Dr. Christine Byron is a guest scholar at the Institute. She is currently researching and writing a book titled “Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict: Legal and Political Responses.”
Why are you passionate about this subject?
“I think it’s because for a long time there was very little response to sexual violence in conflict. In 1998, I interned at the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Some of the cases the court heard dealt with terrible crimes of sexual violence.
“I also worked as a police officer in Liverpool and saw rape there as well.”
“But one particular case I was looking at in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia involved the rape of a woman as a form of torture to get her to give up information about her husband and his military movements. It involved sexual mutilation. This woman came to court and gave evidence, and I couldn’t believe how brave she was.”
“That had a big impact on me. I went on to do my PhD on the International Criminal Court.”
Describe the project you’re working on now.
“I’m analysing both the political and legal responses to sexual violence in conflicts to determine the best way to reduce and respond to the problem.
“I’m looking at how international humanitarian law, criminal law and human rights law responds and deals with sexual violence in conflict. I’m examining the international legal response from a number of angles – from the UN, from individual states and from the legal sphere in general.
“I’m also looking at the political responses from the UN, specifically the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
“And I’ll be studying responses of truth and reconciliation commissions to victims of sexual violence.”
Why does the world need your research?
“Certain aspects of sexual violence in conflict haven’t been analysed. Really, there’s hardly any literature on it at all and less on how certain groups aren’t getting any protection.
“International criminal law and humanitarian law are very focused on what’s happening on the other side of a conflict. So if a group takes a child soldier and sexually abuses him or her, generally there’s a gap in the response because they assume that if you’re on the same side you are protected. Many victims can’t get a response from the states because they usually are not interested in prosecuting themselves.
“So I’m looking at those that have been left behind, how human rights can fill the gaps and how we can get a broader response to the issue.”
Describe the problem of sexual violence in conflict.
“It doesn’t happen excessively in every conflict, but in some conflicts, it’s used overwhelmingly as a way of forcing people to flee.
“In the context of the former Yugoslavia, it was used as a part of ethnic cleansing. In other conflicts, many times there will be a breakdown of command, and individuals will feel free to rape and carry out other crimes because there’s no control and the population is very poor.”
How do you hope your work will contribute to improving the situation?
“I hope my analysis of the problems and suggested solutions will help those who are prosecuting nationally and internationally for these crimes to think about how it’s being done.
“I also hope that it will help judges and various experts working on human rights bodies to think about how human rights should be used to deal with the issue.
“I hope by taking a holistic look at the overall response to sexual violence in conflict that we can begin to reduce it.”