Are sexual and gender-based crimes still an ICC no-go zone?

06 April 2015 by Ella Sonja West, The Hague (The Netherlands)

At the International Criminal Court (ICC), prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence has been notoriously difficult. Documentary evidence has often proved insufficient and local officials, unwilling to cooperate. Despite such challenges, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), since Fatou Bensouda took over in 2012, has prioritized prosecution of such crimes.

Bosco Ntaganda, for whom the ICC pre-trial chamber unanimously confirmed all charges of sexual and gender-based crimes (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
Image caption: 
Bosco Ntaganda, for whom the ICC pre-trial chamber unanimously confirmed all charges of sexual and gender-based crimes (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)

Still, her success has been underwhelming. 

Since the court began, 60 percent of the charges for sexual and gender-based crimes (SGBC) brought by the OTP have proceeded to trial. Although a decision currently pending in the Jean-Pierre Bemba case may upset the record, so far there have been no convictions. Experts have been wondering why the court appears to be lagging behind here.

A “lack of accurate data to assess the gravity of SGBC due to under- and non-reporting of these crimes” is a frequent problem, says OTP spokesperson Florence Olara. Many victims hesitate to come forward because sexual violence carries a stigma of “uncleanness” that frequently causes families and communities to ostracize them, she tells IJT.

Proving SGBC, moreover, has its own set of criteria, different from other crimes, finds Kelly Askin, a legal officer for international justice at the Open Society Foundation. “Senior leaders are often held accountable, for instance, for mass slaughter, even when they are not present when the crimes were committed. Mass rape – not so much,” she says.  

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