Each year the United Nations releases a report documenting conflict-related sexual violence around the world. And this year’s report, for the first time, names some of the military forces, militia and other armed groups that are suspected of being among the worst offenders.
While this might seem to be yet another tale from the Captain Obvious Annals, it is historically significant. Though we have long known that conflict and war are dangerous for women, noting the specific conflicts and organizations that contribute to violence against women is an important shift for the international community. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative Margot Wallström, who presented the report to the Security Council in New York, acknowledged that this is an historical issue, but is taking on new forms:
“Conflict-related sexual violence is not specific to one country or continent: it is a global risk. The terror of unarmed women facing armed men is age-old and universal… [Now] wars have entered the marketplaces where women trade; they follow children en route to school; and haunt the prison cells where political activists are detained.”
The report provides examples of how sexual violence has threatened security and peace-building efforts in post-conflict situations in several places, including Chad, CAR, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The report also documents how this kind of violence is used as a element of political and civil unrest in Egypt, Guinea, Kenya and Syria, among others.
In a notable change, the report lists specific groups. Among these are, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Central African Republic (CAR) and in South Sudan, armed militia groups and former armed forces in Côte d’Ivoire, and the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Ms. Wallström also emphasized the need to protect not only women and children from sexual violence, but also men. Expressing particular concern about the reported sexual abuse of men in detention in Syria as a method of extracting intelligence she said:
“As a process of intimidation, targeted rape is often a precursor to conflict, as well as the last weapon to be relinquished in its wake. It is important not to exclude from consideration sexual violence that continues after the guns fall silent.”
There are many important resources that document the role of war in violence against women, the information is nothing new. But it is an important step for international institutions like the UN, that have peace-building resources at their disposal to know that an important part of creating peace is creating safety for women in war zones, conflict areas and post-conflict areas.