How can the international community obtain accountability for crimes of gender persecution in conflicts? And how can their perpetrators be prosecuted? These were some of the questions raised by panellists at the webinar on 8 December organized by Justice Rapid Response – and co-hosted by Finland, Argentina and UN Women – ahead ofthe 19th Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute (ASP).
The Al Hassan case, which opened in July 2020, marks the first time that the International Criminal Court is prosecuting gender persecution as a crime against humanity. It is a significant milestone in orienting future decisions and discussions around gender persecution. As such, the event provided an opportunity for Justice Rapid Response and panelists from civil society organizations Yazda and the Yazidi Survivors Network, along with co-host representatives, to explore this emerging field of law and its implications.
Lisa Davis, a gender persecution expert and professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, presented to the panel how conflict is gendered and arises from complex political and economic reasons, exacerbating a broad range of oppressions.
“Perpetrators often pick on the most vulnerable members of society because these are often the least likely to be defended by their communities and most likely to win acceptance of their control,” said Ms. Davis.
In the discussion, gender persecution was defined as a specific crime, different to – but often encompassing – other sexual and gender-based crimes more commonly prosecuted under international criminal law such as rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy.
“Gender persecution is its distinct crime against humanity under international criminal law comprised of two elements: the deprivation of fundamental rights and a motivation to discriminate against a gender group,” said Emily Kenney, transitional justice policy specialist at UN Women.
Yazda – with whom Justice Japid Response works closely – strives to document gender persecution within thecontext of the alleged Yazidi genocide. Although, as pointed out by Natia Navrouzov, lawyer and DocumentationManager at Yazda, it is very difficult for the Yazidi people to secure accountability in Iraq. Challenges Ms. Navrouzov cited include a lack of legal framework at the national level to prosecute ISIS crimes, as well as a lack of transparency and victim participation in the process. Ms. Navrouzov drew on the example of the Yazidi case to make recommendations on how to foster accountability for gender persecution.
Governments, according to Ms. Navrouzov, should codify crimes of genocide in their penal codes to allow for the prosecution of perpetrators, and governments should draw on survivor-centered approaches to consult survivorcommunities about draft laws.
Internationally, Ms. Navrouzov recommended that states prosecuting or investigating genocide’s crimes and gender persecution such as Germany or France need to improve their outreach to the victim community and keep them informed about cases so that they keep the hope that justice can be served and that their testimonies are valuable. Ms. Navrouzov also underscored for donor communities that men have suffered as well and must not be neglected. Without providing support to men and uplifting them the same way as women, the status of women in the society will not evolve, she said.
Panelists, including Nisreen Rasho of the Yazidi Survivors Network, agreed that documentation is at the heart of obtaining justice for gender persecution as a crime against humanity. But this must be carried out using a survivor-centred approach. The rights, needs, and wishes of victims must be made a priority at all stages of the justice process. “No one else knows better than us what we need,” Ms. Rasho said.
Ambassador Anu Saarela – the Deputy Director General of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland’s Legal Service – underscored in her remarks that Finland actively promotes the rights of women and girls in all its foreign and security policy activities and puts a special emphasis on women’s participation. Ambassador Mario Oyarzábal – Argentina’s ambassador to The Hague – in his opening remarks highlighted how crucial the Al Hassan case will be in reshaping how gender persecution is treated as a crime.
Justice Rapid Response answered a request from Yazda to pursue accountability for crimes committed against the Yazidi community in Iraq. Yazda was looking for expertise in identifying, collecting and preserving evidence for judicial processes. The Justice Rapid Response-UN Women SGBV Experts Roster comprises over 230 experts and is maintained within the broader Justice Rapid Response Expert Roster of more than 700 professionals.