Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict: the UN Secretary-General delivers his latest Report

The shame of war on women and children The shame of war on women and children © Roberto Schmidt/AFP

6 July 2018

“Sexual violence continues to be employed as a tactic of war, terrorism, torture and repression” (UN Secretary-General, Annual Report n. 250/2018)

A decade ago, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution n. 1820/2008, thereby recognizing sexual violence as a specific strategy of war and placing its prevention and repression on the UN agenda. With this occurrence in mind, the purpose of the UN Secretary-General’s latest Annual Report (n. 250/2018) is then to refer on the implementation of Resolution 1820/2008 during the period of January-December 2017, and to recommend strategic actions for a coordinated and comprehensive approach to the matter.

The Annual Report scrutinizes nineteen countries where verifiable information exists, such as inter alia Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Myanmar. Analysis shows that the rise or resurgence of conflict, together with violent extremism and the collapse of the rule of law, are the main factors that may trigger the occurrence of sexual violence.

During the year under consideration, rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy and other forms of sexual brutality continued to be used by belligerents (both State actors and non-State armed groups) as a means of war, to control reproduction and procreation. In such cases, sexual violence serves as an expression of ethnic hatred. It is employed as a method of persecution, directed in particular towards women and girls of reproductive age, who are perceived as the transmitters of familial and national ‘honour’. Frequently, the intent is to alter the demographic composition and the ethnic identity of persecuted groups, to force them to flee their homes, or prevent them from returning to their places of origins, thereby securing control of lands and resources.

Acts of violence are often perpetrated in public for the purpose of terrorizing families through violation of taboos. Such attacks are a signal that nothing is sacred and no one is safe. Information reveals that victims are usually targeted on ethnic, religious or political grounds. In most cases, they live beyond the reach and protection of authorities and are concentrated in rural areas, refugee camps or displacement settings. Many women are subjected to sexual extortion by camp officials or by migrant smugglers, in exchange for their assistance. In other cases, rape is perpetrated by combatants with impunity or the tacit approval of their commanders, as a form of compensation for their services.

As a result, conflict-related sexual violence has devastated the physical and mental conditions of women belonging to minority groups. Desperate families are increasingly resorting to coping mechanisms, including child marriage, polygamy, withdrawal from educational institutions and commercial sexual exploitation. Children born from unwanted pregnancies are labelled “bad blood” or “children of the enemy” and separated from their mothers’ social group. Their vulnerability often exposes these children to recruitment, radicalization and trafficking. Furthermore, for many survivors, fear of rape is swiftly followed by physical and psychological trauma, stigma and fear of rejection. Communities are more likely to punish the victim than the perpetrator. The result is that conflict-related sexual violence appears among the least reported crimes.

The climate of impunity that surrounds these crimes is even more alarming. Suspects are frequently released from custody with the collusion of local officials who share their political or ethnic affiliation. Consequently, victims are re-traumatized. Furthermore, most cases are usually referred to customary law or traditional courts, which often require victims of rape to marry their perpetrators. This occurs because sexual offenders are exempted from prosecution when they are married, or subsequently marry, their victims.

In this scenario, national authorities and civil society are working with the United Nations to prevent and address conflict-related sexual violence. Efforts include implementing legal reforms, providing support to local non-governmental organizations, enhancing the rule of law and strengthening the capacity of national institutions.

The UN Secretary-General has urged the UN Security Council to employ all means at its disposal to influence parties to conflict to comply with international law. Due consideration should be given to the early warnings signs of sexual violence and support should be provided to rapid deployment of women’s protection advisers. Member States are called upon to put in place constitutional, legislative and institutional arrangements to comprehensively address conflict-related sexual violence and ensure that victims are recognized as legitimate victims of conflict, terrorism or persecution. States and intergovernmental organizations should support the safe return of displaced persons to their place of origin or choice, and promote community mobilization campaigns to help to shift the stigma of sexual violence from the victims to the perpetrators.

For more information, please visit:

Read 1419 times