How to respond to ‘sexual terrorism’?

Published 31 March 2020


Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab have been massively involved in ‘sexual terrorism’: using human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence as tactics of terrorism. At the same time, state responses are meager and have sometimes been counterproductive. This is the main conclusion of a new article authored by Dr Anne-Marie de Brouwer and Dr Eefje de Volder from IMPACT – Center Against Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence in Conflict and Asser senior researcher Dr Christophe Paulussen.

In their article ‘Prosecuting the Nexus between Terrorism, Conflict-related Sexual Violence and Trafficking in Human Beings before National Legal Mechanisms: Case Studies of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab’, the researchers recommend, among other things, that terrorists’ use of human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence should be prosecuted as a crime in its own right under terrorism legislation. Currently, prosecutors typically charge alleged terrorists with broad crimes such as armed insurrection or membership of/affiliation with a terrorist organisation. However, such prosecutions do not address the actual acts committed and will thus not be satisfactory to victims of sexual terrorism. At the same time, legislators must ensure that any expansion of terrorism definitions are fully in line with international law.

In addition, the researchers argue for the implementation of survivor-centric evidentiary and procedural rules. For instance, rules of procedure and evidence should have strong protection and special measures (protecting the victim’s dignity, health, life as well as from secondary traumatisation) and the removal of requirements for corroboration in cases of sexual terrorism. In this context, useful guidance can be found in international rules of procedure and evidence, such as those of the International Criminal Court.
Furthermore, the victims and survivors of sexual terrorism, including the women who bore children from sexual terrorism and therefore also these children, need to be identified and supported with effective reparation measures rather than stigmatised.

This article is a working draft, and you can download it for free on the Asser SSRN page. The final version of the article will be included in the Special Issue on ‘Justice and Accountability for Sexual Violence in Conflict: Progress and Challenges in National Efforts to Address Impunity’, being edited by both the Journal of International Criminal Justice and the UN Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The three researchers will also present on this topic in the context of the 10th Advanced Summer Programme on Terrorism, Countering Terrorism and the Rule of Law.

Advanced summer programme on terrorism, countering terrorism and the rule of law 
This Advanced summer programme on terrorism, counter-terrorism and the rule of law is coming back for the 10th time to bring together experts, academics and policy makers from around the world working in the field of counter-terrorism. This renowned international summer programme will take place at the Asser Institute (24-28 August 2020). Click here to see last year’s reviews (video).

Christophe Paulussen is coordinator of the Asser research strand Human Dignity and Human Security in International and European Law which adopts as its normative framework a human rights approach to contemporary global challenges, inter alia in the fields of counter-terrorism, especially with regard to the topic of foreign (terrorist) fighters, international and transnational crimes, new technologies and artificial intelligence, and historical memory.