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Panel at Penn Law Women’s Summit urges international response to secure women’s peace and security during times of war

April 21, 2016

By Tony Keffler, Penn Law International Programs Associate

The inaugural Penn Law Women’s Summit, held from March 22 to March 24, 2016, brought together esteemed guests, young lawyers, and students to celebrate women’s successes in and out of the legal profession. The three-day event sought to educate and stimulate discussion on substantive topics relevant to lawyers on the role of women leaders in the workplace.

The Summit also celebrated Penn Law’s first female graduate, Carrie Burnham Kilgore L’1883, by presenting two outstanding women with an award in her name. Safra Catz L’86 and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted their awards and provided comments for the audience. In her acceptance speech sent via video message, Secretary Clinton remarked that she was honored to accept the award with Catz, the Co-CEO of the Oracle Corporation, and applauded Penn Law’s position at the forefront of the agenda for gender equality.

Panels during the Summit included broad-ranging themes on 15 different topics relating to women and the law. Topics included women’s perspectives on cutting-edge legal issues, career development, and ongoing gender disparities in the legal profession.

Penn Law’s Associate Dean for International Programs, Rangita de Silva de Alwis, hosted an exceptional panel, entitled “Women, Peace, and Security: An International Perspective.” The powerful discussion included panelists Ambassador Melanne Verveer, first U.S Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; Patricia Viseur Sellers, Special Advisor for Prosecution Strategies at the International Criminal Court at The Hague; Petra Smutny, former judge at the Court of Appeals in Vienna and attorney at the Klanzlei Plaz Law Firm; and Stephenie Foster, senior advisor at the U.S. Department of State on Global Women’s Issues.

In her introduction, de Silva de Alwis commented, “Women more than ever have strengthened their connections transnationally.”

“We are coming together to solve some of the most intractable challenges of our time — that is what this Summit is all about,” she added.

The panelists discussed current efforts in the U.S. and abroad to include women in the lawmaking process internationally. “Although I wish that I could tell you that there has been full implementation of all my recommendations to the government, I cannot,” commented Ambassador Verveer. “However, there has been progress in the last 15 years.”

One such area of progress was that last year, over 150 State parties of the United Nations recognized the strong linkage of ensuring women’s peace and security. State governments recommitted themselves to enforcing an updated Security Council Resolution 1325, on the 15th anniversary of its original adoption by the U.N.

The panel also discussed how State bodies are beginning to recognize the strategic use of violence against women during times of war. “Violence against women, particularly sexual violence, has always been a corollary of war.” Ambassador Verveer stated. “Finally, there has been a real effort to try, once and for all, to bring accountability to this space.”

Panelist Patricia Viseur Sellers highlighted the numerous cases that have appeared before the International Criminal Court, which has considered acts of violence against women to be crimes against humanity and war crimes. “Since 1997, there have been international prosecutions of sexual violence during times of war,” she stated. “Many of these have recognized that these crimes can be interpreted as acts of both genocide and crimes against humanity.” Viseur Sellers was a key actor in the recent ICC conviction of former DRC Vice-President Jean Pierre Bemba for acts of sexual violence under his command. The conviction was a historic decision because it holds commanders responsible for not taking necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or stop the commission of these crimes.

The panelist concluded the discussion by taking questions from the audience, including the rising need for an international legal response to the security threats confronting women’s interest and ability to participate in political life.