Using Social Science to Frame International Crimes.

Author:Rowen, Jamie
  1. Introduction II. The Limited Information: Sexualized Violence in Syria and Libya III. Public Health: Assessing the Nature and Prevalence of Violence IV. Beyond Prevalence: Examining Intent V. Proving Intent: The Challenge of Using Statistics in Court VI. Conclusions: Improving the Information, and Facing the Inherent Limitations I. Introduction

    In 2008, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1820 asking the Secretary General to submit a report that provides "information on situations of armed conflict in which sexual violence has been widely or systematically employed against civilians," and "information on his plans for facilitating the collection of timely, objective, accurate and reliable information on the use of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict." (1) In 2009, in his one-year report on Resolution 1820, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted the importance of analyzing sexual violence in armed conflict, saying that, "to ascertain prevalence, population-based surveys would need to be conducted" (2) but noting that "these are difficult to undertake in conflict settings." (3)

    Building from these calls by the UN, we hope to add to this discussion on Libya and Syria by providing insights into how survey research might be used to frame sexualized violence (4) as an international crime. The growing interest in social science to aid prosecutions underscores a desire to protect witnesses from recounting painful experiences, (5) to avoid misrepresentations and misunderstandings during testimonies, (6) and to bolster claims that the violence meets the threshold of international crimes. (7) The hope is that better data and analysis from survey research may help end impunity for sexualized violence. (8)

    In the context of armed conflict, rape and other forms of sexualized violence are now seen as crimes in and of themselves, as well as elements of genocide, crimes against humanity and torture. (9) Although the jurisprudence has made it easier to convict individuals accused of international crimes, investigators need as much information as possible in order to determine whether a person or an entity (e.g., a state) can be held accountable under international law. (10)

    Here, we ask what kind of information a survey of survivors can provide, and how might the information gleaned from a survey be used to further successful prosecutions in international criminal courts? We suggest that survey research and subsequent statistical analyses may be particularly useful to address concerns about the prevalence of the violence. (11) Obviously, it will be more difficult to use this information to show who or what might be liable. (12) Moreover, given the different ways that judges, advocates and social scientists utilize personal accounts, it will be even more difficult to convince judges that such information is useful to them.

    This conference paper is geared towards advocates and policy makers who may be interested in using social science and, thus, does not delve deeply into legal doctrine or methods. Other scholars have provided useful insights into ways to think about methods, legal definitions and everyday challenges in international courts when trying to end impunity for sexualized violence. (13) Rather, we provide various examples of how survey research on victims (14) as well as statistical analysis have been used to describe as well as frame mass violence as international crimes. We focus on different types of scholarship, including public health, criminology and demography in order to highlight different approaches to data collection and analysis. Our hope is that these examples might inform ongoing efforts to gather more information about sexualized violence in Syria and Libya, especially for those with an eye towards future prosecutions.

    The paper begins with an overview of what we know about sexualized violence in Syria and Libya. This section reveals the limitations of existing information, and how difficult it will be to overcome these limitations. In particular, we address the challenges that advocacy organizations face in gathering and analyzing it. Next, we examine three ways to think about how survey research might be used, drawing on examples of survey studies used to evaluate the causes and consequences sexualized violence as well as mortality. We focus specifically on public health scholarship as this field continues to offer important insights into how surveys might assess the causes of violence. Following, we present several examples of how social scientists might analyze the data with statistical methods in order to frame the violence as an international crime. Finally, we discuss the potential challenge of using statistical analysis in international prosecutions. The discussion reveals an ongoing need to increase dialogue between advocates, scholars and jurists about what kinds of information can and should be used to ensure accountability for sexualized violence in Libya and Syria.

  2. The Limited Information: Sexualized Violence in Syria and Libya

    Existing information reveals that all sides in Syria and Libya are using sexualized violence, and victims are both men and women. In 2013, the International Rescue Committee conducted a survey of female refugees from Syria, reporting that many claimed to have left their villages due to the sexualized violence. (16) Their report notes "many women and girls relayed accounts of being attacked in public or in their homes." (17) While conducting research on the conflict in early 2014, gay refugees in Syria reported being entrapped and tortured by Islamist groups that are taking over various parts of the country. (18) The New York-based Women Under Siege collected 81 stories of sexual assault reported in 2012 and 2013, mostly in home raids and residential sweeps. In a report of their findings, the organization indicated that 90% of women victims experienced rape and 42% experienced gang rape, and described these attacks as a widespread and systematic tool of war. (19)

    This information is particularly limited by the nature of the organization's reporting method. They do not systematically gather information and do not verify the accounts. Rather, they are self-reported acts of violence.

    The information reported early on in Libya is even more problematic. Seham Sergewa, a Libyan psychologist claimed to have sent out 70,000 questionnaires, receiving 60,000 responses, despite the lack of a functional postal system, with 259 reports of rape. (20) A more credible report came from Physicians for Social Responsibility. The organization conducted an investigation into sexualized violence in Libya by administering fifty-four interviews over a one-week period. They describe interviews with six civilians, including two medical professionals who report the use of rape as a military tactic and honor killings in response. (21) This information was corroborated by the United Nations investigation, which also found that men leave villages in order to protect family members from rape. (22)

    While useful, this information is limited for a variety of reasons. In her study on the presence or absence of sexualized violence during armed conflict, political scientist Elizabeth Wood summarizes part of this dilemma, saying:

    The frequency and type of incidents reported are shaped by oft-noted factors such as the willingness of victims to talk, the resources available, whether forensic authorities record signs of sexual violence, and the regional and partisan bias of the organization. In addition, the description of sexual violence as 'widespread" and "systematic' may reflect an organization's attempt to draw resources to document sexual violence (whatever its actual level) rather than the frequency of incidents, or may reflect legal rather than social science concepts. And in settings where political violence is ongoing, organizations may feel it prudent to state that all sides engage in sexual violence, whatever their beliefs and data about asymmetric patterns. (23) Other scholars have similarly pointed out that data on sexualized violence is particularly difficult to gather given the sensitivity of the topic, the difficulty in determining which acts should be categorized as sexualized violence, and how to integrate gender issues, such as whether to only count female victims. In particular, Hoover-Green and Cohen argue that advocacy organizations that gather data on sexualized violence struggle from "dueling incentives" over short-term needs for funding and long-term needs for credibility. (24) As a result, advocacy organizations may make claims that are not credible, particularly claims that overstate the violence. Those claims may dominate popular discourse about the nature and prevalence of the violence. Xabier Aranburu, a senior analyst with the International Criminal Court, has expressed concern over this dilemma and points out that advocacy organizations may try to claim that rape is "weapon of war" or of some strategic design when, in reality, it may be more opportunistic. (25)

    Given these dilemmas, any study conducted with an eye towards judicial accountability must understand these different professional communities, and how their different approaches to gathering and analyzing information affects their ability to frame sexualized violence as an international crime.

  3. Public Health: Assessing The Nature and Prevalence of Violence

    Public health scholars have been at the forefront of efforts to improve data collection and analysis on sexualized violence. Here, we discuss several public health studies, selected to highlight the different methodological approaches that scholars have taken, as a way to highlight the kind of information that surveys of sexualized violence survivors can help provide.

    A variety of survey studies address sexualized violence in armed conflict as part of broader inquiries into women's health. Many involve...

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