Statements from the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Iraq (UNAMI), Mali (MINUSMA), Myanmar (UNFPA Myanmar), Somalia (UNSOM), South Sudan (UNMISS), Sudan (Darfur) (UNAMID)
Remarks of the Senior Women Protection Advisor, Central African Republic
On 12 June, the President of the Central African Republic announced that wearing of face masks in public was compulsory and that free masks would be distributed. This is in addition to other, earlier measures, such as social distancing, the closure of schools, and hand-washing installations in public areas. That said, in absence of a visible danger, most measures are not adhered to by the population nor strictly enforced by the authorities.
How does this affect the survivors of Sexual and gender-based violence? While women and girls make up only 26% of the positive tested persons, the measures have some negative results. Transport costs increased by 60 % due to restrictions of the number of persons to be carried by buses and taxis, adding to the challenge to seek medical care. The country’s weak coverage of health services is further reduced, as some humanitarians had to cut down their activities, with their staff being sent into telecommuting. Also, survivors are reluctant to go to hospitals of fear to contract the virus from other patients.
The weak health system struggles to respond to numerous other deadly diseases, such as malaria, respiratory infections, and diarrhea. In a country with poor access to water, hygiene and sanitation and underlying conditions such as malnutrition, care facilities, being set up for COVID-19 response, also need to deal with these diseases and provide care for victims of sexual violence.
MINUSCA and partner organizations remain mobilized to support the Government to curb the spread of the virus. Information activities for thousands of persons on hygiene and social distancing were organized. Hundreds of community focal points and volunteers were trained for door-to-door awareness-raising.
The general lack of understanding of the pandemic makes communication crucial. For example, in Kaga Bandoro, the centre of the country, MINUSCA supported the women of the national protection network for victims of sexual violence, to conduct educational sessions on the virus, and the need to continue to seek treatment for all medical issues, including the effects of rape.
MINUSCA also adapted its Community Violence Reduction programmes, benefitting members of armed groups, community members and youth at risk: 185 beneficiaries, who learned sewing through vocational training, are now producing face masks, at a rate of 100,000 per month, to be distributed for the local market.
The impact of the pandemic extends beyond the question of sanitation. In April, two Presidential decrees ordered the partial release of prisoners, to avoid the spread of the virus in congested prisons. What followed was the release of 676 prisoners, of whom several had been convicted of rape. This poses a protection concern for the victims and witnesses who could potentially suffer from reprisals.
Lastly, following the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, some armed groups committed to respecting it. However, human rights monitoring, even though reduced due to confinement of staff, shows that women and girls continue to be attacked and raped on their way to provide water and food for their families. The risks of falling victim to sexual violence have not diminished in this crisis, but the possibility to seek assistance and redress has! The uncertainty of what is ahead is forcing us to stay alert and increase support to those that can reach out to those outside the limelight, such as the national protection network.
Remarks of the Senior Women Protection Advisor, Democratic Republic of the Congo
MONUSCO’s mandated priorities are the protection of civilians and stability. The mission is present in Kinshasa, the Kasais and the eastern, conflict-affected provinces, where we carry out a range of activities aimed at the protection of civilians, including activities to prevent and respond to conflict related sexual violence (CRSV), assist survivors and support the prosecution of perpetrators.
When cases of COVID-19 were reported in the DRC, the government took quick action to put in place measures to prevent the spread of the virus-closing the DRC’s borders, restricting travel within the country, prohibiting gatherings of more than 20 people and locking down COVID-19 hotspots.
MONUSCO’s activities linked to the protection of civilians are considered critical and, with the government’s support, we worked to continue these activities while respecting preventive measures and making sure that there was no risk that we could ourselves spread the virus.
Inevitably, though, there has been an impact on our work. We have had to postpone outreach and capacity building activities that would involve more than 20 people. And while in most places, we have continued to carry out CRSV monitoring and investigation missions, in some instances we have had to postpone important missions. For example, we have been planning a joint investigation mission to locations in South Kivu province where mass rape had been documented. This mission will support a judicial investigation, and bring much needed medical, legal and psychosocial assistance to the survivors. Initially postponed when Bukavu was placed under lockdown, it was postponed again two weeks ago after a sudden increase in COVID-19 cases there. We could not take the risk of spreading the virus but we, and our national partners, are committed to conducting the mission as soon as it is safe to do so.
We welcome the commitment of the government to the prevention of sexual violence, and to prosecuting those responsible. We also welcome the cooperation we enjoy with Madame Yelu Melop, the Presidential Adviser on Youth and Sexual Violence, who spoke earlier about ways in which COVID-19 prevention measures have affected women, and women survivors of CRSV. We echo her views.
We know that:
- In some areas, survivors of CRSV are reluctant to access medical care for fear of contracting COVID-19 or of being perceived as a carrier
- Social distancing rules mean that health centres and mobile clinics have reduced the number of patients they see, judicial clinics have reduced activities in support of survivors, organisations providing psycho-social assistance and counseling have suspended activities in some places and socio-economic reintegration activities for survivors have also been suspended.
- There have been delays in priority trials of individuals charged with crimes against humanity for sexual violence, such as the trial of former armed group commanders Sheka in Goma, and Cobra Matata in Kinshasa. Following advocacy by MONUSCO, the trial of Sheka is set to resume this week.
- Policing of COVID-19 restrictions puts women and girls at risk of CRSV. We documented a case in which a woman was raped in police detention, and another in which a woman was threatened with rape, beaten and sexually harassed by police following her arrest. Both were arrested for not respecting COVID-19 restrictions.
MONUSCO, working with our national and international partners, is adapting to find solutions to these problems and to continue to support CRSV survivors. The MARA working group provides a platform for sharing information, identifying locations where resources are most needed and mobilizing service providers for CRSV survivors. We will continue to work through the MARA and with our national partners to find solutions to the challenges presented by the pandemic and try to limit the impact of this period on the women, girls, boys and men who are at risk of, and suffer sexual violence.
Remarks of the Senior Women Protection Advisor, Iraq
Each year, on 19 June, we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.
This year, this commemoration takes place under unusual circumstances. COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it and has brought tremendous suffering including the enormous loss of life. It is therefore appropriate to showcase the interlinkages on “The impact of COVID-19 on survivors of conflict-related sexual violence”.
In Iraq, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, many of whom are internally displaced. Survivors have been further impacted through the imposition of measures by Iraqi authorities in efforts to address the spread of the COVID-19.
The curfews also meant that Parliamentary business was halted affecting the progress in the enactment of laws such as the Draft Yazidi Survivors Law (the Bill). The Bill calls for the qualification of the crimes committed against Yazidis as genocide per international standards, stipulates the rights of Yazidi female survivors and establishes 3 August as a national day of memorial. The Bill sets out various reparation measures for female Yazidi survivors of captivity. The Bill also enables a forum for the issue of children born of sexual violence to be addressed.
In addition to resulting in the closure of businesses, United Nations entities and civil society organisations were forced to suspend many of their activities. The impact of the suspension of these programmes is still to be fully determined. Suspension of programmes also meant that essential gender-based violence service providers were unable to deliver services during the period of lockdown.
The Gender-Based Violence Sub-Cluster recently published findings of a rapid-assessment on the impact of COVID-19 on gender-based violence in Iraq. Key findings from this assessment paint a very grim picture of the impacts of COVID-19.
For example, the assessment found that 94% of respondents noted financial constraints, including lack or loss of livelihood or income; 92% of respondents noted stress from the confinement; and 73% of respondents reported that lack of social amenities and networks as the main reasons for reported increases of domestic violence incidents.
Livelihoods and cash assistance were reported as the least available services for GBV survivors by 64% of respondents, followed by lack of access to legal assistance (by 53%) and safe shelter (by 43%). The lack of livelihoods have deepened the poverty of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence as they are the most vulnerable. United Nations agencies stepped in to provide emergency support to the most vulnerable families.
Iraqi authorities have responded positively to the challenges posed by the pandemic. Following the documented increase in domestic violence cases during the curfew, the Ministry of Interior allowed lodging of domestic violence complaints through hotlines; the Chief Justice directed all competent Courts to take necessary steps against perpetrators of domestic violence and in support of victims, particularly aiming at deterring those crimes. These are important steps in ensuring that women and girls are able to seek and to get comprehensive assistance when they need it. Additionally, the gradual easing of the movement restrictions has allowed providers of gender-based services to scale up service provision where needed.
It is essential that we collectively continue to ensure that survivors of conflict-related sexual violence are not left behind in the necessary fight against COVID-19. Special attention needs to remain focused on this vulnerable group of people to ensure that their already harsh circumstances are not worsened by this global pandemic.
As we commemorate this important day under a difficult scenario, I take this opportunity to salute the survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. One can only but admire their resilience, strength and determination to overcome the heinous crimes that they endured. Their ever-positive approach to life gives us hope that we can overcome the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence.
In conclusion, I call on all stakeholders to remain vigilant and committed to addressing the needs of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence at all levels.
Remarks of the Senior Women Protection Advisor, Mali
In Mali, the first case of COVID-19 detected in March 2020 triggered a governmental response plan that put an emphasis on the medical response and social measures to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. The first COVID 19 related death created increasing fear within the country and was followed by an intensification of protective measures from the government including the issuance of a nationwide curfew and limitation of working hours of all offices and businesses.
Consequently, public and private medical, psychosocial and judicial services have been operating with very limited staff, which continues to negatively impact all women, girls, boys and men requiring these services, including the survivors of CRSV, hampering their possibility to report cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also severely affected MINUSMA, resulting in more than 200 infections, the deaths of two peacekeepers and has disrupted the mission operational and programmatic planning. An in-mission Covid-19 Task Force and response plan has been set up by the mission leadership to ensure the protection of all UN staff and the continuity of mandate delivery.
Despite the Secretary General’s call for a Global Ceasefire during COVID-19, armed groups remain very active, especially in the northern and central regions and are seeking to use the situation to expand their reach. This is further exacerbated as restrictive measures have considerably reduced the regular monitoring capacities of MINUSMA and other humanitarian actors, which increasingly obscures the already severely underreported number of CRSV cases.
In the northern regions where dedicated medical facilities for survivors of gender-based violence (including CRSV) were not fully operational before the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a further reduction in number of reported cases of CRSV from March to June 2020. As protective equipment is still not widely available, social distancing not respected and misinformation on COVID-19 prevalent, front-line workers throughout the country are extremely concerned about contracting COVID-19 while performing their duties, and as a result this has impacted their ability to provide adequate medical and psychosocial response for CRSV.
Existing CRSV criminal complaints and civil parties’ claims filed before the Malian courts since 2014 have so far not been processed. Fighting against impunity for CRSV cases has shown no progress during the COVID-19 pandemic as the national effort and resources were directed to the fight against COVID-19.
The overall security situation in Mali including the ongoing violence perpetrated by armed groups, coupled with the spread of COVID-19 has increased the level of CRSV being committed, while simultaneously making it more difficult to monitor, report and track the use of sexual violence by armed actors. Medical response as well as judicial support for survivors continue to be undermined by COVID-19.
MINUSMA continues to support the Malian COVID-19 response plan by providing technical and financial support to the government. Within the mission, dedicated medical facilities have been constructed to treat and isolate UN staff affected by COVID-19 and continues to implement teleworking and protection measures in order to protect staff and minimize the risk of transmission to the local community. Moreover, MINUSMA leadership called for all mission components to develop projects that reinforce the national response plan for COVID-19 and reallocated funds accordingly.
To support these efforts, Women Protection Advisors worked with the MARA technical group to develop analytical note on sexual gender-based violence including CRSV in the context of COVID-19 outbreak. This note was used as a guidance for internal and external CRSV mainstreaming and response planning.
Today, as the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is capturing the attention and efforts of the world, survivors of CRSV need the full dedication and expertise of all the stakeholders. In Mali, a way out would consist in:
- Supporting the action plan of the joint communique,
- Advocating for judicial response and adoption of a law on GB
- Supporting One-stop Center in northern regions
- Providing adequate staff to address CRSV.
Remarks of the UNFPA Focal Point, Myanmar
In Myanmar quarantines and other restrictions on movement have begun to disrupt the service provision for survivors as well as the monitoring, reporting and outreach work of UNFPA 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.
There is a risk that the needs of survivors, as well as the need to put measures in place to prevent CRSV, are not prioritized by both Government and non-government partners as the focus has shifted to COVID-19 response. Finalization of the Prevention of Violence Against Women Law has been put on hold, as has the validation of the National Action Plan to address CRSV pursuant to the Signing of the Joint Communiqué with the Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Till now the appointment of a Senior Women Protection Advisor has not been approved by the Government.
In Myanmar the recent intensification of fighting in Rakhine and Chin states, and clashes in northern Shan and other parts of the country has led to an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence, which is also one of the many devastating impacts of COVID-19.
In Rakhine and Chin State the recent conflict has resulted in almost 80,000 Internally Displaced People, bringing the total number to more than 350,000 in Myanmar. Women, girls and boys are acutely vulnerable to sexual violence in the course of displacement or migration and are at particular risk once in IDP camps. The potential spread of COVID-19 in IDP settings may exacerbate the already high risk of sexual violence in such situation.
Furthermore, internet connectivity restrictions in parts of Northern and Central Rakhine State limit the reach of important primary health prevention and response advisories on COVID-19 and hampers the ability for GBV survivors to access services.
In conflict affected States the access for humanitarian partners is already limited. The imposition of quarantines, curfews and other restrictions on movement to abate the spread of COVID-19, are hampering the possibility for survivors to report sexual violence, further exacerbating the existing structural, institutional and sociocultural barriers to seeking redress for such crimes.
UNFPA in close coordination with the Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, together with the MARA working group on CRSV, with support of the Government of Norway continues to advocate, for the validation of the national action plan to address CRSV and strengthen partnerships with civil society organizations, which are defining in providing front-line support. UNFPA continues to invest in building capacity of local CSOs in ethical data collection to support monitoring and reporting of CRSV and, of paramount importance, how to safely scale up their work to support GBV survivors.
UNFPA is helping to adapt the service provision of both government and non-government partners. In order to address GBV in all settings, prevention is integrated into COVID-19 response plans; we are extending the reach of hotlines through which case management, psychological first aid as well as GBV referrals is provided; key messages on GBV and mental health and psychosocial support in the context of COVID-19 are disseminated through different channels, including mobile applications, social media as well as through the distribution of Dignity Kits for IDPs and returning migrants in quarantine facilities.
In coordination with the GBV working group referral pathways and risk-mitigation information are updated and disseminated regularly to facilitate access to services throughout the pandemic.
Furthermore, UNFPA works closely with UN agencies and partners to ensure the continuity of life-saving, multi-sectoral services for GBV survivors, including survivors of CRSV, by providing emergency contraceptives and clinical management of rape through static and mobile clinics and GBV response services through community-based volunteers and Women and Girls Centers in conflict affected areas. Ensuring health and safety of both clients and service providers through the provision of personal protection equipment.
To conclude we urge the Government to implement the national action plan to address CRSV and to enter into a joint action plan with the UN as soon as possible.
We call upon the actors to protect vulnerable women, girls, men and boys – to put survivors at the centre of the response – and to promote accountability to end conflict related sexual violence.
Remarks of the Senior Women Protection Advisor, Somalia
The Joint Communiqué and the National Action Plan
Conflict Related Sexual Violence remains a huge concern in Somalia, due to prolonged conflict and gender-based inequality rooted in the various layers of the clan-based community. In 2019, the number of rape cases reported by the GBV IMS was 744, of which 239 cases recorded by the MARA as cases of CRSV that targeted women and girls.
Last year through the support of the UN Funds and Programs, some 3007 victims and survivors of CRSV received medical and health support and 5694 received psychological assistance by civil society service providers. Services this year are severely impacted due to the pandemic and as a direct outcome of the COVID-19. Somalia is facing an increased burden on health services and first responders, potentially increasing the risk to service providers and victims and survivors of CRSV.
The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) committed to combating sexual violence by signing the Joint Communiqué on 7 May 2013, and the adoption of the National Action Plan that was operational since 2014, up to December 2017. During the visit of the Special Representative of Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict to Somalia in July 2019, the FGS renewed its commitments under the Joint Communiqué and requested the United Nations to support the development of a new national action plan drawing on the best practices and lessons learned from implementing the NAP/SVC 2014. The state level and the security sector consultations that would lead up to the development of the new NAP were suspended this year in April due to COVID-19.
Examples of working through our partners on the ground and ensuring that we maintain all the safety protocols. Any examples of finding innovative ways to continue providing support to victims/survivors and women and girls in general in communities or camps/Impact on monitoring, reporting, access and timely information as a basis for remedial action
However, my team together with various mission components and UN agencies are engaged on prevention and response of CRSV. My team has ensured that CRSV concerns are integrated in the mission’s emergency plan as priority areas, which includes monitoring and reporting of cases of CRSV and coordinate the response and provision of technical assistance to strengthen the response of the government and the Civil society partners.
There have been number of cases reported through MARA this year, including a case of gang rape of two young girls that attracted outrage of the population and the attention of the UN at the highest level. Other CRSV cases, including gang rape were reported and verified through a newly established taskforce that composed of the Attorney General Office, a civil society organization – Somali Women Development Center and the Office of the Women Protection Team at UN Assistance Mission to Somalia. The task force meets regularly through virtual means since last April to follow up on reported cases and to ensure provision of medical and legal support to victims/survivors.
It is encouraging to see the leadership of the Attorney General which is key to push for justice measures in relation to SGBV and CRSV cases. The Attorney General has publicly denounced the mediation of sexual crimes cases by the traditional elders. My team is also providing direct support to the emergency plan of the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development, including on training and capacity building, awareness raising and inter-ministerial coordination.
Impact on rule of law and accountability for sexual violence
On the rule of law, COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact including access to justice, for example, Somalia’s Attorney-General’s Office has said that the suspension of court work during the pandemic has resulted in zero convictions for sexual crimes since April 2020.
In addition to the inadequacy of the legal framework to hold perpetrators to account, noting that rape is classified as a “crime against morality” under the current Penal Code, while the Sexual Offences Bill has been returned by the parliament to the Cabinet last February as a result of the pressure of traditional and religious leaders and yet to be revised and sent back to the parliament, a plan that has been further suspended in the context of COVID-19 emergency and the recession of the parliament. If enacted, the Sexual Offences Bill will create a robust and survivor-centered legal framework, in line with SCR 2467 (2019).
Exacerbation of harmful practices such as forced and child marriage
Lastly, I would like to highlight the recent Health and Demographic Survey of Somalia that indicated that the emergency situation exacerbates the gender-based violence, including early marriage, notably as it constitutes an additional source of income during difficult economic times to the midwives or traditional practitioners. Girls are not going to schools and the holidays season is preferred time for this practice to take place, also fears regarding the future promote this practice as it is seen culturally important for the dignity of the girls and the family as well.
Key recommendation that would be of great value to push forward Somalia’s efforts to eliminate sexual violence in conflict is the enactment of the Sexual Offences Bill and providing support to the justice sector to ensure accountability and justice, including allocation of additional resources to meet the growing needs of victims and survivors during this time of emergency. It is equally important to support the FGS efforts led by the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development in implementing the Joint Communiqué and developing the new national action plan.
I thank you for listening.
Remarks of Senior Women Protection Advisor, South Sudan
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the organizers for giving me this opportunity to talk about impact of COVID-19 on CRSV survivors in South Sudan.
South Sudan became independent in 2011 and civil war erupted in 2013. Since 2013, the country has not seen meaningful peace but only cycles of violence and sexual violence has become one of the most used tool of this conflict It has reached to a level that it is almost become normal.
South Sudan lacks basic health infrastructure. Just to give you an idea, as per WHO guidelines, there should be at least two functioning health facilities per 10.000 people, however a recent UNMISS/OHCHR report found that there is barely one facility per ten thousand in CRSV hotspots. How well functioning that facility is, is another question. Almost 75% o population in these areas lives more than 5 km away from health facility, making it really difficult for survivors to access them. Stigma also plays a huge role in discouraging survivors from seeking medical care.
Government of South Sudan only spends 1.2% of its national budget on entire health sector while spending nearly 40% on security related issues. Sexual and reproductive healthcare receives literally nothing from national budget as there are other major health like Malaria etc. Entire health sector is outsourced to international organization who are trying their best, but they cannot be expected to replace the state.
This was the situation before COVID-19 pandemic. Now let us try to see what it looks like during pandemic. Restrictions on freedom of movement that are put in pace are adversely affecting the most vulnerable. South Sudan has received significant support from donor community to respond to COVID-19 but there is little consideration for sexual and reproductive health in this response. Some key donors have put explicit restrictions on sexual and reproductive health which complicates it further. Number of health workers that was already low has become even more challenging given the risks to health workers. INGO’s have also reduced footprint while trying to keep essential services running for staff safety.
Despite global calls of ceasefire, fighting continues in South Sudan, namely in Cental Equatoria between government forces and a non-signatory group NAS and in Jonglei state between different tribes who have been abducting women and girls to settle scores since February until now and giving them in forced marriages.
We are already receiving reports of low level of women including survivors accessing medical facilities due to fear of infection and lack of services while fighting continues in several parts of the country and we receive reports of large-scale abductions and likelihood of sexual violence.
UNMISS continues to find ways to device new ways of working in this new context. We have found it effective to work with community-based groups and faith-based groups who are present in the communities. Providing support to these groups has helped reaching most vulnerable especially sexual violence survivors. They are the first respondents in this situation. With help from OSRSG-SVC we were able to provide support to few such groups and continue to find support for them. UNFPA has launched a helpline and we all work to find ways for remote psychosocial support and guidance for women and girls.
UNMISS has strong communication network including most heard radio station which is also being used to do messaging to survivors and victims. We try to deploy peacekeepers quickly based on early warning to try to protect civilians especially women. However, pandemic has allowed the government to come up with more permissions and clearances for our forces to move which sometimes does not allow quick deployments.
I would like to make two appeals using this opportunity that I have to speak with you today
-To advocate with South Sudanese parties to conflict to adhere to call for global ceasefire. They must stop fighting otherwise it will not be possible to protect civilians and especially women and girls and to provide necessary services
Secondly, I urge all donors to not make any conditions to the support they are generously providing. Sexual and reproductive health is crucial in a context like South Sudan, especially for survivors of sexual violence. I urge member states to continue to support initiatives for sexual violence survivors. COVID-19 is the biggest problem that we are faced with today but is not the only one.
Remarks of Senior Women Protection Advisor, Sudan (Darfur)
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) reached Darfur, the area of responsibility of the peacekeeping mission UNAMID, in mid-March 2020. The Darfur region has not been spared in terms of the negative impact that the rapid spread of the disease has had across the world so far, such as reduced service delivery to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence occasioned by lockdowns and movement restrictions to humanitarian actors and local service providers.
Directives from the Transitional Government of Sudan and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, restricting large gatherings and calling for social distancing, have severely impacted monitoring and reporting of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) incidents. Similarly, prevention of COVID-19 spread and transmission directives reduced survivors’ access to the already limited medical and psychosocial support services. COVID-19 prevention guidelines had other unintended effects such as the limitations in movement of human rights monitors. In the Greater Jebel Mara (GJM) area of Darfur, severely affected by conflict dynamics, the reporting of incidents was significantly affected due to reduced UNAMID patrols and restricted face-to-face interaction with local communities.
Another challenge that we have seen in the midst of the pandemic is the impending drawdown of UNAMID and reduced availability of staff members, resulting in heavier workloads for fewer staff and shorter timeframes. The spread and transmission of COVID-19 in Sudan has been marked by a finger-pointing and blame shifting discussion. In Darfur, the international peacekeeping staff were not spared. In March 2020, the Government of Sudan accused UNAMID staff of spreading COVID-19 among local communities in South Darfur State. As a result, the State Government declared a complete lock down of some Team sites (Kass Team site (28 days) and Shangil Tobaya (three days). The full lockdown of team sites affected the mission’s efforts to reach out to the survivors of CRSV and implement prevention strategies. Furthermore, planned public advocacy and capacity building workshops by the Human Rights Section and Women Protection Advisors aimed at sensitizing communities on CRSV and empower survivors in the Jebel Marra area, had to be cancelled.
The current restrictions forced UNAMID to re-allocate funds earmarked for capacity building and advocacy to end CRSV in the Darfur States to the protection and prevention of the spread of COVID-19 in certain communities. The WPAs utilized these funds to provide support to vulnerable women through the Women Protection Network (WPN) who were encouraged to identify women and girls’ survivors of CRSV in need of dignity kits, including elements for menstrual hygiene. In addition, jerrycans for handwashing were also installed in women centers and places where women frequently access during their daily livelihoods. All IDP camps in Zalingei area and some of the hotspot areas of Golo, Nertiti and Sortony benefitted from this initiative.
On a positive note, one significant achievement was made in efforts to combat CRSV in Sudan. The long-awaited Framework of Cooperation (FOC) between the Government of Sudan and the United Nations to prevent and combat CRSV, pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions 1960 (2010) and 2467 (2019), was signed on 10 March 2020. The FOC prioritizes actions in critical areas such as supporting legislation to strengthen protection from sexual violence in conflict; ensuring comprehensive services to survivors; and engaging with Sudanese justice and security actors to enhance capacity for the investigation and prosecution of crimes of sexual violence in conflict. The signing of the FOC is a clear sign of a renewed political will of the Sudanese authorities to address CRSV in the frame of the current political transition and constitutes also a key achievement for the survivors of CRSV and women in Sudan, particularly those living in conflict-prone areas.
The signing of the FOC took place in New York because of COVID-19 challenges. The FOC has not been officially launched in the Sudan because of the current travel bans and flight restrictions. The pandemic will certainly have impacts on its implementation, now three months’ time of its signature. The implementation of the framework will greatly enhance protection and prevention from sexual violence in conflict for survivors and women, girls, boys and men at risk and will support that perpetrators are held accountable for CRSV crimes.
The FOC still needs to be disseminated and efforts to engage in advocacy and awareness-raising to highlight key issues covered by the FOC to uniformed personnel such as SAF and RSF are critical.
On another positive note, the month of March 2020 was a significant month for the Sudanese women. The long-awaited adoption of the National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of SCR 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security was endorsed by the Council of Ministers on 10 March 2020. The NAP and the FOC are interlinked and complement each other, however the development of an implementation plan for the FOC by different stakeholders focusing on prevention and response to sexual violence in conflict remains as a critical task in order to not lose track.
In conclusion, a recent assessment by SIHA observed that, women in Darfur and survivors of CRSV would experience worse gender inequalities based on the pre-existing exclusion and discrimination worsened by the pandemic. Therefore, COVID-19’s adverse effects on women requires a specialized response that recognizes and addresses their rights, their medical and social needs and promotes their leadership in the response. An overload of medical systems due to COVID-19 would entail that survivors of CRSV may not be able to receive the needed medical services they require since focus and attention has shifted to COVID-19 pandemic.