Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: Open Debate
Tomorrow morning (17 July), the Security Council will hold its annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). The meeting, which will take place in open VTC format, is being organised by Germany in collaboration with the Dominican Republic. The open debate was initially scheduled to take place under the presidency of the Dominican Republic in April but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These two Council members also serve as the current co-chairs of the Informal Experts Group on women, peace and security. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will chair the meeting. From the UN, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, is scheduled to brief. Angelina Jolie, in her position as a Special Envoy of the UNHCR, is also expected to brief. Two representatives of civil society are also likely to participate, one of whom is Nadia Carine Therese Fornel-Poutou, Executive President of the Association des Femmes Juristes de Centrafrique (AFJC). Council members will make interventions following the briefings. Member states not currently members of the Council will have the opportunity to submit written statements that will be included in a Security Council document summarising the meeting. No formal product is anticipated.
According to the concept note drafted by Germany (S/2020/665), this month’s Council president, the debate is meant to focus on promoting accountability for CRSV and implementing a survivor-centred approach. The note states that accountability is “central in the fight against CRSV”, given the “staggering rates of impunity” for such crimes. It emphasises the importance of enhancing the capacity of national institutions to hold perpetrators accountable for past crimes and to prevent future crimes. As in previous years, the Secretary-General’s annual report on CRSV (S/2020/487) focuses on countries where verifiable information was obtained. It provides analysis and recommendations on sexual violence in countries affected by conflict (Afghanistan, the Central African Republic [CAR], Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC], Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan [Darfur], Syria, and Yemen); in post-conflict situations (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Côte d’Ivoire, Nepal, and Sri Lanka); and “other situations of concern”, including Burundi and Nigeria. The concept note points out that survivors of CRSV in all the countries discussed continue to be confronted with hurdles while seeking access to justice.
The concept note further emphasises the importance of the survivor-centred approach, which was a key element of resolution 2467 on CRSV, initiated by Germany during its April 2019 presidency. In regard to this approach, resolution 2467 encourages member states to ensure that “prevention and response are non-discriminatory and respect the rights and prioritize the needs of survivors…notably in the context of their health, education and participation”.
The concept note encourages member states to address a series of issues during the debate. It invites them to explore how national judicial mechanisms can be strengthened to promote accountability for CRSV. It suggests that they reflect on how to implement the “survivor-centred” approach effectively, so that victims become “empowered ‘survivors’”. It encourages attention to be paid to the connection between the meaningful and equal involvement of women in peace processes and the prevention of CRSV.
As has been the case since 2012, the Secretary-General’s annual CRSV report contains 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”. It names parties in the CAR (six non-state actors), the DRC (21 non-state actors and two state actors), Iraq (one non-state actor), Mali (five non-state actors), Myanmar (one state actor), Somalia (one non-state actor and three state actors), South Sudan (four non-state actors and two state actors), Sudan (two non-state actors and two state actors), and Syria (five non-state actors and two state actors) as well as Boko Haram under “other parties of concern on the agenda of the Security Council”. States listed in the annex are prohibited from contributing to UN peace operations. If an actor “has made formal commitments to adopt measures to address conflict-related sexual violence”, it is marked in the annex as such. In order to be removed from the annex, an actor has to cease its violations and implement its formal commitments. Only one party, the Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire, has been delisted so far. In that regard, the concept note also asks for reflection on how the Council can monitor compliance with its resolutions on CRSV and respond to breaches.
How the Council should address CRSV has been a controversial issue among its members. While several members, including many elected members, have worked hard to promote this agenda in recent years—recognising that the protection and empowerment of women are critical to the promotion of peace and security—others have expressed reservations. The negotiations on resolution 2467 on CRSV, which was adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia) in April 2019, reflected these controversies. In addition to the abstentions by China and Russia, the US had threatened to veto the draft and only supported it after previously agreed language calling for support for sexual and reproductive health was removed. The differing perspectives among Council members are likely to be evident in tomorrow’s discussion.