Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at the ICTY

On  31 May, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and The Hague Institute co-organized the inaugural launch of “Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at the ICTY” a volume edited by ICTY Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, and ICTY Deputy to the Prosecutor, Michelle Jarvis.

In his opening address, Prosecutor Brammertz described the publication, which records the experiences of the ICTY OTP in prosecuting conflict-related sexual violence over the past two decades, as rich and compelling. He highlighted its historical value and usefulness for practitioners, noting that the book is intended to ensure greater accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes at the international and national level. Prosecutor Brammertz also underscored that the courage and commitment of victims and witnesses has played a critical role in ensuring accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes at the ICTY.

ICTY Deputy to the Prosecutor Michelle Jarvis then moderated the panel discussion with three distinguished experts.

Daniela Kravetz, SGBV expert practitioner, former ICTY staff member and book contributor, addressed several challenges encountered in seeking accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes. She made particular mention of pervasive misconceptions with regard to these crimes, the need for victim-centered prosecution approaches, and the difficulties of linking gender-based violence to the broader context of mass atrocities. Kravetz highlighted that for practitioners to understand the true nature and extent of the harm inflicted on victims and their communities, they must recognize the gendered aspect of this type of violence. Failure to do so results in an incomplete understanding of how sexual violence relates to the broader context of mass atrocities and makes it harder to hold senior officials accountable for these crimes. Ms. Kravetz also flagged that creativity is needed in developing strategies for capacity-building with regard to the investigation and prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence.

 Stephen J. Rapp, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes and Distinguished Fellow at the Institute, stressed that sexual violence is one of the methods used to debilitate and destroy groups, as observed during his tenure as Third Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone and Senior Trial Attorney and Chief of Prosecutions at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He highlighted that the prosecution of sexual violence is often difficult at the national level, where most accountability and capacity-building efforts must take place. Reflecting on lessons learned from Iraq, he noted the importance of working together with local communities and political and religious leaders to decrease the stigma of sexual violence and focus on perpetrators rather than victims.

Patricia Viseur Sellers, Special Adviser on International Criminal Law Prosecution Strategies for the ICC, SGBV expert, and former ICTY staff member, welcomed the launch of the volume, noting that it not only contains “lessons learned, but lessons lived in prosecuting sexual violence.” Ms. Sellers commended the progress made in investigating and prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes, and called attention to the evolving nature of such crimes. She stressed the need for skillful investigations and the reconceptualization of certain concepts related to modes of liability, such as Joint Criminal Enterprise III. Ms. Sellers also emphasized the need to educate law students about international crimes in order to instill in future lawyers the understanding that these crimes can be committed anywhere, and that they should be prepared to deal with such crimes at the national level as well.

A Q&A session with the audience followed the panel discussion. Questions focused on how to address sexual and gender-based crimes committed during ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria; outreach strategies that will be adopted by the editors of the launched book; compensation for victims of SGBV; how to measure the impact of prosecution strategies; and good fact-finding practices related to sexual and gender-based crimes committed decades ago.

The Hague Institute also hosted an exhibition of artwork by university students from the countries of the former Yugoslavia depicting the concept of justice in the context of conflict-related sexual violence. Ms. Amanda Bešić, whose artwork features on the cover of the book, was awarded a prize by Prosecutor Brammertz.

The organizers would like to thank the Embassies of Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom for the generous support provided for this event.

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