A victory for women

Monday, March 13, 2006
A victory for women’s rights was won in the procedure for the selection and appointment of judges to the International Criminal Court, formed in mid-2002.


  A victory for women's rights was won in the procedure for the selection and appointment of judges to the International Criminal Court (ICC), formed in mid-2002.

  The ICC, based on the Rome Statute (1998), provides a radical improvement in more ways than one in the procedures employed for ad hoc tribunals created by the U.N. Security Council. How much more independent and egalitarian the ICC has become in spite of a few important statutory limitations and later developments in the area of power politics when compared to previous attempts at international jurisprudence is clearly discernible in Professor Hans Köchler's recent book “Global Justice and Global Revenge?” which has been translated into Turkish. My thanks go to Professor Türkkaya Ataöv, who brought this pioneering work of exceptional erudition to my attention.  Article 16 of the statute provides that the ICC Assembly of State Parties elects, by secret ballot at a special meeting, at least 18 judges. Those who garner the highest number of votes from a two-thirds majority of the states parties present and voting are elected for nine years without possibility of re-election. There are three criteria for the election: (a) representation of principal legal systems; (b) equitable geographical representation; and (c) gender balance.  The quoted criterion embodies the point that this short article seeks to underline. The first bench of 18 judges was elected in New York in early 2003. What interests us here is that among those elected were seven women. The requirement of gender balance is perhaps next in importance, in terms of equality, to the independence of the court, which is essential in jurisprudence. This criterion not only appeared in the statute itself but was also adhered to during the actual selection process. The proportion of women may increase in the following election. The obligatory choice of women, on an international level, is another significant victory over the very invisibility of this gender that persisted for so many centuries as a sign of their submerged status.

  In overlooking women in the past, they were at times something akin to slaves. And, of course, black slaves faced a double oppression. The biological uniqueness of women had become a basis for treating them as inferiors. Men could use, exploit and sometimes cherish them as sex mates, servants and the bearers, and later wardens, of his children. Throughout the history of women, their job was mainly “Kirche, Kinder und Küche” or maintaining religion, nursing and cooking. While men in various societies still enjoy absolute possession of wives and other women, the criterion in the Rome Statute, meaningfully realized in the election to the bench of judges of such an international body, strikes one as a concrete gain.

  Apart from gender balance, the two other criteria regarding legal systems and geographical distribution have been met as far as possible: They shall be independent in the performance of their functions; they are not allowed to pursue any other occupation; they enjoy the same privileges and immunities as are accorded to heads of diplomatic missions; removal is possible only in the case of serious misconduct or an inability to carry out the required functions.  

  Professor Köchler's book, packed with rich material enabling him to prove the validity of his thesis that the ICC is a unique experience, though with some pitfalls, also reminds us of a crucial step forward in the realization of equal rights for the two genders.

  *Women's Rights Studies CenterFaculty of Political Science, Ankara University.