The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (OSRSG-SVC)

The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (OSRSG-SVC) is an office of the United Nations Secretariat that supports the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SRSG-SVC). The Special Representative serves as the United Nations’ spokesperson and political advocate on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). 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 (TOE).

The Office was established by Security Council resolution (SCR) 1888 (2009), one in a series of resolutions which recognized the detrimental impact that sexual violence in conflict has on communities and acknowledged that this crime undermines efforts to ensure peace and security and rebuild societies once a conflict has ended. These resolutions signal a change in the way the international community views and deals with conflict-related sexual violence.  It is no longer seen as an inevitable byproduct of war, but rather a crime that is preventable and punishable under International Human Rights Law and International Criminal Law.

In April 2010, the first Special Representative, Ms. Margot Wallström of Sweden, established the Office.

In September 2012, Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone took over the role.

In April 2017, the United Nations Secretary-General appointed Ms. Pramila Patten of Mauritius as the SRSG-SVC, who established the following three strategic priorities for the mandate:

  • converting cultures of impunity into cultures of justice and accountability through consistent and effective prosecution. It is critical to focus on prevention, on how to stop sexual violence from occurring in the first place. Prevention is possible because sexual violence is never an accident. The fight against conflictrelated sexual violence has become the fight against impunity. It is through consistent and effective prosecution that perpetrators will be deterred so that it is no longer cost-free to rape.
  • fostering national ownership and leadership for a sustainable, survivor-centered response. The face of the mandate is that of a survivor. Only a survivor-centered approach can promote a survivor’s recovery and prioritize the survivor’s rights, needs and wishes. This means ensuring that survivors have access to appropriate, accessible and good quality services including healthcare; psychosocial support; legal services and livelihood support, especially in cases where survivors have been rejected by families.
  • addressing the root causes of CRSV with structural gender inequality and discrimination, poverty and marginalization as its invisible driver in times of war and peace.

Progress achieved by the Office so far includes:

  • Greater visibility, political will and momentum than ever before;
  • Development of a robust legislative framework in the Security Council, which has given the Office new tools to implement the mandate on the ground and begin to effect some changes in behaviour;
  • More strategic and structured engagement with the security and justice sectors, as part of a prevention strategy;
  • Some accountability at international and national levels, as a vital aspect of deterrence and prevention;
  • National ownership, leadership and responsibility, as reflected in formal commitments that governments and regional organizations are making to address this problem.

The United Nations Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict

Strengthening the capacity of national institutions is critical to ensuring accountability for past crimes and for prevention and deterrence of future crimes. Conflict and post-conflict situations are characterized by severe dysfunction, particularly of the legal system. Of particular concern is the lack of adequate national capacity and expertise to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators, leading to widespread impunity for acts of CRSV.

To address these concerns, the United Nations Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict (TOE), established under Security Council resolution (SCR) 1888 and situated in the OSRSG-SVC, works closely with Governments and United Nations missions and Country Teams to support the investigation, prosecution of perpetrators and adjudication of crimes under civilian and military systems, legislative reform, the protection of victims and witnesses. The TOE is composed of specialists from the Department of Peace Operations (DPO), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

More information can be found here.

The United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict

In addition to the SRSG-SVC role as the United Nations’ spokesperson and political advocate on conflict-related sexual violence, the SRSG-SVC chairs the UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, a network which unites the work of 21 United Nations (UN) entities with the goal of ending sexual violence during and in the wake of conflict.

UN Action is a concerted effort by the UN system to improve coordination and accountability, amplify programming and advocacy, and support national efforts to prevent sexual violence and respond effectively to the needs of survivors. As Chair, her role is to reinforce coordination, avoid overlap at headquarters and country level, and improve system-wide response.

More information can be found here.

Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

A primary function of the Office is to prepare the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on CRSV. While many countries are affected by the threat, occurrence or legacy of CRSV, Annual Reports focus on countries for which credible information is available and collected by the United Nations.

Through successive Annual Reports, the Office has created a public, historical record for a crime that has been omitted from official accounts of war and peace. The Annual Report also includes detailed information on parties to armed conflict that are credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for acts of rape or other forms of sexual violence, listed in the Annex to the Reports.

Listed parties are required to engage with the Office in order to develop specific, time-bound commitments and action plans to address violations. Effective implementation of commitments is a key requirement for the de-listing of parties. All States repeatedly listed for grave violations against children and/or CRSV are prohibited from participating in United Nations Peace Operations.