Book in Focus
Fighting Sexual-Based Violence through a Sociology of International Justice"/>

01st March 2023

Book in Focus
Fighting Sexual-Based Violence through a Sociology of International Justice

By Laura Guerico


Can we talk about a sociology of international justice? Can International Justice institutions be considered one of the social orders? This book aims at analysing the issue, focusing on the specific topic of sex-based violence in armed conflict whilst proposing continuous dialogue between society and concepts of international justice in fighting against this crime. Society surely asks for an ideal international justice response for sexual gender-based violence (SGBV). The physical act of SGBV clearly reveals complex repercussions. Based on these understandings, inferences regarding the most effective response for SGBV victims may be drawn by adopting a victim-centric and gender lens approach.

Sexual assault seems to have been a historical constant in all combat situations. As a matter of fact, there is a ‘genetic’ connection between this heinous form of violence and the idea of war itself. However, until the Second World War, and the latter half of the 20th century, the international community did not publicly acknowledge or condemn such illegal acts. In order to uphold the rights and dignity of those who have been victims of such crimes, and to end the impunity of those who commit them, international criminal law and international criminal justice are crucial. And yet, it must be asked, how does justice impact global processes? If it is assumed that the role of international criminal justice can be reduced to the imposition of sanctions, then criminal justice undoubtedly serves a limited purpose. International justice unquestionably has a significant impact on the global system because it affects not only the judicial system but also the social reconstruction of a community that would promote peace and harmony among its members. This book explores the possibility of developing new concepts concerning international justice and its relationship to sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict. It shows that international justice can operate as a bridge between legal and societal domains by allowing role implementation to have an impact on social reconstruction. The book also examines international justice’s advancements and its enduring flaws from the perspectives of victims’ social protection and the reconstruction of their social dimensions.

Despite being late to the discussion, sociological approaches to international criminal justice are not new. Sociologists have long been involved in international criminal justice and its institutions, especially with regards to the growing body of interdisciplinary literature on international (criminal) justice that draws on sociological insights and methodology to varying degrees and in diverse ways.

Literature Review

This book will consider and analyse the literature already developed on the sociological study of international justice. For example, according to Mikkel Jarle Christensen, the primary lines of sociological study on international criminal justice have been largely characterised by two main approaches: one concerned with knowledge creation and the other inspired by Pierre Bourdie’s work (Chrisensen, 2015). The first approach is based mostly on the work of Habermas (Struett, 2008), Foucault (Clarke, 2007), and Latour (Campbell, 2013). According to this literature, international criminal justice is realised by treating court products like ocuments, speeches, and other legal artefacts, as empirical evidence rather than legal pronouncements. This research provides a unique look into the social dynamics that shape international criminal justice as a way of being in the world (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). The second approach, however, is dominated by scholars trained in sociology who consider international criminal justice as part of global restructuring. John Hagen conducts a more explicit institutional study in which he demonstrates individual agency at work in the legal and political crafting of a new legal regime (Hagan, 2010). Chris Tenove has also demonstrated how international criminal justice is a social field shaped by human rights advocacy, diplomacy, and criminal justice (Dixon and Tenove, 2013). The study of international criminal justice thus benefits from a starting point of the adversarial structure of its social field, as created by the ongoing competition between and among different actors and agendas. In this way, rather than providing a grand worldwide theory, relational sociology provides a collection of conceptual tools for experimentally investigating actual positions and practises in international criminal justice. This book intends to focus on these adversarial structures of social fields on the specific topic of SGBV crimes. SGBV does not just create victims on a physical basis. Women’s bodies, while fragile, contain collective ideals of honour, chastity, and community reproduction. When a perpetrator sexually assaults a victim, he shames and breaches the collective the body symbolises, as well as all the rules – however patriarchal – that construct it. The conflict is writ tiny on an individual body, which is destroyed as the collective dream proceeds (Maneuvers, 2000: 134).


This book examines how international criminal justice has responded to SGBV over time, specifically with regards to societal shifts that have resulted in new sorts of conflict and new considerations of social categories, particularly girls. In fact, the first chapter is devoted to new conflicts and the consequences that result from them. Changes in large-scale social relations have generated new types of warfare based on ethnic, social, and economic disparities rather than ideological objectives or simple territorial conquest. The second chapter investigates how societal changes and transformations over time necessitate a new notion of age classes within the macro category of girls, which, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, includes people aged zero to eighteen. When we consider the various effects that SGBV can have on a girl of eight years or one of sixteen, for example, it is clear that the challenges and impacts of each are different. This approach would lead to concrete results when international justice must consider the measures to be adopted in consideration of victim’s various physical and psychological maturities. On the basis of these considerations, the third chapter examines the responses given by the current system of international criminal justice, through ad-hoc Tribunals and the ICC, to the needs of victims of SGBV. In considering these needs, a gender perspective and a victim-centred approach is adopted.

Outcomes of the Book’s Research

The final question that this book aims at answering is this: what is the meaning and the purpose of international criminal justice? This is the point at which it is critical to begin. Should it be viewed solely as a tool for criminalising and penalising, or as a fundamental component for establishing social order and providing victims with peace and a new social dimension? Limiting international criminal justice to a role focused solely on imposing sanctions risks creating an arid concept of justice focused just on the perpetrators of the crimes and not on the victims and community as well. A crime against a person not only violates the individual lives of victims, but it also violates the community’s peace and order. It is especially true when heinous crimes, such as SGBV, are committed during an armed conflict. For this reason, international criminal justice cannot help but recognise that its responsibility extends beyond judging the perpetrators to the necessary reconstruction of a social dimension for the victim, one capable of giving dignity and peace, as well as one that can restructure the social fabric. A victim-centred approach considers at least two aspects when it comes to international justice regarding SGBV: namely, the provision of physical and financial assistance to the victim as soon as possible. Indeed, victims of SGBV require a sense of justice that immediately provides physical and financial support, and SGBV victims have a limited interest in criminal proceedings since the aforementioned demands are more pressing. Soliciting the participation of victims in the process of international justice, notably within the ICC, has limited significance unless actual steps are taken to fulfill their urgent needs and restore their dignity as human beings. Although it is critical to determine the accused obligations before international justice, particularly the ICC, the victim’s daily trauma must also be prioritised, and greater attention given to the victims. Their involvement in the process, and their economic compensation, must still be improved. In this regard, a cultural shift regaring the traditional criminal prosecution tactics is unquestionably required (Sehimi, 2016). In addition to addressing immediate individual injury, a justice response to SGBV logically involves a reparative scheme that tackles the sociological underpinnings of the violence that were exposed. Gender roles and stereotypes should ideally be challenged to effect the social and cultural change and SGBV victims should be at the center of this discourse, becoming the active subject of remedial processes.

Laura Guercio is a criminal lawyer, practicing in Italy, with experience in other jurisdictions. She teaches Sociology of Human Rights and International Cooperation to Development at the University of Perugia, Italy. She has served as a Member of the Council of the European Law Institute in Vienna, Coordinator of the Universities Network for Children in Armed Conflict, Secretary-General of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Human Rights at the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and Agent of the Management Board of the European Agency for Fundamental Rights. She holds a Master’s Degree in Law, a Master’s degree in Political Science, and an international PhD.

Fighting Sexual-Based Violence through a Sociology of International Justice is available now at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 to redeem.

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