The importance of reparations for victims of conflict-related sexual violence : challenges facing the International Criminal Court

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Sexual violence perpetrated during armed conflict is a notoriously prolific, yet oft neglected phenomenon. It used to merely be considered an inevitable by-product of war, yet recently sexual violence has come to be described as a 'weapon of war'. This refers to the deliberate and tactical intentions of the perpetrators, and alludes to the fact that sexual violence has been and continues to be an inherent aspect of conflicts. Fortunately, with increased global attention on this issue, there have been numerous developments in international humanitarian law as well as the field of criminal justice, which serve to recognise and condemn the prevalence of wartime sexual violence. That is, rape and other forms of sexual violence have been categorised as international crimes falling within the jurisdiction of international criminal tribunals and courts dealing with conflict situations. Furthermore, there have been several convictions of persons indicted for such crimes. These advances must be applauded, yet there remains a troubling omission: the provision of reparations to the victims of wartime sexual violence. Though the international tribunals and courts are statutorily empowered to award such reparations, there seems to be lapse in this regard. This is critically problematic considering the many harmful consequences of conflict-related sexual violence, namely: physical and medical issues, emotional and psychological issues, social exclusion and stigmatisation, as well as resultant monetary issues. Without a concomitant award of reparations attached to the conviction of a perpetrator of wartime sexual violence, victims are not able to experience true justice. The focus of this paper therefore rests on the challenges of the official court system - specifically that of the ICC - in providing reparations to victims of conflict-related sexual violence. With these in mind, it is recommended that a separate forum be created to deal exclusively with the provision of reparations.