UNITED NATIONS (AP) — In Ukraine, allegations mount of sexual violence against women by Russian soldiers. In northern Ethiopia, a woman taken to an Eritrean Defense Forces camp was raped by 27 soldiers and contracted AIDS. In Central African Republic the bodies of a woman and two girls were found days after their kidnapping and rape by armed fighters. And in Iraq, 2,800 Yazidi woman and children have been captives of the Islamic State extremist group for eight years, many subjected to sexual violence.
These are some of the examples raised at a U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday on accountability for such acts in conflicts by Pramila Patten, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad, a member of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority forced into sexual slavery in 2014 who escaped her Islamic State captors.
Patten’s opening words were aimed squarely at the U.N.’s most powerful body, which has approved five resolutions that focus on preventing and addressing conflict-related sexual violence. What do those resolutions mean right now, she asked, for a woman in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Myanmar or Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region?
At this time of “great global turbulence marked by multiple crises,” she said, the world has seen “increased militarization, including an epidemic of coups, which have turned back the clock on women’s rights.” And every new war has seen human tragedies “including new waves of war’s oldest, most silences, and least-condemned crime” — sexual violence and rape in those countries and others whose victims “cry out for justice and redress.”
Patten said the gap between commitments by the Security Council, and compliance and reality is evident: The latest U.N. report covering conflicts in 18 countries documents 3,293 U.N.-verified cases of sexual violence committed in 2021, a significant increase of 800 cases compared to 2020. Again, she said, the highest number — 1,016 — were recorded in Congo.
Patten also cited examples in other conflict areas: two women from the Rohingya minority in Myanmar’s Chin state gang-raped by government soldiers resulting in unwanted pregnancies; a woman allegedly raped at gunpoint by Puntland police officer in Somalia where she said “abduction, rape and forced marriage are rampant;” documented cases in Colombia of sexual violence against women ex-combatants and their families; and the torture and killing of a female police officer who was eight months pregnant in Afghanistan’s Ghor province.
The U.N. special representative said the few cases of courts convicting perpetrators “are still the exception that prove the rule of justice denied.” Justice must be delivered in communities as well as courtrooms, and victims must receive reparations to rebuild their shattered lives, she said, stressing that “justice, peace and security are inextricably linked.”
Murad said at moments of global instability — like today’s world shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, a climate crisis and war — issues like conflict-related sexual violence “tend to be pushed aside as though they are somehow secondary to the real issues.” But she said “the truth is these are precisely the moment when protecting, supporting and investing in women and girls should be urgent priorities.”
History shows that when conflict erupts brutality comes to the fore, and “we are seeing this in Ukraine as we speak, with reports of sexual violence that should alarm us.” Later, she told reporters, “my heart is with the people of Ukraine, especially the women and girls out there that are facing this brutality.”
“Sexual violence is not a side effect of conflict,” Murad said. “It is a tactic of war as old as time.”
Last year, a German court convicted an Islamic State member of genocide in a Yazidi girl’s death in a historic verdict, she said. But despite reams of evidence documenting atrocities IS committed against women and girls, she said the extremist perpetrators have faced few, if any, consequences.
Murad said survivors need “more than moral outrage” and urged the Security Council to vote to refer the Islamic State extremist group to the International Criminal Court to be tried for genocide and sexual violence. against Yazidis. In the meantime, she urged other countries to follow Germany’s example and use the principle of universal jurisdiction to try alleged perpetrators for war crimes.
“If you want to establish deterrence, if you want to assure Yazidi women and survivors everywhere that you stand with us, do not delay justice anymore,” she said.
Britain’s Minister of State Lord Tariq Ahmad, who chaired the meeting, joined her in launching “The Murad Code” which aims to tell investigators, journalists and others in the international community how to support survivors of sexual violence by reducing the burden on them and ensuring that their experiences are recorded safely and strengthen the pursuit of justice.
“The pathway to justice must have obstacles removed,” he said. “So ultimately, it’s all about survivors, that they know what their options are. … They have to be the center of our response.”