What's In Blue

Posted Tue 12 Apr 2022

Conflict-related Sexual Violence: Annual Open Debate

Tomorrow morning (13 April), the Security Council will hold its annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence, which this year is titled “Accountability as Prevention: Ending Cycles of Sexual Violence in Conflict”. The meeting will be chaired by Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, UK Minister of State for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth, and the UK Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad are expected to brief. Two civil society representatives are also expected to brief.

Non-Council members are invited to participate in person at tomorrow’s open debate. No outcome is expected.

The UK, April’s Council president, circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s debate (S/2022/293). It says that the meeting’s objective is to consider ways to reduce conflict-related sexual violence and deliver justice and accountability for survivors in conflict, post-conflict and fragile contexts. Specifically, the meeting will concentrate on strengthening accountability and addressing impunity for conflict-related sexual violence as a means to deliver justice for survivors; hold implicated individuals, states, and non-state actors accountable; and prevent future violence. The concept note says that the open debate will discuss “gaps in the delivery of justice and assistance to survivors, as well as ways to reinforce the international architecture”.

The focus of the open debate is consistent with the campaign to stop sexual violence in conflict launched by UK Foreign Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss in November 2021. According to the UK government’s website, in the context of this campaign Truss will promote a “new global agreement to condemn [the] use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war as a ‘red line’ on a par with chemical weapons”.

Patten is expected to brief on the Secretary-General’s latest annual report on conflict-related sexual violence, which was issued on 29 March (S/2022/272). This year’s annual report provides information on cases of conflict-related sexual violence verified by the UN in 18 countries. The report emphasises, however, that although it “conveys the severity and brutality of recorded cases, it does not purport to convey the full scale and prevalence of these crimes”. As mandated by resolution 1960 on Women, Peace and Security, which was adopted in 2010, the report includes 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 Council’s agenda. The annex lists 49 parties and stresses that over 70 percent are persistent perpetrators, meaning that they have been listed in the annex for five years or more. The report further states that compliance by conflict parties with relevant international norms and resolutions “remains appallingly low”.

Patten may reiterate previous calls for translating commitments and resolutions into tangible results. Many Council members are expected to stress the strength of the existing legal and normative framework on conflict-related sexual violence and call for an enhanced focus on its implementation and on accountability. Members are also likely to call for the enhanced use of mechanisms available to the Council, such as its sanctions regimes, and may call for including and applying sexual violence as a stand-alone designation criterion in relevant Council sanctions regimes.

Among other issues, Murad may focus on justice and accountability for survivors of sexual violence crimes committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). The annual report says that conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated by Da’esh between 2014 and 2017 in Iraq “continued to negatively affect survivors, while thousands reportedly remain in captivity”. Regarding Iraq’s March 2021 Yazidi Survivors Law, which addresses assistance to survivors and accountability for conflict-related sexual violence, the report says that while the law provides for several support measures for survivors from the Yazidi, Turkmen, Christian and Shabak communities, it does not apply to “other women and girls who experienced sexual violence in the form of forced marriages to Da’esh members, nor does it address the issue of children born as a result of conflict-related rape”.

Murad and Lord Ahmad are also expected to announce the Global Code of Conduct for Investigating and Documenting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, also known as the “Murad Code”. The code of conduct aims to support a survivor-centred approach to collecting evidence and conducting investigations of conflict-related sexual violence.

Ukraine is among the country situations expected to feature in many Council members’ remarks tomorrow. On 11 April, the Council convened for a briefing on the situation in Ukraine, which focused on women’s political participation in the context of the crisis in Ukraine and on the war’s effects on women and children. Albania and the US requested the meeting, apparently in response to mounting reports of atrocities committed by Russian forces, including conflict-related sexual violence. (For background, see our 10 April “What’s in Blue” story.) During the meeting, several Council members expressed concern about these reports. The Director of the civil society organisation La Strada Ukraine, Kateryna Cherepakha, said that the reported cases are merely the tip of the iceberg. UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous announced that Patten will provide more information on conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine at tomorrow’s meeting.

Council members and briefers are also expected to refer to other situations of concern. For the first time, this year’s annual report includes a section on Ethiopia, which mainly refers to the findings of the November 2021 joint report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, the national human rights institution of Ethiopia. The joint report identified several forms of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated in the context of the conflict in northern Ethiopia, including against women and girls for their “perceived, alleged or actual association” with conflict parties.

According to the annual report, parties to the conflict in Syria “have continued to perpetrate sexual violence”. In calling for further accountability measures, some speakers may reference as a positive development the 13 January sentencing of a former Syrian intelligence official to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual assault, by a German court under universal jurisdiction.

Some members may also refer to the situation in Myanmar. The annual report notes that during the reporting period, “the Tatmadaw and Myanmar Police used excessive force, including sexual violence, against protesters and journalists” and targeted women who have played leadership roles in the civil disobedience movement.

At tomorrow’s debate, several members may stress the importance of women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and of advancing gender equality to address the deeper causes of conflict-related sexual violence. Council members are likely to stress the importance of adopting a survivor-centred approach in the response to conflict-related sexual violence. In this regard, some members may highlight the need to enhance access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Some Council members are also likely to express support for the work of women leaders and human rights defenders in preventing and responding to gender-based violence and condemn reprisals against them.

Several members are also likely to express support for the work of women’s protection advisers (WPAs) and call for expanding their deployment in UN peace missions. Some may reference the recommendations presented by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the 16 November 2021 Informal Experts Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security meeting with WPAs (S/2021/1012). These include a recommendation to Council members to advocate in the Fifth Committee for retaining existing WPA posts and to “request the inclusion of enhanced capacity in contexts where it remains inadequate or non-existent”.

Some members are expected to refer to conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated by terrorist groups and may call for further integrating the counter-terrorism and Women, Peace and Security agendas. According to the report, in 2021 there was “a discernible trend of sexual violence and exploitation in the context of abduction and trafficking, including by United Nations-designated terrorist groups operating in conflict-affected settings in which State presence and the rule of law remain weak”. Some members may also call for increased international support for capacity-building to strengthen judicial institutions and improved access to justice for survivors in these and comparable contexts, including the development of gender-responsive justice systems.

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