Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Gender and the Kampala ICC conference: Honoring Rhonda Copelon

(Delighted that guest blogger Pam Spees today joins IntLawGrrl Valerie Oosterveld in this contribution, another in IntLawGrrls' series of posts on the Kampala Conference)

KAMPALA, Uganda – The Review Conference of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has been meeting here for one week now, and one theme that has woven itself throughout the various discussions is that the ICC and States Parties must pay attention to a number of gender issues.
► First, there is widespread agreement that the ICC must continue to prosecute gender-based crimes, such as rape and other forms of sexual violence targeted against women, girls, men, or boys during armed conflict. In official statements and in side-events, the high level of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is often noted.
► Second, during the stocktaking event on the impact on victims and affected communities, panelists and states commented on the Rome Statute's innovation of providing victims with specific status within the ICC’s proceedings.
It is exciting how states, intergovernmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations are speaking of victim participation as being of crucial importance to the ICC and, moreover, are differentiating the ICC from all that has come before.
The Registrar of the ICC, Silvana Arbia (above left), noted that the ICC has received 2600 applications from individuals to be admitted as victim participants in the ICC process, of which more than 800 have been accepted by the Court. Even so, there is also agreement that the victim participation process is a new one. Accordingly, there have been growing pains in figuring out how best to identify, include, and equip victims for interaction within the ICC, while at the same time staying within the ICC’s budget limitations.
In this context, it is fitting to remember, and honor, Rhonda Copelon (below right), who passed away early in May. (Prior IntLawGrrls post.)
Rhonda was instrumental in founding the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, which successfully pressed for the inclusion of many gender-sensitive provisions within the Rome Statute. Under the leadership of Rhonda, joined by Alda Facio and Eleanor Conda, the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice grew from a handful of committed feminist activists to over 300 supporters by the time of the 1998 adoption of the Rome Statute.
Here in Kampala, David Donat-Cattin of Parliamentarians for Global Action publicly recalled how Rhonda had helped to take an idea that no state was championing – of giving victims their own legal rights and therefore a legal voice within the ICC’s proceedings – and turn it into a defining characteristic of the ICC process.
Rhonda’s approach in this respect, and that of others in the Women's Caucus, was informed by the concerns about the disempowerment of women serving as victim-witnesses before the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and from the observations and experiences of feminist advocacy within national systems. In this respect, Rhonda’s vision of gender justice was, foremost, that the ICC should first do no harm.
While many international criminal law commentators have recognized the accomplishments of the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice as including, for example, the crime against humanity of rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, and gender-based persecution in the Rome Statute, the Caucus’ focus was in fact much wider. Rhonda’s vision – and the vision of the many women working with her – was that the causes and consequences of armed conflict and mass atrocities are intensely gendered. The Caucus also fiercely advocated for the independence of the ICC, a move questioned by some as not being a 'gender' issue.
Remembering the road from Rome to Kampala is to remember Rhonda Copelon and her untiring dedication to gender justice. There is still a long road ahead and much work to do to ensure gender justice in the ICC and in domestic jurisdictions, but we will continue to travel that road with Rhonda’s example and energy as our guide.

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