In the past year, research from the Gender of Justice project at Goldsmiths, University of London has been presented to both the House of Lords and the European Parliament, helping to shape the future of international legislation on preventing sexual violence in conflict zones.
Sexual violence in conflict is a critical area for international law and justice, and has increased in prominence on the international stage since the founding of William Hague and Angelina Jolie’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in 2012. The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict followed in 2014.
British and European governments are now trying to develop policy to prevent and punish these crimes.
In both written and oral evidence submitted to the House of Lords last year, Goldsmiths’ Dr Kirsten Campbell (Department of Sociology) and representatives from the NGO Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), called for the meaningful participation of women in all levels of peace talks and decision making, as well as in criminal and civil justice institutions.
The Goldsmiths and WILPF submission to the Lords urged greater focus upon addressing obstacles to participation in these processes, and upon providing gender-sensitive services, reparations, and justice for survivors of sexual violence and other civilian victims of war.
Dr Campbell proposed a duel strategy: a new convention on prohibiting, preventing and punishing conflict-related sexual violence and gender-based harms, together with a new framework for linking criminal and civil accountability for these crimes.
Vitally, the framework should address the fragmented nature of the existing legal framework by developing a comprehensive definition of sexual offences and gender-based crimes. This would cover all conflicts by all actors at all levels of responsibility, including private military companies, paramilitaries, and UN forces.
Compliance, enforcement, responsibility and reparation obligations should be given equal gravity as other serious violations of international humanitarian law, Dr Campbell explained.
The European Parliament hears from academic experts
Also speaking at a European Parliament committee hearing in Brussels this year, Dr Campbell outlined the lessons lawmakers can learn from prosecutions for sexual violence in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
She emphasised the need for ‘best practice’ prosecutions and the importance of linking international criminal accountability and post-conflict processes. She highlighted how the meaningful participation of women and affected communities in these processes is crucial for their success.
At the hearing, members of the European Parliament brought together international experts to discuss the avenues offered by public international law to prosecute crimes committed by ISIS against women and girls.
ISIS fighters have strategically targeted and systematically raped, tortured, enslaved and killed women and girls. There has been global condemnation of these crimes, but the international community has a long way to go before it can ensure that those responsible are held accountable.
The Gender of Justice
A four-year research project led by Dr Campbell, The Gender of Justice, has seen a team of highly experienced social and legal researchers collaborate with judicial, international and civil society organisations at an international and national level.
The research focuses on prosecutions in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the domestic courts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and addresses the lack of robust and reliable data in this area.
Funded by the European Research Council, this research aims to better understand patterns of female and male conflict-related sexual violence, assess policy and practice in addressing sexual crimes in the criminal justice system, and understand the links between criminal justice and social justice.
On 12 April 2016 the House of Lords Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict published Sexual Violence in Conflict: A War Crime.
Shaped by evidence submitted by Goldsmiths, WILPF and other international parties, it called on the UK government to set out ambitious policy goals for reducing conflict-related sexual violence, ensuring the international momentum created by the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative is not lost.
Information on the public hearing on public international law and the prosecution of ISIS crimes against woman and girls can be found on the website of the European Parliament
Find out more about The Gender of Justice project at Goldsmiths.