This year, as part of my Masters study in international law and women’s rights, my focus has been on developing strategies to prosecute rape and sexual violence in conflict and in peace-time. I thought to share some resources ranging from Inquiry Reports to bibliographies, videos, innovative projects, and reflective questions.
Learning from others We must share and discuss the important lessons of the past two decades; from the Rwandan Tribunal, to the Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia and the Special Court of Sierra Leone. The work of each tribunal has developed new jurisprudence and thinking around rape and sexual violence. Unless we internalize what we did right and wrong, gender-mainstreaming in law will remain pretentious, a boast of success with little substance. Let not lessons be lost. We have so much to learn from our peers from different countries. Some of these resources have enabled me to develop new strategies for tackling patriarchal perspectives through the force of law and civil society action.
Some noteworthy sources
Oxford Bibliographies has assembled a series of key scholarship written by lawyers, former prosecutors and academics. It covers all aspects of rape, sexual violence and the work of courts. Email me for access.
The Gender Jurisprudence and International Law Project has a similar collection.
Perceptions and prosecutions of sexual violence and rape
“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” As advocates, activists, writers and lawyers, we must conscientiously monitor and evaluate our society and ourselves! Our goals should not just be that rape and sexual violence are prosecuted. But they are prosecuted for the right reasons. Our analyses must de-link women’s bodies as sites of men’s honour and tackle the manifold biases and assumptions that complicate rape cases. And we must do this carefully so as not to alarm the community who may believe that our defence of women’s autonomy is a promotion of “immoral” values.
A gender-competent articulation of law is the duty of lawyers in courts, journalists in the media and the activists in the community. Our analyses must be well-thought out, scrutinized by our own peers, packed and unpacked. If we omit questioning ourselves, our own strategies can backfire and reproduce other forms of gender-discrimination. What we say sets a precedent. So by our choices, we transform the way rape and sexual violence in conceptualized and prosecuted.
Law is not self-autonomous or self-executory. Justice is not done by words on paper. Justice is not moved by enactments and pronouncements. Justice requires the movement of people. We are the ones who write, who speak out, who lobby, who educate, who train. But how are we expressing our concerns? We need no repetition that rape and sexual violence is a grievous violation. Everyone knows this. The larger question is how is this crime characterized by society and the legal system? Meaning in what kinds of situations is rape and sexual violence condemned? And in what kinds of situations is she blamed for it? Mapping out the spectrum of scenarios to understand when rape is condemned, excused and justified enables us to think of innovative strategies for arguing against patriarchal perspectives that render rape a less serious offence.
Some excerpts from the front-lines:
International Criminal Court “The investigation and prosecution of gender based crimes must be made a priority. Victims given a voice, their own voice to tell their stories and perpetrators must not go unpunished. Together we can send a clear, strong and consistent message that the use of violence against women as a tool in war is no longer acceptable,” said Prosecutor Bensouda.
« We have chosen to come together to call on courts, governments, legal bodies to end impunity and hold perpetrators accountable. We are asking you to join us and rise to end impunity. »
Senior Legal Officer, Kelly Askin re-iterates the power of lobbying in her piece & appeal to us to learn from our failures.
After studying this issue for two decades, my views (very simplistically put) are:
1) The presence of women in positions of power as investigators, prosecutors, judges and gender crime specialists increased the opportunity (for prosecutions).
2) A powerful global women’s caucus of gender justice advocates, scholars, lawyers, and reporters literally forced sexual violence onto the agenda of war crimes tribunals, international human rights conferences, the media, and United Nations bodies (assisted by new mass communication technology, such as electronic mail.)
4) Many of the relevant laws have been in place for centuries, despite being largely ignored in practice. War crime tribunals allowed humanitarian laws to be examined, clarified, enforced, and refined.
Despite the huge advances, the tribunals have done a relatively pitiful job of holding high level leaders or others far from the battlefield responsible for sex crimes. Some prosecutors and Judges (including appeals chamber judges) seem readily persuaded that a political or military leader intended troops to kill, displace, torture, and pillage, but they seemingly have a hard time accepting that these same leaders intended their troops to rape, even when the crimes are committed over months or years with their tactic approvalby failing to prevent or punish the widely reported crimes. Most of the positive jurisprudence on rape crimes has come from situations where the accused were the physical perpetrators or were present when the crimes occurred, or less often, when they occurred over so many years with so much consistency it became impossible to believe the senior level accused didn’t at least aid and abet the crimes or actively encourage their commission.
Africa has so much to teach us. Physicians for Human Rights on Addressing Sexual Violence. This was filmed at the grassroots, with workshops collectively attended and contributed by physicians, medical workers, lawyers, activists, judges.
Last week my peer Sara who is a human rights activist in Egypt showed us a controversial film titled “678″ about sexual harassment in Egypt. It is in Arabic with English subtitles. Highly recommended!
Movements are effected by people. A group of young activists started the innovative Harass Map Project in Egypt. This project implements a system in Egypt for reporting incidences of sexual harassment via SMS messaging. This tool gives women a way to anonymously report incidences of sexual harassment as soon as they happen, using a simple text message from their mobile phone. By mapping these reports online, the entire system will act as an advocacy, prevention, and response tool, highlighting the severity and pervasiveness of the problem. The project utilizes FrontlineSMS and the Ushahidi Engine.
Verma Committee Report in India Following the rape and death of Indian medical student in Delhi, India released a Report to address all facets of sex-based crimes against women. I do encourage holding a discussion session or working group on the findings and recommendations of this report as it brings us up to speed with how sexual violence is committed and also aided and abetted by our own village councils and health workers. Commission of a sexual crime is one facet of a woman’s experience. How it happens, why it happens, and what happens at the point of complaint, trial and sentencing — are other facets that need serious scrutiny. The recommendations can be discussed in other country contexts too.
Summary by Judge Pillay In January, the report of the Verma Committee in India proposed sweeping reforms, including vigorous punishment for marital rape, domestic rape and rape in same-sex relationships; requiring police officers to register every case of reported rape and ensuring those who fail to do so face serious repercussions; ensuring accountability of police or military personnel for sexual violence; punishing offences such as stalking and voyeurism with prison terms; changing the humiliating protocol for medical examinations experienced by rape victims; cracking down on extra-legal village councils, which often issue edicts against women; and legal and electoral reforms to ensure that people charged with criminal offences may not hold political office.
These recommendations require serious and sustained follow up. They can also serve as a model for other situations.
Some excerpts from two young women who are writers, activists, and advocates in their own right – and whose writings have opened my mind to a new world of literature, new spaces of self-reflection, and inspiration from pain. Your words, for them I will be forever grateful.
The Value of Gender Analysis
The value of gender analysis at Stories of Conflict and Love
“Performing a nuanced gender analysis requires asking earnest questions about its value and dispelling some myths surrounding it. Simply put, there are three premises that underscore a gender analysis: First of all, “men,” “women,” “boys,” and “girls” are not monolithic categories that can describe a universal experience shared by people who share a sex; rather, gender is a fluid, dynamic, ever-involving system of power relations that need to be examined in the context of race, class, ethnicity, and other markers of identity.” Whole article here!
There is a passage by Cynthia Enloe, in her foreword to Carol Cohn’s excellent compilation Women & Wars, that summarizes much of the type of inquiry and conviction that motivates my work. Enloe writes:
Yesterday in a meeting with our mentor from the Aspire Foundation, she asked us what our core values were. Amongst others, Anna said Friendship. I thought exactly that. Last night I had written an essay on Activism as Friendship. Because Friendship blurs out the barriers of class, education, geography, race, and religion. It is sought from a deeper authentic connection, based on love, trust, respect and compassion. This is how I feel with everyone I work with at F.I. and in Afghanistan –had it not been for friendship, movements are merely organizations with no soul.
To my mama who gave me my independence since I was 9 years old to decide the terms of my life and be a free bird in this world. Without these travels (inner and outer), all of this would not be. Because of you, I have been able to live so consciously and responsibly.
To my Masi’s in Singapore, I just love you all so much. Family is everything for me. Thank you for being there for my mama when I could not.
To the Sabri women, I can give my darkest days to you and you will still love me for it. If I can recall my favourite life moments, its just sitting around the breakfast table talking and laughing for hours. Simple moments are the most beautiful. I inherited a family that I feel has always been mine.
To Anna who has been this year’s wonderful gift. I will never forget Real hot chocolates and musings. We have created so much together in our work – finding fun in reading court Judgments and strategizing gender justice in context. I hope from this passion, we will come to see where these paths will later take us. More so, you have been like another half of me – and it feels so comforting to know you are a walk away and that you’ll always be there. When the Spring comes, the gardens will be filled with endless talking!
To Helena - you don’t know how much you shaped my thinking, cause a self-reflection that has enabled me to see beyond my paradigm. Through our conversations, I became a better person, lawyer and activist.
To Sara, Deya, Manisha and Nishma thank you for staying close despite your busy schedules. You are each a solid pillar to our efforts. You are the Volunteer-spirit. But more so, you are also a part of my life I will always have a space for. It is my dream that one day I can spend a whole weekend with each of you, from Nepal down to Culcutta and east-wards to Palestine. Nishma, I’ll transit in London on my way.
To Kirthi and Shahla thank you for in a short time integrating so well into our work. I do wish that you will carve your own space in our work that is yours. I think you both have exceptional futures ahead which I hope will inter-twine with mine and ours.
To Hangama and Zarqa Jan thank you for giving me a chance to work so closely with you. You made year 2012 for me. 2012 was a year to learn from your work and extraordinary resilience. Under your guidance, you have given me so much flexibility to be creative, to try new things and to share these experiences with Femin Ijtihad. I will never forget the friendships at WCLRF. You gave me a chance and this experience I will never forget. I am always here for this!
To Nadia and Sush - My biggest excitement for this year is re-uniting with the two of you in Ireland. It is such a wonder, coming together again in a completely different phase of each of our lives. I have been sad because living away, the time difference, and knowing that life has changed is difficult to accept. But it does make meeting each other much more exciting. Nadia, needless to say you just have always been. Sush, thank you for spending those 4 nights with me in London – it really was picking up right where we left off in 2009. What I learned from those nights was how much life was a flow of events, one colliding into the next. With you I could trace back each event which could not happen without the one that preceded…and it took me all the way back to the roadside fortune teller outside Shiva’s Temple. Somehow you came at a defining moment. You were sitting with me at the cross-roads. In 5 years, we may discover how London/Ireland was another cross-road..na?
To my women’s rights class and Professors of Human Rights and Islamic Law and Women’s Human Rights –
I never learned so much, wanted to absorb so much, and give so much. I am channeling this from my classes into our activism. Grateful to SOAS for being an academy of such excellence.
To my other friends,
Thank you for your presence (presents) and enrichment in my life. For each laughter and each tear shared. For the worries that left on a wing of a bird called Friendship. For ideas and musings. For dancing and being free. For late nights in the library. For travelling words and overwhelming poetry. For giving me little bits of what life has to offer.
You are not a woman. But you are pretty damn amazing for a man!!!!
— (Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, 07.10.1990)