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Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: VTC Open Debate

Tomorrow morning (14 April), the Security Council will hold its annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) in an open videoconference (VTC) format. The expected briefers are the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Denis Mukwege; Caroline Atim, director of the South Sudan Women with Disabilities Network (SSWD); and Beatrix Attinger Colijn, a women’s protection adviser from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

Council members will make interventions following the briefings. Member states which are not members of the Council will have the opportunity to submit written statements that will be included in a compilation document summarising the meeting. No formal outcome is expected to be adopted at tomorrow’s meeting.

According to the concept note circulated by Council president Viet Nam (S/2021/333), the focus of the open debate is the “provision of assistance and access to services for victims and their needs for rehabilitation, justice and reintegration”.

Patten is expected to brief on the 30 March annual report of the Secretary-General on CRSV (S/2021/312). The report provides information about 18 countries and offers recommendations to their governments. The Secretary-General emphasised that his report only covers CRSV incidents that were verified by the UN and does not represent the global scale of such crimes. Despite the Council’s strong normative framework on CRSV, the Secretary-General stressed that compliance by conflict parties “remains appallingly low”. He noted the critical role of the Council in enforcing compliance by state and non-state parties to conflict, to “translate commitments into compliance and resolutions into results”.

Patten may also address the situation in Ethiopia. While not on the formal agenda of the Council, members have discussed the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region four times under “any other business” since the current crisis erupted on 4 November 2020. The Secretary-General’s report refers to the situation under the heading of “sexual violence as a tactic of war and terrorism: patterns, trends and emerging concerns”. According to the Secretary-General’s report, there were “alleged serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including sexual violence” reported in central and north Tigray in November 2020. “Disturbing reports” were shared of individuals being forced to rape their family members and women being forced to have sex with military elements in exchange for basic commodities. Sexual violence in refugee camps has also been reported. Patten may speak about the support her office is providing to prevent and respond to sexual violence committed in the context of the situation in Tigray.

As has been the case since 2012, the annual report also 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”. States listed in the annex are prohibited from contributing to UN peace operations. If a state or non-state actor has “made formal commitments to adopt measures to address conflict-related sexual violence”, it is indicated with an asterisk. To be removed from the annex, an actor must cease violations and implement its formal commitments. Only one party, the Forces républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire, has been delisted so far, and 70 percent of the parties listed are considered persistent perpetrators, meaning they have been listed for five or more years in a row.

This year’s report lists a total of 56 conflict parties: in the Central African Republic (CAR) (six non-state actors), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (20 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 (four non-state actors and two state actors), as well as Boko Haram under “other parties of concern on the agenda of the Security Council”.

Patten may stress that even where conflict parties have made formal commitments, implementation remains minimal. Accordingly, the Secretary-General’s report argues for increased coherence between the listings in the annex and the designation of parties for targeted sanctions by the Council to “leverage behavioural change through political influence”. Of the 14 Security Council sanctions regimes, seven include specific designation criteria for CRSV: CAR, DRC, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. In total, 15 individuals (under the CAR, DRC, Mali, South Sudan, and Yemen sanctions regimes) and four entities (under the CAR and DRC sanctions regimes) have been listed under this criterion so far.

On 5 August 2020, the Council sanctioned Bi Sidi Souleman a.k.a. Sidiki Abbas, the leader of the armed group 3R (Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation) for, among other things, being “involved in planning, directing or committing acts involving sexual and gender-based violence” in the CAR. (According to media reports, 3R claimed in a statement in early April that Abbas reportedly died on 25 March.) On 25 February, the Council sanctioned Houthi official Sultan Zabin for “[playing] a prominent role in a policy of intimidation and use of systematic arrest, detention, torture, sexual violence and rape against politically active women”. This was the first time the Council listed an individual in the Middle East region for such crimes. (Houthi media reports in early April claimed that Zabin had died).

Patten is likely to refer to some of the annual report’s recommendations for Council action. Those include that the Council: demand that cessations of hostilities include the cessation of CRSV, in line with the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, which was supported by the Council in resolution 2532 of 1 July 2020; continue to invite the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict to brief the Council’s sanctions committees; encourage all conflict parties to adopt commitments addressing CRSV and to monitor compliance, involving the Informal Experts Group on women, peace and security (currently co-chaired by Ireland and Mexico); refer situations where CRSV appears to have been perpetrated in the context of international crimes to the ICC; include a focus on CRSV in Council visiting missions; and reflect preventing and responding to CRSV in mandates of peace operations.

Patten and some Council members may also discuss how donors, states, regional and international organisations can implement the CRSV agenda. These suggestions, as put forward in the Secretary-General’s report, may include: adopting a survivor-centred approach in the prevention and response to CRSV; ensuring appropriate funding for assistance and socioeconomic integration for CRSV survivors; enhancing protection measures and the prosecution of alleged perpetrators; and addressing the root causes of CRSV.

Atim is expected to brief Council members on the intersection of gender and disability in the context of CRSV. A deaf activist herself, Atim may also address the disproportionate effect of conflict on women with disabilities.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may address the questions posed in Viet Nam’s concept note, which relate to: gaps in the implementation of the Council’s normative framework, how the Council can better address challenges in preventing and responding to CRSV, what policies have been effective in supporting survivors of CRSV and how those can be improved, how the root causes of discrimination against survivors of CRSV can be addressed, and how regional and subregional organisations can support efforts on a national level to prevent and respond to CRSV.

Council members may show different approaches to the CRSV agenda in their statements, with some members emphasising rights-based aspects and others stressing the socioeconomic empowerment of women.

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