What's In Blue

Posted Thu 13 Jul 2023

Conflict-related Sexual Violence: Annual Open Debate

Tomorrow (14 July), the Security Council will convene for 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 meeting will be chaired by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and the UN and Special Representative of the UK Prime Minister for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, is expected to brief. Two civil society representatives, one from Myanmar and one from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), are also expected to brief.

One of the signature events of the UK’s July Council presidency, tomorrow’s open debate is expected to focus on closing the implementation gap of the legal and normative framework on CRSV. A concept note circulated by the UK ahead of tomorrow’s meeting says that despite the comprehensive nature of states’ obligations under international law and several Security Council resolutions condemning sexual violence in conflict situations, “civilians have been exposed to alarming levels” of CRSV and survivors “do not see the action or accountability promised in these resolutions”.

The concept note poses several questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s open debate, including:

  • What tangible steps can states take to increase compliance with international legal frameworks and translate their obligations into national legislation?
  • How can states best leverage existing legal frameworks, as well as UN mechanisms and tools—including sanctions regimes—to prevent and deter the commission of sexual violence in conflict settings?
  • How can the Security Council, other international bodies, and regional organisations prevent reprisals against survivors of CRSV and activists—including those who brief the Security Council—and hold states who perpetrate these acts accountable?

At tomorrow’s meeting, Patten is expected to brief on the Secretary-General’s latest annual report on CRSV, which was issued on 22 June. The report provides information on patterns of CRSV in over 20 countries during the period from January to December 2022. The report documents more than 2,400 UN-verified cases of CRSV, 2,297 of which (about 94 percent) affected women and girls, while acknowledging that this figure does not reflect the full scale of CRSV in 2022 due to underreporting caused by such issues as stigma and risk of retaliation. The highest number of cases (701) was recorded in the DRC. In South Sudan, the UN documented incidents affecting 221 women and 71 girls, while it recorded 191 cases in the Central African Republic (CAR), where an additional 92 allegations are still under investigation.

As mandated by resolution 1960, which was adopted in 2010, the annual report includes an annex listing “parties that are credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict”. The annex lists 49 parties, two of which were added this year: the Mai-Mai Perci Moto group in the DRC, and an alliance of armed gangs known as the “G9 Family and Allies” and its leader Jimmy Chérizier in Haiti. (In October 2022, the Security Council designated Chérizier under the sanctions regime established by resolution 2653 for “acts that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Haiti” stating that he had “planned, directed, or committed acts that constitute serious human rights abuses”.) This year’s report also lists the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), an armed group operating in the DRC’s North Kivu province, which had last appeared in the annex to the Secretary-General’s report in 2014.

Tomorrow, Patten is likely to call for the full implementation of the Security Council resolutions on CRSV and may stress the importance of allocating adequate resources towards this end. She may note, as does the annual report, that in many contexts, weakened rule of law institutions “have created a risk of the ‘rule of lawlessness’ by eroding what should be the first line of defence against atrocity crimes” and may urge member states to harness the “preventive power of the rule of law by increasing investment in prevention, accountability and institutional reform”. Patten may further stress the importance of examining the effects of climate-related security risks as factors that can exacerbate conflict and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including CRSV. She may also draw attention to contexts in which the lack of access to digital tools and resources have affected survivors’ access to security and public health information and networks.

In line with the focus of the open debate, Council members are expected to call for strengthening the implementation of the existing legal and normative framework on CRSV and are likely to highlight the need for redress and accountability. Some members may note the importance of strengthening criminal justice systems and may refer to national initiatives and international cooperation programmes that they support in this regard. Some may also identify the proliferation of illicit arms among the factors that compound security risks and can exacerbate CRSV.

Several members are expected to stress the importance of adopting a survivor-centred approach in responses to CRSV and may highlight the need to enhance access to services, including sexual and reproductive care, for CRSV survivors. Many members are likely to underscore the importance of women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation and of advancing gender equality to address the deeper causes of CRSV. Some members are also expected to condemn attacks against women civil society representatives and human rights defenders and underscore the importance of preventing and responding to reprisals against them.

Tomorrow, several participants may express their support for an enhanced use of mechanisms available to the Security Council, such as its sanctions regimes, and may call for including sexual violence as a stand-alone designation criterion in relevant Council sanctions regimes. Patten was last invited to brief a Security Council sanctions committee in December 2021, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee. Tomorrow, some members may argue for strengthening the gender and CRSV expertise informing the work of sanctions committees and express support for regularly inviting Patten to share information with these committees. Russia, however, has apparently objected to Patten briefing in sanctions committee meetings and could reiterate its opposition tomorrow. In this regard, several members are likely to underscore their support for the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Patten’s work.

Several participants are likely to express concern about developments in specific country situations. Haiti, for instance, is one of two new situations included in this year’s annual report, which says that “sexual violence perpetrated by gangs constituted a deliberate strategy to instil fear, subjugate local populations and expand areas of influence and control”. The annual report also includes a new section on Ukraine, which says that 125 cases of CRSV against civilians and prisoners of war were documented since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

Some participants are also likely to express concern about the situation in Myanmar, where “[s]exual violence was perpetrated in detention, against women, men, boys and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities”, according to the report. Other situations that may be mentioned include Afghanistan, the DRC, Syria, and Sudan. Several Council members are likely to express support for the deployment and work of women’s protection advisers in UN peace operations and call for adequate funding of these positions. Some may also refer in positive terms to steps taken by states and other actors to address sexual violence, such as the frameworks of cooperation agreed between the UN and various actors to prevent and respond to CRSV, and may call for their implementation.

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