Rape as a War Crime

Concerned over the security of women and girls in situations of armed conflict, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that rape was a crime that could never be condoned; yet, women and girls around the world had been subjected to widespread and deliberate acts of sexual violence. Chairing in June 2008 a thematic debate of the Security Council on women, peace and security, Ms Rice said that "we affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but also the economic and social stability of their nations".

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro also participated in the debate, in which representatives from more than 60 Member States voiced their concerns. The resolution, introduced by Ms Rice, was a mechanism for bringing these atrocities to light. It also set the stage for the Secretary-General to prepare an action plan for gathering information on the desperate acts of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict and in turn periodically report to the Security Council.

The resolution called upon several important measures to protect women, noting that rape and other forms of sexual violence could constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide. It stressed the need for the exclusion of crimes of sexual violence from amnesty provisions in the context of conflict-resolution processes. The resolution also called upon Member States to comply with their obligations for prosecuting persons responsible for such acts. In addition, it urged the Secretary-General and his Special Envoys to invite women to participate in discussions pertinent to the prevention and resolution of conflict and the maintenance of peace and security.

Ms Rice said that there has been a debate about whether sexual violence was a security issue, with several Member States disputing the need for a resolution. "I am proud that today we can respond to that lingering question with a resounding 'yes'. This world body now acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict zones is, indeed, a security concern", she told the Council. She also stated: "We are concerned about the issue of women affected by violence across the world. . As an international community, we have a special responsibility to punish the perpetrators of sexual violence who are representatives of international organizations." Citing instances of sexual violence and abuse by UN peacekeepers in several peacekeeping missions worldwide, Ms Rice stressed that while the individual perpetrator was ultimately responsible for the abuse, Member States were responsible for disciplining and holding their troops accountable for their misdeeds.

Addressing the Council, Secretary-General Ban said that "the United Nations and I personally are profoundly committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel. That means zero complacency. When we receive credible allegations, we ensure that they are looked into fully." Mr Ban also informed the Council that he would appoint a Messenger of Peace tasked entirely with advocacy for ending violence against women. While requesting Member States to come forward with more women candidates, he pledged "to deploy more women worldwide, not just as police, military and civilian personnel, but also at the highest levels of mission leadership". In March 2008, he launched a global campaign, aimed at tackling all manifestations to end violence against women, including the abominable practice of sexual violence in armed conflict.

Calling upon the UN system, Member States and civil society groups to tackle this complex problem, Ms Migiro recalled that in May 2008 the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, on behalf of the United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, hosted a high-level conference on the role of military peacekeepers and others in responding to this scourge. The delegates at the conference broadly agreed that the credibility of peacekeeping operations ought to be measured in terms of how successful they were in addressing sexual violence and abuse. They also reached a consensus on addressing this issue at the political level for effective action.

Acting Chief of the Conduct and Discipline (C&D) Unit at the Department of Field Support, Marie-Anne Martin, told the UN Chronicle that "sexual exploitation or any serious breaches of the UN code of conduct can hinder a Mission's ability to carry out its mandate by undermining the confidence of the host country population". She said that as part of the implementation of special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse, and as a response to various serious allegations about peacekeepers in several missions, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in November 2005, established the C&D Units, one at the UN Headquarters in New York and eight others at selected peacekeeping missions. There are about 18 such Units functioning around the world.

The C&D Units have been set up to uphold the United Nations zero-tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse by implementing preventive measures, receiving complaints and ensuring compliance with the UN code of conduct. "When there are allegations of misconduct, then the Units receive the complaints, which are in turn passed on for investigation to the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services or other investigative entities, depending on the gravity of the offence. The investigation report would be reviewed based on whether the allegations are substantiated or not. If the case is substantiated, then the mission, the UN Secretariat or the troop-contributing countries would be responsible for taking any necessary action", Ms Martin added.

The C&D Units have adopted a three-level strategy to address problems of sexual exploitation. This strategy included prevention of misconduct to make generic training on prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse mandatory for all peacekeeping personnel on arrival in a mission; enforcement measures to handle allegations and investigations of misconduct in a more consistent and professional manner; and remedial action to provide assistance and support to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations staff or related personnel.

As such, UN missions and agencies across the world have been working on a number of initiatives to improve the situation. The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has initiated several steps, including "Operation Night Flash", which involves peacekeepers driving into the woods at nights and flashing headlights to drive away would-be offenders. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has built a safe house for survivors and victims of sexual and gender-based violence, while peacekeepers in Haiti are organizing meetings on women's rights for members of the judiciary and police. In addition, the Rule of Law Unit in Afghanistan is helping the country draft legislation to eliminate violence against women, and the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has created a special unit to ensure that victims receive help when they seek justice. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also undertaken numerous measures, such as monitoring, investigating and documenting sexual and gender-based violence as a human rights issue.