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Women’s Summit honoree Patricia Viseur Sellers L’79 explains latest ICC rulings

April 13, 2016

This March, the International Criminal Court unanimously declared Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo guilty under the Rome Statute of two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) for crimes committed in the Central African Republic from October 2002 to March 2003. Bemba effectively acted as a military commander with control over the forces that committed the crimes.

Penn Law Women’s Summit honoree Patricia Viseur Sellers L’79 recently wrote about the verdict in the online forum Just Security. Sellers currently serves as Special Advisor for Prosecution Strategies to the Prosecutor of the ICC, and she explained that this is the first conviction by the ICC for rape as a war crime and a crime against humanity, and the first time the ICC has held convictions based on command responsibility.

Sellers is also a Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College of Oxford University, where she teaches International Criminal Law on the Masters of Human Rights Law faculty. She has served as the Special Advisor to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and to the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, as well as advised governments, international organizations, and civil society groups. She earned her BA from Rutgers University in 1976, and her JD from Penn Law in 1979.

Bemba was found to have command responsibility over the militia group, Sellers explained, because “he, in essence, had effective control over these subordinates.” He failed to prevent them from committing crimes, she noted, and failed to punish them for crimes they committed.

Sellers noted that deterrence is key for international law, and the ultimate goal is to have states prosecute these crimes on their own. “The role of the Court isn’t only to take cases that are under its jurisdiction,” she said, “it’s to encourage the states that have signed up to the jurisdiction through the Rome statute —  to pursue these cases themselves.”

From 1994-2007,  Sellers was the Legal Advisor for Gender Related Crimes and Senior Acting Trial Attorney in the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In that capacity, she advised and litigated cases on sex based crimes under the tribunals’ statues that produced landmark international criminal law jurisprudence.

Prior to her work as an international prosecutor, she served at the Directorate General for External Relations at the European Commission; worked with the Ford Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and practiced as an attorney with the Philadelphia Defender Association.

At the Penn Law Women’s Summit, Sellers participated in a panel called “Women, Peace, and International Security,” and was impressed not only by her fellow panelists, but by the attendees as well.

“It was a very enriching experience,” said Sellers. “I thought that not only the panels were good, but the audience was good. The questions not only took up the subject matter, but carried it further.”

Sellers received the Summit Award for her work litigating and advising on the leading international criminal law cases regarding wartime sexual violence, sexual violence and genocide, and sexual violence and enslavement as crimes against humanity.