1. Current State Of Play
On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict observed on June 19th, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten highlighted that it is time to ‘address the underlying causes and invisible drivers of sexual violence… as well as harmful social norms related to honour, shame, and blaming victims’.
Whilst human development appears to be increasing overall, armed conflicts around the world continue to rise both within and between states. Conflict-related sexual violence is used as a weapon of war, impacting women and girls disproportionately, but also men and boys. It can be used as a tactic to further strategic goals through terror, torture and political repression in order to control territories and resources, displace populations, affect the morale of the population and weaken the fabric of society. This engenders vicious cycles of violence that have dire effects on social cohesion, human rights, public health, peacebuilding, and development.
Sexual violence is defined by the International Committee of the Red Cross as ‘any act of a sexual nature committed against any person by force, threat of force or coercion’. It includes acts such as rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced sterilisation and forced marriage which have been perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys. It can either be directly or indirectly linked to a conflict, which is determined by factors such as the profile of the perpetrator, the profile of the victim, or the climate of impunity in the state concerned.
Sexual violence is prohibited, explicitly and implicitly, under international humanitarian law in both inter- and intra-state conflicts. It can amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide as outlined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and UN Security Council Resolution 1820.
Whilst there is a legal framework, impunity is the norm, access to justice for survivors is limited, and the factors making sexual violence more likely are increasing. These include militarisation, proliferation of arms, economic depression, meager social protections, structural gender-based inequality, institutional weakness, shrinking civic space and harmful social norms.
Additional risk factors include displacement of populations, border closures, coup d’états and violent public discourses and crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a negative impact on both prevention and response efforts. For many, there are limited possibilities to report cases due to different forms of restrictions on movement, limited access to assistance and care. This includes psychosocial support and medical services for survivors due to the diversion of resources to the COVID-19 crisis, and the impact of government measures on the overall functioning of justice and accountability systems. Impunity contributes to a lack of trust in law enforcement which is one of the main challenges that survivors face when reporting, in addition to others such as a fear of retaliation and family pressure not to report the incident, and inevitably leads to under-reporting.
Addressing conflict-related sexual violence is therefore challenging it is a complex phenomenon linked with multifaceted crises and inequalities. However, steps can be taken at all levels of governance to make sure gender-responsive and survivor-centred solutions are prioritised at all stages of conflict prevention, management and resolution, as well as in post-conflict settings.
Policy recommendations for governments:
- Ensure adequate protection for women and their full, equal and meaningful participation in political, social and economic processes empowering them to influence policies, laws and allocation of resources.
- Address barriers to justice and services by developing capacities to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate acts of sexual violence, ensure that no amnesty is granted to perpetrators, and explicitly prohibit sexual violence in ceasefire and peace agreements.
- Adopt a multi-sectoral, comprehensive and systemic approach, including by addressing sexist attitudes which allow harmful behaviour and discriminatory practices to continue.
2. Champion-led initiatives on sexual violence
Justice Impact Group
International Gender Champions Panel Discussion on Strategies for Achieving SGBV Accountability.
On 25 May 2022, IGC-Den Haag’s International Justice Impact Group, with Champions of Canada, Sweden, and Australia, hosted a meeting on strategies for achieving sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) accountability.
This meeting centred around a panel discussion featuring Valerie Oosterveld, professor at Western University, Dr. Rosemary Grey, lecturer at the Sydney Law School, and Dianne Luping, trial lawyer of the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The event brought together approximately 30 Gender Champions representing Embassies, NGOs, and multilateral institutions.
Panellists discussed different forms of SGBV and how SGBV is used as a criminal weapon in war zones. The discussion also explored how Courts and States need to broaden the scope of understanding of how SGBV is inflicted on civilians. This discussion was held in the context of reports of conflict-related SGBV occurring in Ukraine and focused on best practices to investigate and prosecute SGBV as elements of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity at the ICC.
Panellists highlighted the challenges faced in cases concerning SGBV, including re-traumatisation caused by repeated interviews of victims. It was noted that victims are often approached too soon following their attack without the proper support, which can also lead to re-traumatisation and disinclination to cooperate with accountability efforts.
Lastly, the discussion included considerations of the Murad Code Global Initiative as a survivor-centric means of supporting safe and effective information gathering about SGBV and how to use that information to build strong, gender-responsive domestic and international criminal prosecutions.
3. Commitments made by Champions relating to conflict-related sexual violence
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the United Nations in New York: Enhancing attention to Conflict-related Sexual Violence in the UN Security Council, including actively promoting the need for women briefers in the Security Council.
Joanna Roper, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to OPCW, Embassy of the United Kingdom to The Netherlands: To work with the Dutch and other partners on policy priorities: girls’ education, preventing sexual violence in conflict, promoting the role of women mediators and more. To ensure that we hold ourselves accountable for progress within an increasingly challenging environment and celebrate successes when we see them.
Esther Dingemans, Executive Director, Global Survivors Fund: Ensure that the Global Survivors Fund, in all its communications work, uses gender inclusive language when referring to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), recognising that women and men, girls and boys, can be victims. This includes a revision of our website before the end of 2022.
Serge Brammertz, Prosecutor, International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals: Support national prosecutions of conflict-related sexual violence by developing and delivering practical resources to domestic counterparts.
Peter Maurer, President, International Committee of the Red Cross: In 2022, through operational work on delegation level, the ICRC will deepen its understanding of social power dynamics - with particular attention to gender - among people and communities affected by conflict and other forms of violence to identify and address barriers that certain groups of women and girls face in accessing humanitarian facilities, goods, services and feedback mechanisms.
The IPU–OSRSG-SVC Framework of Cooperation
Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Chair of the IGC Global Board was nominated last year as a Global Champion for the Fight Against Sexual Violence in Conflict. He notably partnered with Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (OSRSG-SVC) through the signature of a Framework of Cooperation. The Frameworks aims to promote and facilitate the engagement of national parliaments in addressing conflict-related sexual violence and support them in building their capacity to prevent and respond to it. This nomination also comes in recognition of Mr. Chungong’s continuing work on gender equality, human rights and the promotion of peace and dialogue.
4. Gender-Based Violence Pledge
In 2022, the IGC introduced the Gender-Based Violence Pledge as a core commitment alongside the Panel Parity Pledge. The Pledge stands for zero tolerance of gender-based violence, sexist attitudes and behaviour and is built on the ‘I say no to Sexism’ campaign initiated by former Director-General of UN Geneva Michael Møller.
Wish to learn more about the issue and how to address it? Here are a few resources to get you started:
- ICRC, Special Appeal 2021: Addressing sexual violence, HERE
- UN Website, Sexual Violence in Conflict, HERE
- Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Model Legislative Provisions and Guidance on Investigation and Prosecution of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, HERE
- Murad Code Project, The Global Code of Conduct for Gathering HERE and Using Information about Systematic and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, HERE
- Conflict-related sexual violence: Report of the Secretary-General, HERE