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2014 | Redress Joint letter on Investigating and prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence as crimes under international law

This open letter, addressed to the EU Network of National Contact Points, covers matters related to ‘persons responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.’ The network in question is known as the EU Genocide Network. The authors – a consortium of prominent civil society organizations - sought to contribute to the planned discussion within the Network’s 16th meeting in 2014 on the investigation and prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence as crimes under international law.

The letter is not in fact a legal instrument. However, it is aimed at influencing high-level policy makers involved in facilitating cooperation and assistance between Member States' investigation and prosecution authorities and the exchange of information relating to persons suspected of having committed or participated in genocidal crimes. The document is specifically aimed at influencing justice policy: the authors argue that in order to ensure that sexual violence is not marginalized or treated as a collateral crime, it is key that investigation and prosecution of sexual violence is fully integrated into the overall case strategy from the outset of any case.

The authors draw the NCPs’ attention to the increasing recognition and documentation of the frequency, intensity and scale of sexual and gender-based crimes in recent years. They refer to the adoption in September 2013, by 141 states, of a Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, on the margins of the UN General Assembly, but stress that they are ‘aware of very few convictions for acts amounting to sexual violence prosecuted on an extra-territorial basis – i.e. before European or other foreign courts.

 The document identifies three common obstacles to the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for committing sexual and gender-based violence. The same obstacles obviously stand equally in the way of victims seeking reparatory measures for conflict-related sexual violence. They relate to deficiencies in the mechanisms for gathering evidence, legitimate fear of victims to testify and Investigators’and prosecutors’ lack of awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence, which may impact charging decisions.