José E. Alvarez, Luis Moreno Ocampo, Catharine A. MacKinnon, Piet de KlerkOn September 30, the NYU Law Forum hosted “The Gender of Atrocity: Accountability vs. Peace in Sudan and Beyond.” In 2005 the United Nations Security Council referred the situation in the Sudan to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The ICC has since indicted a number of high level Sudanese officials, including its president, on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and/or war crimes. These charges, as well as many other ICC indictments, involve accusations of massive gender-based violence. A number of states, particularly within the African Union, argue that the pursuit of justice is inconsistent with securing peace, at least with respect to the Sudan. Some oppose cooperation with a court that they believe has been unduly focused on Africa.

José E. Alvarez, Herbert and Rose Rubin Professor of International Law, moderated a discussion that examined the ostensible choice between accountability and peace in Darfur and elsewhere, as well as the role of gender crimes in that calculation. Panelists included Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; Piet de Klerk, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the UN; and Catharine A. MacKinnon, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Alvarez and MacKinnon both serve as special advisers to Moreno-Ocampo.

The horrors of the conflict in Sudan are innumerable, but the focus of the Forum was on one, widespread type of atrocity: violence against women, particularly rape, deliberately used as a wartime means of subjugation and even “ethnic cleansing.” The principal speaker at the Forum was MacKinnon, whose pioneering scholarship in this area has been instrumental in having international tribunals, including the ICC, treat such gender-based violence as a crime against humanity and a form of genocide. “It used to be that atrocity did not have a gender, nor did gender include atrocity,” MacKinnon said. She vehemently rejected the idea that prosecution of Sudanese officials should yield to efforts to negotiate peace, noting, “Bartering off crimes against women to pacify politics among men emerges as just the latest way to make women and their rights expendable.”
The panelists generally were in agreement that peace and justice are not conflicting goals. “Without justice, there can be no lasting peace,” de Klerk said. “The question is, how do you sequence the steps in conflict areas?” Alvarez said he tried to get representatives from the UN who might present differing views, but that “they ducked under tables when I suggested that they appear with Catharine MacKinnon and the ICC prosecutor.” About half of the Forum was devoted to questions from the audience. One student asked about the idea of using a drone missile to assassinate the Sudanese leaders accused of war crimes, instead of putting them on trial. “The idea of the ICC is establishing respect,” Moreno-Ocampo responded. “Respect for the victims, respect for the law, and also respect for the accused. So we don’t [want them] to be killed. We like them in jail, in court. Because that will teach respect.”

Published October 8, 2010