Opening Remarks by John Hendra at the Side Event “Achieving Gender Justice: The Case for Reparations”

Date: 07 Mar 2013

Opening Remarks by John Hendra, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme, UN Women
at the Government of Finland, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW) Side Event “Achieving Gender Justice: The Case for Reparations,” 7 March 2013

Ambassador Rapp, distinguished panelists, ladies and gentlemen;

I’m very pleased to be here this afternoon to moderate this event, on a subject of particular importance to UN Women. At the outset, I’d like to thank the Finnish Mission to the United Nations; the International Criminal Court Liaison Office; and Global Action to Prevent War, for organizing this side event. UN Women is particularly delighted to have supported the participation of Commissioner Sesay, of the National Commission for Social Action in Sierra Leone, a grantee of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

Access to justice and rule of law is at the heart of all development efforts, and is the foundation of the protection and realization of all rights. Yet as we know, globally, discrimination against women remains pervasive, and is entrenched through the lack of legal provisions, by laws that continue to perpetuate rather than reverse discrimination, and by justice systems that continue to fail to deliver for women.

Perhaps nowhere is women’s access to justice more critical than in societies transitioning from conflict – when states face the daunting task of dealing with terrible crimes committed during conflict, together with often rising social unrest and violence in the post-conflict setting.

It’s during transitions from conflict that ensuring justice for crimes against women is most urgent – and must be given greater priority. When justice systems are rebuilt with women’s access and rights at their heart, the post-conflict period can become a time of opportunity. Transitional justice measures have a critical role to play in this respect.

As the 2011 World Development Report (WDR) notes, transitional justice mechanisms not only provide justice for conflict-related crimes, but as importantly, signal a break with a violent and oppressive past, by reasserting the rights of victims and the equal application of the rule of law to all. This is especially critical for women, who experience violations and abuses during conflict that exacerbate the inequalities they experience before, during and after conflict. Access to justice for the crimes committed against women, together with a robust investment in their recovery sends a very important message that women’s rights will be recognized as post-conflict societies move forward.

Reparations play a very important role in this respect. Given their focus on victims’ rights to redress and recovery they are perhaps the most victim-centered of all transitional justice mechanisms, and offer the greatest potential for meaningful recovery for individuals and communities, in particular women.

As the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women noted in her 2010 report on reparations, and I quote: “Reparations for women cannot be just about returning them to the situation in which they were found before the individual instance of violence, but instead should strive to have a transformative potential.” The transformative potential of reparations was also emphasized in key judgments of the Inter-American Court, and most recently in the first reparations order made by the International Criminal Court.

We must ensure that reparations are not only employed as an essential component of recovery and healing for victims of human rights violations, but also that reparations are implemented based on the needs and interest of women, and are sustainable and transformative in their impact. We’ll hear more about this during our discussion today.

As part of our work on promoting access to justice and gender-sensitive transitional justice, UN Women is working with our partners to strengthen reparations regimes. With OHCHR, we are working to develop guidance for the UN system on reparations for sexual violence in conflict; establishing minimum standards for gender-sensitive transitional justice mechanisms, including reparations; and have supported governments – including in Uganda, Columbia and the former Yugoslavia by providing technical support, research, and lessons learned, to inform their policies in this critical area.

In addition, through the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which we administer, we are supporting the National Commission for Social Action in Sierra Leone, which is responsible for reparations, and are also funding a reparations programme for survivors of sexual violence. We’ll also hear more about this shortly. Through the Trust Fund, we’re also supporting similar efforts in the International Court in Cambodia.

As the right to reparations is increasingly recognized and fulfilled, we need to continue to ensure that the needs of women remain at the centre of their design and delivery. And this then is the starting point for our discussion today, which centres on the question: “How do we achieve the goal of transformative reparations for women?”

With that, let me now turn to our panel. I’m very pleased to introduce such distinguished speakers: Mr. Stephen Rapp, US Ambassador at large for War Crimes Issues; Ms. Elisabeth Rehn, Chair of the ICC Trust Fund Board of Directors; Ms. Luz Mende, President of the Advisory Board of the National Union of Guatemalan Women; and Mr. Saidu Conton Sesay, Commissioner on the National Commission on Social Action, Sierra Leone.

Each panelist will have 5 minutes for opening remarks, and will be asked to respond to a specific question. I will then open the floor for questions and answers. Let me ask the panelists to keep their remarks brief, so that we can have time for discussion.

Thank you.