More and more, it is recognised that conflict-related sexual violence is not random or opportunistic. It is a strategy used by armed groups fighting in conflicts worldwide. Civilians — and particularly women and girls — are being targeted with sexual violence, used as a weapon of war, for a range of reasons: to persecute and destroy an ethnic group, as a ‘reward’ for combatants, or for financial gain.
Sexual violence have been used in conflicts throughout history, yet these crimes have been recognised and prosecuted only in recent years. Although legislation exists to prosecute perpetrators in many countries at a local and national level, and international law prohibits conflict-related sexual violence, victims still struggle to see justice done.
Sexual violence in conflict is happening in many countries around the world right now. It occurs not only in war zones, but also around refugee settlements and camps for internally displaced people, in ‘host communities’ where displaced people are living, and along routes which people use to flee violence.
Sexual violence used as a weapon of war takes many forms, often profoundly cruel and unimaginable. It is used to punish, humiliate and destroy not only the individual, but her or his whole community.
The causes of conflict-related sexual violence are numerous. Existing inequalities – and especially gender inequalities, weak law and order, discriminatory social norms and customs, ethnic tensions, poor governance, impunity, and extreme poverty all combine to create conditions where sexual violence may be used as a weapon in conflict.
The consequences for victims and their communities are both immediate and long-term. Sexual violence committed across entire communities spreads diseases, destroys family ties and inflicts harm over generations.
Our programmes put survivors at the centre of the search for solutions. We open up safe spaces for them to speak out about their experiences. We amplify their voices and support them as experts in their own right, able to take their rightful place in policy and peace negotiations. We support their calls for holistic care as a basic right for survivors of sexual violence, enabling them to rehabilitate and to regain their dignity and place in their communities. We advocate strongly for survivors’ rights to receive legal redress and compensation for the harms they have suffered. And we call on states and the international community to draw a line against sexual violence in conflict, sending a clear signal that it will no longer be tolerated.