Preventing Wartime Rape from Becoming a Peacetime Reality
Thursday, June 25, 2009 3:25 PM

United Nations, New York — “If sexual violence is not fully addressed in ceasefires and peace processes, there will be no peace for women,” said former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland at a United Nations high-level meeting on peace negotiations that convened this week in New York.

Egeland, along with eminent mediators, experts and women’s rights advocates, came together from 22-24 June to address, for the first time, one of the most neglected aspects of conflict resolution: how to address conflict-related sexual violence in peace processes and peace accords. While Security Council Resolution 1820 on sexual violence as a tactic of warfare calls for conflict-related sexual violence to be addressed in conflict resolution processes, such as peace negotiations, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) research shows that since the end of the Cold War, only 10 countries — out of approximately 300 peace agreements examined in 45 conflicts agreements — have mentioned sexual violence: Uganda, Sudan/Darfur, Nepal, Indonesia/Aceh, Sudan/Nuba Mountains, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Philippines, Chiapas and Guatemala. In the case of ceasefires, sexual violence is rarely mentioned or monitored.

At the meeting held to coincide with the first anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1820, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored the need for sexual violence to be addressed early and comprehensively in peace processes: “Our first priority must be to include women in peace talks as full and equal partners. If we do not — if we ignore sexual crimes — we trample on the principles of accountability, reconciliation and peace. We fail not just women but all people.”

In recent decades, sexual violence in conflict has increased in scale, organization and brutality around the world. It has been used as a tactic of warfare by armed groups and, in some cases, organized by commanders as a means of terrorizing communities, forcing population flight and supporting genocidal policies. This has been seen in conflicts ranging from the Balkans to the Democratic Republic of Congo; from Liberia to Colombia; Timor to Haiti. According to former UN Force Commander Major General Patrick Cammaert, “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”

Failure to address sexual violence in peace talks is increasingly linked to the subsequent elevated levels of peacetime rape committed by demobilized fighters and ordinary civilians. “Sexual violence thrives on impunity. If peace processes do not clearly signal that sexual violence is a prohibited feature of fighting, if prosecutions do not immediately prioritize trials of perpetrators, and if perpetrators move into government and army leadership positions, a climate of impunity is created,” said UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi.

Peace processes are an entry point to break this cycle of violence and impunity. Peace talks can set in place plans for the future: for judicial responses to sexual violence, for reparations, for a new order of respect for women. At the high-level colloquium on addressing sexual violence in peace negotiations, participants generated a few key principles for enabling mediators and negotiating parties to ensure that sexual violence is addressed in peace agreements and that they are consistent with Security Council Resolutions 1820 and 1325. These included:

  1. Pre-ceasefire negotiations — including humanitarian-access and human rights agreements — to address sexual violence;
  2. Ceasefires to prohibit and monitor for sexual violence;
  3. Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration (DDR) and Security Sector Reform (SSR) to prevent sexual violence and ensure women’s security;
  4. Justice processes to ensure that issues of sexual violence are addressed with equal priority to other international crimes; and
  5. Peace agreements to specify sexual violence victims as reparations beneficiaries, and to address their socio-economic needs in recovery and development frameworks.

While women have played a significant role in mobilizing for peace, they have had few opportunities to channel their own concerns into the discussions. Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who led a large-scale women’s peace movement that helped bring a stalled peace process to a successful conclusion in 2003, said: “I am proud of the role women played in advancing the peace process, but one of my greatest regrets is that we did not use this opportunity to raise our own issues and demand prosecution for perpetrators of sexual violence as a deterrent to post conflict rape. This would not only have stopped the widespread impunity for this crime, but would also have helped send a message about how to deal with this issue in other conflicts in the region.”

Published in: “Preventing Wartime Rape from Becoming a Peacetime Reality,” United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) (24 June 2009).