Forced Marriage Recognized as New International Crime

The Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone recently ruled that forced marriage is a new category of crime against humanity, reversing the Trial Chamber’s determination that forced marriage was not distinct from the previously recognized crimes against humanity of rape, forced prostitution, and sexual slavery.

“What had occurred here with forced marriage was something very serious and very specific, and wasn’t fully recognized,” Stephen Rapp, the chief prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, told the Christian Science Monitor last week. “It was part of a widespread attack against civilians. Women were being taken as wives without consent, either consent by them … or by family members.”  See

The court’s first rulings on the charges, brought against three members of the notorious Revolutionary United Front, are expected in July.  The decision paves the way for similar charges in northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rights groups have documented the use of bush wives in ongoing conflicts.

In arguing the case for recognizing forced marriage as a new category of crime against humanity, the Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone utilized a memorandum prepared by the Case Western Reserve University School of Law War Crimes Research Office, which I direct.  The memo was subsequently published as Michael P. Scharf and Suzanne Matler, Forced Marriage: Exploring the Viability of the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s New Crime Against Humanity, Volume 3 of the Africa Legal Aid Special Book Series: “African Perspectives on International Criminal Justice” (2005), the text of which is available at: .