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Posted Thu 24 Apr 2014

Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

Tomorrow (25 April), the Security Council will hold an open debate on conflict-related sexual violence. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura will brief. Rhoda Misaka, a civil society representative from South Sudan, will participate on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. In addition, it is expected that an AU representative to the UN will deliver a statement on behalf of the newly appointed AU Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop.

Council members and member states will likely focus their interventions on the issues raised in the Secretary-General’s 13 March 2014 report on conflict-related sexual violence (S/2014/181), as there was no separate concept note drafted for the debate. No outcome will be adopted tomorrow as Council members are in agreement with the Special Representative in viewing 2014 as a year to consolidate implementation of resolutions 2106 (2013) and 2122 (2013), versus seeking new outcomes.

Many Council members found the report comprehensive in stressing several concerns, including:

  • sexual violence in the context of contested political processes;
  • sexual violence as a driving factor in displacement;
  • sexual violence against men and boys;
  • the correlation between sexual violence and inadequate security sector reform and disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration efforts;
  • the need for provisions related to conflict-related sexual violence in ceasefire and peace agreements; and
  • the need for survivors to have access to justice and comprehensive health services.

The 2014 report provides country-specific information in two categories:

  • parties credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for rape or other forms of sexual violence in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan/Darfur, Syria and Yemen; and
  • sexual violence in post-conflict situations in Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka.

For several years, China and Russia—as well as some elected Council members such as Azerbaijan, India and Pakistan, none of which are Council members in 2014—have tried to narrow the scope of the reporting on women, peace and security, particularly on situations that in their view do not constitute threats to international peace and security. The compromise that has emerged is language in women, peace and security outcomes that refer to “armed conflict and post-conflict situations” rather than the more general “conflict”. This dynamic now seems to have extended to the 2014 report on conflict-related sexual violence. Previous sexual violence reports included reporting on countries that were not armed conflict or post-conflict situations using a category called “other situations of concern”. However, in the 2014 report this section was dropped.

In 2013 Guinea and Kenya were captured in this now discontinued category but only had cursory mentions in other sections of the 2014 report. Some Council members expressed concern that these two countries were not “listed” and communicated to the Special Representative the importance of sufficient follow-up with these countries to ensure progress in the coming year.

Some Council members have also expressed concern that the dedicated section on accountability was dropped in the most recent sexual violence report, along with its accountability-specific recommendation to the Council, including International Criminal Court (ICC) referrals. The ICC has generally been a sensitive issue in the Council, particularly so since Rwanda joined as an elected member in 2013. Rwanda has objected consistently to such references in Council outcomes on both country-specific and thematic issues, including during the negotiations of resolution 2106 focusing on accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict.

Other Council members find the report’s highlighting of national responsibility to address impunity a more practical tool to improve accountability. The emphasis on improving national responsibility—in particular the Special Representative’s role in fostering agreed joint communiqués between the UN and the governments of the CAR, Côte d’Ivoire, the DRC, Guinea and Somalia to fight sexual violence and the capacity-building work being done by her office’s Team of Experts on the Rule of Law—is broadly welcomed by Council members. Nevertheless, with 11 Council members also state parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, many Council members fail to see the logic in excluding the ICC as part of the approach to addressing accountability issues.

In comments to the media on 24 April, Bangura said the DRC was an example of progress being made at a national level, citing commitments made by the government to fight impunity and increased prosecutions of perpetrators of sexual violence, including perpetrators in the national forces. The 2014 sexual violence report also noted progress in the DRC regarding accountability. In contrast, a 9 April report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC, while acknowledging limited progress, pointed to several factors contributing to continued impunity for sexual violence—in particular that proceedings very rarely target senior army officers.

Finally, the current report also includes an annex listing parties credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for rape and other forms of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict on the Council’s agenda. An addition to the 2014 annex is South Sudan (Sudan People’s Liberation Army, South Sudan National Police Service, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition and the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA]). Armed opposition elements in Syria were added to the list that already included Syrian government forces, intelligence forces and regime-allied militias. Anti-Balaka forces were added to the existing CAR entry that included ex-Seleka forces and the LRA. For Côte d’Ivoire and the DRC, the militias, armed groups and government forces remained largely unchanged in the annex.

For more analysis of the Council’s recent work on this thematic issue please refer to SCR’s 16 April Cross-Cutting Report on Women, Peace and Security.

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