The Relevance of the United Nations War Crimes Commission to the Prosecution of Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes Today

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January 2014



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This article discusses aspects of the origin and development of jurisprudence relating to the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the context of international criminal law. It examines a selection of archival material from the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC) and other bodies connected to it, noting that the UNWCC was the first multinational criminal law organization to explicitly endorse SGBV crimes as international crimes. UNWCC-supported trials in both Europe and Asia suggest that rape committed in the context of armed conflict or situations of mass violence was punishable as a serious crime nearly 70 years ago. Moreover, many of the theories of liability used by contemporary tribunals today were used in the UNWCC-supported cases. The authors maintain that the UNWCC archives are not only valuable for tribunals prosecuting conflict-related SGBV cases today, but the jurisprudence emerging from UNWCC-supported cases may also be quite relevant to contemporary policy debates.