Sexual violence occurs in many different forms. However, no universally accepted definition or understanding exists as to what makes violence “sexual”. The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence attempt to fill this gap. 

The Principles provide guidance for activists, lawyers, and other practitioners on the interpretation of the concept of sexual violence to ensure violence is not overlooked or trivialized by those who may not always recognize such acts, and to provide survivors with recognition and validation of their experiences. 

The Principles consist of three documents: 

1) the Civil Society Declaration on Sexual Violence, providing general guidance on what makes violence “sexual”, especially to survivors; 

2) International Criminal Law (ICL) Guidelines on Sexual Violence, a tool for ICL practitioners explaining when acts of sexual violence in the Civil Society Declaration amount to international crimes; and

3) Key Principles for Policy Makers on Sexual Violence, 10 key principles derived from the Civil Society Declaration to incorporate in policy development and implementation, legislative strategies, and legal and judicial procedures. 

Call it what it is campaign

The Hague Principles are the outcome of the Call it what it is campaign, which gathered input from more than 500 survivors, civil society organizations, expert practitioners, and academics from around the world to translate the views and expertise of survivors into a practical guide and crucial reference point for practitioners – the Civil Society Declaration of The Hague Principles. 

The campaign was launched in December 2018 by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice (WIGJ), an international human rights organization advocating for gender justice through the International Criminal Court (ICC) and national mechanisms. 

Methodology and history

The first step of the campaign was to conduct extensive desk research on the use of the term “sexual” in various codifications of sexual violence in national and international criminal laws. 

In an online survey, 525 respondents from 84 countries and various cultural backgrounds provided input on the concept and examples of specific acts of sexual violence. Respondents were presented with several questions on their view on what makes violence “sexual”. 

From March through September 2019, WIGJ partnered with various national and local civil society organizations to conduct consultations with self-identified survivors of sexual violence from 25 countries. Approximately 500 survivors took part in consultations.  

Based on the consultations, Rosemary Grey of the University of Sydney and the WIGJ team prepared a first working draft of the Civil Society Declaration, which was then reviewed by a panel of international experts. 

In December 2019, the Principles, including the Declaration, were presented during the Assembly of States Parties of the ICC. 

It is envisaged that the Principles will be a living set of documents which will be periodically reviewed and updated. 

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