Key United Nations initiatives to address conflict-related sexual violence

Training on conflict-related sexual violence

On the basis of the United Nations publication, “Addressing conflict-related sexual violence: An analytical inventory of peacekeeping practice”, launched in June 2010, UN-Women and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations have collaborated under the auspices of United Nations Action to develop scenario-based, predeployment training modules on preventing and addressing conflict-related sexual violence. The modules are being piloted in a number of troop-contributing countries and regional peacekeeper training centres. They require participants to evaluate hypothetical situations in which the local population is at risk of or subjected to sexual violence, and to formulate appropriate courses of action in the context of a particular mission’s mandate and rules of engagement. Some of the modules will be integrated into the training modules on protection of civilians in United Nations peacekeeping operations which have been developed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support. The Office of the Special Representative has also developed training modules on protection of civilians and sexual violence in conjunction with other United Nations and African Union partners, under the auspices of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre.

Additionally, a United Nations police standardized training curriculum on investigating and preventing sexual and gender-based violence in conflict environments has been developed in 2011. The curriculum includes 11 modules on technical investigation skills and crimes related to sexual and gender-based violence, including several case scenarios.

Development of early warning indicators

Conflict-related sexual violence has long been impervious to detection and absent from mainstream conflict analysis. Accordingly, United Nations Action, the Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, UN-Women and the broader United Nations system have developed a framework of early warning signs specific to conflict-related sexual violence. The aim is to integrate this analysis into existing and emerging early warning and prevention systems to facilitate a rapid response.

Addressing conflict-related sexual violence in ceasefire and peace agreements

To date, few ceasefire or peace agreements include provisions for conflict-related sexual violence. If left unaddressed, sexual violence can be used as a means to continue acts of war outside the purview of agreements and monitoring teams, which can trigger cycles of vengeance and vigilantism and risk undermining confidence in agreements and the mediation process itself. Conversely, its inclusion can increase the durability of peace by mitigating security fears and improving transparency, accountability and confidence among parties.
In situations where conflict-related sexual violence may have occurred, United Nations mediators and their teams must actively seek to assess reports of such violence and to engage parties to discuss its immediate termination. It is imperative that any ceasefire and peace agreement brokered by the United Nations include sexual violence as a prohibited act in the definition of ceasefire and in provisions for monitoring, including within relevant annexes.

Sexual violence, when used in conflict as a method or tactic of warfare, must be recognized in provisions for security arrangements, as applicable. United Nations mediators must also ensure that amnesties for crimes under international law are prohibited and that arrangements for transitional justice are included, particularly prosecution, reparations and truth-seeking bodies.
In order to more comprehensively address this issue in ceasefire and peace agreements, the Department of Political Affairs, in close collaboration with the United Nations system, eminent mediators and mediation experts, has produced the United Nations Guidance for Mediators on Addressing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Ceasefire and Peace Agreements. The normative principles and practical strategies it contains will guide Special Representatives, envoys and mediators in ensuring that conflict-related sexual violence is addressed in preventive diplomacy efforts, mediation and peace processes.

Comprehensive strategies to combat sexual violence

Through the comprehensive strategy to combat sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, launched in April 2009, the United Nations system has created a platform for operational coordination that is delivering dedicated resources and services to combat conflict-related sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The comprehensive strategy is fully embedded in the Government’s national strategy on gender-based violence, launched in November 2009. Funding to implement the strategy has been provided primarily through international support for the Government’s stabilization and reconstruction plan for areas emerging from armed conflict in the east. The intent in 2012 is to expand support further into Orientale Province (Haut and Bas Uélé), Maniema and northern Katanga, as access, resources and capacities allow. Total funds committed for the period 2010-2012 currently stand at $33 million, with $9 million coming through the Multi-Donor Trust Fund of the Stabilization and Recovery Funding Facility and $24 million from the United States Agency for International Development in the form of bilateral commitments to the strategy.

In accordance with Security Council resolution 1935 (2010), in the Sudan, UNAMID undertook a mission-wide discussion on the scope and goals of a comprehensive strategy for prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence in Darfur. Recommendations and findings from this process will inform the finalization of the mission’s comprehensive strategy, in accordance with its mandate and without prejudice to the sovereign responsibility of the Government of the Sudan for the protection of its civilians.
In Côte d’Ivoire, the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire and the United Nations country team have requested strategic support through United Nations Action to assist the Ministry of Family, Women and Children and the United Nations system in reviving the national strategy on sexual and gender-based violence.

Programmatic and funding challenges and opportunities

Efforts to conceive and operationalize effective approaches to addressing conflict-related sexual violence underscore the need for a multi-sectoral approach that addresses the widespread impunity feeding this violence, promotes security sector reform and enhances prevention and protection mechanisms, while also strengthening services for survivors. Along with the challenges of working in insecure contexts with fragile Governments, huge funding gaps for these programmes and weak inter-agency coordination structures are among the primary constraints noted by United Nations missions. It is also critical to develop programming modalities that bridge the divide between humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts and development programming to ensure continuity of funding.
Extensive and ongoing capacity development is required within the health, social welfare, justice and security sectors to respond effectively to conflict-related sexual violence. Significant resources must be invested at field and global levels to bolster pre- and in-service training, the development of context-specific resource packs and relevant in-country advocacy and briefing materials. Rosters of readily deployable experts must also be created to augment the exceedingly limited pool of available expertise. Peacekeepers and other critical security actors must be proactively engaged to operationalize protection strategies and introduce early warning systems.

Opportunities for encouraging longer-term planning, capacity-building and coordinated programming include pooling funds through multi-donor trust fund mechanisms, such as the funding modality of the International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy, which supports the comprehensive strategy to combat sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The 2010 report on women’s participation in peacebuilding (A/65/354-S/2010/466) also calls for the allocation of at least 15 per cent of United Nations-managed funds for post-conflict peacebuilding projects to advance gender equality, empower women and address women’s specific needs in peacebuilding contexts, which includes the prevention of and response to sexual violence. And United Nations Action intends to undertake a review of capacity-building initiatives with a view to augmenting training and supporting the creation of rosters for women’s protection advisers.

Development of comprehensive strategies to combat sexual violence

In paragraph 23 of resolution 1888 (2009), the Security Council calls for the development of joint Government-United Nations comprehensive strategies to combat sexual violence. UN Action provides strategic support to United Nations missions to help them develop such strategies, which establish a common foundation for the Organization’s response in order to prevent gaps and overlaps. This approach has begun to be mirrored in donor coordination. The implementation of the Comprehensive Strategy on Combating Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is being supported through a pooled fund, the Stabilization and Reconstruction Plan for Areas Emerging from Armed Conflict. The Strategy is structured around four pillars — combating impunity; prevention and protection; security sector reform; and multi-sectoral assistance for survivors — with a cross-cutting component on data and mapping. The Sexual Violence Unit of MONUSCO is charged with coordinating the implementation of the Strategy and requires enhanced human and material resources to perform that function. Working groups for each of the pillars have been created at the central and provincial levels to help operationalize the Strategy. In March 2009, UN Action engaged an independent consultant to assess the provision of strategic support in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The assessment resulted in the conclusion that the Strategy provided an ambitious but comprehensive platform for joint (not merely joined-up) action. UN Action is currently helping the United Nations system to respond to the Security Council’s call for a comprehensive strategy to be developed in Côte d’Ivoire. A consultant was also deployed to Chad in early 2010, under the auspices of UNFPA, to help develop a comprehensive strategy on gender-based violence, including sexual violence, for the eastern part of the country. Experience to date has revealed that comprehensive strategies must be coupled with high-level leadership, staff possessing strong strategic and coordination skills, and adequate resources for the achievement of their aims.

Scaling up and improving access to services, including by building national capacity

In paragraph 13 of resolution 1888 (2009), the Security Council encourages States, with support from the international community, to increase access to health care, psychosocial support, legal assistance and socio-economic reintegration services for victims of sexual violence. Sexual violence affects every aspect of a survivor’s life and requires a holistic response tailored to both child and adult survivors. The role of the United Nations is to support, not supplant, government as the primary protection and service provider. Services should not only treat individuals, but also help them to reintegrate into social and economic structures, as the need for healing applies to the community as a whole. Disabled women face heightened vulnerability to sexual violence and exploitation, owing as much to isolation and lack of support structures as to physical immobility or infirmity. In recognition of the risk faced by women maimed or wounded by anti-personnel landmines, sexual violence has been specifically included in the 2010 gender guidelines for mine action programmes, developed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

In terms of legal assistance, the International Commission of Inquiry for Guinea-Conakry exemplifies a swift response to sexual violence employed as a tool of political repression. In Timor-Leste, UNDP and the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste have provided technical guidance to the National Parliament on bills aimed at reparation and the prosecution of cases, to provide a measure of justice for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. My Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict joined a high-level panel, convened in October in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to discuss the issue of reparations directly with survivors of sexual violence. The panel has shared its preliminary findings with Government officials, and its recommendations will complement ongoing efforts to promote justice in a comprehensive manner. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, not a single victim or affected community has received reparations for sexual violence, not even the approximately 2,000 survivors who have managed to obtain a judgment in their favor. In many post-conflict settings, there is a need to reform not only rape laws, but also rules of procedure and evidence, to overcome inbuilt biases. This is important, as rape laws have historically constituted an unjust codification of the lack of trust in the credibility of women. More than the perpetrators of other crimes, rapists anticipate that their victims will not have the courage or the support required to testify against them. Hence, there is a need to increase the capacity and the sensitization of prosecutors and police. In seven missions, United Nations police have helped to create specialized national police units that receive and respond to reports of sexual violence. This is part of the task of replacing the vicious circle of silence and impunity with a virtuous circle of recognition, justice and reparation.

Swift service delivery is vital in conflict and emergency settings. In Kenya, where reported cases of rape doubled following the 2008 post-election violence, UNFPA has drawn lessons enabling it to be better prepared to provide services to populations during and after emergencies. The Fund has also begun to integrate responses to reproductive health issues, HIV and gender-based violence into disarmament, demobilization and reintegration interventions, as in South Kordofan State, Sudan. Those efforts have targeted ex-combatants, with a particular focus on women associated with armed groups, as well as their families and the receiving communities. It is important that reintegration programmes for demobilized combatants address sexual violence in terms of rehabilitation, debriefing and referral services.

There remains a critical gap in terms of multi-year financial support for programming, capacity-building and coordination. In particular, there is a need to ensure that funding modalities support the United Nations system so that it can “deliver as one”, rather than creating a schism between humanitarian and development programming, on the one hand, and political, peace and security efforts, on the other. Preliminary findings resulting from the use of the gender marker system for tracking expenditure in relation to humanitarian responses indicate that, of more than 700 projects carried out in eight pilot countries, 75 per cent did not address gender in a significant way and nearly 50 per cent made no reference to gender-based violence. The roll-out of the gender marker system in humanitarian financing schemes in 2011 should strengthen project design in this regard.

Strengthening protection and prevention

Humanitarian efforts to address gender-based violence are coordinated under the cluster approach, with different clusters being accountable for specific sectoral responses to sexual violence. UNHCR serves as the global lead of the protection cluster, with UNFPA and UNICEF co-leading the gender-based violence area of responsibility. In Kyrgyzstan, the gender-based violence area of responsibility is working, through mobile teams, to provide services to Uzbek survivors of targeted sexual violence carried out during the ethnic unrest of June 2010. In Haiti, the gender-based violence area of responsibility is working with United Nations police and the national police to improve patrolling in camps, providing better protection for an estimated 40 per cent of internally displaced persons.

Female United Nations police officers in Liberia and Darfur have improved outreach to sexual violence survivors, including by galvanizing local women to join the national police. In 2009, in an effort to bolster gender balance among uniformed peacekeepers, the Police Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations launched a global effort to increase the representation of female peacekeepers from the current level of 8.7 per cent of police components to 20 per cent by 2014. Member States are encouraged to lend to peacekeeping and political missions expertise on sexual violence investigation and response, including by providing more trained female personnel.

Scenario-based training on sexual violence is being developed on the basis of the United Nations publication Addressing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: An Analytical Inventory of Peacekeeping Practice, published in June 2010, which contains a compilation of examples of early warning systems, patrols and escorts tailored to women’s mobility patterns; night patrols in high-risk areas; and effective community liaison techniques. United Nations military personnel frequently operate in areas that are among the most dangerous in the world for women. Their operational readiness standards must reflect that reality and prepare them to serve as first points of contact with sexual violence survivors, as needed. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and UNIFEM, under the auspices of UN Action, have established a “mobile support team on sexual violence” to present the inventory to troop-contributing countries. A strategic framework on civilian protection and a series of scenario-based training modules are being finalized by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support and will also address sexual violence. In addition, the United Nations police are finalizing training materials for United Nations and national police on this issue. The Departments’ gender guidelines for military personnel in peacekeeping operations also address the protection of women and girls from sexual violence.

To enhance respect for the prohibition on sexual violence, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UNICEF are collaborating to develop tools for engaging with and sensitizing parties to armed conflict. This research will deepen understanding of the factors that allow and restrain perpetration, and will inform actors who interface with non-State armed groups as to how they can leverage their resources to prevent sexual violence.


National courts remain the principal venue for holding individuals accountable for crimes of sexual violence. As noted in the present report, there have been a number of prosecutions of members of security forces and armed groups responsible for committing acts of sexual violence, including rape. National authorities should be supported to continue to fight impunity.

The focus of international criminal justice and mixed tribunals on combating acts of sexual violence, including rape, in the context of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, represents an important complement to national efforts. Crimes of sexual violence should be incorporated at the outset into the investigation and prosecution strategy. The issuance of a second arrest warrant in July 2012 for Bosco Ntaganda, the FARDC General and former Military Chief of Staff of the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple, represents an important shift in the treatment of sexual violence by the International Criminal Court. New charges against Ntaganda included the crimes against humanity of rape and sexual slavery and war crimes of intentional attacks against civilians, murder, rape and sexual slavery and pillage. In the Thomas Lubanga case, in contrast, the charges were limited to the recruitment and use of children, although there was ample evidence of sexual slavery and rape. The exclusion of charges related to sexual violence restricted the judges’ ability to render justice for the victims, as acknowledged by Judge Odio Benito in her dissenting opinion in the Lubanga judgement.

The trial in the International Criminal Court of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and leader of the Mouvement de libération du Congo, in connection with events in the Central African Republic represents a critical test case for the principle of command responsibility for sexual violence as a war crime and a crime against humanity. Bemba has been indicted on four counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity allegedly committed between October 2002 and March 2003 in the Central African Republic.

In Cambodia, crimes of sexual violence, with the exception of forced marriage, have not been taken up by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, a Cambodia-United Nations hybrid tribunal established under Cambodian law in 2004 to bring to justice senior leaders and those most responsible for atrocities committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979. Nor have sexual crimes been integrated into the forensic, investigative or prosecutorial strategies of the Extraordinary Chambers. According to the Extraordinary Chambers, the possibility of expanding the scope of charges against the accused to crimes beyond those in the indictment is precluded by its legal framework. In December 2011, a hearing on sexual violence under the Khmer Rouge regime revealed that sexual violence was a daily reality for most women, that acts of sexual violence were seldom punished and implicitly endorsed by an “enemy policy” promulgated by leaders at the highest levels and that survivors continue to suffer from trauma, discrimination and stigma. I reiterate the call made by my former Special Representative for the Government to ensure the rigorous documentation of such crimes for the historical record and for the Extraordinary Chambers to establish mechanisms for the appropriate recognition of and reparations for victims of sexual violence, as well as the effective prosecution of perpetrators of crimes of sexual violence and forced marriage.

The unique ability of the Security Council to impose targeted sanctions raises the stakes for perpetrators and, as such, is an important aspect of deterrence. On 31 December 2012, the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo included on its list of individuals and entities subject to sanctions Lt. Col. Eric Badege and Jean-Marie Lugerero Runiga of M23. Both were designated for listing on the basis of serious violations of human rights. The Committee also designated FDLR and M23 for committing acts of violence, including sexual violence, against civilian populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These actions follow the Committee’s designation on 30 November 2012 of two M23 leaders for serious violations of human rights and international law involving the targeting of women; its designation on 13 November of M23 leader Sultani Makenga for serious violations of international law, including sexual violence, involving the targeting of women and children; and its designation in December 2011 of Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka for having planned and ordered a series of attacks in Walikale in August 2010 in which children were raped and abducted. I encourage other sanctions committees of the Security Council — including, as appropriate, the committees concerning Côte d’Ivoire, Somalia, the Sudan and Al-Qaida (specifically with regard to the commission of sexual violence in Mali) — to focus on crimes of sexual violence. I encourage my Special Representative to submit the names of perpetrators to the relevant committees for possible designation.

International justice is as much about the hope, dignity and restoration of victims as it is about the accountability of perpetrators. Reparations (including restitution, compensation, satisfaction and rehabilitation) and guarantees of non-repetition are measures that aim to repair or redress the impact of harm caused to or crimes committed against individuals. A victim-centred approach is vital. It is noteworthy that although the defendant was not charged with crimes of sexual violence, the judgment on the Lubanga case includes specific guidance on reparations for victims of sexual violence. The implementation of this guidance in ways that specifically repair the immediate and longer-term harm experienced by victims of sexual violence in conflict is imperative in going forward.