Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed from GJC Staff Attorney Danielle Hites.
The International Criminal Court recently convicted Dominic Ongwen, a former commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Notably, this was both the first conviction for forced pregnancy in the court’s history and only the second standing conviction for any sexual and gender-based crimes. While the case establishes a roadmap for the incoming prosecutor of the court to effectively charge and prosecute sexual and gender-based crimes, it also reinforces the unduly burdensome standards applied to reproductive violence.
Ongwen’s case involves the systemic abduction of girls and young women in Northern Uganda, who were awarded like chattel to LRA soldiers. In addition to forced pregnancy, the court charged Ongwen with rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, enslavement, torture and outrages on personal dignity. Critically, it charged forced pregnancy as a crime against humanity and rape as a war crime.
In the nearly 20 years since the International Criminal Court was established, violence targeting individuals for their perceived responsibility for reproduction—typically cisgender women and girls—has been an integral tool in nearly every mass atrocity. The absence of charges, prosecutions, and convictions for these gender-based crimes up until this point demonstrates the need for greater gender expertise at all stages of cases.