FACED with rampant sexual violence in conflicts around the world, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling for additional steps to enhance protection, including increased pressure on perpetrators through sanctions and other targeted measures.
“Tragically, laudable progress made at the level of policy has been overshadowed by the surge of sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and its continuing prevalence elsewhere,” he says in a report to the Security Council mandated by resolution 1888 adopted in September 2009 to eliminate the scourge.
“While the Council has created historic momentum, additional measures must be put in place to deliver tangible protection outcomes,” he adds, citing among these the need to call on parties to a conflict to make specific and time-bound commitments to ceasing all acts of sexual violence, access for the United Nations to verify the fulfilment of such commitments, and support for UN efforts to establish monitoring and reporting arrangements.
“Given the fact that sexual violence spans history, the burden of proof in wartime should be on those who claim that rape is not occurring,” he writes. “Therefore, sexual violence prevention should be considered as a matter of course in contingency plans.”
Ban notes that resolution 1888 calls for the development of joint Government-UN comprehensive strategies to combat sexual violence, and cites the “vital” need for swift delivery of services in conflict and emergency settings, as occurred during the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, when reported cases of rape doubled and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) drew lessons to be better prepared to help.
He stresses that under international law sexual violence is not synonymous with rape as it encompasses sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization and any other abuses of comparable gravity, which may include indecent assault, trafficking, inappropriate medical examinations and strip searches.
“The disaggregation of sexual violence offences into the categories listed above permits a more focused approach to prevention,” he writes. “Sexual slavery or enforced prostitution, for example, may differ in terms of its logic from the execution of a specific policy of forced pregnancy during a campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ designed to achieve a military or political end, or rape concurrent with looting to terrorize the population.”
Depending on the circumstances, sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, an act of torture or a constituent act of genocide.
“Sexual violence calls for sustained attention, action and cooperation commensurate with the scale of the challenge,” he concludes. “Its enduring and ruinous consequences run counter to the aims of the United Nations system. Peace, justice and security are interdependent: there can be no peace without the peace of mind that enables women to undertake their daily tasks, no justice without a national capacity to deliver justice, and no security without women’s security.”