Over 2,450 cases of conflict-related sexual violence reported last year, says UN report

Over 2,450 cases of conflict-related sexual violence reported last year, says UN report

Majority of perpetrators involved in sexual violence are non-state actors, according to report

By Rabia Ali

ISTANBUL (AA) - As many as 2,455 cases of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) were reported last year, according to an annual report by the UN secretary-general.

The recently released 14th report on CRSV sheds light on the distressing use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, torture, and terrorism, particularly in areas grappling with political and security crises.

In 2022, the highest number of cases, reaching 701, was recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Last week, the UN Security Council had an open debate in which Pramila Patten, the special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, said: "Gang rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence are being used as a tactic of war, torture, and terrorism, to subjugate and displace populations."

Patten also talked about the report that said of the verified cases, 94% of the victims were women and girls, while 6% were violations against men and boys.

Around 32% of the cases involved children, with girls accounting for 97% of these cases.

The report defines CRSV as rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.

Cases documented against people range from four years to 80 years of age, with majority of survivors coming from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report also talks about sexual violence incidents against men and boys, who were mostly subjected to rape or other form of violence in detention.

The UN report acknowledged that the documented cases represent only a fraction of the actual incidents, as sexual violence remains significantly underreported.

- Reported cases

As many as 2,455 cases of CRSV were verified by the UN in the year 2022, emphasizing that the rise in militarization and the illicit proliferation of arms worsens the severity of sexual violence particularly following unconstitutional changes of governments.

The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo documented 701 cases of conflict-related sexual violence.

Of these, 503 women, 187 girls, and 11 men were affected. Moreover, 21 reported cases involved 13 girls and eight women from previous years.

Patten, who personally visited DRC and met the survivors, recalled their horrifying ordeals at the Security Council’s open debate.

“Just imagine facing the reality each day that you are likely to be raped, yet having no choice but to take that risk because your family must survive. These women and girls face the unacceptable choice between economic subsistence and sexual violence…” she said.

The majority of violations occurred during clashes involving armed groups and the country’s armed forces. Non-state armed groups were responsible for 550 incidents. South Sudan also recorded a large number of CRSV cases with the UN Mission in South Sudan documenting incidents affecting 221 women and 71 girls.

Perpetrators in South Sudan included non-state actors such as organized armed groups, civil defense groups, and other armed elements.

In the Central African Republic, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in documented 191 cases, affecting 83 women, 105 girls, and three men.

The report also highlights sexual violence in Ukraine since the war broke out with Russia on February 24, 2022.

Around 125 cases of conflict-related sexual violence were verified by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

Regarding the situation in Ukraine, Patten told the Security Council: "This March, when I returned to Ukraine, I met with survivors and heard their heart-wrenching accounts of brutal sexual violence reportedly perpetrated by Russian soldiers."

The cases involved 80 men as sexual violence was used to torture them during their captivity by Russian armed forces, its affiliated groups, and others, according to the UN report.

- Perpetrators

The majority of culprits involved in sexual violence are non-state actors, including several groups designated as terrorist entities, the report said.

Around 49 parties are listed as perpetrators or responsible for patterns of sexual violence.

The increasing use of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private military and security companies has led to an uptick in violations of human rights, the report said.

In countries including Mali, Myanmar, South Sudan and Ukraine, private contractors or militias and private groups were used to reinforce military operations, it said.

Sexual violence is often used as a tool of political violence to “intimidate and punish” opponents and human rights defenders.

“Globally, women human rights defenders, including those advocating on behalf of victims of sexual violence, have been targeted with attacks aimed at stemming their activism,” Patten told the UN Security Council.

Demonstrations in Myanmar and Sudan witnessed the threat and use of rape and gang rape while in Syria and Libya, sexual violence was used to target activists.

The report highlighted the plight of displaced and refugee women and girls who face heightened risks of sexual violence.

Displaced women and girls in the DRC, Mozambique, Somalia, and Sudan were vulnerable to sexual assaults by armed men in and around displacement sites.

The report also spoke of how climate-related displacements increase intercommunal violence, including sexual violence.

In Somalia, 50% of sexual violence cases in 2022 affected women and girls who had been displaced by climate shocks.

The victims were attacked during their livelihood activities, such as farming or collecting water, while girls were victimized while going to school or returning from it.

- Low accountability

Impunity and low accountability continue to prevail in cases of conflict-related sexual violence.

Survivors face various challenges in accessing the justice system, including limited legal aid and long distances to competent authorities. Security risks and travel costs act as limitations to the justice-seeking process.

Many victims refuse to lodge complaints because of societal pressure and the stigma attached to CRSV, as observed in Libya and Mali.

The report also talked about how compliance with international norms by conflict parties remained low.

Over 70% of the parties listed in the report are repeated offenders, having been listed for five or more years, and have failed to implement adequate corrective measures.

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