woman shielding her face with her hand
A woman living in Kassab Camp for Internally Displaced People in Kutum, North Darfur, expresses her sorrow over the increase in rapes in the area. During a visit of the Joint Special Representative for UNAMID she asked him to ensure the protection of wome
Photo:UN Photo/Albert González Farran
A woman living in Kassab Camp for Internally Displaced People in Kutum, North Darfur, expresses her sorrow over the increase in rapes in the area. Photo: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

On this International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we stand in solidarity with survivors. We vow to listen to them and act on their experiences and decisions.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The impact of COVID-19 on survivors of conflict-related sexual violence

The Coronavirus pandemic is impacting dramatically the lives of victims and survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), as well as all aspects of the work carried out by the Offices of the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict and SRSG on Children and Armed Conflict, and the United Nations as a whole.

Already a dramatically under-reported crime, CRSV has been further obscured by this pandemic. COVID-19 hampers the possibility of survivors to report sexual violence and further exacerbates the existing structural, institutional and sociocultural barriers to reporting such crimes. On 23 March, the Secretary-General issued a global call for a ceasefire in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that such a global ceasefire would “bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.”

Combatting impunity for sexual violence is a central aspect of deterring and preventing such crimes. It is also a central element of providing redress for victims. In this regard, COVID-19 has a significant and detrimental impact on all aspects of the rule of law response including accountability for CRSV. This entails limitations on the availability and capacity to receive and process reports on incidents of sexual violence by law enforcement and judicial authorities.

Services needed by survivors risk being deprioritized in many settings, including shelters, health care services, police and justice sector services. This pandemic is severely impacting the delivery of the range of medical, psychosocial and legal services required to support survivors of CRSV. There are reports of shelters for gender-based violence survivors being closed and mobile clinics and counselling services being cancelled and resources being diverted. Another obstacle to accessing services is fear of the spread of the virus. Health providers and emergency first responders are often the first point of contact for survivors of sexual violence. Yet, women including survivors of sexual violence may be less willing to seek help, particularly for health services, because of perceived risks of contracting COVID-19, for fear of infection and the potential for transmitting the virus to their families.

Stay-at-home restrictions and other measures inhibiting the movement of people have contributed to an increase in domestic and gender-based violence. Women and girls already in abusive situations are more exposed to increased control and restrictions by their abusers, with little or no recourse to seek support. Accessing help can also be more difficult due to confinement with the abuser.

Finally, quarantines and other restrictions on movement are also disrupting the monitoring, reporting and outreach work of Senior Women Protection Advisers, Child Protection Advisers, and United Nations entities mandated to gather information, verify violations and enhance compliance by both State and non-State parties with international obligations, including relevant Security Council resolutions.

2020 Event

A virtual event will take place on 19 June 2020 (10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. EST) to mark the sixth annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Co-hosted by the Office of the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Office of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, and the Permanent Mission of Argentina to the United Nations, the purpose of this event is to outline a number of implications and consequences related to the effects of COVID-19 on the lives of the survivors, as well as on the delivery of the CRSV mandate and the work of the UN system as a whole. Watch live on UN WebTV. Download the programme

Background

Definition and prevalence

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. The term also encompasses trafficking in persons when committed in situations of conflict for the purpose of sexual violence or exploitation.

A consistent concern is that fear and cultural stigma converge to prevent the vast majority of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence from coming forward to report such violence. Practitioners in the field estimate that for each rape reported in connection with a conflict, 10 to 20 cases go undocumented.

While many settings are affected by the threat, occurrence or legacy of conflict-related sexual violence, the Secretary-General's latest report is focused on 19 country situations for which credible information is available.

UN Resolutions

On 19 June 2015, the United Nations General Assembly (A/RES/69/293) proclaimed 19 June of each year the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, in order to raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence, to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world and to pay tribute to all those who have courageously devoted their lives to and lost their lives in standing up for the eradication of these crimes.

The date was chosen to commemorate the adoption on 19 June 2008 of Security Council resolution 1820 (2008), in which the Council condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war and an impediment to peacebuilding.

In response to the rise in violent extremism, the Security Council adopted resolution S/RES/2331 (2016), the first to address the nexus between trafficking, sexual violence, terrorism and transnational organized crime. Acknowledging sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism, it further affirmed that victims of trafficking and sexual violence committed by terrorist groups should be eligible for official redress as victims of terrorism.

women demonstrating

United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN Action) brings together 14 UN entities with the goal of ending sexual violence during and in the wake of armed conflict. Launched in 2007, it represents a concerted effort by the United Nations to ‘deliver as one’ – improving coordination and accountability, amplifying advocacy and supporting country-level efforts to prevent conflict-related sexual violence and respond more effectively to the needs of survivors.

 

Pramila Patten addresses the Security Council

The Special Representative serves as the United Nations’ spokesperson and political advocate on conflict-related sexual violence. She chairs the United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN Action) and her work is supported by the United Nations Team of Experts on the Rule of Law/Sexual Violence in Conflict. The office was established in 2009 and Under-Secretary-General Pramila Patten was appointed in 2017. She succeeds Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura and Ms. Margot Wallström.

Geometric illustration with the Secretariat building at UNHQ, New York.

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.