What is the significance of sexual violence to the broader Women, Peace and Security Agenda?
Sexual violence in conflict has devastating effects on women, girls, boys, and men. These effects can have a rippling impact on families and communities. According to the UN, during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, rape was defined as a tool “intended to terrorise the population, break up families, destroy communities, and, in some instances, change the ethnic makeup of the next generation.” Even when violent conflict has ceased, sexual violence is often prevalent because of the insecurity and lack of accountability that typically ensues.
Sexual violence was not recognised as a crime against humanity until 1993 when the mass rapes of Yugoslavian women were recognised in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In 1994, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) also found rape to be a war crime, but it was not until the Rome Statute in 2002 that the International Criminal Court (ICC) could hold sexual violence perpetrators accountable. It was not until 2016 that the ICC delivered its first conviction for rape as a crime of war, in the case of Jean-Pierre Bembo Gombo in the Central African Republic.
Sexual violence has received more significant attention by the Council in recent years. Seven of the nine WPS resolutions address sexual violence in conflict specifically (Security Council Resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1960 (2010) and 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013), 2242 (2015), and 2467 (2019)). In 2007, the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict was established. In 2008, UNSCR 1820 (2008) was adopted which pertains directly to sexual violence in conflict. Then, in 2009, the role of Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SRSG-SViC) was created, meant to lead increased cooperation and coordination between the various parties involved. The SRSG-SVoC initially prioritised the following items on its agenda: “ending impunity, empowering women to seek redress and claim their rights, mobilise political leadership, increase recognition of rape as a tactic and consequence of conflict and ensure a coordinated response from the UN system through the inter-agency network UN Action Against Sexual-Violence in Conflict.” These priorities, along with national ownership and input from survivors and policy-makers, help the SRSG-SViC lead the discussion on Sexual Violence support and prevention.
The most recent WPS resolution, SCR 2467, is specifically dedicated to sexual violence in conflict, and introduces language on survivor-centred approaches and the continuum of violence against women and girls. It recognizes national ownership and responsibility in addressing root causes of sexual violence, and names structural gender inequality and discrimination as a root cause. It affirms that services should include provisions for women with children born as a result of sexual violence in conflict as well as men and boys, and urges member states to strengthen policies that offer appropriate responses and challenge cultural assumptions about male invulnerability. It further encourages member states to ensure that prevention and response are non-discriminatory and specific, and respect the rights and prioritize the needs of survivors, including vulnerable or targeted groups. It urges member states to strengthen access to justice for victims including via reparations.
Pursuant to the WPS resolutions mentioned above, there are now several monitoring elements established under the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence.
UNSCR 1960 (2010) creates tools to combat impunity and outlines specific steps needed for both the prevention of and protection from conflict-related sexual violence.
A mandated “naming and shaming” listing mechanism requires the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Sexual Violence to name parties credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for rape and other forms of sexual violence. Parties in armed conflict are also called upon to make specific, time-bound commitments to prohibit and punish sexual violence, and the Secretary-General is asked to monitor those commitments.
The Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Arrangements (known as the “MARA”) provides a UN-wide information gathering mechanism addressing conflict-related sexual violence.
The office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) also briefs the Security Council, publishes press releases, makes field visits and issues guidance notes.
These tools provide concrete mechanisms for addressing issues of conflict related sexual violence and suggest avenues toward accountability that could benefit the broader Women, Peace and Security Agenda as well.
There are also a number of tools from UN Action which include peacekeeper training modules and an inventory of peacekeeping practice to guidance for mediators, databases of academic literature and a research agenda, early warning signs, guidance on reporting and researching sexual violence.
These tools provide concrete mechanisms for addressing issues of conflict-related sexual violence and suggest avenues toward accountability that could benefit the broader WPS Agenda as well.