Seeking justice for survivors of gender-based crimes in war

Content note: This blog contains mentions of sexual violence
 
Sexual violence in many modern armed conflicts is a terrible reality. Under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) it can be a war crime. Despite provisions in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols that explicitly prohibit rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual abuse of women, girls, boys and men in armed conflict is still frequent and widespread. The path to justice for survivors can be daunting.
 
Sexual violence that occurs during armed conflict is hugely underreported and victims face difficulties in finding the help and support they need. Victims and survivors may face social stigma, rejection by their families or communities, and trouble finding appropriate medical care, including mental health supports.
 
Dr. Valerie Oosterveld giving a speach on stageAlso, access to justice remains fraught with challenges. This was the subject of a special lecture by Dr. Valerie Oosterveld, Professor of Law and Associate Director of the Centre for Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction at the University of Western Ontario on September 21st in Winnipeg. This lecture was organised by the Canadian Red Cross in partnership with the University of Manitoba, Centre for Defence and Security Studies and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
 
During this public lecture, Dr. Oosterveld unpacked the realities of seeking justice for survivors of gender-based crimes in war. Her presentation explored examples of gender-based crimes from current conflicts and calls for justice by survivors. She also detailed available mechanisms available investigating and prosecuting these crimes. Additionally, Dr. Oosterveld spoke to her experience presenting submissions to the International Criminal Court on the crime of forced marriage in the Ongwen Case.
 
Dr. Oosterveld explained that historically there was little attention paid to gender-based crimes in armed conflict. However, in recent decades there have been significant developments in bringing justice to survivors through international courts and tribunals, including the International Criminal Court. She spoke to the legal significance of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. These two Tribunals developed important jurisprudence, including recognising rape and sexual violence as violations of the laws of war, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
 
“It is important for gender based violence to be prosecuted as it allows victims to be recognised as victims of a crime, as opposed to a side effect of armed conflict.” Said Dr. Oosterveld.
 
Despite legal achievements, obstacles to achieving justice persist. It is important that we continue to shine a light on these challenges and listen to the voices of survivors. Sexual violence is not an inevitable outcome of war, it is a crime. It is important that these violations of IHL are prosecuted, and survivors are supported in their path to justice.
 
 
The Canadian Red Cross works to prevent sexual violence, including in situations of armed conflict, and respond to the needs of victims and survivors. We also work to raise awareness about International Humanitarian Law and other humanitarian issues through education, training and advocacy. Find out more about our work here.
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