UN renews efforts to tackle sexual violence in conflict

Yesterday, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2106 on sexual violence in conflict unanimously in renewed efforts to prevent and tackle the scourge that has come to characterize many conflicts on the globe.

Over the last four decades, the nature and actors in armed conflicts have changed a lot. Today’s wars kill more civilians than combatants and sexual violence particularly against women has become the norm. Also the use of child soldiers increased even if these acts were in violation of the 1949 Geneva conventions.

In 1999, UN Security Council passed Resolution 1261 that condemned the use of child soldiers. The following year Resolution 1325 was passed addressing issues of women in conflict. The Resolution looked at the gender perspective that included the special needs of women and girls in repatriation, resettlement and post-conflict reconstruction.

A woman attends a prayer session at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu DRC where hundreds of sexual violence victims are treated every month. Rosebell's photo.
A woman attends a prayer session at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu DRC where hundreds of sexual violence victims are treated every month. Rosebell’s photo.

Noticing that resolutions over the decade had not done much to deter increased and systematic use of sexual violence as a war tactic, UN Security Council passed Resolution 1820 (2008) that demanded “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.” And years to follow more resolutions like 1960 were passed to get parties in conflicts to prevent and/or end sexual violence.

Some progress has been made in addressing sexual violence especially in recognizing as a weapon of war. A range of sexual violence offenses were included in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the statutes of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals.
It is not agreed that sexual violence can constitute a crime against humanity or an act of genocide and sexual violence in armed conflict is a war crime.

Resolution 2106 read in part:

Recognizing that consistent and rigorous prosecution of sexual violence crimes as well as national ownership and responsibility in addressing the root causes of sexual violence in armed conflict are central to deterrence and prevention as is challenging the myths that sexual violence in armed conflict is a cultural phenomenon or an inevitable consequence of war or a lesser crime.

Women’s political, social and economic empowerment, gender equality and the enlistment of men and boys in the effort to combat all forms of violence against women are central to long-term efforts to prevent sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict situations….

Calls for the further deployment of Women Protection Advisors (WPA).

Urges existing sanctions committees, where within the scope of the relevant criteria for designation, and consistent with resolution 1960 (2010) to apply targeted sanctions against those who perpetrate and direct sexual violence in conflict.

Ahead of yesterday’s vote on the resolution 2106, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura spoke at a debate and said there was need to find new approaches to address sexual violence in conflict.

Bangura said “political courage and leadership were required to effectively address sexual violence.” But in conflicts like Syria and Democratic republic of Congo where both government troops and opposition fighters or militias (whatever you find fitting) are both committing sexual offenses and it is in the midst of this anarchical state of affairs that impunity resides.

Bangura highlighted need to train mediators, peace keepers, war crimes prosecutors in sexual violence in conflict and that they would deploy women protection advisors in these volatile areas.

“We must raise the cost of sexual crimes,” Bangura told the leaders.

The world has made limited progress in making perpetrators accountable for sexual violence in conflict while preventing parties in conflict from committing acts of sexual violence remains a toll order.

Jane Anywar Adong , a Ugandan working Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice addressed the UN Security Council debate ahead of the new resolution announcement where she called for “successful witness and victim protection to be at the core of any effective prosecution for sexual violence in conflict.”

Coming from Northern Uganda, a region that saw high sexual violence on both sides of parties in the conflict, Anywar touched something that is not much existence here. Although many women and some men were victims of sexual violence in northern Uganda war, these crimes are rarely talked about and even where we have some skewed war compensation efforts from government, they are largely about properties.

I worked with women’s groups in northern Uganda and found women who were victims of sexual violence in the more than 20 years of war  had never been availed medical help. Many were living with HIV yet these are the aspects of post conflict reconstruction that are not fully addressed.

In neighbouring DRC, sexual violence continues to be used as the reasons to get access to coveted natural resources as noted in the UN Secretary General’s 2013 report.
The report also put on the spotlight forced marriage and sexual slavery common among militia and guerrilla leaders in Mali, Sudan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic where young girls are abducted and forcibly married and “legally” raped.

Despite these resolutions, sexual violence has been on the increase and more men and young boys are also targets.

Even with this resolution I still have more questions, why does rape in conflict persist? The resolution was passed by countries who are secondary actors in these wars where sexual violence is currently being used. So when will they stop writing we recognize, we urge, we call and go ahead to ensure the parties they are supporting are not involved in these heinous crimes?

Will Women protection advisors work with non-state actors in order to prevent more sexual crimes being committed? How long will this resolution take to be meaningful to women and men trapped in conflicts?

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