Queenstown war crimes witness back home

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An ex-Queenstowner is happy to be home on a break from demanding work, documenting war-related crimes against humanity. 

Brigid Inder has witnessed the consequences of some of the world’s worst atrocities including genocide and war crimes. 

The former St Joseph’s pupil is executive director of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, an international human rights organisation. It works with women affected by armed conflicts in cases under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. 

Working in war-torn countries mostly in Africa, Inder deals with women who’ve had lips and ears cut off and suffered sexual violence, children forced to kill parents and communities with people burned alive in homes. 

Inder and her team document violations with local courts and the ICC. They also advocate for the prosecution of gender-based crimes and inclusion of them within ICC cases against war criminals. 

Holland-based Inder is in Queenstown for a fortnight catching up with family: “It always helps to come back. It’s the contrast that’s needed. Queenstown’s beauty and environment provides a great counter-balance to the challenges and suffering we witness. 

“Every time I come home I feel very lucky. It really is a place for me to relax and become reinspired again, ready for the next phase.” 

Last Thursday, she spoke to a St Joseph’s Year 8 class, arranged by sister and principal Trisch Inder, revealing how at age 11 she decided she wanted to negotiate peace agreements and be a diplomat. 

Inder studied physical education at Otago University but got involved in community development and women’s rights issues with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). The globetrotter’s gone on to work in Geneva and Bangladesh for the YWCA and Australia for the AIDS Council of New South Wales, plus as a policy advisor on human rights, gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS at United Nations conferences and negotiations. 

Inder’s been in her existing role for 10 years – she and 12 staff work with more than 6000 victims and survivors of armed conflicts in the Sudan, Uganda, Libya, the Ivory Coast and other parts of Africa. 

Last August, the ICC appointed her “special advisor on gender” to the chief prosecutor, one of only five special advisors to the ICC – and the only Kiwi. 

“The brutality of the sexual violence crimes in armed conflicts is truly shocking,” she says. 

“What’s just as challenging is the way in which criminality is supported and carried out, not just by militia groups, but also by governments and other economic and private sector interests which can fuel ongoing armed conflicts. 

“Transparent governments and strong public institutions are so important for averting crises which in some circumstances can quickly turn into civil wars and escalate into larger regional conflicts. Sometimes governments and institutions forget they’re accountable to the people of their country, and that they too must abide by the law.”
Despite the emotionally tough role, she loves it: “It’s very rewarding and challenging. [It] requires creativity and being able to find solutions to quite complex issues, and I really enjoy that.”