For the January 2024 episode of the IGC podcast, we are joined by two The Hague-based Champions: Ambassador Corinne Cicéron Bühler of Switzerland to the Netherlands and Permanent Representative to the OPCW and Alix Vuillemin, Executive Director of the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice. They reflect on recent developments around gender equality in the context of International Justice, highlight the need to tackle misconceptions and discuss the importance of leadership in promoting gender justice.
Hello and welcome to a new episode of the IGC podcast. My name is Hannah Reinl and I`m with the International Gender Champions Secretariat in Geneva. Today, we are going to talk about gender in the context of International Criminal Justice. And for that, I am joined by two Champions from our Hub in The Hague who will help us understand what gender justice means and why it matters.
First, we have with us Ambassador Corinne Cicéron Bühler, who is, since August 2023, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the Netherland and to the International Organisations based in The Hague. Corinne first joined the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in 1999, working at the Directorate of International Law as a scientific collaborator. After her admission in the diplomatic career in 2003, her path took her to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, Belgium, and Israel. She worked on a range of matters from international law to European integration, and migration, and asylum.
Corinne has led cases brought to the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. In her previous position, she was the Director of the Directorate of International Law in Switzerland, and also a delegate in the “Committee of Legal Advisers on Public International Law” of the council of Europe from 2018 to 2023. To this day, Corinne is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Both as Director, as well as Ambassador to the Netherlands, she has been the first Swiss woman exercising these positions.
That is quite a background. Corinne, welcome to the IGC podcast.
Corinne Cicéron Bühler
Thanks a lot. It's a pleasure to be with you today and I'm looking forward to exchanging together.
Our second guest is Alix Vuillemin. Alix is the Executive Director of Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice, a feminist organisation that promotes gender justice by advocating for inclusive justice, including through working towards accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes. The organisation focuses on enhancing the response of the International Criminal Justice system, particularly the International Criminal Court, to the needs of survivors of such crimes and strives to ensure that gender justice principles are effectively integrated into international law and practice. Prior to this role, Alix monitored the work of the International Criminal Court for various organisations including the Coalition for the ICC, Human Rights Watch, and Open Society Justice Initiative, where she coordinated and led NGO advocacy campaigns.
A warm welcome to you as well, Alix!
Thank you very much, Hannah. It's a great pleasure to be here today.
So, let's start you off with the fundamental question. For people like me who are new to the topic, why do we have to discuss gender in the context of International Criminal Justice? And what are the key dimensions that we should be aware of when it comes to practices and legal frameworks within that domain?
Corinne Cicéron Bühler
So, with regards to your question, gender aspects and gender analysis are very important in many contexts, not only in International Criminal Justice. And with that, I mean the field where individuals are prosecuted for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. And to fulfill its vital role in combating impunity and in promoting and ensuring compliance with International Law, International Criminal Justice ought to be gender sensitive. And why? Because in this field it is important to have this sensitivity to be taken into account, not only in the prosecution but also in the defense, with regards to the perpetrators and with regards to the victims. And that's also why the ICC has developed the policy paper on gender persecution.
It's important to see that there has been some development, not only in the policy, but also in the practice. And, when we look at ICC, we can focus on two very illustrative examples of its jurisprudence. In 2021, we have the Ongwen case, where for the first time, forced pregnancy was charged and subsequently also convicted as a stand-alone crime, namely as a war crime and a crime against humanity. And that constitutes a milestone for gender-based crime in the International Criminal Justice. The second example is the judgment in the Al Hassan case, which will be pronounced hopefully very soon. It is expected that the ICC will have a first ever prosecution of the crime against humanity, of persecution on grounds of gender, and the gender and religious persecution that took place during the 10 months of the Malian city of Timbuktu, when it was under control of two armed groups.
It would be the first prosecution of that kind, and it also shows the importance to be alert, because the environment is developing and the comprehension of gender-based violence is also evolving. So, it's important to have the policy evolving, but also the practice of the International Tribunal evolving too. And that's why as a Hub in The Hague, where we are really close to this criminal justice, that it is important that we discuss these things.
Absolutely, and if I may jump in and add to that, Corinne, of course I agree fully and completely with the overview that you set out. Gender must be part and parcel of absolutely everything that we do in life. And thus also in our Hague Hub and in monitoring the work of International Justice, accountability, mechanisms that we have here, and particularly the work of the International Criminal Court. So, as you mentioned, within the ICC and its cases, its jurisprudential development, there have been great advances made, as Corinne just mentioned, with regards to the understanding and the implementation of a gender perspective.
And I really like your question, Hannah, why is it important to discuss gender in this field. And the reason that I appreciate it so much is that you always have a need to go back to the basics. Why is gender important? How are we integrating it into our respective mandates as Champions? And that's why I think it's such a relevant question. So, to maybe build on a few things that Corinne has already indicated, it is particularly important in this context of International Criminal Law and Justice to understand the crimes. Why are the crimes happening? What are their causes? Why are perpetrators perpetrating these crimes, but also what are the consequences of these crimes? And the reason why it's so important to get it right, to get right gender in International Criminal Law is that we need to make sure that in these mechanisms, in addressing impunity, we have to look at the very broad bases of all crimes that are perpetrated and to make sure that survivors are not completely overlooked. Which still can happen if gender, but also other issues are not very well understood.
And I say this because, and this may resonate with many of the other Champions listening in, gender is not always a very straightforward topic. It's not always very well understood, and that's the same in International Criminal Law. The understanding of gender is still underdeveloped, and there are still very deeply held misconceptions about gender. And it's the same here, there are misconceptions in the commission of the crimes, in the investigation and the adjudication, in how people in the courtrooms are represented both on the victims side but also on the defense side. And all of that needs to be addressed and that's what we are here to do.
You're both just coming out of a two-day conference on “Gender Justice and International Criminal Law” in The Hague, which was co-organised by Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice, the International Gender Champions, and a number of other partners. What are some of the learnings you're taking with you from this conference?
We had a great week with a lot of riveting discussions and so many learnings to take from. We were deeply grateful to have absolutely amazing speakers at this conference. It really brought together and that was our aim, leading voices on gender and International Criminal Law, to really take us through where the current frontiers, if you will, are, with respect to understanding gender in International Criminal Law at the moment. And so, the panelist took us through some topics, let me mention survivor activism, gender persecution, as Corinne mentioned already, but also gender apartheid, which is a very interesting discussion and extremely important frontier again to understand what is happening in certain contexts such as Afghanistan, such as Iran. We also discussed the anti-gender movement, we discussed the nexus between gender and slavery, and the slave trade as well, and we discussed opportunities to cooperate, all of us, better on gender in this field. Just a few points.
And maybe some main takeaways to highlight are for example, the panel on survivor activism. I don't know if that's true for other Champions or other hubs, but what we are seeing is that taking a survivor-centered approach is something that you have to do now in most facets, if not all facets of our work as practitioners advancing accountability. But you also need to try to avoid being tokenistic, you also need to try to avoid re-traumatisation and to be genuine and authentic in your efforts to center survivors. And in that respect, we learned from NGOs like Tallawah Justice for Women, how we can best do that. We also learned about intersectionality, we learned about the anti-gender movement that I already mentioned, which is around the world increasingly strong- that might resonate with our other Champions as well- and that must be considered in our efforts. And we also learned again how to better cooperate and in that on a discussion on the Gender Justice Hub, which is an initiative that is being led by our conference co-organizer, Legal Action Worldwide on how different international entities can work together on gender, in this International Criminal Law sphere. So, let me hand it over to Corinne, but let me mention also for all of those listening who are interested, the recordings of the conference are available online.
That would have been my follow up question. So over to you Corinne, and we will make sure to share the links to these recordings, of course.
Corinne Cicéron Bühler
Thank you. Perhaps I can add, because following this successful conference, we as the newly established Steering Committee in The Hague Hub, we decided to organize a kickoff New Year breakfast event in my residence, at the Swiss residence. And it was really interesting because we could count on very interesting thematic inputs being done by the two co-authors of the book, Gender and International Criminal Law, Indira Rosenthal and Susana SáCouto and it was really nice because we had a large variety of the Champions in The Hague, about 20 participating Champions ,and we could have a very interesting discussion among ourselves, fruitful exchanges among ambassadors but also executive directors, as well as President and Registrar of the International Criminal Court present that day.
And what I took personally from this fruitful exchange are, to summarize, two things. First, the recent progress in International Criminal Law, because sometimes you can consider the glass half full or half empty. I'm rather a positive person, because we have come through a long path. It's not the end, but at least there is a lot which has been done in the last years. And on the other hand, for me, what was impressive, and Alix also mentioned it, are the various misconceptions among different specialists about gender. Because if you have a misleading conception, then how can you have a fair trial or a fair prosecution? These misconceptions were quite evident and also the lack of gender analysis based on fact. Because it's only if it's based on fact, that you can have really some equal treatment and be sure that there is not more emphasis put on this misconception. So, I think it was the first but not the last discussion on that topic, because we all concluded that it merits further discussion among the Gender Champions in The Hague. And I'm looking forward to continuing the discussion with Alix, but also with all the other Gender Champions in The Hague.
Let's hope for more discussions, because there's definitely more myth-busting to be done around concepts surrounding gender. So, I have one last question for you two for today. What do you think, can- and maybe also what should- International Gender Champions do to advance gender equality matters in the field of International Justice? Is there any personal advice that you'd like to share with your fellow Champions?
Corinne Cicéron Bühler
So, on my side I could share two things. First, in my opinion you need two things in order to advance and to achieve diversity and gender equality. You have the leaders’ awareness on the one hand, but also the boldness of the new generation on the other one, because both are complementary. So, for the leaders, we have to increase responsibility and to promote awareness, but also to lead by example, because we have a strong role to play in with this regard and I'm honored to be the first female Ambassador in The Hague. And I'm really committed to continue to enhance diversity, also in the embassy.
The second element, which goes together, is the new generation, you have to give them an active role in this path. They should dare and try without being confined by self-confidence, because sometimes one would think, “I'm not good enough, so I will not try” and it's also in their hands to take part in the changes which can happen. And I think both elements, leadership and the new generation have to go hand in hand.
And also, the second element which I noticed while being active in International Justice as an agent or organising the defense of Switzerland, is that more diversity is needed in the defense teams. Because sometimes you stick to some stereotypes like, some male, white, from a certain age, expert should defend in a better way the interest of states. And for me, that's not true, because as in normal life, diversity is important so, we should also have more diversity with regards to age, with regards to gender, but with regard also to the geographical origin of be it judges, adjunct judges or arbitrators. And I think we all have something to do with this change of mindset, in order to have also a new generation which is in a position to continue to work efficiently in the field of International Justice and that's why I think we all have something to work and to continue in this path. And I’m sure there are the next steps which will be taken and by awareness raising, it's really something good, and within The Hague Hub we will continue to increase this awareness.
I have little to add to that, perhaps on your example or your encouragement to lead by example, I wish to stress something, which is indeed really quite personal, but it's the power of vulnerability in leadership. And what I mean by that is that we all, as Champions, have a leadership role within our own organisations, within our network and beyond as well and sharing your own experiences, sharing your own reflections, and particularly sharing your learning journey with respect to gender, will encourage other Champions to do so as well. And this is particularly important in our field talking about gender because there are so many misconceptions, but there is also this fear of “let me not speak out because I'm probably getting it wrong, so best for me to just not”.
No, If you say “well, you know, I'm not sure about this, but I'm on the learning path, my organisation is on the learning path and we're open to discuss, I have self-reflection”. That is very powerful to do, and indeed leading by example. And I really appreciate what you said about the next generation, the new generation. And what I would like to add to that again as an encouragement to fellow Champions, they should for sure dare, and try and get out there, but it's for us as leaders as well to understand that that might be a little bit uncomfortable sometimes as well, because the next generation is holding us to account with respect to our understanding of gender. But that's the frontiers that we need to just brush up against and be OK with and again have that bit of a self-reflection in doing so. And we are led in that respect by the emergent Justice Collective, which is a collective of indeed the next generation in this field. I would very much encourage all Gender Champions to check out their work. And there's much to do. But as you said Corinne, we're here together to do that, to be optimistic about what we need to do and work together to advance for a better future that is equal and has an impact for everyone.
Fantastic, let's have optimism be the direction. Corinne, Alix, thank you so much for joining us today and for breaking down this really important topic for all of us. Thank you.
Thank you, Hannah.
Corinne Ciceron Bühler
The recording of the Conference on Gender and International Criminal Law are available here.