It was only in 1993 at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna that grave violations of women’s human rights were recognized as part of the United Nations’ human rights agenda. Through the organizing of a campaign at the Vienna Conference and raising the slogan ‘women’s rights are human rights,’ the global women’s human rights movement successfully challenged prevailing human rights paradigms. For the first time, the U.N. called for elimination of “violence against women in public and private life” as a human rights obligation. It is now established that all human rights bodies as well as all governments have an obligation to integrate gender concerns, that is, incorporate issues, which differently and disproportionately affect women in their documents, policies, programs and practice. These principles have been reaffirmed and expanded in subsequent UN conferences, particularly at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994 and in Beijing at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, as a result of continuing mobilization and presence of women in these fora.

At the same time, women activists were strongly advocating for gender integration and gender sensitivity in the procedures and cases of the two ad hoc tribunals established by the United Nations, first in the international criminal tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993 and later in Rwanda (ICTR) in 1995. They helped ensure crimes of sexual violence were charged and prosecuted in addition to advocating for policies and procedures that would respond to the needs, concerns and realities of women. Women’s continuous monitoring and pressure in these arenas were largely responsible for the fact that crimes of sexual violence began to be charged and successfully prosecuted in the ICTY and the ICTR.

Continuing the vigilance, in February of 1997, women activists turned their attention to the United Nations’ ongoing efforts to establish a permanent international criminal court. One look into this process and the women involved saw the need to put gender squarely on the agenda in these negotiations and get the word out to others. Moreover, they saw the creation of the world’s first permanent criminal court as an opportunity to codify as international law significant advances that women had made in the above contexts as well as to implement many of the strategic objectives outlined and committed to by Governments in the Platform for Action.

The Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice in the International Criminal Court was thus formed and grew to become a strong presence in the series of preparatory committee meetings which culminated in the July 1998 Diplomatic Treaty Conference in Rome, Italy, where the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was adopted. Women from all over the world were once again called on to attend the negotiations and advocate positions that pushed the gender agenda. Women’s organizations, advocates and NGO’s were mobilized through action alerts and networks to put pressure on their governments to support the gender issues in the debates. They relied on the Platform for Action as a constant source of guidance throughout these efforts. It was the touchstone and standard for comparison against which the strategies were tested and the developments compared.

As a result of the mobilization and efforts of women all over the world – from Vienna, Cairo and Beijing through to the Rome Treaty Conference – the ICC Statute now stands as a codification of international law with an unprecedented level of gender integration for a document of its kind. Gender is woven throughout the statute and its integration is reflected in the substance, procedure as well as structure of the Court. It formally codifies as crimes in international law many of the violations long committed against women and long ignored or unrecognized by the international community as a whole. In addition, procedurally and structurally it contains provisions to help ensure that the Court will have the capacity, and will, to fairly prosecute and judge crimes of gender and sexual violence that will hopefully result in a process that is respectful of women survivors and witnesses.

However, the story of the gender advances in the ICC does not end with the adoption of its landmark statute. Difficult negotiations continue on the Rules of Procedure and Evidence and an Elements Annex, which will further define the crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction. These tasks are scheduled to be completed in June 2000. The Women’s Caucus has continued to maintain a presence at these events to ensure the gender gains in the ICC Statute are not undermined and to further advance the objectives contained in the Platform. Beyond that, lies the road to ratification and its potential to bolster the regional and national work around law reform.

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