Since 1990, the world has witnessed a proliferation of armed conflicts in which civilians rather than combatants are the primary victims and in which sexual violence, directed primarily against women and girls, is used as a weapon. While an international framework has long existed to prosecute crimes of sexual violence, until recently, the international community lacked the will, and in many cases, the institutional capacity, to prosecute these crimes.
IHRLG has worked to confront this paradox since 1997. In 1998 Gay McDougall, IHRLG Executive Director and then acting as a UN Special Rapporteur, presented a groundbreaking study to the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights that called for greater enforcement of international legal standards for prosecuting acts of systematic rape and sexual slavery committed during armed conflict. Commissioned in response to revelations concerning the more than 200,000 women enslaved by the Japanese military in so-called "comfort stations" during World War II, the report has been cited by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as an authoritative statement of international criminal law in a landmark sexual violence case involving the detention, torture and killing of civilians in a prison camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sexual violence, when committed in the context of internal or international conflict, may be prosecuted as a war crime, crime against humanity or constituent act of the crime of genocide, as a result of the groundbreaking work of the international criminal tribunals for the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and with the adoption of the Rome Statute for a future International Criminal Court (ICC).
Human rights NGOs and women's groups in countries in conflict such as Afghanistan often have not had the opportunity to develop the skills for reporting and advocacy on women's rights violations. As part of our efforts to help prepare Afghan women to influence the post-conflict socio-political and economic reconstruction of Afghanistan and to ensure accountability for crimes against women committed during conflict, IHRLG is training Afghan women's rights leaders currently residing in Afghanistan and as refugees in Pakistan in human rights monitoring and reporting and international advocacy.
In countries transitioning out of conflict, most human rights NGOs and women's groups require support in assuring that women victims of gender-based war crimes receive justice and rehabilitation. Training and assistance in documenting and reporting violations of women's rights are central to IHRLG's programs in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. IHRLG staff in these countries are also training local groups in international criminal law and practice to ensure effective monitoring of national and international bodies charged with implementing peace, justice and reconciliation.
For more information contact WRAP@hrlawgroup.org.