Fri - 04 Mar 2022 - 12:31 AM

written by : Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg Writer Archive -

During her visit to the region this week, the top UN official in charge of combating sexual violence during conflicts made an appeal for support of the organization’s efforts to deal with this scourge. Regrettably, the Middle East’s many conflicts have witnessed unspeakable atrocities targeting women and girls. On Monday, when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2624, describing the Houthi militia in Yemen as a “terrorist group,” the council cited its policy of sexual violence and repression against politically active and professional women.

The UNSC resolution condemned the Houthis’ “sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual violence in conflict and torture, and particularly in detention facilities,” and stressed the need for sufficient and appropriate protections for women and girls in refugee camps and elsewhere, as well as for remedy and assistance for survivors of sexual violence.

Resolution 2624 was issued under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, thus making it directly enforceable and binding on all nations. It further condemned “in the strongest terms” Houthi violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as human rights abuses, “including those involving conflict-related sexual violence in Houthi-controlled areas.”

The resolution was presented by the UK and all five permanent members voted in favor. It reaffirmed that sexual violence in armed conflict is a violation of international law and could constitute a “sanctionable act” that threatens the peace, security or stability of Yemen.

Pramila Patten, the UN’s undersecretary-general and special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, sought support from the Gulf nations.

While gender-based violence is also prevalent during peacetime, conflicts and situations of instability exacerbate preexisting patterns of violence against women and girls because of the breakdown in law and order during conflicts and lack of police protection. The problem is further intensified when populations are driven from their homes, rendered as internally displaced in their countries or refugees in other countries.

Gender-based violence also continues even after conflicts have ended due to the weak rule of law, the availability of weapons, and breakdown of social and family structures. The trafficking of women and girls thrives in such environments. And the lack of delivery of essential services experienced during conflict and afterwards can have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, including women and girls.

Conflict-related sexual violence thrived in areas under Daesh control in the Middle East, in areas where Boko Haram operated in Africa and in Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen. There have also been credible reports of sexual violence from the Congo, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Myanmar and elsewhere. Regular forces, militias and terrorist groups have been implicated in these reports. In the 1990s, there were persistent reports of horrific sexual violence in the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict, especially by Serbian militias.

The conflict in Ukraine has raised the alarm once again about another potential wave of sexual violence. In 2017, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report covering conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine for the period from March 14, 2014, to Jan. 31, 2017. While it could not find evidence that sexual violence was used deliberately for strategic or tactical ends in the armed conflict, it nevertheless documented many cases of sexual violence committed in places of detention or deprivation of liberty. It found that cases of sexual violence were usually underreported, including because of the stigma and trauma associated with it. The OHCHR noted an “overwhelming lack of effective remedies for victims of conflict-related sexual violence. Access to services and justice is particularly limited to survivors living in the territory controlled by armed groups.” The problem persisted beyond that period, according to a November 2020 report by Amnesty International about what it described as an “epidemic of violence against women in conflict-torn east Ukraine.”

The UN has adopted numerous strategies to combat conflict-related sexual violence on both the prevention and accountability aspects. In 2019, the UNSC strengthened justice and accountability for survivors of such violence and adopted a survivor-centered approach to the prevention and response to these crimes. Its resolution 2467 established a useful instrument in the efforts to eradicate them by stressing prevention through justice and accountability and affirming, for the first time, that a survivor-centered approach must guide every aspect of the response.

Sexual violence persists as a tactic of war and terrorism and there is, unfortunately, a centuries-old culture of impunity in many regions. To help change that, national and international efforts must be intensified to reaffirm a culture of accountability and increase the cost and consequences for those who commit, command or condone sexual violence in conflict.

The UNSC now requires that conflict-related sexual violence is addressed in all UN peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building initiatives, including in the context of security and justice sector reform efforts and in the negotiation of peace agreements and ceasefire verification mechanisms.

The council has called for the provision of reparations for survivors as well as livelihood support to enable them to rebuild their lives and support their families, including the children born of sexual violence in conflict, who are also stigmatized and suffer in silence and shame. Some are rendered stateless by denying them the citizenship of their mothers, leaving them vulnerable to recruitment and radicalization by armed groups.

Despite these efforts, the problem persists. As conflicts erupt around the world, the prospect of associated sexual violence is there. Financial, administrative and legal support for those efforts, nationally and at the UN level, is urgently needed to control this epidemic and, hopefully, eradicate it altogether.

* Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News.Twitter: @abuhamad1

The article was originally published by Arab news on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. The views expressed represent the author alone.