Sexual Violence Is One Of The Most Heinous Crimes

Herta Däubler-Gmelin is a German lawyer, academic and a former politician of the Social Democratic Party. She served as Federal Minister of Justice from 1998 to 2002, and as a Member of the Bundestag from 1972 to 2009. She currently teaches as an honorary professor of political science at the Free University of Berlin, particularly on international relations and human rights. In 2011 she was the Hemmerle Professor at RWTH Aachen University. She spoke to New Spotlight on various issues. Excerpts:

July 19, 2019, 2:40 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL 13 NO 01 ,July 19 –01 Aug., 2019 (Sharwan 03, 2076) Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

Prof. Dr Däubler-Gmelin, during your tenure as minister of law Germany became party to the rome statute of the international criminal court in 2000. Nowadays, the work of International Criminal Court staff members is seriously hampered by different sides. Do we face a global crisis of accountability for serious human rights crimes ?

Well, in these days two main developments are evident: On one hand, the ICC gets more and more influence. Even the most arrogant and powerful politicians and military leaders realize, that ordering or committing crimes agains humanity in conflicts can take them to the ICC and then into prison. This threat is rather effective in conflicts as Syria, Yemen, Libyia and others. On the other hand, there are countries as b.e. the USA and Russia, rejecting to join the International Court for their own soldiers and leaders. Some of them equally reject the respect for human rights and international cooperation, more and more going for national egotisme. This is a dangerous development, weakening not only human rights, but as well the UN accountability. We all should learn from history: National egotisme mostly leads to war and more destruction. Today international cooperation is needed more than ever.

Another important mechanism of human rights protection is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council. Through UPR the human rights situation of all member states is reviewed every 5 years and recommendations are given. Is there evidence of this mechanism really improving the situation on the ground and how are the procedures if states are not willing or able to comply ?

The UPR is very useful. Governments have to give an overview on the improvements of human rights in their countries regularly. Of course, some governments don`t like this, as they lack respect for human rights. And, of course, you can find prettifying, even faking the real situation in government`s reports. On the other hand, national and international Human Rights Specialists and NGOs make amends – and all of that is discussed publicly in the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Countries with free media profit a lot of these procedures, others have to catch up.

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Four years ago, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 19 June of each year the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Is it appropriate to speak of a rising awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence globally?

Sexual Violence is one of the most heinous crimes. One observes, that sexual violence, rape and sexual mutilation are used systematically as weapons in wars and military conflicts against women and children to demonstrate military power and to destroy the civilization of a group. That’s why the International Criminal Court punishes severely these crimes as crimes against humanity.

Individual sexual violence is mostly directed against wifes, women, children by men, thinking they can do whatever they like with family members dependent on them or with other weaker persons. In most countries the awareness for these heinous crimes is rising; police and courts have to do more to bring those perpetrators to court.

Besides formal legal procedures what are the three most important things to bring justice to the victims of sexual and gender-based violence?

You are right: Many dependent women or children don’t dare or simply cannot bring perpetrators to court. In some countries good laws condemning these crimes, prosecuting perpetrators and protecting victims still have to be introduced. Police force and judges have to know their business of protecting the weak.

That’s why public awareness is so important to fight sexual harassment and violence wherever you`ll find it. That’s why media, government people and spiritual leaders have to speak out in public against sexual violence. They have to support authorities and NGOs helping and protecting victims. Neighbours, friends, fellow workers and team mates – all of them are equally responsible to fight those crimes and help victims.

As an internationally renowned legal expert you have been contributing to democratic transformation processes in many countries. What is your general take on the relation between democratization and an accomplished transitional justice process ?

Democracy is a good way to put the interests and the problems of normal people into the middle of politics and political institutions by making citizens participate in institution building, introducing laws and deciding on the way of the country by free and regular elections. This includes training the police force to serve the community. And it requires an independent judiciary to serve the people respecting and protecting their human rights and caring for justice. And, of course, free and responsible media are essential. Throughout history one could observe: There is no peace without justice and a strong civil society.

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