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Conflict-related Sexual Violence

“Sexual violence is a threat to every individual's right to a life of dignity, and to humanity's collective peace and security.” António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, New York, 19 March 2017

Motivated by political, military or economic objectives to control territory or resources, Conflict-related Sexual Violence (CRSV) is frequently and deliberately used to target civilians, inflicting long-term trauma and humiliation, fracturing families and the social fabric, triggering displacement and fuelling armed actors’ activities. Such violence is also used as a tactic of violent extremism and terrorism.  Women and girls continue to be those primarily affected by CRSV, not least due to patterns of gender discrimination and inequality predating the conflict.

CRSV is no longer seen as an inevitable by-product of war, but constitutes a crime that is preventable and punishable under International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law. 

The Security Council has mandated United Nations field missions to prevent and respond to CRSV. Missions are expected to prevent and respond to CRSV based on their human rights, child protection, protection of civilians, women, peace and security, and wider prevention responsibilities.  Today, four peacekeeping missions have a specific Security Council mandate to address CRSV: MINUSCA in the Central African Republic, MINUSMA in Mali, MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNMISS in South Sudan.

What is CRSV in a peacekeeping context?

“The term “conflict-related sexual violence” refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict. That link may be evident in the profile of the perpetrator, who is often affiliated with a State or non-State armed group, which includes terrorist entities; the profile of the victim, who is frequently an actual or perceived member of a political, ethnic or religious minority group or targeted on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity; the climate of impunity, which is generally associated with State collapse, cross-border consequences such as displacement or trafficking, and/or violations of a ceasefire agreement. The term also encompasses trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual violence or exploitation, when committed in situations of conflict”. 

Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Report of the United Nations Secretary-General (S/2019/280)

How do Peacekeeping Missions prevent and respond to CRSV?

Short documentary film showcasing how MONUSCO and its partners are working to prevent and respond to CRSV in the DRC and ensuring survivors can access holistic care. 

Ending conflict-related sexual violence: what the UN is doing

CRSV is a crosscutting issue that requires engagement from multiple actors: host countries, the United Nations Country and Humanitarian Teams (UNCT/HCT), non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations. Under overall guidance the Head of Mission, each of the components and sections of peacekeeping missions contribute to prevent and respond to CRSV with their respective and complementary capacities. A coordinated and comprehensive approach across civilian, military and police components, from strategic to operational levels, is critical for peacekeeping missions to effectively prevent and respond to CRSV, while fulfilling their mandate to promote and maintain international peace and security.

Peace operations carry out a wide range of multi-disciplinary work to prevent and respond to CRSV.

Mainstreaming CRSV within the mission

Preventing and responding to CRSV is a mission-wide responsibility and all our teams must 
integrate CRSV concerns at the strategic, operational and tactical levels, and across all functions. 

Monitoring and Reporting

We document trends and patterns of CRSV and contribute to reports to the Security Council, which not only exerts pressure on armed forces and groups responsible for CRSV, but also informs response and preventive actions at mission-level. 

Physical Protection

Our missions map areas where civilians are most at risk of CRSV and deploy forces to prevent, deter and stop violations while supporting the provision of assistance to affected survivors. 

Negotiating with parties to conflict 

Our missions engage in dialogues with parties to conflict to elicit commitments to end CRSV. We then accompany these parties in developing and implementing Actions Plans to prevent violations and ensure accountability for perpetrators. 

Advocacy

The senior leadership of our missions use good offices and advocacy to address CRSV from a political perspective with the host State and with parties to the conflict. This includes ensuring that CRSV is addressed throughout all stages of mediation efforts, ceasefire, and peace agreements.

Awareness Raising

Through radio messages, events and campaigns, we raise society’s awareness of CRSV at all levels and aim to change attitudes that normalize CRSV in order to prevent future acts of sexual violence and end the stigma too-often borne by survivors. 

Capacity building

Our missions work with a wide range of national counterparts, including authorities and civil society organizations, to strengthen their ability to deal with CRSV concerns through activities like training programmes and technical assistance. 

Ending impunity

With the goal to end impunity for CRSV, we support national investigations and prosecutions for sexual violence crimes and promote the safe participation of victims and witnesses in judicial processes. We also advocate the adoption of strong national legal and policy frameworks on sexual violence and remedies for survivors.

Training

Mission-wide training on CRSV is provided so that every civilian, military and police peacekeeper has the knowledge and skills to prevent and respond to CRSV while ensuring a survivor-centred approach.

Who are Women Protection Advisers?

Senior Women’s Protection Advisers (SWPAs) and Women’s Protection Advisors (WPAs) fulfil a crucial role in implementing the CRSV protection mandate of United Nations field missions. They are currently deployed to four peacekeeping missions (MINUSCA, MINUSMA, MONUSCO and UNMISS) to support the mission to prevent and respond to CRSV. They assume a wide range of functions, including:

  • Advising the Mission leadership on the implementation of the CRSV mandate and mainstreaming CRSV through mission-wide planning, policies, operations and programmes;
  • Providing overall substantive guidance and fostering coordination across all relevant mission components and with UN and non-UN partners to prevent and respond to CRSV in an integrated manner;
  • Taking the lead in monitoring, analysis and reporting on CRSV in compliance with UN methodology and guidelines;
  • Engaging in dialogue with parties to conflict on the signing and implementation of commitments to halt and prevent CRSV in coordination with the OSRSG-SVC and other relevant mission components; 
  • Promoting local ownership and prevention strategies on CRSV through advocacy, sensitisation, capacity-building and training activities at community level; and 
  • Advocating with host-state governments, parties to the conflict, diplomatic and donor communities, regional and international organizations.

UN Wide Approach 

Peacekeeping missions work closely with the UN Country and Humanitarian Teams to monitor incidents of sexual violence and ensure a coordinated response and engagement with the host Government. In Headquarters, DPO is an active member of the UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict network that gathers 15 United Nations entities aiming to “work as one” to end CRSV by amplifying advocacy, improving coordination and accountability, supporting country efforts to prevent CRSV, and responding effectively to the needs of victims/survivors.

Our Policy and Handbook 

Our work is guided by the UN Policy for Field Missions on Preventing and Responding to CRSV. All personnel have the obligation to abide by the guiding principles it contains throughout their work and in interactions with national and local interlocutors, including survivors. Those principles include Do no harm; Confidentiality; Informed consent; Gender-sensitivity; the survivor-centred approach; and the Best interest of the child. The Policy also articulates the roles and responsibility of Heads of Missions and of the different mission components in implementing the CRSV mandate. 

Working in close collaboration with the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (OSRSG-SVC), and with support from partners, DPO developed the first Handbook for United Nations Field Missions on Preventing and Responding to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. The Handbook aims to provide practical guidance to civilian, military and police components of field missions and increase their capacities to prevent and respond to CRSV. 

How we are making a difference

Over the years of mandate implementation, these Missions have designed and institutionalised innovative strategies, tools and practices that specifically enhanced prevention and response to CRSV.

  • In MINUSMA, WPAs have established a Focal Point Mechanism with the Malian Gendarmeries and the Malian Defence Security Forces, to address sexual violence. These focal points play a crucial role in relaying information on CRSV risks and cases to the SWPA, which is then shared with other concerned mission components. These focal points have also been trained to promote a minimum standard of care for survivors of sexual violence.
  • In MONUSCO, physical protection provided by the Force enabled WPAs to coordinate the deployment of several mobile clinics in partnership with the Panzi Hospital to provide psycho-social, medical, legal and economic assistance to survivors of CRSV in South Kivu province.
  • UNAMID organized a three-day online awareness-raising campaign for IDPs through the WhatsApp platform on the occasion of the 2020 International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict commemorated amid COVID-19 meeting restrictions.
  • In UNMISS, CRSV early-warning indicators have been integrated in the mission’s Early Warning and Early Response Working Group enhancing prevention and protection. Proactive patrolling, including escorting women and girls leaving protection sites fetching wood and water, has deterred and in some cases prevented a number of attacks against vulnerable women and girls.
  • In MINUSCA, sustained collaboration with the UNCT and the Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict bolstered the establishment of a national specialized unit to investigate sexual violence, known as the Joint Rapid Response and Prevention Unit for Sexual Violence against Women and Children (UMIRR).  
  • At the political level, signing of Joint Communiqués between the United Nations and the Governments of DRC and the Central African Republic as well as the unilateral communiqué signed by SPLA in-Opposition in South Sudan, are concrete examples of DPO and its partners’ sustained efforts in enhancing the protection of women and girls.

Challenges to address CRSV in peacekeeping mission context:

Our peacekeeping missions face several challenges in implementing of the CRSV mandate, which include, inter alia:

  • Underreporting of cases of CRSV due to the existing social stigma and discrimination among families and communities against survivors of sexual violence which poses difficulty to missions to capture the reality on the ground;
  • Logistical challenges, including the inability to monitor and verify incidents of sexual violence by militias, armed youth and elements of security forces, due to ongoing insecurity and denials of access by the authorities;
  • Remaining impunity of perpetrators of sexual violence, which is exacerbated by the lack of capacity and resource gaps within national criminal justice systems, and/or by the absence of political commitment to criminal accountability.

What training do we offer our personnel?

  • Core pre-deployment training material;
  • Specialized Training Material for Troop Contributing Countries and Formed Police Units;
  • Integrated Training Materials on implementing CRSV mandate.

Resolutions, policies, statements, reports 

The United Nations Security Council has adopted a series of Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security that together form the institutional framework for the CRSV mandate.

Every year, the UN Secretary-General produces a global report on sexual violence in situations of armed conflict and post conflict. The report contains a list of parties that are credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for acts of CRSV and tracks implementation of commitments taken by these parties.

 

2020 Secretary-General Report on CRSV

2019 Secretary-General Report on CRSV

2018 Secretary-General Report on CRSV

2017 Secretary-General Report on CRSV

2016 Secretary-General Report on CRSV