Policy Brief No. 22

In recent years, global policy has become increasingly focused on conflict-related sexual violence. This is a welcome interruption to the history of relative inaction on the issue. At the same time, the emphasis on conflict-related sexual violence as distinct from non-conflict related sexual violence may risk perpetuating a discourse that overlooks the pervasive sexual violence that takes place in non-conflict settings and the causal interconnectedness between the two types. Until recently, the international criminal law framework has similarly found almost exclusive application to situations of armed conflict. However, two situations currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) demonstrate growing attention to violence that is unrelated to war and armed conflict, like the pre election and post-election unrest in Kenya (2007–2008) and in Côte d’Ivoire (2010–2011). Against this backdrop, the ICC’s recent conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo for crimes committed in the Central African Republic in 2002–2003 is particularly significant. The conviction represents an important first by the ICC for crimes of sexual violence and marks an end to a long-standing impunity for sexual crimes under international law. In addition, the framing of rape and sexual violence convictions as crimes against humanity, which can be committed outside of war and armed conflict, suggests important possibilities for the prosecution of non-conflict-related sexual violence. The ICC’s approach to these aspects of the Prosecutor v Bemba conviction is commendable and may grow the credibility and reach of the ICC in years to come