The mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SRSG-SVC) was established through the adoption of Security Council resolution (SCR) 1888 in 2009 to tackle conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) as a peace and security issue, while also bearing in mind other serious violations of human rights that occur during armed conflict.

SCR 1888 was preceded by ground-breaking SCR 1820 adopted in 2008, which recognized CRSV as a threat to security and an impediment to the restoration of peace. It urged the debunking of the myths that fuel sexual violence and the notion that rape is an inevitable byproduct of war.  In this regard, it is important to understand the significant paradigm shift in the way sexual violence is viewed.

The Security Council established the mandate of the SRSG-SVC because it recognized the widespread and systematic use of sexual violence as a weapon or tactic of war and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators, evident through the limited prosecution and punishment of perpetrators. While acknowledging that in conflict and in post-conflict situations national justice systems may be significantly weakened, it was very concerned that only limited numbers of perpetrators of sexual violence have been brought to justice.

With SCR 1888, the international community not only recognizes the detrimental impact that sexual violence has on survivors and communities, but it also acknowledges that this is a crime that is preventable and punishable under international law.

Today prevention is one of the most important goals with respect to conflict-related sexual violence. In this sense, there has been an evolution from responding to sexual violence like any other tragedy to preventing sexual violence like any other threat. This means both helping the victims and helping to ensure that there are no more victims. The prevention of sexual violence is an integral part of broader Security Council resolutions on conflict prevention and sustaining peace.

As set out in SCR 1888, the role of the SRSG-SVC is to:

  • provide coherent and strategic leadership
  • work effectively to strengthen existing United Nations coordination mechanisms
  • engage in advocacy efforts with:
    1. governments, including military and judicial representatives
    2. all parties to armed conflict (State and non-State armed groups)
    3. civil society.

SCR 1888 also establishes the mandate of Women’s Protection Advisers (WPAs) in peacekeeping and special political missions. WPAs are a dedicated capacity to facilitate and coordinate the implementation of Security Council resolutions on conflict-related sexual violence by supporting the monitoring, analysis and reporting system on sexual violence; facilitating dialogue with parties to conflict with a view to protection commitments; coordinating the development and implementation of comprehensive strategies to combat sexual violence; and mainstreaming sexual violence considerations into policies, operations and advocacy of United Nations peacekeeping and special political missions.

A main tool for the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (OSRSG-SVC) are Joint Communiqués or Frameworks of Cooperation, which are specific, time-bound commitments that promote national ownership and engagement of States’ responsibility in line with their international obligations.  These agreements all establish priority interventions for a holistic approach to prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence – in areas such as accountability, reparations, access to justice, legal reform, commitments by defense and security forces, and provision of comprehensive services – and specify the national institutions and actors who commit to take action.

Definition of conflict-related sexual violence

The term “conflict-related sexual violence” (CRSV) refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, trafficking in persons when committed in situations of conflict for the purpose of sexual violence/exploitation 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.

Through a series of Security Council resolutions and analysis of country situations, the definition of CRSV has evolved. For example, in 2016 the Security Council adopted SCR 2331, in which it addresses the nexus between trafficking, sexual violence, terrorism and transnational organized crime.  SCR 2331 affirmed that victims of trafficking and sexual violence committed by terrorist groups should be eligible for official redress as victims of terrorism.

Developments during that year included the rise in violent extremism with hybrid criminal-terrorist networks among the perpetrators, which have used the bodies of women and girls as a form of currency in the political economy of war.

The acknowledgement of sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism, integral to recruitment, resourcing and radicalization strategies, formally links this issue to global action aimed at curbing terrorist financing, including the work of relevant sanctions regimes.