The Role of Women in the Pacification Process – Interview with Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court
By Alice d’Eramo
Translated by Amy Wilcock
On 8 March 2015, International Women’s Day, the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) organised a discussion in Geneva, on the role on women in the peace process.
The film Pray the Devil back to Hell, by Gini Reticker and Abigail E. Disney was shown during the event. The documentary tells the story of thousands of Liberian women who decided to join forces in spite of their religious differences in order to restore peace to their country. Indeed, between 1989 and 2003, civil war ravaged Liberia and Sierra Leone, causing more than 400,000 deaths. Traumatised and exhausted, these women together denounced the sordid daily life of conflict, including drugged child soldiers, sexual torture, packed and raided refugee camps, greed and the exploitation of natural resources. With their peaceful protests, they succeeded in putting pressure on political leaders to reach a peace agreement. They then pushed for the country’s disarmament and were involved in the democratic elections where the first female African president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was elected.
Finally, in 2012, Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia and rebel leader, was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
These events illustrate the tremendous power of peacekeeping intervention that women can have, as much on a local as on a global level. Therefore, better integrating women into the peacekeeping process is absolutely essential.
Keeping the Liberian case in mind, outstanding figures were invited to discuss the issue of the participation of women in the peacekeeping process, including; Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; Alejandra Ancheita, Human Rights Activist, Mexican lawyer and 2014 Martin Ennals Award Laureate; and Bineta Diop, founder and President of Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS), and Special Envoy to the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Women, Peace and Security. The discussion was moderated by RTS journalist, Laurence Difelix.
The four speakers agreed that civilians are the primary victims of modern warfare, especially women and children. Women are exposed to different types of violence and action needs to be taken on a political, economic and social level in order to fight against such abuse and inequality.
Firstly, in order for their voices to be heard, it is essential that women are able to participate in politics and are equally represented in decision-making bodies. It is also imperative that they are more involved in the boards of directors of large multinational companies, with the economic sector being as powerful as it is. It is not a favour to confer on victims, but rather a human right that needs to be respected. Ms Diop mentioned Rwanda as an example, where women have represented more than half of the elected parliamentarians since 2013, the only example of its kind in the world. Ms Alejandra Ancheita added that in Mexico, 66% of activists are women, but they are particularly stigmatised, and are often threatened and physically attacked.
Without a doubt, the education of young girls is essential for them to be able to access positions of responsibility and it is a particularly important vector of emancipation. Ms Bineta Diop stressed the danger posed by armed extremist groups who are denying access to education, such as Boko Haram, who kidnapped 200 schoolgirls almost a year ago. Finally, on a social level, the prevalence of chauvinist norms and prejudices encourages men to commit acts of violence. Children should therefore be educated as
equals, with peace and respect in mind. On the other hand, child soldiers must be reintegrated back into school, as they too are victims of conflict. The role of parents here is essential, but they should be supported by civil society, governments and institutions.
Moreover, instances of sexual violence increase dramatically during conflicts, massively affecting civilian populations, sometimes irrespective of age or sex. To fight against this scourge, wartime rape and other forms of sexual torture are now judged by the International Criminal Court as crimes against humanity. Thus, Prosecutor Bensouda emphasised the fact that this violence is not unavoidable but is on the contrary, part of a military strategy where the instigators must be brought to justice.
In addition, health is also a key concern, as access to care and prevention is far from guaranteed in such situations. Many people are isolated and do not have access to good facilities. In this respect, we can only support the heroism of Doctor Denis Mukwege, who runs the Panzi Hospital in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in spite of death threats and budget cuts. With his team, he has cared for thousands of victims of sexual abuse, and he continues to admit several patients each day, as a result of the
shameless conflicts which have been ongoing for more than 30 years.
Mrs Fatou Bensouda concluded the discussion by highlighting the necessity for political negotiations and judicial efficiency to be brought together in order to break the vicious cycle of violence and bring lasting peace. Indeed, those guilty of abuse during times of war should not benefit from impunity, but on the contrary, their sentence should serve as a deterrent. The International Criminal Court thus acts in line with this approach.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda very kindly agreed to answer some further questions. Mrs Bensouda has been the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor since 2012, after having previously served as Deputy Prosecutor since 2004. The International Criminal Court is an autonomous and permanent international jurisdiction, and is a court of last resort. It aims to combat the impunity of those guilty of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The Rome Statute, which came into force on the 1 July 2002, endorses the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction. Since 2012, 122 states have ratified this Treaty; they may therefore refer a matter to the Court and their nationals are directly under the jurisdictional competences of the International Criminal Court. In addition, the United Nations Security Council can also bring a case before the ICC. The sentences passed by the court can extend up to life imprisonment.
AD: I would like to speak to you about the Democratic Republic of Congo case. In the film that we have just watched, there was a lot of discussion about wartime rape. What is your position on the current situation in this country, especially on what the International Criminal Court is doing to combat this type of abuse?
F. Bensouda: As you know, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of our leading cases. At the moment, we have already tried four people from the DRC in connection with these crimes. Thomas Lubango Dyilo was the first. We charged him with enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15. He was found guilty by the Court and is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence. Bosco Ntaganda was also recently tried and brought before the International Criminal Court. In addition, we are trying him for war crimes, including crimes against humanity such as sexual violence. Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui and Germain Katanga have also been tried for similar crimes. In this sense, we are working actively. Although Ngudjolo was acquitted, Katanga was found guilty of these types of crimes by the Court. In 70% of the cases we deal with, we punish sexual crimes. We conduct investigations and we prosecute the perpetrators. Therefore, we are working continuously with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
AD: With reference to terrorism, especially to Daesh and Boko Haram, what can the International Criminal Court do regarding crimes committed by these groups?
F. Bensouda: Unfortunately, Iraq has not become a party to the Rome Statute. However, as a Court, we have the ability to try nationals of the States Parties who are alleged perpetrators of such crimes. We know that amongst the ranks of Daesh, there are nationals from States Parties to the Rome Statute, who are accused of crimes. Therefore, at the moment we are in the process of monitoring and collecting information about these people. Of course, the primary responsibility in these matters belongs to the relevant state, who themselves should conduct investigations and bring these criminals to justice. However, as a court of last resort, we also have the responsibility of monitoring people who are committing crimes against nationals of States Parties. In such a case, we will then decide on the next steps that should be taken.
AD: One final question, what are your hopes, in general, for the future of the International Criminal Court?
F. Bensouda: I would say that the Court is functioning very well. I think that the Court has become very important and particularly relevant in relation to conflicts arising throughout the world. The International Criminal Court is now one of the institutions that can be ordered to intervene, even in States where the Court does not have direct jurisdiction. This shows that the International Criminal Court is taking its rightful place in the world. And this makes us all very aware of respecting human rights, especially in countries where we have full jurisdiction.
AD: Many thanks for your responses!
- Libération, Cordélia Bonal, 26.11.2014, « Denis Mukwege: ‘En RDC, le viol est une arme de destruction massive’ »
- International Criminal Court, “Frequently Asked Questions”: http://www.icc-cpi.int/EN_Menus/icc/about%20the%20court/frequently%20asked%20questions/pages/faq.aspx