Published on Friday, March 16, 2001 by Inter Press Service
NGOs Criticise Lack of Women Nominees to War Crimes Tribunal
by Mithre J. Sandrasagra
UNITED NATIONS - A coalition of 1,000 international
non-governmental organisations (NGOs) led by Human Rights Watch,
International and the Women's Caucus for Gender Justice are
disappointment over the dearth of women judges on the
Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
''Western states are simply paying lip-service to gender main- streaming,'' William R. Pace, Convenor of the NGO Coalition for an International Criminal Court (CICC) told IPS Thursday.
Only one woman, Florence Ndepele Mwachande Mumba of Zambia, was among the 25 nominees considered Wednesday by the UN General Assembly at its 95th plenary meeting in New York. And she was elected last, after four unsuccessful rounds of voting in which no candidate received the required 96 votes and after nine of her peers had withdrawn their candidacy.
She joins 13 other colleagues who will begin four year terms as judges of the ICTY in November. They are: Claude Jorda (France), Fausto Pocar (Italy), David Hunt (Australia), Patrick Robinson (Jamaica), Theodor Meron (United States), Carmel Agius (Malta), Wolfgang Schomburg (Germany), Liu Daqun (China), Richard May (Britain), Alphonsus Martinus Maria Orie (Netherlands), Ogon Kwon (South Korea), Mohammed Shahabuddeen (Guyana) and Mohamed Amin El Abbassi Elmadi (Egypt).
The ICTY was established by the UN Security Council in 1992 to prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia during conflict there in the 1990s.
But, NGOs are raising concerns that member states are undermining commitments they have made to ensure an appropriate gender balance when nominations for important positions are made, Pace told IPS.
''It is appalling that the process is further characterised by the type of campaign efforts we have been witnessing over the past few weeks at the United Nations, including what amounts to 'horse-trading' between governments. This is unacceptable as a means of electing those who will be the most important judges in international law,'' Pace stressed.
''Who knows what future candidacies have been promised in exchange for yesterday's votes,'' Pace said Thursday. ''Will those 'good old boys' be fit to be the world's most powerful judges?'' he asked.
''The campaigning that led up to the elections was disgusting - exemplified by the absence of any type of gender balance,'' he continued.
Susan Markham, General Assembly spokeswoman, told reporters that the 25 nominees for ICTY judges had been submitted by member states, at the request of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Furthermore, the Security Council had to extend the deadline for nominations to allow for more nominations to come in because they had received fewer nominations than the minimum required by the original deadline.
Vahinda Nainar, Executive Director of the Women's Caucus for Gender Justice based in New York, emphasised the importance of having women judges at the tribunals and at the future International Criminal Court (ICC), explaining that ''although women judges at both the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) have always been too few in number, they have been critical to ensuring that widespread and horrific crimes against women were properly charged and prosecuted''.
In February Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), hailed a verdict handed down by the ICTY where three individuals were convicted of crimes against humanity for the rape and enslavement of women. The crimes were perpetrated during a 1992-1993 Serb campaign of terror to 'cleanse' the Foca area of Bosnia and Herzegovina of Muslims. The three men received sentences of 28, 20 and 12 years.
''The proceedings showed in horrifying detail how countless women suffered systematic, unspeakable assaults on their body, soul and dignity,'' Obaid lamented.
''Without women's presence, crimes against women would have likely gone unaddressed as has been the case in past international tribunals,'' Nainar stressed.
The first time an international tribunal recognised rape as a crime against humanity was in September 1998 when the ICTR convicted Jean-Paul Akayesu for rape. It set the precedent that rape could be regarded as an act of genocide if committed with genocidal intent.
CICC was formed in 1995 to advocate for the creation of a fair, effective and independent ICC. Since then it has been working with its regional membership and governments from around the world to prevent gender biases from overwhelming the nomination process for the ICC once the treaty establishing the Court comes into force.
''The processes that characterise the elections for the ICTY and ICTR will be the precedents for the ICC elections, we must fight for transparency and openness in these processes,'' Pace told IPS.
The ICC should be established within the next two years according to the UN, at which time it will take over the work of the ICTY and ICTR which were set up as temporary bodies.
In the meantime the Security Council has called for 27 additional judges for the ICTY in order to prosecute new cases and appeals in a more timely fashion.
Currently the ICTY hears its cases in two chambers at The Hague in the Netherlands.
Copyright 2001 IPS