International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Prosecuting Crimes of Sexual Violence – Best Practices Manual

In relation to prosecuting mass crimes against humanity, there is one type of crime that is very often under-prosecuted and not discussed sufficiently – crimes of sexual violence. Although crimes of sexual violence occur everywhere in peace and wartime, there is usually evidence of them occurring on a mass level during times of conflict and civil strife. For example, in South Africa, there were many indications of crimes of sexual violence being committed by all parties; however, theses crimes hardly came up during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

Crimes of sexual violence are underreported for a number of reasons. Victims are often scared to come forward for fear of further retribution, there can be a lack of physical evidence (turning into ‘he said she said’) and in many cultures there is a certain shame attached to it that negatively impacts the perception of the family in the community. This makes persecuting crimes of sexual violence on an international court and tribunal level especially difficult. 

Interestingly, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda published a manual on Best Practices for the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Violence Crimes in Post-Conflict Regionswhich discusses lessons learned from the Office of the Prosecutor. This manual utilizes the 20+ years of experience the ICTR has in prosecuting crimes of sexual violence in the Rwandan genocide. Viviance Dittrich, guest wrote an article for the blog, Justice in Conflict and noted:

By sharing its experience and lessons learnt, the ICTR endeavours to engage partners in the Great Lakes region, to enhance the capacity of national authorities and regional stakeholders in Africa and to fight impunity.

This effort by the ICTR seems like an excellent way to further the discussion on the prosecution of crimes of sexual violence and seeing as it was published January of this year, hopefully will remain a significant part of the discussion surrounding crimes of sexual violence. Many of these Best Practices would also be applicable on a national level, making it even more important that this report be given the attention it deserves. 



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