obligations also embody jus cogensnorms or accord with the Charter’s purposes and principles.) Alternatively, these treaties and the veto power could (and should) be read consistently, so that there is no conflict, making article 103 inapplicable.

Goal of Project:To ensure that the UN Security Council is able to act in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity and/or war crimes; therefore, to have the members of the General Assembly request an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ): Are there legal limits to the use of the veto power in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes?

Initial Goal of Initiative:To form a group of NGOs and States who support this initiative and would be willing to work to convince the General Assembly to make this request of the ICJ.

Alternative Concept:To put some of these legal concepts directly into a GA resolution that notes the legal obligations related to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and calls for veto restraint (and not ask for an Advisory Opinion).

    —Professor Jennifer Trahan, NYU Center for Global Affairs, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Supporting Individuals:

  • Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs
  • Richard Goldstone, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia & the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,
  • Navanethem (“Navi”) Pillay, former High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Andras Vamos-Goldman, co-founder & former Executive Director, Justice Rapid Response
  • David M. Crane, former Chief Prosecutor, Special Court for Sierra Leone
  • Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert, formerly International Court of Justice (ad hoc), International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and International Criminal Court; presently Kosovo Specialist Chambers (signing in a personal capacity)

Supporting NGOs:

  • The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  • The International Center for Transitional Justice
  • The World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
  • Parliamentarians for Global Action
  • Open Society Justice Initiative
  • Global Justice Center
  • Syrian Justice and Accountability Center
  • Moroccan National Coalition for the International Criminal Court
  • Lawyers for Justice in Libya
  • Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice

 

Letter to the CEDAW Committee: Supplementary information to Myanmar’s Report on an exceptional basis, scheduled for review by the CEDAW Committee at its 72nd Session

Dear Committee Members,

This letter supplements and responds to particularly concerning sections of the 6 February 2019 Exceptional Report submitted by Myanmar, which is scheduled for review by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“Committee”) on February 22, 2019 during its 72nd Session.

It is the view of the undersigned organizations that Myanmar’s submission raises serious doubts as to its willingness and ability to effectively investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes committed against the Rohingya, especially sexual and gender-based violence. Myanmar’s blanket denials that such crimes occurred and the answers presented in the report underscore not only that accountability will have to be achieved on the international level or before other domestic authorities, but also that there is a real risk of Myanmar aiming to discredit or jeopardize such accountability efforts. In addition to these overarching concerns, we seek to bring the Committee’s attention to two major areas of concern: (1) Myanmar’s refusal to acknowledge or accept responsibility for conflict, human rights abuses, and displacement; and (2) Myanmar’s inability and lack of will to meaningfully investigate and hold those responsible accountable.

Download the Letter

 

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 statesthat 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.