Does ‘chivalry’ shield women from war crimes prosecution?

20 May 2015 by Benjamin Duerr, The Hague (The Netherlands)

In the Holocaust, women conducted medical experiments and guarded concentration camps. During the Rwandan genocide, they managed roadblocks and burned buildings with people inside. Women have been involved in almost every type of mass violence, a recent Dutch study has found. Still, the number who are prosecuted and convicted is significantly lower than men.

Former Khmer Rouge minister Ieng Thirith, charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and breaches of the Geneva Conventions, appears at a pretrial hearing at the Cambodia tribunal in 2010. (Photo: Flickr/ECCC POOL/Tang Chhin Sothy)
Image caption: 
Former Khmer Rouge minister Ieng Thirith, charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and breaches of the Geneva Conventions, appears at a pretrial hearing at the Cambodia tribunal in 2010. (Photo: Flickr/ECCC POOL/Tang Chhin Sothy)

The Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals went after men only. The tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and East Timor have convicted over 280 men, but only two women – less than one percent, notes Alette Smeulers, a professor of international criminology at the universities of Groningen and Tilburg.

“There is no reason to believe women are more peaceful or unable to commit certain crimes,” says Smeulers, who authored the article ‘Female perpetrators: Ordinary or extra-ordinary women?’. Based on a literature survey and trial analyses, her study is the first comprehensive research into female perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

A short list of female indictees

According to Smeulers’ findings, the international tribunals altogether have indicted only four women so far.

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