The International Criminal Court: A Ray of Hope for the Women of Darfur?

Linked with Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah – Soudan.

Published on Pambazuka News, by Christine Butegwa, Feb 09, 2006.

If you’re a woman in Darfur and you want to lay a charge of rape, the chances are that the charge will be changed to one of assault. Even if you want to persist in your charge of rape, you’ll need four male witnesses to support your charge. As a result, sexual and gender based violence is one of the biggest violations of women’s rights in Darfur, writes Christine Butegwa from Femnet. Hopes are high that the International Criminal Court will be able to change the situation …

… The International Criminal Court: Justice for women in Darfur

The ICC is the first permanent, independent court capable of investigating and bringing to justice individuals who commit the most serious violations of international humanitarian law, namely war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The Court has its seat in The Hague, in the Netherlands and was established in accordance with the Rome Statute on 1 July 2002. The ICC website indicates that by May 2005, 99 countries had ratified the Rome Statute, out of which 27 are African States.

Sudan is not a State party to the ICC treaty. However, the ICC has jurisdiction over non-State parties in instances where that country accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis or, as in the case of Sudan, the UN Security Council referred the situation to the Court.

Unlike the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations that deals primarily with disputes between States, the ICC has jurisdiction over matters involving individual criminal responsibility. The Rome Statute also identifies crimes of sexual violence such as rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and forced pregnancy as crimes against humanity when they are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population. The ICC has created a Victims and Witnesses Unit within the Registry to provide protective measures, security arrangements, counseling and other assistance for witnesses and victims. The ICC therefore offers an alternative avenue for justice for the women and girls who comprise almost 90% of the victims of the Darfur conflict.

Although the ICC does have its limitations, including the fact that it requires national government cooperation, both the Darfurians and the Darfur Consortium have high hopes in it. For the Darfur Consortium, their advocacy strategy will now move from advocating for referral to the ICC to pushing for ICC cooperation by the Government of Sudan, monitoring the GoS to prevent it from attempting to circumvent the ICC process and giving CSO support to the ICC prosecutor in the investigation process.

Although some CSOs and traditional leaders in countries such as Uganda have been against the Government of Uganda’s referral of the Northern Uganda conflict to the ICC citing it as a possible deterrent to peace efforts in the area, the Darfur Consortium feels that the ICC is important for the peace process in Sudan. “I believe the long-term disenfranchisement of victims can in itself negatively affect the peace process. Penal measures against perpetrators give victims confidence,” argues Dr. Yitiha.

For the women’s movement in Darfur, what they are looking for is fair trials and compensation of the victims of sexual violence. “IDPs are keeping silent and protecting themselves, waiting for the day of the ICC,” says Ms. Alao. (full text).

(Christine Butegwa is Communications Officer with the African Women’s Development and Communication Network FEMNET).

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