Conflict-related sexual violence: what are we talking about? (Part 1)

In the context of the author’s attendance to the 18th Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court, this blogpost aims at sharing knowledge about conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and providing a preliminary understanding of the issue. It first explores the use of CRSV through history. Then, it highlights how it targets both women, girls, men and boys. Last but not least, this blogpost depicts the slow development of international tribunals’ responses to this scourge.

I. Conflict-related sexual violence is an old phenomenon…

According to the United Nations, CRSV refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage 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. The term also encompasses trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual violence or exploitation, when committed in situations of conflict. 

The French NGO We are NOT Weapons of War stresses that sexual violence used as a weapon of war has always been present in conflict, even though its victims have long seemed invisible. This idea is also supported by Stand Speak Rise Up, a non-profit organization from Luxembourg. In its white book, we can read that sexual violence in conflict is not new and the historical roots of this phenomenon are deep: from the Viking era to the Thirty Years’ War and the Second World War, rape has been part of the “spoils of war” throughout history, a weapon of the victors and conquerors. War rape is rarely the result of uncontrolled sexual desire, but rather a way to exert power and install fear in victims and their community. 

In the 1990s, the conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region marked a major turning point in the use of sexual violence as a weapon to weaken and subdue vulnerable populations or to advance a political agenda. The Stand Speak Rise Up white book explains that CRSV was methodically organized and implemented in cold blood on a very large scale. Sexual violence in particular was also a tool of submission and terror at the end of the Cold War. 

Still nowadays, sexual violence can play a vital role in the political economy of terrorism, with physical and online slave markets and human trafficking enabling terrorist groups to generate revenue from the continuous abduction of women and girls. As an example, the Yezidi community in Iraq suffered and still suffers from these crimes, as the so-called Islamic State continues to target women and girls, abducting them and reducing them to sexual slavery and forced marriages. 

Perpetrators of such acts are often affiliated with States or non-State armed groups, including terrorist entities.

II. …that targeted and still targets both men, boys, women and girls…

In September 2019, during the United Nations 74th General Assembly, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict recalled that conflicts exacerbates existing gender inequalities, exposing women and girls to various forms of sexual and gendered-based violence. Women and girls, in particular, suffer sexual violence in the course of displacement, navigating their way through checkpoints and across borders without documentation, money or legal status. It is also important to note than men and boys also suffer from conflict-related sexual violence . 

Conflict-related sexual violence refers to incidents including rape, gang rape, forced nudity and other forms of inhumane and degrading treatment in a context of armed conflict. A disturbing trend is that sexual violence is increasingly perpetrated against very young children. The Secretary-General emphasized that during the Colombian civil war, that has lasted for 50 years, rebels systematically used sexual violence against the civilians, targeting women as well as their children. The Colombian Constitutional Court has recognized “a widespread, systematic and invisible practice.” It is also important to keep in mind that both men and women can be perpetrators. 

To read more, click here: Conflict-related sexual violence: what are we talking about? (Part 2)

2 thoughts on “Conflict-related sexual violence: what are we talking about? (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Conflict-related sexual violence: what are we talking about? (Part 2) | IntLawGrrls

  2. Pingback: Conflict-related sexual violence: consequences and needs of female victims (part 1). | IntLawGrrls

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