Conflict-related sexual violence: how UN addresses it

Handshake between MONUSCO Commander and a Nepalese peacekeeper  Handshake between MONUSCO Commander and a Nepalese peacekeeper © MONUSCO / Guy Karema

This article is a brief presentation of the Center for Civilians in Conflict’s report on how UN missions address sexual violence 

According to the report submitted by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) in October, the need for protecting civilians from conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) was recognised by the United Nations in 2000 for the first time through the adoption of the Resolution 1325, by which the Security Council included it among the peacekeeping missions’ tasks.   

Steps forward to address this issue were taken both through the Resolution 1820 – adopted by the Security Council in 2008 – which labelled conflict-related sexual violence as a «threat to the international peace and security» and established the development of appropriate training programs for peacekeepers to enable them to better recognize, prevent, and respond to sexual violence, and the Resolution 1888, approved one year later, which identified the protection of women and children from sexual violence as a responsibility of peacekeeping missions.

Yet, predicting when conflict-related sexual violence may occur and identifying its victims is not so easy since it is often less visible than other harms perpetrated during a war. For this reason, UN missions’ planning must be elaborated on some essential phases and processes: collection of information on threats of sexual violence; data sharing between peacekeepers and humanitarian actors operating in the same area; integrated reporting activities through joint operational centers (JOC) and databases; peacekeeping missions’ response articulated on three levels; and development of national actors’ capacity to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence. 

As concerns the collection of information, the CIVIC observed that the role of the female component of the missions is essential during this phase, because women from local communities are more willing to tell them their own dramatic experiences and sufferings instead of men. However, this process is hampered by some limiting factors, such as the low level of education of women and poor knowledge of English, which make communication between locals and peacekeepers difficult. 

Since the recorded data are not reliable, peacekeepers have to share information with actors belonging to humanitarian organizations operating in loco, which sometimes they support in economical and training way in order to enhance their tracing and monitoring skills of sexual violence threats.

To create a common operational framework and promote coordination between the different sections of the missions, collected data are translated into an integrated report through the JOCs, while the quality of the threat tracking is ensured by the use of a database that reports some indicators, such as the gender, to establish its incidence and draw up a more in-depth and sensitive analysis. 

The CIVIC reported that from an operational point of view, peacekeeping missions plan the protection of civilians on three levels: dialogue with potential perpetrators of violence and with governments; physical protection through military actions; creation of a safety framework and a protective environment. This last level includes the activities undertaken to develop local governments’ capacities to prevent or promptly respond to the threats posed by sexual violence related to conflicts. 

Despite this complex mechanism, the effectiveness that the United Nations have demonstrated and demonstrate in the protection of civilians from conflict-related sexual violence is still very low, because of the lack of coordination of the different sections sharing the same goal and the underestimation of limits to the communication and participation of local actors. Therefore, the CIVIC suggested to strengthen the coordination between the different activities of the missions; to improve the exchange of information between peacekeepers, analysts and humanitarian organizations in order to consider all the threats of the CRSV; to involve local governments, non-state and armed groups in the trials; to continue to hire female staff; create programs to promote communication with locals, especially women and children; and to develop more efficient protection and monitoring systems.

 

To read more, please visit:

https://civiliansinconflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CIVIC_Peacekeeping_Report_EN_FINAL_web.pdf

 

Author: Antonella Palmiotti

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