Women, Peace and Security
Expected Council Action
On 14 July, the Security Council is scheduled to hold its annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), which this year is titled “Promoting Implementation of Security Council Resolutions on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence”. The UK Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the UN and the UK Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, will chair the meeting. One of the signature events of the UK’s July presidency, the open debate is expected to focus on closing the gap in the implementation of the existing legal and normative framework on CRSV. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten and two civil society representatives are the anticipated briefers.
No outcome is expected.
Key Recent Developments
Despite the existence of a comprehensive legal and normative framework on CRSV, awareness campaigns, research and advocacy, Patten has recently warned that “the global trendlines of conflict-related sexual violence are worsening”. In her 19 June remarks at the ninth commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, she identified “[a]rms proliferation, increasing militarization, and shrinking civic space” as factors that “continue to exacerbate sexual violence and challenge safe reporting and response”, while new threats “from the largely ungoverned digital space” are also emerging.
The Secretary-General’s annual reports define CRSV as “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict”. The reports say that it “also encompasses trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual violence and/or exploitation, when committed in situations of conflict”. This year’s report on CRSV will cover the period from January to December 2022 and will provide the basis for the July open debate. It appears that the annual report will include more than 20 countries where sexual violence was used as a tactic of war, torture, terror, and political repression, documenting more than 2,400 UN-verified cases of sexual violence while acknowledging that this figure does not reflect the full scale of CRSV in 2022 due to underreporting owing to issues including stigma and fear of retaliation.
There is a high incidence of CRSV in several situations on the Council’s agenda. In Haiti, where the security situation continues to worsen, sexual violence and exploitation are being perpetrated by rival armed gangs in their drive to expand their territorial control in urban areas.
Regarding the war in Ukraine, OHCHR documented 109 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian personnel between February 2022 and January 2023. While most of these incidents occurred in places of detention, “[o]thers, including rape, were perpetrated in areas controlled by Russian forces, mostly against women”. OHCHR also registered 24 cases of sexual violence committed by Ukrainian personnel between March and July 2022, which consisted mainly of “threats of sexual violence during initial stages of detention, as well as forced public stripping”.
In South Sudan, the UN verified 299 incidents of CRSV in 2022, compared with 194 in 2021. While most of these cases were attributed to non-state armed groups, 38 percent were attributed to the armed forces and five percent to the police. Reports of CRSV have also emerged in the context of the conflict between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan.
In Colombia, despite improvements in the peace and security situation, CRSV remains a “feature of the conflict, especially in territories under control of armed groups, disproportionately affecting indigenous and Afro-descendent communities, members of the LGBTIQ+ community and women leaders”.
The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar has collected information relating to the commission of sexual and gender-based crimes in Myanmar, including crimes perpetrated by members of the security forces, since the military takeover on 1 February 2021.
CRSV also remains a major concern in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In May, Patten visited the Bulengo internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Goma. In a 25 May statement, she expressed concern about CRSV allegations in this area “perpetrated by armed men, who have targeted women and girls attempting to return to their homes or as they carry out their daily livelihood activities, including collecting firewood, food or water”, adding that humanitarian actors reported having “provided assistance to over 600 survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in six IDP camps over the course of two weeks”.
Other situations of concern likely to be detailed in the Secretary-General’s report include Council agenda items Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Libya, and Somalia, as well as Ethiopia, which is not on the formal agenda but has been discussed several times by Council members in recent years.
As mandated by resolution 1960 adopted in 2010, this year’s report will again include an annex listing “parties credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of rape or other forms of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict on the agenda of the Security Council”. The 2022 annual report noted that more than 70 percent of the parties listed in the annex were persistent perpetrators, meaning that they had been listed in the annex for five or more years. National military and police forces listed in the annex are prohibited from contributing to UN peace operations.
A recent UN Institute for Disarmament Research report concluded that, while arms control and disarmament measures alone cannot prevent CRSV, they can play an important preventive role and contribute “to both long-term structural prevention and short-term operational prevention”. For instance, the report said that reducing the availability of small arms and light weapons through an enhanced implementation of arms control and disarmament instruments not only makes it “harder for perpetrators to commit CRSV” but may also help decrease a conflict’s intensity and “the conditions that lead to the normalization of sexual violence in conflict”.
On 21 October 2022, the Security Council adopted resolution 2653, which established a sanctions regime on Haiti, including targeted assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo measures, and designated one person under the regime. The resolution included the “[p]lanning, directing or committing acts involving sexual and gender-based violence, including rape and sexual slavery, in Haiti” as a standalone designation criterion.
Key Issues and Options
The main issue for the Security Council remains strengthening the substantive implementation of the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda. Regarding the topic of the open debate, the persistence of CRSV across conflict situations continues to be a key issue of concern.
Adopted in 2019, resolution 2467 recognised that CRSV occurs on a continuum of interrelated and recurring forms of violence against women and girls. To address CRSV from a structural perspective, including its political aspects and consequences, one option is to include in Council discussions of CRSV a focus on the theme of the continuum of violence and other intersecting forms of inequality that women and girls face both during conflict and in peacetime, as well as a focus on the nexus of protection and participation.
In line with the recommendations presented at the 22 December 2022 meeting with women’s protection advisers of the Informal Experts Group (IEG) on WPS, Council members could support the deployment of women’s protection advisers in peace operations, as well as in transition processes from peacekeeping operations to special political missions and country teams. In this regard, members may also support the maintenance of existing women’s protection adviser positions in the context of the Fifth Committee and request the inclusion of enhanced capacity in contexts in which it is inadequate.
Patten was last invited to brief one of the Security Council’s sanctions committees in December 2021—the committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 on Yemen. Members may strengthen the gender and CRSV expertise informing the work of sanctions committees and invite Patten to share information with these committees and at relevant Council meetings.
In line with resolution 2242 and the 1 December 2021 Statement of Shared Commitments on WPS, members should continue to invite diverse women civil society representatives to brief the Council regularly and follow up on their information and recommendations. It is essential that members and the UN take all possible measures to keep briefers safe, in consultation with the briefer, including carrying out risk assessment, developing protection plans and responding to any reprisals.
While notable implementation gaps persist, Council members are generally supportive of the WPS agenda, and their views converge on the need to eradicate CRSV. Nevertheless, Council dynamics on WPS remain difficult. For instance, during the recent negotiations of resolution 2686 on tolerance and international peace and security, China and Russia opposed language on human rights, gender, and WPS. During the negotiations, some members considered strengthening the draft with language from resolution 2467. (This resolution is the most recent Council outcome on CRSV. It recognised the need for a survivor-centred approach and identified discrimination against women and girls, the under-representation of women in decision-making and leadership roles, and the lack of availability of services for survivors among the factors that exacerbate the disproportionate impact of CRSV on women and girls.) It seems that Russia opposed this proposal on the grounds that resolution 2467 had not been adopted by consensus, with China and Russia abstaining; as a result, the proposed language was not included in resolution 2686. (For background on resolution 2686, see our 14 June What’s in Blue story.) It further appears that Russia has objected to Patten briefing in sanctions committee meetings.
The UK is the penholder on WPS, and the US is the penholder on CRSV. The United Arab Emirates and Switzerland are the co-chairs of the IEG on WPS.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WOMEN, PEACE AND SECURITY
|Security Council Resolutions|
|23 April 2019S/RES/2467||This resolution recognised the need for a survivor-centred approach to preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations. This resolution passed with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia).|
|16 December 2010S/RES/1960||This resolution requested the Secretary-General to add an annex to the annual report on conflict-related sexual violence listing conflict parties credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict.|
|29 March 2022S/2022/272||This was the Secretary-General’s annual report on conflict-related sexual violence.|