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Sexual violence in conflict

Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • Conflict-related sexual violence has been one area of specific focus and increased attention within the Women, Peace and Security agenda, in particular since the establishment of UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2007, the adoption of UNSCR 1820 in 2008, and the establishment in 2009 of a Special-Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SRSG-SVC).The mandate of the SRSG-SVC, as detailed in SCR 1888 and SCR 1960, is to provide coherent and strategic leadership and to strengthen coordination, advocacy, and cooperation between all relevant stakeholders. 
  • The first SRSG-SVC framed a five-point priority agenda:
  1. ending impunity;
  2. empowering women to seek redress and claim their rights;
  3. mobilize political leadership;
  4. increase recognition of rape as a tactic and consequence of conflict; and
  5. ensure a coordinated response from the UN system through the inter-agency network UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict.
  • The second SRSG, appointed in 2012, added national ownership to these priorities. To advance this agenda, the SRSG-SVC undertakes missions to listen to survivors of sexual violence, discuss with policymakers and other relevant stakeholders, and relay relevant information to the Security Council, in particular through the presentation of the annual United Nations report documenting conflict-related sexual violence around the world, naming parties suspected of being among the worst offenders. (See MARA below); and the office of the SRSG-SVC supports the capacity of governments affected by armed conflict to address sexual violence (see, Wallström, M. 2010. “Statement: Ending Sexual Violence: Translating Promises into Practice”).

  • While the SRSG-SVC condemns conflict-related sexual violence, calling for an end to impunity and speaking out on behalf of survivors, the work of various entities in the UN is coordinated through the United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN Action), a network of 13 UN entities (see UN Action members) with the goal of ending sexual violence in conflict. It was launched in 2007 as a concerted effort by the UN system to improve coordination and accountability, amplify programming and advocacy, and support national efforts to prevent sexual violence and respond effectively to the needs of survivors. While harmonizing the work of the 13 UN Agencies, UN Action brings together humanitarian, development, security actors to provide strategic support to countries as requested by the HC/RC. UN Action structures its activities around three pillars:
  • Country Level Action: supports joint strategy development and programming by UN Country Teams and Peacekeeping Operations, including building operational and technical capacity.
  • Advocating for Action: raises public awareness and generates political will to address sexual violence as part of a broader campaign to Stop Rape Now and the Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign.
  • Knowledge Generation: creates a knowledge hub on sexual violence in conflict, and effective responses by the UN and partners through the development of tools to improve data collection and analysis, enhance provision of services, and training to improve protection and prevention. 
  • UN Action has produced a number of tools, ranging from peacekeeper training modules and an inventory of peacekeeping practice to guidance for mediators, databases of academic literature and a research agenda, early warning signs, guidance on reporting and researching on sexual violence. A conceptual note framing the scope of conflict-related sexual violence includes the following definition: “Conflict-related sexual violence refers to incidents or (for SCR 1960 listing purposes) patterns of sexual violence, that is rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity, against women, men, girls or boys. Such incidents or patterns occur in conflict or post-conflict settings or other situations of concern (e.g., political strife). They also have a direct or indirect nexus with the conflict or political strife itself, i.e. a temporal, geographical and/or causal link. In addition to the international character of the suspected crimes (that can, depending on the circumstances, constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, acts of torture or genocide), the link with conflict may be evident in the profile and motivations of the perpetrator(s), the profile of the victim(s), the climate of impunity/weakened State capacity, cross-border dimensions and/or the fact that it violates the terms of a ceasefire agreement.” Some of these tools can be found in several languages here. UN Action also facilitates field-based coordination via support to comprehensive strategies. More detailed information and examples can be found on Section V on Coordination.
  • In December 2010, SCR 1960 established standardized monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements (“MARA”) on conflict-related sexual violence. The purpose of the MARA is to support field-driven data collection systems for providing systematic, timely, reliable, and objective information on conflict-related sexual violence to the Security Council. Parties that are credibly suspected of committing patterns of sexual violence are listed in the UN Secretary-General’s annual report to the Security Council.
  • At the country level, the information and data collected for the MARA will be submitted from the network of field-based organizations and networks through existing data collection systems which work in any given country, such as the protection cluster, the gender-based violence area of responsibility/working group/subcluster and gender theme groups. This information on incidents and patterns of sexual violence may serve as a basis for protection strategies, programmatic responses, advocacy, early warning, and reports to UN headquarters.
  • A provisional guidance note on the implementation of SCR 1960 was published in June 2011, outlining the implementation process of the monitoring and reporting mechanism and its proposed coordination mechanisms. For more detailed information, see Section V on Coordination.