UN CSW57 New York 2013

Sexual violence in armed conflict

By Lisa Ashton 

Sexual violence and rape during armed conflict is not limited to modern conflict; they are acts that have been practiced for as long as there has been conflict itself. They are methods of war that are cheap, readily available and incredibly effective. Sexual violence and rape against women during armed conflict are acts that are used to instil fear, to dominate and to humiliate – not only the woman being violated, but also her family and the entire community.

High-level panels and discussions at CSW 57 addressed post-conflict challenges and the consequences of sexual violence and rape as a method of war. It was stressed that sexual violence and rape leave a legacy on the woman; that the effects linger long after the act itself and it not only impacts the woman, but also her family, long into the following generations. The impacts of sexual violence during armed conflict are not sufficiently addressed and continue to affect women into coming generations. The panels and discussions at CSW 57 called for the pursuit of peace and justice for women. They emphasized the need for women to make a significant and meaningful contribution to the peace process in order to heal. It was suggested that women need an avenue to be able to express their concerns, to share their stories and to emphasize how they felt that sexual violence during armed conflict could be eradicated, and that involvement in the peace process would provide this. Furthermore, the mindset of men and boys must also be challenged in order to engage them as agents of change, to create gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The panels and discussions identified the challenges and problems that lie ahead in combating sexual violence as a method of war. These include; the lack of support services available to women, including medical, legal, economic, political, and psychological; changing the mindsets of men and boys to act as agents of change to empower women and create gender equality; the lack of mechanisms in place to monitor the implementation of laws and new concepts; the notion of accountability and impunity; and the availability of health services. It is imperative that the specific needs of victims are addressed, and as part of this, that the individual has the right to make decisions about the services she receives.

Combating violence against women in armed conflict requires a multifaceted response. It is the responsibility of peacekeepers to help protect women during armed conflict from sexual violence and rape, and the responsibility of health professionals to provide medical and psychological services to victims and survivors. It is the responsibility of the state to take ownership; through the provision of legal, economic, health and psychological support services for women, to ensure that the specific needs of the victim are addressed; that witness protection is provided if required, that trust funds, assistance and reparations are in place for women to access. Further, it is the responsibility of the UN to introduce a coherent action plan to address sexual violence in armed conflict. Without a multifaceted approach, sexual violence in armed conflict will continue to occur long after the guns have stopped, as we have witnessed in recent conflicts such as Sudan/Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

The agreed conclusions at CSW 57 address the issue of sexual violence and armed conflict in paragraph 5 and 8:

5: The Commission recalls the inclusion of gender-related crimes and crimes of sexual violence in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as well as the recognition by the ad hoc international criminal tribunals that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide or torture;

8: The Commission recalls Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) of 31 October 2000, 1820 (2008) of 19 June 2008, 1888 (2009) of 30 September 2009, 1889 (2009) of 5 October 2009 and 1960 (2010) of 16 December 2010 on women and peace and security and all relevant Security Council resolutions on children and armed conflict, including resolutions 1882 (2009) of 4 August 2009 and 1998 (2011) of 12 July 2011 on armed conflict and post-conflict situations”.

Further, the agreed conclusions suggest how to strengthen the implementation of legal and policy frameworks, as highlighted below:

(l) Ensure that in armed conflict and post-conflict situations the prevention of and response to all forms of violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence, are prioritized and effectively addressed, including as appropriate through the investigation, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators to end impunity, removal of barriers to women’s access to justice, the establishment of complaint and reporting mechanisms, the provision of support to victims and survivors, affordable and accessible health care services, including sexual and reproductive health, and reintegration measures; and take steps to increase women’s participation in conflict resolution and peace building processes and post-conflict decision-making;

(m) Ensure accountability for the killing, maiming and targeting of women and girls and crimes of sexual violence, as prohibited under international law, stressing the need for the exclusion of such crimes from amnesty provisions in the context of conflict resolution processes and address such acts in all stages of the armed-conflict and post-conflict resolution process including through transitional justice mechanisms, while taking steps to ensure the full and effective participation of women in such processes;

(n) End impunity by ensuring accountability and punishing perpetrators of the most serious crimes against women and girls under national and international law, and stressing the need for the alleged perpetrators of those crimes to beheld accountable under national justice or, where applicable, international justice”


Drawing on the agreed conclusions of CSW 57, we can build on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the resolution that first recognized the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women, and strive to combat sexual violence in armed conflict. Providing justice for victims and survivors will give them peace, satisfaction and empowerment. The International Criminal Court must act as a catalyst in prosecuting crimes in order to eradicate both impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence and the idea that war is synonymous with sexual violence and rape.


UN CSW56 New York  2012

by Sarah Keenan

Hello! My name is Sarah Keenan and this year is my first visit to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). As a little background to myself, I am a final year Law/International Relations Student at La Trobe University, Australia, and have been working for JERA International for around 8 months now. As part of JERA’s “Strengthening Leadership” initiative they have supported myself and three other young women to attend CSW 56th Session. I have decided to use this blog to detail the experience of a first time CSW attendee, particularly as a young woman and I plan to document all the ups (hopefully numerous!) and also downs (hopefully few) that I experience throughout the next two weeks. I hope that I can make insightful and helpful comments about my experience as a young woman at CSW to encourage and motivate the next generation of leaders to get involved in promoting gender equality and women’s rights throughout the world.

After an exhausting 20+ hour flight from Australia, I finally arrived in New York last night. Cold, tired and nervous I made it to my apartment, and despite having grand plans to work on my presentation, soak up New York, or get to know my first room mate, Shabina, from Fiji. I have to admit, I crashed as soon as I lay down for a second. But waking up this morning I felt refreshed and excited. First thing, Shabina showed me where to go to get my UN pass. It was really nice having a friend already to support me when I was nervous. Arriving there, we met a few other very friendly women working for other NGOs. Seeing that I was ok, Shabina left to get to the NGO Consultation Day. I really enjoyed talking to the women in line, who were from a variety of countries of organisations. I spoke to women from Canada, Italy, Australia and a number of African nations. While some were from international organisations such as BPW what struck me was that we were all passionate about the same things and had the same overall goals. It certainly made for a very friendly group and put me at ease. Also, everyone was very interested in the work that everyone else was doing.

After receiving my pass I headed to the NGO forum. When entering the forum, I was amazed at the size of the room and it was almost full! It was very impressive. What also struck me was the number of young women in attendance. In fact, in the upper level where I was sitting, I would say that almost 90% of the people up there were under 30. By the time I arrived, the Regional Perspectives panel was in session. It was interesting hearing about the experiences and passions of women from all over the world, although it was disappointing that no one from the Asia Pacific was able to speak. I also felt, and a few other young women I was talking to, also mentioned that some speakers chose to focus vaguely about what needs to happen, without providing actual ways or strategies for these overall goals to be achieved. I think we were so pumped up to be there that we were looking for action! However, it is going to be a long two weeks and I’m sure this will be dealt with at future sessions.

After lunch we heard from nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee. I really enjoyed her speech, delivered with such passion, she was quite impressive yet she also managed to be humorous at times. Her insistence that communities need to be engaged if real change is to occur was insightful and left me with an even greater appreciation of grass roots movements. She spoke about rural women and the need for conflict analysis in their context, as though they are recognised on paper, they are ignored in processes in reality. Therefore she argued, that as they are the only ones who understand the context that they are living in, they are the best people to identify the best solutions to their situations. She also highlighted the problem of teenage pregnancy and was insistent that the only way to prevent teenage pregnancy is to provide sex education and family planning options. This received a huge show of support from the audience. Leymah Gbowee spoke so strongly and passionately and yet spoke so clearly and logically, I dont think that anyone left that room without feeling inspired. Her advocacy for a “bottom up” approach to developing policies in communities is very interesting and hopefully it will be adopted more widely in the future.

This evening we went to the Australian Government NGO reception dinner which was a very enjoyable night. It provided a good opportunity to catch up with people we have met before, find out who is here and to meet new people from other Australian NGO’s. Again it was very interesting to see the number of young women in attendance, many of them in positions of great responsibility. I found out about a lot of events that are being put on by the NGO’s this week and I intend to attend as many as I can, firstly out of interest and also in order to support the other young women who have come over here, it really is a very supportive environment.

All in all, I had a fantastic (yet exhausting) first day here at CSW!

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