Making the Invisible War Crime Visible: Post-conflict Justice for Sierra Leone’s Rape Victims

Authored by: Binaifer Nowrojee

Categories: Statebuilding
Sub-Categories: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), Transitional Justice
Country: Sierra Leone
Region: Sub-Saharan Africa
Year: 2005
Citation: Nowrojee, Binaifer. "Making the Invisible War Crime Visible: Post-conflict Justice for Sierra Leone's Rape Victims." Harvard Human Rights Journal 18 (2005): 85-106.

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When the civil war in Sierra Leone came to an end in 2002, the international community created two transitional justice mechanisms to address past atrocities: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“TRC”) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Little attention has been paid in the international community or in the scholarly literature to the efforts made by these institutions to address and redress the wartime sexual violence routinely directed at women and girls. The two institutions in Sierra Leone are noteworthy for seriously undertaking to fulfill their mandate to address crimes against women and for using gender-sensitive strategies to ensure the comfort, safety, and dignity of the rape victims coming forward to testify. While this should be standard operating practice for international institutions, the practices of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals and other transitional justice mechanisms illustrate the unfortunate fact that gender justice often remains the exception rather than the rule in post-conflict societies. Additionally, Sierra Leone represents one of the only places in which the international community has set up both a truth commission and a court in a post-conflict setting; utilizing both institutions concurrently has already produced both positive and negative effects for Sierra Leone, raising crucial questions and setting important precedents for future conflict resolution scenarios.
Although the ultimate success of these two international justice mechanisms in the particular arena of gender justice in Sierra Leone remains to be seen, the steps taken so far are encouraging. Together, they can provide a “best practices” model for other international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court. Sexual violence has been an inisible war crime in
a wide variety of contemporary conflicts and mass atrocities; inclusion of gender violence in the post-conflict world of international justice can help to condemn these horrors and to make the perpetrators accountable for the particularly brutal violence perpetrated against women in wartime.