Forced Marriage: A “New” Crime Against Humanity?

Gong-Gershowitz, Jennifer | January 1, 2009

This paper analyzes the recent decisions of the Special Court for Sierra Leone defining forced marriage as a “new” crime under international humanitarian law. It first describes the Sierra Leonean civil war and the events leading up to the creation of the Special Court. Then it discusses the findings of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the AFRC Trial, comparing them to a few key decisions of the tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in response to crimes of sexual violence. Next, the paper examines the rationale of the AFRC Trial Chamber, which declined to recognize forced marriage as a new crime against humanity, then critically analyzes the AFRC Appeals Chamber’s decision to recognize “forced marriage,” arguing that the Chamber’s reasoning distorts the distinctions between sexual slavery and forced marriage during armed conflict.Thereafter, it discusses the RUF Trial Judgment and the problems inherent in its application of the vague standard articulated by the AFRC Appeals Chamber for the crime of “forced marriage.”Finally, the paper argues for a clear definition of the crime of sexual slavery defined broadly to encompass a “forced conjugal association,” or alternatively, for the inclusion of evidence of forced marriage as an aggravating factor in sentencing for crimes of sexual violence.