Rape, sexual assault, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery: these are all sexual violence. In repressive regimes and armed conflict, the military, secret services and police often use these and similar methods as part of their strategy to oppress the civilian population. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is used as a tool against women and girls, as well as men and boys – based on their socially-assigned roles or deviation from such norms (as in the case of LGBTIQ persons). Sexual and gender-based violence attacks the dignity and sexual integrity of those affected. Social norms often prevent those affected from talking about their experiences, and crimes are rarely reported to authorities, prosecuted or dealt with socially. The physical, psychological, economic and social consequences affect the survivors but also their families and communities.
International criminal law allows sexual and gender-based crimes to be prosecuted as acts of genocide, crime against humanity and war crime. In practice, however, investigations, trials and rulings fail to reflect the prevalence and magnitude of these crimes. This is due to gender discrimination being both a root cause of SGBV, as well as the reason impunity for crimes persists. Sexual and gender-based crimes’ depiction and legal classification as an individual, rather than widespread and systematic, crime fails to reflect its frequent nature and the political aim behind their commission.
ECCHR has worked to counter the silencing and trivialization of, and impunity for sexual and gender-based crimes since 2010.
Crimes against humanity
In June 2020, the German police arrested Alaa M, who has since been held in detention awaiting trial. The reason: strong suspicion of complicity in crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime since 2011. Approximately one year after his arrest, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced that it had filed charges against M, a former Syrian doctor who allegedly tortured, killed and sexually abused people in military hospitals.
German authorities must finally prosecute sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Syrian detention centers for what it is: a crime against humanity. This is the aim of a criminal complaint that seven survivors of Bashar al-Assad’s torture system submitted in June 2020 to the German Federal Public Prosecutor in Karlsruhe.
Chechnya, an autonomous republic in Russia, and a black hole in the Council of Europe’s human rights protection system: civil society has been the target of severe human rights violations for years. Having resumed office as head of the Chechen Republic in 2007, Ramzan Kadyrov and his close allies have repeatedly deployed military and police forces to terrorize the civilian population in order to “ensure political stability.”
Colonia Dignidad, founded by a German named Paul Schäfer in 1961, was a fortress-like German settlement in central Chile where grave human rights violations were committed over several decades. The former doctor of the Colonia Dignidad, Hartmut Hopp, should face prison in Germany.
Sri Lanka must comply with its international obligations in the fight against gender-based discrimination. The country should bring its law in line with the UN Convention on Women.
Since the final stage of the Sri Lankan civil war, ECCHR has been working to ensure that high-ranking military personnel and (former) members of the Sri Lankan government and security forces are prosecuted for their role in war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual violence.
The Colombian state is denying women the protection against sexual crimes and access to justice that it is obliged to guarantee under national and international law. In response, ECCHR has submitted a criminal complaint against Colombia to the International Criminal Court.
The Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart handed down convictions in the trial of two Rwandan leaders of the Hutu militia group FDLR, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni. The FDLR are alleged to have utilized sexualized violence against the Congolese civilian population and to have in numerous cases plundered, killed and inflicted grievous bodily injuries.