» Posts tagged: ‘alternative justice


Patricia Viseur Sellers (PVS) and Kirsten Campbell (KC) have, among them, huge experience with some of the most important international, national and alternative strategies for addressing sexual violence in contemporary wars. Patricia Sellers worked as a feminist lawyer with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). She now works in the International Criminal Court, and in 2000 was Co-Prosecutor at the Women’s International Tribunal in Tokyo. Kirsten Campbell has been doing extensive research on  prosecution of sexual violence in ICTY and national Bosnian courts and participated in the 2015 Women’s Court in Sarajevo. Both are well known feminist scholars who wrote extensively on international criminal law, transitional justice and gender.

On 9 May 2016 they will be at ISS, at the Development Research Seminars (DRS) Dialogue, addressing alternative strategies for achieving justice for the crimes perpetrated during violent conflicts. The following short reflections are among some of the issues they will address during the DRS Dialogue.  


Patricia Viseur Sellers

PVS: Sexual violence in wars has been tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Other international or hybrid courts, such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, also addressed crimes of sexual violence in the armed conflict in Sierra Leone. Each of these judicial mechanisms developed extraordinary jurisprudence and other precedents, such as for example procedures for witness protections. Other international and national courts, such as the International Criminal Court, and war crimes chambers in national courts such as in Uganda, or Bosnian and Herzegovina, special chambers such as in Senegal or the national criminal courts in Guatemala, Colombia, Argentina or Germany also have jurisdiction over criminal acts that entail international crimes of sexual violence. So, the ICTY and ICTR initiated the modern wave of addressing international crimes based upon sexual and gender-based violence.

Each judicial mechanism attempts to redress international crimes such as rape as an act of crimes against humanity or as a war crime not only for the individual survivor, but also for the affected communities.  So the Special Court for Sierra Leone, for example, judged in the Charles Taylor case, that the civilian population had been attacked, inter alia, by sexual terrorisation. Hence, testimonies that individual and communities members might offer to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice should not be diminished.  Furthermore, other courts, such as the International Criminal Court have procedure that allow recognized victims to be represented as a party at all stages of the proceedings and to receive reparations, compensation and restitution.  Besides, some courts could expand the temporal jurisdiction of crimes of sexual violence. In Guatemala and Argentina as well as in Cambodia, the respective courts have examined testimony of sexual violence that was committed decades ago.  The lack of statute of limitations on war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity opens the possibility that past atrocities might be judged today.


Former Korean ‘comfort women’ waving their handkerchiefs to supporters after the closing of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal Tokyo

This possibility is important for the courts and tribunals that are organized as alternatives to the official, international and national courts. I served as a Co-Prosecutor at the Women’s International Tribunal, in Tokyo, in 2000. This was a symbolic trial for the women who had been subjugated to sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.  The victims and survivors are commonly known as the ‘Comfort Women’.  The tribunal was a unique exercise of civil society’s ability to draw critical attention to the unanswered crimes committed against at least a hundred thousand women. The legal angle was paramount because state courts in Japans repeatedly rejected any claims made by the ‘Comfort Women’ during the past decades. Also, the legal approach highlighted that the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also held in Tokyo, in 1946, did not include the crimes committed against the ‘Comfort Women’. The Women’s Tribunal was composed of over ten national prosecution teams, such as North and South Korea, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Netherlands, because these were the countries – some former colonies – from where the girls and women originated.  The judges were highly respected international law experts, that came from the United States, Kenya, Australia, and Argentina.  The Women’s Tribunal used as its own criminal code, the 1946 Tokyo Charter, to underscore that the crimes committed against the ‘Comfort Women’ could have been tried already in 1946. The Women’s Tribunal presented evidence and reached conclusion about the criminal conduct and the reparations due to the survivors and to the memory of the victims. The judgment is a source of law under Article 38(c) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice.



Kirsten Campbell

KC: Sexual violence in wars has received a lot of attention lately – from international and national courts, from women’s groups and feminist activists, from UN, from national governments, but also from celebrities. While this attention is politically important, it has not resulted in greater clarity of our understanding of conflict-related sexual violence, or how to provide justice for these crimes.  Rather, the context for serious academic or political engagement with this topic is increasingly challenging.  Academic research is turning away from gender and feminist analysis, while also calling for more quantitative data and cross-country comparison.  The broader political context is increasing ‘securitization’ of conflict-related sexual violence, emphasizing the security of states rather than justice for victims.  The issue of justice remains a crucial question for feminist politics in the field of conflict-related sexual violence.


The Women’s Court Sarajevo (Photo: Clara Casagrande)

In such a context of securitization of sexual violence in conflict, it is important to be attentive to an effort to create a new feminist paradigm of justice in the first women’s court held in Europe.  The Women’s Court dealt with the connected violence committed during and after the war in the former Yugoslavia, and was held on 8-9 May 2015 in Saraevjo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Court aimed to offer an alternative to the failure of the formal legal system to provide justice; to enable women to be active agents of justice, and to build a more just peace in the former Yugoslavia. The work of the Court has not yet finished.  The Preliminary Decision was rendered by the Judicial Council, with the Judgment and book of witness testimonies still to be published. Above all, it involves the ongoing attempt to create a new feminist paradigm of justice.  How to do this remains the crucial issue for the Court, and for feminist interventions in this field.

International Institute of Social Studies

CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

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