Launch of report series on safe shelters for refugees and IDPs fleeing SGBV

I had the great pleasure of launching our research series on safe shelter from sexual and gender-based violence in forced displacement contexts today at the UNHCR NGO Consultation in Geneva.  This was the study I introduced in an IntLawGrrls post last June, as we were starting our data analysis.

Safe Haven: Sheltering Displaced Persons from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Comparative Report.

Safe Haven: Sheltering Displaced Persons from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Comparative Report.

IntLawGrrls might recall that the study was aimed at filling the gap between limited international guidance on safe shelter provision in forced displacement contexts and knowledge about what is and is not working on the ground. We had 3 main objectives:

  1. Identify and describe shelter models available to refugees, the internally displaced, and other migrants fleeing sexual and gender-based violence.
  2. Identify  challenges experienced by staff and residents in these settings and document strategies used to respond to these challenges.
  3. Explore protection needs and options for particularly marginalized victim groups, such as male survivors, sexual minorities, and people with disabilities.

To learn more about the above, we interviewed safe shelter residents, safe shelter staff, and key informants in Colombia, Haiti, Kenya, and Thailand in the first half of 2012. The case-study research culminated in five reports: four country reports and one comparative report. All are available here on the Human Rights Center website.

One of our key findings was the great diversity of existing safe shelter mechanisms – even beyond traditional safe houses. Other data concerned the tremendous work being done under shockingly constrained resources. Of course, we also documented recurrent challenges related to resource limitations, security and emotional support needs of shelter STAFF as well as residents, limited transition options,  the need for community buy-in, and the lack of coordination among shelter programs – especially between mainstream safe shelters and those serving refugees or IDPs.

Safe shelter options come in traditional and nontraditional forms.

Safe shelter options come in traditional and nontraditional forms.

In addition, we noted some of the ethical and political challenges that can arise in the provision of focused protection of a few, while in the midst of general deprivation.

Finally, we marked critical protection gaps – particularly around LGBT persons, male survivors, and persons with serious health conditions.

Protection solutions must be context-specific. For this reason, our recommendations are circumspect; we tried not to overstep the bounds of our data.  Hopefully, our exploratory study in four very distinct countries will nonetheless shed light on what is and what is not working well in those contexts, and what strategies might be helpful in similar circumstances.

So far, the heads of UNHCR’s Policy Development and Evaluation Service and the Division of International Protection have welcomed the research and say it will directly impact their thinking and programming on protection from sexual and gender-based violence. We hope so. We also hope for similar openness as we bring our research back to providers and policymakers in each case study country this month – we’ll then share their grassroots-level updates, feedback, and additional recommendations with UNHCR headquarters again in July when we’re done.

On the Job! Human Rights Center hiring for Global Justice Program Director

The Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, where I direct the Sexual Violence Program, is seeking applications for a director for our new Global Justice Program. This is a research-oriented position with project management responsibilities.
HRC, an independent research center, applies innovative technologies and scientific methods to investigate war crimes and other serious violations of human rights.
The Global Justice Program Director will coordinate and lead social science research for the following three sub-projects:

–       An analysis of the victim participation program at the International Criminal Court.

–       Design and implementation of an assessment of witness programs at domestic courts that are, or may soon be, trying cases “complementary to” those being tried at the International Criminal Court.

–       Overseeing and coordinating a seminar series on war crimes investigations in collaboration with HRC’s executive director.

Please visit (job #15505) to apply. First round of applications to be reviewed on April 12, 2013.

Conflict-related Sexual Violence: Room for Nuance?

Violence against women has been at the forefront recently, with International Women’s Day 2013 coming hand in hand with a reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and following Eve Ensler’s latest V-Day campaign, OneBillionRising, in February.

Brownmiller's Classic, 1975

Brownmiller’s Classic, 1975

The first International Women’s Day was thirty-eight years ago, in 1975. That year, Angola and Lebanon saw the beginning of civil war. Indonesia invaded East Timor. The newly formed Democratic Kampuchea invaded the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc. Susan Brownmiller published her controversial book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, challenging definitions of rape and sparking debate about sexual violence perpetrated against women.

Our understanding about violence against women has matured since 1975. It is no longer revolutionary to discuss how different forms of violence are perpetrated against women’s bodies and minds, or how there are countless contexts and geographies in which those violations take place. Our understanding about sexual violence related to armed conflict, though, is still quite young.

Zainab Hawa Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict (Credit: Reuters)

Zainab Hawa Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict (Credit: Reuters)

The need for a more nuanced, cross-disciplinary dialogue about conflict-related sexual violence was the focus of the historic Missing Peace Symposium that took place in Washington, DC, from February 14-16, 2013. Together with the United States Institute of Peace, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law gathered over 200 academics, civil society members, policymakers, and military officials working to end conflict-related sexual violence.  We were joined by key figures such as UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence In Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, former Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, and the ICC Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on International Criminal Law Prosecution Strategies, Patricia Viseur Sellers.

Our goals for the Symposium were three-fold: a.) to share what we know about conflict-related sexual and violence – and how we actually know it, b.) to identify what we still need to learn in order to improve protection, prevention, and accountability, and c.) to connect the dots between researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and funders to promote effective communication, transfer of knowledge, and coherent response.

One of the primary messages from the conference was that, like violence against women generally, conflict-related sexual violence is not a monolith. Eradication requires first understanding its nuance.

For example, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, there were 28 interstate and intrastate armed conflicts in 2011. While not all of those conflicts were marked by sexual violence, there are increasing reports documenting its occurrence.

However, as Dara Cohen,  Amelia Hoover Green, and Elisabeth Jean Wood note in a special report published for the Symposium, there is wide variation when it comes to who perpetrates sexual violence in armed conflict, when it occurs, and why. Wood’s research in particular illuminates the fact that not all fighting groups engage in “widespread, systematic” sexual violence, as would constitute a crime against humanity. Her research also notes examples of asymmetry between opposing groups’ perpetration in a single conflict, as well as occasional fluctuation within a single group’s conduct over time.

We need to understand why some groups do and others do not engage in sexual violence during conflict in order to a.) counter some commanders’ claims that control over their troops was impossible, and b.) develop strategies to prevent perpetration of sexual violence by other fighting groups. Continue reading