Despite the United Nations’ zero-tolerance policy against sexual violence, gender-based crimes have broken out across several of the world’s latest conflict zones. Included on that list are South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Uganda, Somalia and the Central African Republic.
Describing rape as “a weapon of war”, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council last month that sexual violence occurred wherever conflicts raged, “devastating survivors and destroying the social fabric of whole communities”.
“It was a crime under international human rights law and a threat to international peace and security,” he said.
Since most of the heinous crimes are taking place in conflict zones overseen by UN peacekeeping missions, the preeminent international organization is issuing Women Protection Advisers (WPAs) to specifically curb sexual violence in war zones. For starters, they will be deployed with peacekeeping missions in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, DRC, Mali and Somalia.
“First-ever scenario-based training programme”
The secretary-general said that UN Women and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) have developed, on behalf of the UN Action Network, the “first-ever scenario-based training programme for peacekeepers”. Noteworthy is the fact that some UN peacekeepers have in the past, along with aid workers, been accused of sexual violence – specifically in South Sudan, DRC, Ivory Coast and Haiti.
The UN will also set up a team of experts on “the rule of law and sexual violence in conflict”, described as an important tool for strengthening national justice systems and legal frameworks. The team has already provided technical advice to governments in the Central African Republic, Colombia, Ivory Coast, DRC, Guinea, Liberia, Somalia and South Sudan.
DRC situation is “unacceptable”
More recently, in late June, the United Nations described as “unacceptable” several cases of rape of young girls in DRC. Nine young girls, aged between 18 months and 12 years, were admitted to a hospital in South Kivu with marks of violence on their bodies and very serious internal wounds, resulting in the death of two.
“Such violence and abuse is unacceptable and must be brought to an end,” said Roger Meece, head of MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC. “These abuses are said to be related to harmful traditional practices perpetrated by individuals who kidnap young children from their communities.”
There were also widespread reports of 135 women and girls allegedly raped by government soldiers in Minova in eastern DRC back in 2012.
Safety and dignity of survivors
The UN should take urgent action to ensure that WPAs be trained before their deployment and encouraged to work collaboratively with already operational humanitarian structures, said Marcy Hersh, a senior advocate for women and girls’ rights at Refugees International. Additionally, they should be held accountable to fundamental and non-negotiable ethical and safety criteria for investigating sexual violence in conflict, which preserves the safety and dignity of survivors.
Hersh said the recently unanimously passed Security Council Resolution 2106 includes language that is in accordance with these recommendations in its calls for the timely deployment of WPAs, their adequate training, and their coordination across multiple sectors.