IAWJ at UNODC’s Expert Group Meeting on Gender-Related Judicial Integrity Issues in Seoul

Seoul, South Korea | Last month, six of our members from various countries and one of our expert staff members traveled to Seoul to represent the IAWJ at UNODC’s Expert Group Meeting on Gender-Related Judicial Integrity Issues.

Image from the UNODC

In a summary released by the UNODC, it highlights that the meeting was crucial because judiciaries worldwide face similar challenges in guaranteeing judicial integrity and independence. Judiciaries need to “ensure that guidelines on judicial matters remain current” and, although the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct enumerate some of these guidelines, there are issues that are left out, such as judging with a gender perspective.

The meeting was organized for judicial experts to “explore gender issues in judicial matters.” This is key given the movements that are surging worldwide for women empowerment and women’s rights through campaigns such as the Elimination of Violence against Women #OrangetheWorld, #HearMeToo, #MeToo, among others.

For two days, almost 40 judges and other judicial experts debated on “ways to improve the recognition of gender issues … and to identify how gaps or biases, as well as sextortion, sexual harassment, discrimination and stereotyping, could be remedied.”

Nancy Hendry, Senior Advisor of the IAWJ, launched the discussion by summarizing the issue at hand.

IAWJ Senior Advisor, Nancy Hendry
Image from the UNODC

“There are many ways in which societies have used gender to draw invidious distinctions and treat some people differently from others. The justice system is a product of its society, and often reflects these social norms. Indeed, some gender biases and stereotypes are so deeply entrenched that they are not recognized as biased or inaccurate.”

The experts found that the problem has two dimensions in need of attention. “Firstly, there are various gender-related misconduct deeds, including gender bias, gender representation, sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and gender stereotyping; while all these categories are inappropriate, some are more offensive, harmful and egregious. Secondly, there are the relationships and responsibilities which judges hold with their courts and with their communities.” The solution, however, lies on a commitment to the elimination of gender discrimination.

Hon. Eusebia Munuo
Image from the UNODC

According to the experts, the problem is worsened by “inadvertent gender biases, where judges are sometimes not actually aware of the problem or conscious of discrimination.”

Moreover, they found that it is necessary to examine and be prepared to deal with all variations of gender-based misconduct.

David Sachar
Image from the UNODC

On this, IAWJ Member, David Sachar, states that there is a need to be specific about each conduct:

“Sexual misconduct (with litigants, with witnesses, with pornography, etc.) needs to be included in our definitions. We need solid standards on those, it is not only sextortion.”

In the summary, the UNODC concludes that “the issues are varied, as are the people impacted by them; gender-related integrity is important to men and women, and to people of different sexual orientations. What is certain is that whether conscious or unconscious, biases, stereotypes and prejudices cannot be allowed to shape the way judges administer their courts, comport themselves in the courtroom and interpret the law.” For the experts, it is crucial to mainstream, define, clarify, and categorize gender issues into judicial integrity.

“In matters of gender awareness, as indeed in matters of judicial integrity, experts concluded that it was essential to ensure judiciaries were exemplary.”

The IAWJ members present at the meeting were: Hon. Adisa Zahiragic from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hon. Sanji Monageng from Botswana, Hon. Hyunhee Han from the Republic of Korea, David Sachar from the US, and IAWJ Former Presidents Hon. Teresita de Castro from Philippines and Hon. Eusebia Munuo from Tanzania. Along with our members was IAWJ Senior Advisor, Nancy Hendry. 

Hon. Sanji Monageng

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You can read UNODC’s full summary of the Expert Meeting here.