Letter to Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien Re: Permanent International Criminal Court

Monday, April 20 1998

The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

Re:   Permanent International Criminal Court

In June, mindful of the atrocities of the Second World War and the recent horrors of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, members of the United Nations, including Canada, will meet in Rome to negotiate the creation of an international criminal court.

There are many significant matters to settle in establishing such an important body which will be dealing with cases that deeply concern the protection of human life, the promotion of human dignity and respect for human freedom.   Some of the issues for negotiation are what crimes will be prosecuted, the power of the court, the role of the United Nations and the responsibilities of states.  While this is a complex task for experts, it is also a wonderful opportunity for the whole world to join in  condemning crimes against human rights and in building  international respect for the rule of law, justice and peace.

Recognizing and affirming the court’s potential for promoting a culture of human rights, we were extremely surprised to be informed recently that one of the  crimes proposed by the Preparatory meeting held in New York last December is described as enforced pregnancy.  Assuming that the intention is to hold accountable those who in recent conflicts confined and repeatedly raped women until they were pregnant, then we respectfully submit that the wrong term has been chosen.

Clearly, the conduct of those men who committed these atrocities against women should be condemned and punished.  We believe, however, that the offense would be more correctly described as forcible impregnation.  This terminology puts the accent squarely where it belongs – on the criminal behaviour of the perpetrator and not on the results of this behaviour – a traumatized pregnant woman and an innocent child.

It is my understanding that language identifying criminal offenses invariably describes the act alleged to have been committed by the perpetrator, not the consequent state of the victim.  Pregnancy is the ongoing state of a woman who is not a perpetrator but a victim.  It is the act of a man who sexually assaulted her with the deliberate intent of impregnating her and the acts of those who may have ordered or otherwise encouraged him to do so that constitute the crime or crimes.  He or they are
the offenders. If the language of the statute is inaccurate, convictions may be difficult to obtain with the result that not only is justice denied but an opportunity is lost to set international precedents that will protect women in the future.

The distinction between enforced pregnancy and forcible impregnation is a vital one which may have been overlooked in the legitimate and understandable haste to make this aggravated form of rape subject to clear and effective sanctions.  We are very concerned that if the term enforced pregnancy
is retained pregnancy itself could be considered a crime or abortions compelled to avoid prosecution, and that perpetrators could escape without accountability. This would be contrary to the deeply held beliefs and values of millions of people in Canada and throughout the world and put the credibility and constitutionality of the court in peril.

What happened to women in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the outrages that are routinely inflicted on women in armed conflict are crimes against humanity that cry out for justice and healing.  But we must not aggravate the violence done to these women by apparently criminalizing a state of their own bodies, putting the innocent children that they bear at risk or rushing into wording that is imprecise and hence ineffective.

Mr. Prime Minister, this matter is of serious concern to us. We ask you to instruct the Canadian delegation to support the removal of enforced pregnancy as a proposed crime, or its substitution by another more appropriate and precise term such as forcible impregnation.  We are anxious to hear from you.

In closing, we would also like to encourage the recent initiative by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to declare the recruitment of children into military forces or armed opposition groups a war crime under the jurisdiction of the proposed court.


Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte
Archbishop of Montreal
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

cc: The Honourable Lloyd Axworthy
Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Honourable Anne McLellan
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

The Honourable Hedy Fry
Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Status of Women