Network member guest post: Sexual violence in the age of R2P

Sexual violence in the age of R2P

by Monique Cuillerier

originally published in the World Federalist Movement – Canada’s Mondial newsletter (June 2012)

Sexual violence in conflict is not a new problem, but only recently has it been recognized as a systemic problem and considered as an international peace and security issue, instead of as individual incidents forming a ‘women’s issue.’

Difficulties remain in placing the issue within this wider legal and political context. But the nexus of sexual violence in conflict, the development of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) norm, and some of the ongoing cases at theInternational Criminal Court (ICC), provide a new and shifting context in which to consider these issues. For example, the early development of R2P largely failed to address gender-based issues. As Jennifer Bond and Laurel Sherret discussed at length in their 2006 paper, A Sight for Sore Eyes: Bringing Gender Vision to the Responsibility to Protect Framework, “current formulations of the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine are almost entirely gender-blind, despite the existence of multiple international mandates for integrating gender concerns into peace and security initiatives.” For example – and most explicitly – Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) presents a structured approach to women, peace and security, calling for the participation of women in peace and security initiatives, gender training to support peace operations, the protection of women and girls in the midst of armed conflict (particularly with regards to the issue of gender-based violence) and gender mainstreaming throughout programs and processes related to conflict, peace and security. Yet there has been a lack of cross-pollination between R2P and women, peace and security issues.

Movement and change in this area has been slow and uneven, but there currently appears to be a growing trend towards addressing conflict-related sexual violence in general and in relation to R2P in particular. At a recent Security Council meeting, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström discussed the broader basis in which sexual violence has implications for peace and security, saying that, while isolated incidents of rape should be dealt with by each country’s own law and order system, “when sexual violence is driven by the dynamics of conflict, is widespread or systematic, constitutes a grave breach of international humanitarian law, or is used for military and political gain, it also warrants consideration by this body, in line with its competence under the UN Charter.”

She continued that “sexual violence that is normalized owing to impunity, or committed by recently demobilized combatants, is also a security issue that requires a security response. Such violence subverts efforts to cement the peace.” Wallström also raised the issue of the effects that sexual violence in conflict has on women’s social participation, concluding that “the aim is not only to protect women from violence; it is to protect them to participate in public and economic life. Rape has a chilling effect on women’s political participation, casting a long shadow of trauma and terror. It can inhibit their access to polling booths and public squares. We must send a message that women’s lives and votes and voices count, and will be counted.”

And, at a Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW)-sponsored event on integrating gender perspectives into the third pillar of R2P, a background concept note was developed to be used ahead of this summer’s General Assembly R2P debate, with the hope that there will be more discussion on the role of women in the implementation of responses at the international and national levels, as well as encouraging the use of R2P language in national action plans on resolution 1325.

Additionally, the week of May 6 saw the official launch of an international campaign, Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. Headed by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, the campaign seeks to establish a collaborative and co-ordinated plan of action among organizations and individuals at the local, national, regional and international levels. The campaign calls for increasing resources for both prevention and survivors, and for ensuring justice through the prosecution of perpetrators (in-country or internationally).

However, even with growing attention and discussion, there remain outstanding issues regarding how, specifically, sexual violence in conflict should be addressed. One thought-provoking example comes from the recently concluded ICC case against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. In the ICC’s very first verdict March 14, Lubanga was found guilty of the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003. Although a great deal of evidence was presented that girl soldiers were subjected to sexual violence and rape – and the prosecution referred to sexual violence in its opening and closing submissions – no charges had been laid regarding these crimes. The prosecution took the position, in the summary of the case, that sexual violence and rape were “embedded in the recruiting of children and in their use in hostilities: It becomes irrelevant, therefore, if the prosecution submitted the charges as separate crimes or rightfully included them as embedded in the crimes of which Mr. Lubanga is accused.” Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had previously stated that the decision to not include charges related to sexual violence was because “our child soldier case was very strong… and this was evidence that we could present comfortably before the court… and we proceeded.”

One ICC judge, Judge Elizabeth Odio-Benito, offered a dissenting opinion on the judgement: by “failing to deliberately include within the legal concept of ‘use to participate actively in the hostilities’ the sexual violence and other ill treatment suffered by girls and boys, the Majority of the Chamber is making this critical aspect of the crime invisible.”

And this is something that needs to be considered. The Rome Statute for the ICC marked significant progress in codifying gender crimes. It is, therefore, disappointing that the prosecution failed to include these crimes in the ICC’s landmark first case. While movement towards the consideration of sexual violence during conflict as a broader peace and security issue – and not sidelined as a ‘women’s issue’ – is undoubtedly a positive step, the danger of it becoming ‘invisible’ within a broader peace and security agenda will have to be addressed. Perhaps the discussions of the further inclusion of women within the R2P norm will be of assistance in establishing women’s necessary and visible role within peace and security issues.

Longer posts by network members are posted twice a month.

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