Understanding Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

In conflicts within countries, and with other countries, civilians are often caught in the crossfire and one of the most damaging impacts on civilians is the threat of sexual violence. Building on the definition put forth by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, sexual violence includes rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, sexual mutilation and sexual torture. It can be sexual violence, it can be gender-based violence, it can be gender neutral and it can be sexualized violence, too. Conflict-related sexual violence is accompanied by either force or a threat to force against the victim or a third party and is done without or against the consent of the victim.
Some major instances around the world of conflict-related sexual violence can be seen in the following cases:
● Between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s
● Between 50,000 and 64,000 internally displaced women suffered sexual assault at the hands of combatants in Sierra Leone
● 500,000 women were raped during the 100 days of conflict in the Rwandan genocide 
● In 2008 and 2009, the reported cases of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo totaled 15,314 and 15,297, respectively
● In the Democratic Republic of Congo approximately 1,100 rapes are being reported each month, with an average of 36 women and girls raped every day. It is believed that over 200,000 women have suffered from sexual violence in that country since armed conflict began.
● The rape and sexual violation of women and girls is pervasive in the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.
● Sexual violence was a characterizing feature of the 14-year long civil war in Liberia.

What does the law say?
Since conflicts fall under the domain of global politics, and a state in conflict is not always able / willing to offer its civilian population the protection it deserves and needs, we turn to International Law to address conflicts. The Geneva Conventions are of relevance to this important issue facing women. In particular, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits “violence to life” “murder of all kinds” and “cruel treatment and torture” to be inflicted upon non-combatants during non-international armed conflicts. The Fourth Geneva Convention is also of significance because it recognizes that fact that although women are rarely part of the actual fighting, most of the affected civilians are usually women. Article 27 in particular protects women from being victims of several conflict-related sexual violence crimes during war and armed conflict.   Article 147 is of also importance because it explicitly holds that Member States are obligated under international law to punish the perpetrators—persons guilty of violent acts against women. It categorizes several war crimes such as: willful killing, torture and inhumane treatment. In addition, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (October 2000), is significant because it focuses solely on the effect of war on women, affirms the UN’s commitment to the protection of women during armed conflict and exhorts more participation of women in decision-making peacekeeping procedures; protection of women and girls and respect for their rights. 

Conflict Related Sexual Violence is vehemently prohibited by international law and is viewed as a gross violation and criminal offence. Sexual and gender violence in the context of conflict used to be viewed as a “legitimate spoil of war” or as an “unavoidable” result of war. However things took a change in 1992 with the rampant of women in former Yugoslavia. Since then efforts have been made to changes people’s attitudes and end impunity for those guilty of conflict related sexual violence. The (2002) Rome Statute of the International Criminal of Court is also of relevance as it criminalizes systematic rape and any other form of sexual violence during a conflict.  

In the Media

Chennai, India