Mark P. Lagon – Centennial Fellow: Global Justice Blog
Ambassador Mark P. Lagon is a SFS Centennial Fellow and Distinguished Senior Scholar. Lagon most recently served as President of Freedom House, an international nonprofit devoted to research and programs advancing human rights and democratic governance.
The Global Justice Blog addresses ethics, international law, and human rights in today’s fractured world. Centennial Fellow Mark P. Lagon and guest bloggers will grapple will raise key issues and dilemmas among these priorities and strengths of the Walsh School of Foreign Service. A parallel Global Justice Lecture Series will interest readers.
By Daniella Montemarano, MSFS ‘18
Daniella Montemarano is a DC-based conflict resolution practitioner specializing in transitional justice, peacebuilding, and gender justice.
Last November, Sami Brahim shattered a wall of silence on the first day of Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission (TDC). Brahim, an academic researcher and former political prisoner, sat before live and virtual audiences to recount the sexual violence he survived while imprisoned under the Ben Ali regime. By describing his horrifying experiences of genital mutilation, forced nudity, and forced sexual abuse between prisoners, Brahim gave voice to a prevalent yet widely unaddressed human rights abuse: sexual violence against men and boys.
Historically, the narrative of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) has equated women and girls with sexual violence victimhood during periods of systematic human rights abuses. Early activism aimed at mainstreaming gender into security frameworks and international law narrowly focused on women’s experiences as survivors of sexual violence during conflict. Yet the narrative of male perpetration and female victimization excludes the experiences of men and boys SGBV survivors, who suffer from violations of rape, forced nudity, and sexual slavery during conflict and authoritarian rule. Sexual violence against men is especially common in detention facilities, as documented in Syria and the former Yugoslavia.
SGBV crimes against men and boys often occur under a veil of silence perpetuated by culturally entrenched gender norms. These norms equate masculinity with strength, invulnerability, and dominance, particularly in relation to women. Perpetrators use sexual violence against men to disrupt these norms and thus weaken the individual’s social and political standing. In turn, male SGBV crimes create severe stigmatization and isolation at the community and societal levels, incentivizing men against reporting such crimes in a post-conflict or post-authoritarian context.
Inextricably interwoven with masculinity norms is the stigma against homosexuality and homosexual acts. Male SGBV victims often fear being labeled as a homosexual or accused of “wanting it,” preventing them from disclosing to security actors, humanitarian service providers, and transitional justice institutions. The criminalization of homosexuality and homosexual acts also entrench this stigma: same sex relationships carry a death sentence in 5 countries and imprisonment in 70 others. When the fear of social stigma meets the fear of prosecution, male survivors of SGBV dive further into silence.
Gender biases toward SGBV crimes drive legal ignorance within transitional justice mechanisms. Retributive and restorative justice bodies generally conflate SGBV with the rape of women and girls and provide additional security protections and post-traumatic psychosocial support for female survivors testifying about sexual violence crimes. On the other hand, transitional justice institutions miscategorize SGBV atrocities against men as physical violence or torture, thus denying male survivors of sexual violence those same specialized protections and the satisfaction of holding their perpetrators legally and publically accountable.
Current and upcoming transitional justice processes have the opportunity to set female and male survivors of SGBV crimes on equal footing. Last year, the Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) used gender-neutral language in the indictment of Case 002, providing ECCC prosecutors with the legal tools to deliver justice to both male and female victims of forced marriages under the Khmer Rouge. In the Gambia, President Barrow’s proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission has the opportunity to address the sexual abuses committed against male political prisoners under former President Yayah Jammeh. Codifying sexual violence crimes under gender neutral language will help the Gambia’s prospective TRC address the full scope of abuses during the Jammeh regime and provide sufficient support to the male SGBV survivors. These transitional justice mechanisms, along with others in Peru, Kenya, and Tunisia, can facilitate healing and restore dignity to all survivors of sexual violence, regardless of gender.