ICC Office of the Prosecutor Aims to Strengthen the Investigation and Prosecution of Gender-Based Crimes Through New Policy

By: Remy Kane

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On December 4, 2023 the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) published a new policy focused on gender-based crimes (GBC), including those that are sexual and reproductive in nature, along with crimes that may not traditionally be considered GBC. These crimes often manifest as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide. The Policy takes a “survivor-centered, trauma-informed approach” to the investigation and prosecution of GBC, aiming to keep victims, survivors, and witnesses at the forefront.

Cover Page of the Office of the Prosecutor’s recent policy on addressing and combating gender based violence | Photo Courtesy of the ICC, Office of the Prosecutor

Article 54 of the Rome Statute imposes a duty upon the ICC Prosecutor when investigating and prosecuting crimes to “take into account the nature of the crime, in particular where it involves sexual violence, gender violence, or violence against children.” In the near-decade since the 2014 OTP Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes, it has become evident that fulfillment of this mandate requires greater attention.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of gender-based crimes go without redress. The Policy’s executive summary refers to a “myriad factors including discrimination, stigma, underreporting, and survivors’ reservations about law enforcement and judicial systems” as the reason. In addition, the Policy acknowledges that GBC is often taken less seriously and prosecuted with less zeal than other crimes.

To combat this lack of accountability, the new Policy presents a revamped version of its 2014 counterpart offering greater guidance on how to effectively handle GBC. The Policy sets forth the following objectives:

  1. “to affirm the Prosecutor’s commitment to the rigorous investigation and prosecution of GBC, to help remedy the historical neglect of these crimes;
  2. to clarify key concepts and articulate fundamental principles underlying the Office’s work on GBC, mainstreaming a gender perspective and gender competence throughout the Office;
  3. to integrate a survivor-centred and trauma-informed approach in the Office’s work with victims and witnesses exposed to GBC and other atrocity crimes;
  4. to provide clarity and broad direction as to the interpretation and application of the Statute, the Elements of Crimes and the Rules, at all stages of the Office’s work, so as to ensure the effective investigation and prosecution of GBC throughout;
  5. to contribute to the development of international jurisprudence and best practice regarding accountability for GBC at the ICC and beyond.”

Kim Thuy Seelinger, former Special Adviser on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the Office of the Prosecutor’s first Senior Coordinator for Gender-based Crimes and Crimes Against or Affecting Children, led the review and drafting process for the Policy. Seelinger is a research associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis’s Brown School as well as a visiting professor at the University’s School of Law. In addition, she is the director of the Center for Human Rights, Gender and Migration at the University’s institute for Public Health. Seelinger noted that the Policy’s survivor-centered, trauma-informed approach is “critical for the well-being of those we engage and also the quality of the evidence we put forward.”

For further information, please see:

ICC – Statement by Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC on New Policy – 5 Dec. 2023

ICC – Policy on Gender-Based Crimes –  Dec. 2023

ICC – Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes – June, 2014

Seelinger Helps Draft New ICC Policy on Gender Crimes – Dec 11, 2023

Author: Sydney Krause