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A Wife Accused of War Crimes

The International Criminal Court has indicted Simone Gbagbo, wife of the former president of Ivory Coast on charges of “crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and persecution”. William Burke-White, writing for The Atlantic, explains why this could be a history-making decision:

The indictment is, therefore, an important symbol of unfortunate fact from a humanitarian perspective: women, as well as men, plan and commit horrific acts of violence. While there may be fewer examples of women committing these most heinous crimes, men are not the only ones capable of ordering such brutality. This indictment recognizes that reality and lays a marker that international criminal courts will hold any perpetrator—regardless of gender—responsible for his or her actions.

This may seem like an odd story to be posting on a feminist news site, but portraying terrorists as exclusively or near-exclusively male deifies women, and this is a form of objectification. Women are people, too, with all the susceptibility to corruption, greed, hatred, and violence that conveys.

Burke-White argues, though, that the significance of this case surpasses the gender component:

Most of the indictments handed down by international courts to date have focused on those at the top of standard hierarchies of power—military commanders, governmental officials, or the leaders of armed rebellions. In contrast, Simone Gbagbo held no official position in government; she wore no military uniform; she did not personally commit any of the crimes charged. Yet, the ICC Prosecutor alleges that Simone Gbagbo was part of “Mr. Gbagbo’s inner circle,” that she “participated in all the meetings during the relevant period,” and that she “instructed pro-Gbagbo forces” to commit crimes against individuals who posed a threat to President Gbagbo’s power.

Too many oppressors have been able to dodge justice by claiming, “I did nothing” simply because there was no actual blood on their actual hands. While the pendulum can swing too far the other way, as with the Reign of Terror, that probably should not stop us from prosecuting those who actively propelled others to commit atrocities.