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Ban urges tougher steps to end widespread sexual violence in armed conflict

Ban urges tougher steps to end widespread sexual violence in armed conflict

Women marching against sexual violence in the DRC (file photo)
The systematic use of sexual violence as a weapon, mainly against women, is rife in armed conflicts in Africa, Asia and Europe, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today in his latest report on the scourge, calling for States to strengthen prevention and protection measures against the crime.

“In a number of contemporary conflicts, sexual violence has taken on particularly brutal dimensions, sometimes as means of pursuing military, political, social and economic objectives,” Mr. Ban wrote in his report to the Security Council.

He added that sexual violence is “perpetrated mainly against civilians in direct violation of international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law.”

Mr. Ban noted that for the first time the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) qualified rape as a form of genocide, recognizing that sexual violence was a step in the process of group destruction – the “destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.”

While women and girls make up the majority of victims of sexual violence, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) have also heard testimony relating to male victims.

“In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded since hostilities began in 1996,” Mr. Ban said in the report, noting that the figure is a conservative estimate due to gross under-reporting and the fact that many victims do not survive to tell the tale.

In his March report, Mr. Ban told the Security Council that these attacks continue unabated in eastern DRC, and following the joint Congolese-Rwandan Government offensive in January against the rebel Rwandan FDLR militia, reprisals against local civilians in North Kivu were committed.

He stressed that members of the DRC armed forces (FARDC) and the Congolese National Police (PNC) were responsible “for a large number of serious human rights violations, including rape. In parts of South Kivu as well, MONUC [the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC] has registered reports that militia commit sexual violence while looting villages near military encampments and attack women as they gather firewood, food or water.”

A noticeable trend in attacks on civilians is the accompanying abduction, enforced prostitution and enslavement of the victims, said Mr. Ban, highlighting that in the Sierra Leone conflict, women and girls were kidnapped and forced to marry combatants.

“These ‘bush wives’ were then subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence. Currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, reports indicate that FARDC is engaging in enforced prostitution of young girls and is taking young female students as ‘wives’ through a pattern of establishing bases near schools.”

In his report, Mr. Ban said that several of the defendants at the ICTR, ICTY and SCSL included the highest levels of civilian and military leaders accused of commissioning or condoning acts of sexual violence.

“In eastern Chad, cases of rape and gang rape committed by officers and soldiers of the Armée Nationale Tchadienne (ANT) have been documented. In Nepal, in the Tarai region, an estimated 15 to 20 armed groups are reportedly participating in violent activities, including sexual violence against women and girls.”

Mr. Ban noted that inadequate measures to prevent sexual violence and protect civilians; insufficient steps to combat impunity for sexual violence; and the lack of action addressing the continued discrimination against women and girls in law and practice; contribute to and exacerbate the abuses.

To remedy the situation, Mr. Ban called on States and other parties to conflict to commit to concrete actions, such as sending clear and forceful instructions and regular messages on the categorical prohibition of sexual violence, and to demonstrate that breaches will be punished; addressing inequalities and discrimination against women and girls by promoting more women to decision-making positions in society; ratifying and implementing core international human rights treaties; and strengthening national capacity to hold all perpetrators of sexual violence accountable for the crimes, ensuring that amnesties and immunities exclude those that commit or commission sexual violence; among other measures.