The brief notes that international law concerning sexual violence is a relatively recent development: “When the International Criminal Tribunals for Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda began their work, they encountered a lack of definition of sexual violence under international treaty and customary law and accordingly made great efforts to build a definition in accordance with international standards defining these crimes in such a way that they cover acts which were previously considered lesser offences, sexual assaults or indecent actions under national laws.”
The following principles have emerged from international humanitarian law: (1) Sexual violence is not limited to the sexual act of penetration, but could include other behaviors; (2) Rape may be understood as a serious crime of sexual violence; (3) Women as well as men can be victim of these crimes given that the established elements are gender neutral; (4) Coercion should be interpreted broadly, and not only in regard to physical strength, because there may be coercive circumstances in situations of abuse of power or psychological oppression, where it is not necessary to mediate physical strength; and (5) Coercion presumes a lack of consent on the part of the victim, thereby rendering the conduct illegal.
While the ECCHR Amicus Brief has been filed in a criminal case, the principles could be applied to asylum and Convention Against Torture claims, and help to establish that sexual violence is a form of torture.
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