23 February the UN Secretary General presented the third annual report from his Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, for the UN Security Council. It contained some elements of hope, like the fact that over 150 members of the national army and national police of the Democratic Republic of Congo were sentenced for rape and other acts of sexual violence during last year. But Margot Wallström stressed the fact that, overall, these crimes are not being punished.
- When I met with women in Bosnia and Herzegovina I thought we would be talking about the development and women’s role in politics. But 16 years after the war, what they wanted to talk about was the rapes they had been subjected to and kept re-living. The lack of redress and justice is staggering. An estimated 50 000 rapes has lead to just 30 prosecutions, she said.
- Yes preventive diplomacy is important, and yes zero tolerance policies matter. But ultimately rape must carry consequences.
Arguing over mandate
Many of the Security Council’s members applauded the report and gave it their support. But some countries representatives objected to what they called the Special Representative “overstepping her mandate”. This due to the fact that the report also mentions incidents of sexual violence taking place outside the context of armed conflict – for instance women protesters in Egypt being arrested and subjected to so called virginity tests. But Margot Wallström withheld the importance of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict being able to address also these crimes.
- The word that kept coming back in the debate was “prevention”. And if we want to do prevention we can not only focus on armed conflict, but we should look at post-conflict situations and of course that situations that are being discussed regularly in the Security Council, she said.
In the end the Security Council decided that there would be no restrictions in the mandate of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the Representative’s mission, that was due to end in March, was also prolonged.
List of perpetrators
Besides mentioning crimes committed, the report for the first time contains a list of the worst perpetrators. According to Margot Wallström this is an important tool to show everyone that it’s no longer possible to get away with acts of sexual violence.
- Yes preventive diplomacy is important, and yes zero tolerance policies matter. But ultimately rape must carry consequences. It has become more dangerous to be a woman fetching water or collecting firewood than a fighter on the frontline, she said.
Examples from the report:
- In April 2009 the Constitutional Court of Colombia ordered the Attorney-General’s Office to pursue investigations into 183 specific cases of sexual violence against women and girls. To date only four of those cases have been brought to trial.
- In Cote d’Ivoire an increase in rape and gang rape targeting civilians were witnessed during the resent post-election crisis. These crimes were committed by all parties to the conflict. Between January and September of 2011, 478 cases of rape were documented across the country. Only 13 arrests have been made and to date there have been no convictions.
- In Liberia post-war sexual violence has taken on new characteristics, such as gang rapes and the sexual abuse of very young children. Between April 2010 and March 2011 only 38 of 903 reported cases of sexual violence reached trial. 17 of the 38 ended in convictions.
- In Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), more than 16 years after the end of the conflict, only 30 cases of wartime crimes of sexual violence have been prosecuted. BiH’s definition of war crimes of sexual violence is also inconsistent with international standards, which results in leap-holes for perpetrators. And violence experienced during the war has manifested itself in increased and more severe cases of domestic violence in the country.
- In the Democratic Republic of Congo several incidents of mass rapes by elements of the national army were reported. These were said to be acts of retaliation against the population for their alleged collaboration with the “enemy”. A total of 625 cases of sexual violence, with different parties of the conflict as perpetrators, were documented during the reporting period.