Sexual Violence in Conflicts and the Access to Proper Healthcare

Women and children in a Somali health center on the occasion of the visit of the SRSG on sexual violence in conflict. Women and children in a Somali health center on the occasion of the visit of the SRSG on sexual violence in conflict. © obin Jones, AU UN IST Photographer, 2013

27 June

The targeting of hospitals in conflicts hinders surviving victims of sexual assaults from seeking assistance.

Wednesday, 19th June 2024 marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. For the occasion, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised the importance of stopping the escalating sexual violence in wars and ensuring that healthcare services and related buildings are well-functioning to care for survivors. Nevertheless, amidst the various conflicts and civil wars – such as those in Sudan, Ukraine, DRC, Haiti, and more – the reality on the ground seems far from strictly adhering to the rules of humanitarian law. Indeed, healthcare infrastructures and workers are constantly targeted – for instance,  incidents rose up to 25% in 2023 – and civilians are becoming the object of the enemy’s strategy – with sexual violence employed as a weapon of war.

Victims of sexual violence in wars struggle to seek justice, proper medical care, and psychological support. Women, girls, and men are often stigmatized, and perpetrators of such violence frequently go unpunished. The already harsh conditions that these survivors endure are worsened when hospitals and similar medical services are directly attacked and besieged. Instead of offering a secure harbour for medical assistance and psychological consultation, collapsed healthcare systems, shortage of supplies, and lack of personnel leave civilians without primary aid.

In fact, the UNSCR 1820 itself (adopted in 2008) declared that rape used as a weapon to prolong conflicts is recognised as a crime of war and a crime against humanity. Consequently, as sexual violence is a violation of human rights, survivors should be at least given the opportunity to seek justice and receive assistance in their recovery. The international community is still stressing the need for condemnation of atrocities targeting civilians and healthcare facilities. Indeed, as a primary human right, victims of rape should be granted access to reproductive and sexual healthcare, as well as receive psychological support to cope with the trauma caused by wars and sexual violence. 


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By Francesca Sabia

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