Fighting ISIS Over Gender-Based Crimes: A Legal Approach

As ISIS’ rule has spread throughout Iraq and Syria, fighters in the terrorist militant group have perpetrated more than worldwide attacks. They’ve also been responsible for numerous gender-based crimes. “Simply for defying the militia’s narrowly defined gender roles,” CUNY School of Law Professor Lisa Davis writes in a new article published in William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, civilians have experienced brutal acts of gender oppression. Women have been killed for holding positions like journalist or politician, while youth have been killed for homosexual behavior or dressing in a way that breaks with ISIS’ restrictive definitions of gender.

Prosecuting fighters for those crimes has been difficult due to a lack of documentation. But human rights activists in Iraq have been working to change that by recording such violations. “This is the first time in history that we have a robust set of documentation for crimes committed against women and men and specifically LGBTIQ persons because of their gender,” Davis said in an interview. 

Building upon that mounting evidence, the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic of CUNY, partnering with MADRE and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, filed a petition with the International Criminal Court on Nov. 8, 2017. It called for the ICC to prosecute gender oppression.

Although gender-based violations have been recognized under the umbrella of human rights violations since the ICC’s formation in 1990, Davis explains that pursuing justice based on “the full understanding of ‘gender’” has not happened, and perpetrators have not been held accountable. Her article details the need for such action. “The success of this submission could change the landscape of international criminal law, both highlighting and redressing the longstanding targeting of civilians based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the context of war and conflict,” she writes.

Davis told SUM, “What we’re really hoping that [Iraq will] do is affirm the legal interpretation to gender-based persecution to include LGBTI persons.”

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Explore This Work
Reimagining Justice for Gender-Based Crimes at the Margins

Work By
Lisa Davis (Clinical Professor, Law) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
CUNY School of Law

Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic

Bonus Content
Global Women’s Rights Group Launches Case for Prosecution of ISIS (MADRE)

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