Sexual Violence in Conflict, Small Arms, and Key Linkages

27 Feb

The Security Council, under the presidency of Togo, hosted an open debate on sexual violence in armed conflict featuring briefings from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative Margot Wallstrom, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous, and a statement from Libyan activist Ms. Amina Megheirbi representing the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. Although unable to adopt a Presidential Statement condemning such violence or a public statement on follow-up to Resolution 1960 (2010), the Council did express relatively unanimous support for Ms. Wallstrom’s mandate to alert the members to instances of sexual violence in conflict as well as increasing the effectiveness of the 1960 mandate through better coordination and information sharing. Member states were also supportive of the inclusion of a new mandate for Women Protection Advisers in peacekeeping operations. The debate was held just a few weeks after the Secretary-General released a  new report on ‘Conflict-related Sexual Violence’ on 13 January 2012.

Ms. Wallstrom noted in her statement that no one could remain unmoved by the striking country examples found in the most recent SG report, which she identified as already a ‘bit out of date’ and but one tool to combat the scourge of sexual violence in conflict. She referred to instances in Guinea, Syria, and Libya and poignantly stated that in contemporary wars it is more dangerous to be a women collecting firewood than a solider on the front line. More broadly, Special Representative Wallstrom also emphasized country level information moving effectively to the Council as well as robust support for government initiatives to combat impunity. Expanding the ‘naming and shaming’ listing was also identified as one way in which perpetrators could more effectively be held accountable.

Nonetheless, perhaps most importantly, Ms. Wallstrom classified the issue of conflict-related sexual violence as not a women’s issue, but a security issue with much wider peace and security implications than particular instances of rape. This point is particularly important for Global Action as we strive to link such issues to other components of the broader human security agenda. Not only can rape serve as a precursor to conflict, a diagnostic of pre-conflict conditions, and a symptom of impunity, it is also evidence of a weak and insufficient security sector. As is often said by proponents of the women, peace and security agenda, there is no security without women’s security and the aim is not only to protect women from violence, but to also encourage their active participation in political and economic life. A robust sector sector will indubitably support such participation as well as enhance protection mechanisms needed to eliminate such sexual violence in and out of conflict.

Indicative of these linkages, the delegate of Germany also referred to the proliferation of small arms and its dire effects on violence against women and children. It is a fact that women are disproportionately affected by gun violence in communities. Furthermore, the ready availability of small arms undoubtedly facilitates grave crimes such as sexual and gender-based violence, which is almost always committed at the point of a gun. Better gun control mechanisms, including a robust Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that is to be negotiated this July as well as better implementation of the UN Programme of Action on small arms, are essential to a more dependable security sector and, in turn, protections for women against sexual violence and, just as critical, participation opportunities.

As Special Representative Wallstrom noted, the response to conflict-related sexual violence must be gender-focused and community-based. Communities must deal with this issue as part of a bundle of security issues that pose a threat to the well-being of its citizens– including small arms proliferation, gender-based violence, and lack of women’s access to political and economic life. We fully support the mandate of Ms. Wallstrom and her staff and hope that continued emphasis on the broad security implications of sexual violence will bear more robust and effective response mechanisms for communities suffering from such blights.

–Katherine Prizeman

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