Women's rights groups are applauding the inclusion of charges of sexual violence in the indictments against former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic by the UN Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla del Ponte.
Ms. Del Ponte informed the Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations that charges of sexual violence have been included in the indictments against Slobodan Milosevic for alleged crimes committed in Croatia and Kosovo. This is a very important step towards ending impunity for crimes of sexual violence committed in conflict situations.
The letter from the Chief Prosecutor was sent only days before the opening today of hearings in the case against Slobodan Milosevic at the ICTY at The Hague.
"The ad hoc tribunals are beginning to acknowledge that sexual violence is one of the most egregious war crimes and that prosecuting these crimes must be a priority for any criminal court," said Ariane Brunet, Coordinator of the Women's Rights Programme at Rights & Democracy, the Montreal-based human rights organization that coordinates the work of the Coalition.
"We hope that more sexual violence charges are forthcoming in other cases, including cases at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). This year, in more than a dozen confirmed indictments at the ICTR, mostly against senior ranking members of the 1994 regime, only two include charges of sexual violence, despite the fact that rape was widespread during the genocide."
It is critical that international rule of law should be strengthened at this juncture. The Rwandan Tribunal as well as the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia must continue to make further efforts to ensure that prosecution of crimes of sexual violence is a priority. In particular, the Coalition calls upon the tribunals to renew efforts to improve witness protection programmes to ensure that witnesses are willing to testify, by guaranteeing their safety before, during and after trial.
Medica Mondiale, a women's rights NGO based in Cologne, Germany and a member of the Coalition has stressed how important it is for women to see their aggressors tried before the courts and convicted. Medica Mondiale is a frontline group which works with women who have survived sexual violence. It has argued that in order to reduce the risk of retraumatization, the court must afford them far-reaching protection.
The Coalition will continue to lobby the tribunals to ensure that international law becomes relevant to the thousands of women victims of sexual violence. It will continue to encourage the Office of the Prosecutor to adequately prosecute crimes of sexual violence, to adopt better witness protection measures, improve gender training for investigators and to increase the number of women assigned to investigative work.
Certainly, advances have been made in recognizing women’s rights. The legal framework is increasingly responsive to the experiences of women and girls in conflict, especially in cases of sexual violence, as we have seen in the important work being carried out by the international criminal tribunals. But there remains much to be done, particularly to improve prevention and to combat impunity.
-- Kofi Annan
October 28, 2002