On Sunday, December 7 at the United Nations (UN) in New York, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court ("ICC" or the "Court"), Fatou Bensouda, hosted an event to mark the official launch of her Office's Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes and to stress the need to end impunity for such egregious crimes.
Sexual and gender-based crimes take place in conflict zones around the world with alarming intensity and frequency.
"It is my duty as ICC Prosecutor to challenge the culture of impunity that allows sexual and gender-based crimes against girls and women, boys and men, in conflict and peace-time, to persist," said Prosecutor Bensouda.
The Policy, the first and most comprehensive of its kind adopted by an international institution, aims to strengthen the Office's capacity to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of sexual and gender-based crimes falling within the Court's jurisdiction in a systematic and comprehensive manner, and to enhance the integration of a gender perspective and expertise in all aspects of operations.
First unveiled in June this year, the Office's Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes is the product of extensive external consultations, including with relevant agencies of the UN, States Parties to the ICC, civil society and academia.
"To date", said the Prosecutor, "the Court has charged 17 individuals implicated in our cases with gender related crimes, whilst specific charges of sexual violence were proffered in 70 per cent of our cases. These high numbers illustrate the prevalence of such horrific acts. They also highlight the commitment to hold the perpetrators of such crimes accountable, and in the process, to send a strong message that the culture of impunity for such crimes will be met with the full force of the law. We will continue on this path."
A number of high-level dignitaries and activists participated in the launch event, including: H.E. Catherine Samba-Panza, President of the Central African Republic; H.E. Mr. Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al–Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; H.E. Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; H.E. Mr. Sidika Kaba, Minister of Justice of Senegal and incoming President of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC; H.E. Ambassador Tiina Intelmann, outgoing President of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC; Ms. Angelique Kidjo, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and UN Goodwill Ambassador and Ms. Brigid Inder, Special Gender Adviser to ICC Prosecutor. The event was also attended by representatives of States and non-States Parties to the ICC, as well as, amongst others, civil society and academia. The event was sponsored by Open Society Foundations, the Institute for 21st Century Questions an Humanity United.
Addressing assembled guests, including representatives of UN Member States, Prosecutor Bensouda stressed that unified action must be taken at both the national and international level by all relevant actors. "We must relentlessly pursue accountability, domestically and internationally and send a clear, strong, and consistent message that in this new era of international criminal justice, sexual and gender-based crimes are serious crimes, which will neither be tolerated nor ignored," she said. "The victims of such devastating crimes will not find solace in our words and promises, but in what we manage to deliver in concrete terms. We must end sexual and gender-based crimes, and I am confident, together, we can ."
The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC conducts independent and impartial investigations and prosecution of the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Office of the Prosecutor is currently conducting eight investigations: Uganda; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Darfur, Sudan; Central African Republic; Kenya; Libya; Côte d'Ivoire and Mali. The Office is also conducting preliminary examinations relating to the situations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq, Nigeria and Ukraine.