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Codifying gender apartheid under the draft Convention on Crimes Against Humanity

SAHR is part of a growing community of law practitioners who have joined the global campaign to End Gender Apartheid. The term came to fore after widespread and systematic attacks directed against women by the Taliban in Afghanistan and the government in Iran, particularly during the wave of women-led protests which spilled onto the streets in 2021 and 2022.

This prompted a legal question. Are the institutionalised forms of dominance and control over women which we see in Iran and Afghanistan, a form of gender apartheid?

The term gender apartheid does not exist in any international legal instrument. But the women's movements have galvanised around this term because it accurately describes what is happening in Afghanistan and Iran and it uniquely distinguishes institutionalised dominance and control over women from other forms of prevalent gender-based discrimination and violence happening elsewhere.

The word apartheid was first conceptualised in the context of racial apartheid in South Africa, referring to the inhumane acts committed under the racialised system of oppression and domination in South Africa. Apartheid in South Africa ended only in 1991, after Nelson Mandela was released from prison. His release later led to the repeal of apartheid legislation in June 1991, leading to multiracial elections for the first time in 1994. This is the first time apartheid is now being conceptualised in gender terms, borrowing from the concepts and dynamics in racial apartheid.

One key avenue to introduce and recognise gender apartheid will be through the Draft Crimes Against Humanity Convention ("Convention"), which is under state review and to be discussed before the UN General Assembly. SAHR alongside a coalition of organisations under the End Gender Apartheid Now campaign is advocating for gender apartheid to be included in the said Convention. If successful, it will be the first major UN treaty focused on core international crimes since the Rome Statute, to include the term, thereby codifying the crime of gender apartheid in international law.

This is significant for many reasons. It will place gender apartheid amongst the gravest international atrocities, triggering legal obligations on states and international organizations to prevent, punish and, refrain from facilitating gender apartheid. As the Convention would be non-derogable, States would also be restricted from invoking religion, culture, political instability, or security to justify their actions.

By Natasha Latiff & Lara Danani

SAHR is submitting a Legal Brief to States with recommendations to the articles of the Draft Convention. Our recommendations are aimed primarily to include and/or define specific gender-based crimes which have been recognised in international jurisprudence as constituting atrocities of egregious nature. This is covered in our recommendations of Article 2(1) and 2(2) of the Draft Articles. Further, SAHR offers recommendations aimed at strengthening access to justice for victims and witnesses, from a survivor-centered approach, based on updated UN resolutions and guidelines on the same. 


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