A new convention on crimes against humanity (CAH) is in its final draft stages — and recently hit a new milestone. Following a campaign led by MADRE, Outright Action International and CUNY Law School, the International Law Commission (ILC) took a crucial step. In the latest draft, the outdated definition of gender — which placed many at risk and limited rights protections — was removed.
Civil society organizations have changed the course of history by organizing together to ensure that all human rights violations are taken seriously in key international documents. Because of their advocacy, nineteen out of 33 governments participating in the final cycle of the treaty drafting process issued public endorsements, declaring that the rights of women and LGBTIQ+ people are protected under international criminal law and that the pending treaty must reflect this principle.
Where’s the Progress on Gender?
Two decades of international law have since clarified the broad reach of women’s and LGBTIQ rights, making the problematic gender references contained in the Rome Statute redundant and outdated. Strong convention language that complies with existing human rights law would be an invaluable tool for confronting impunity and enhancing state efforts to prevent and punish gender-based crimes. However, a text that does not recognize gender rights could sideline women and other marginalized victims and result in even greater impunity for gender crimes amounting to crimes against humanity.
Where Is the Treaty at Now?
The draft crimes against humanity (CAH) treaty was completed by the International Law Commission and will be reviewed by the UN General Assembly’s 6th Committee in fall 2019.
The fourth and final report of the ILC Rapporteur for the crimes against humanity draft convention was released in April 2019 and recommended removing the opaque definition of gender that was copied from the 1998 Rome Statute. The Special Rapporteur referred to comments from governments and UN experts that advocated for update gender language and which were mobilized by MADRE and its partners. Based on this recommendation, the ILC drafting Committee ultimately removed the definition of gender in its final report.
In 2018, MADRE circulated a sign-on letter asking other organizations to join our call on the ILC to update the definition of gender in the draft treaty. The letter was translated into five languages (English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Chinese) and received nearly 600 organizational and academic sign-ons representing over 100 countries. HRGJ Clinic of CUNY Law School also drafted a legal submission calling for the definition of gender in the treaty to either be removed or revised and also calling for expanding the categories under persecution. Eighteen governments also made submissions to the ILC calling for the deletion or revision of the definition of gender. Additionally, several UN Special Rapporteurs and other experts joined to draft two submissions to the ILC. The first submission calls on the ILC to update the definition of gender; the second submission calls on the ILC to expand the grounds for persecution in the draft treaty to include: disability, Indigenous status, age, social origin, language, and migrant and refugee status.
In addition to MADRE's open letter, there were at least nine other civil society submissions commenting on gender-related provisions in the draft treaty, including comments made by twelve trans groups and networks around the word, a submission by Human Rights Watch, a letter signed by about 70 human rights organizations in Africa, and joint comments by intersex groups. For example, civil society submissions called on the ILC to update treaty language concerning enslavement, reproductive rights, torture, intersex rights, and enforced disappearances.
Learn more, stay updated, and find out ways that you can support a progressive, gender-inclusive CAH treaty. Sign up to receive email updates here.
To find out more about MADRE's work on this campaign, click here.