Preventing sexual violence from all sides

June 19 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict which was proclaimed in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly. The date reflects the adoption in 2008 of a Security Council resolution condemning sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as a tactic of war and an impediment to peace building. Raising awareness is the first step in preventing such crimes. With this in mind, many initiatives have been launched to fight against the use of sexual violence and to help the victims.

The idea of this Day is “to raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence, to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world and to pay tribute to all those who have courageously devoted their lives to and lost their lives in standing up for the eradication of these crimes."

This year, the Day is being observed under the theme 'Preventing Sexual Violence Crimes through Justice and Deterrence' and the international community has reiterated the need for justice to prevent conflict-related sexual crimes.

Denis Mukwege, gynecologist and 2014 Sakharov Prize winner, called for action from Europe as more and more victims are coming forward to help draw attention to this often overlooked global problem. Giving them a platform and listening to what they have to say is a crucial first step in eliminating sexual violence in conflict zones. Indeed, life-long physical and psychological trauma, as well as the destruction of family ties and the spread of disease, stems from the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Here is a round-up of what was shared on social media. Find out what voices from all sides of the conversation – from state officials, practitioners, and civil society to advocates following the #EndRapeinWar on Twitter and elsewhere – had to say.

 

While the use of sexual violence as a method of combat has received increasing attention in recent years, awareness remains low and these attacks rarely make newspaper headlines. Although progress has been made regarding sexual crimes, according to Trial International, it continues to be “a widely invisible crime” and only a few prosecutors have been charged.

 

As the European Commission stated, “sexual violence in conflict, as well as all forms of violence and discrimination against women, girls, men and boys is a flagrant and unacceptable violation of human rights”.

The last United Nations (UN) report on conflict-related sexual violence, covering the period from January to December 2016 and evaluating several countries such as Afghanistan, DRC and CAR, shows that sexual violence in conflict is based on structural gender inequality. Therefore, closely linked to gender equality, conflict prevention and sustaining peace, sexual crimes are in the international community's radar and are part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In his message for the International Day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “rape and sexual violence in conflict are tactics of terrorism and war, used strategically to humiliate, degrade and destroy, and often to pursue a campaign of ethnic cleansing”. He paid tribute to the women, girls, men and boys who have suffered the atrocity of sexual violence in conflict, and reaffirmed “our global commitment to eliminate this scourge”.

With the International Criminal Court's Statute covering 7 SGBV crimes, the ongoing trial of Bosco Ntaganda has provided an opportunity for the ICC Appeals Chamber to confirm the Court’s jurisdiction over two war crimes counts, more precisely over war crimes of rape and sexual slavery of child soldiers. This was qualified as a “landmark and visionary decision” by Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice.

As for the European Commission, it highlighted that “the EU humanitarian aid for the prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence reached almost 3.4 million women, men, girls and boys through 84 different projects”.

The Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), part of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, aims to raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence against women, men, girls and boys in situations of armed conflict and rally global action to end it. It revealed that “the UK has committed over £40 million to support survivors, bring perpetrators to account and end rape in war” and drew on the hashtag #TimeToAct to encourage other states into the fold.

In addition to raising awareness, integration is also an important part. This is why Child Soldiers International works with national partners and communities to help them better understand the suffering the former soldier girls have gone through and support them accordingly when they go home. This international human rights organization seeks to end the military recruitment of all children and has published a report for the Day.

Videos appeared to be a theme of the day, with one by the All Survivors Project highlighting that sexual violence against men and boys is increasing and that as many as one in three survivors of conflict-related sexual violence could be male.

 

Similarly, The Uncondemned documentary is a project that has just been launched to deal with the first prosecution of rape as war crime.

 

Linked to this day, the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Permanent Missions of Austria and Uganda to the United Nations organised a panel discussion on 9 June to deal with the issue of children born of wartime sexual violence. Indeed, the latter “often face rejection from the communities their mothers call home, which were themselves impacted by conflict”. The idea was to raise awareness about the the harm these people suffered and the stigma they endure which leads to marginalization. The discussion followed a screening of a film “I Am Not Who They Think I Am” depicting the struggle for redress for women and their children born of war in northern Uganda.

 

Two women abducted by the Lord´s Resistance Army (LRA) return home with their children born of war and fight to be included in a society that deems them criminals. See the project at https://www.ictj.org/multimedia/video/i-am-not-who-they-think-i-am

As for the ICC, it released a series of videos called “Your questions answered: The ICC and sexual and gender-based crimes” to explain how it is addressing and prosecuting these atrocities.

 

Follow the conversation on social media #EndRapeinWar.

 

Read more about eliminating sexual violence in conflict through the ICC.