• Rape by Terrorists: A UN Report Documents Sexual Attacks in War

    by  • May 2, 2017 • Gender-Based Violence, Human Trafficking, Libya, Middle East, Peace and Security, Women • 1 Comment

    Yazidi resistance fighters in Sinjar, Iraq, 2015. A new UN report documents sexual violence against women in war, including attacks by ISIS on a “horrific scale.” CREATIVE COMMONS

    Moving away from strictly categorizing rape and other sexual abuse against women as a weapon of war, a new report from the United Nations addresses the increasing use of rape as a weapon of terrorism. The report also documents how mass migration has led to further sexual violence against women through human trafficking by extremist groups like ISIS and has enabled a flourishing black market in such trade across the world.

    The report will be spotlighted at a UN Security Council debate on women, peace and security on May 15. The document also tackles problems associated with post-sexual-violence: stigmatization; contracting of infectious diseases; handling of children of rape; loss of livelihoods and destitution; and other social taboos and damages that can ruin victims for life.

    By acknowledging sexual violence as a weapon of terrorism, the report says, global actions to stop terrorist financing can include a link to this criminality and be tied into relevant sanctions regimes. Rape has been recognized as a war crime by the UN and international tribunals and courts for decades.

    The report, covering all of 2016, comes from the office of the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, but is a yearly endeavor made possible by the UN special envoy on sexual violence against women in conflict and certain UN agencies. The envoy office has changed leadership recently, with Pramila Patten of Mauritius coming aboard in mid-June, replacing Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone.

    The term “conflict-related sexual violence” in the report refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage and “any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” inflicted on women, men, girls and boys directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.

    The report covers 19 countries for which credible information is available, collected by UN specialists. It also features a list of 46 parties using sexual violence against women in conflict, with the majority being armed terrorists like Al Qaeda and Boko Haram. National military and police forces are hardly immune, however, to such crimes, with Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria also featured in the list.

    In 2016, sexual violence as a tactic of war was employed through “widespread and strategic rapes” committed by parties usually in conjunction with other sprees, like killing, looting and pillaging but also in “urban warfare” — such as house searches and at militia checkpoints. Sexual violence by extremists lands a special place in the report, as it is a big tool for recruitment but also an ideology: controlling women’s reproductive rights and as chattel in slavery markets in ISIS-held territory, for example, in Syria and Iraq.

    Women are also used as “wages of war”: gifts for in-kind compensation to fighters; as suicide bombers; and as human shields, among other purposes.

    Despite the rising use of women and girls as weapons in wars, convictions are rare. A faint light of progress in overcoming the phenomenon is that the “era of silence” by national and international institutions is giving way to urgent diplomacy, the report suggests. Nevertheless, even where laws, policies and codified responses are in place, when hostilities flare or reignite, sexual violence is a cheap, accessible weapon in the battle.

    Here are some notable country trends, statistics and new concerns that occurred in 2016:

    • Central African Republic: The UN peacekeeping mission, Minusca, recorded 179 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, mostly on ethnic and sectarian lines, by all militias in the country. That number includes 54 gang rapes.

    • Colombia: A well-thought-out legal framework on conflict-related sexual violence, instituted as part of the country’s peace negotiations ending its 50-plus years of civil war, enables unprecedented access to justice. Yet only 2 percent of the 634 cases have led to convictions so far.

    • Democratic Republic of the Congo: The UN peacekeeping mission, Monusco, whose troop numbers were recently cut on demand by the United States under Ambassador Nikki Haley, verified 514 cases of sexual violence, including 340 women. Most attacks were done by nonstate armed groups and a quarter by state forces, of whom 100 have been convicted.

    • Iraq: ISIS continued to commit sexual violence on a “horrific scale,” especially in territory it holds, where 971 Yazidi women and girls have fled the grip of the extremists while almost 2,000 remain in their hands. But even freed victims are not free: they face tremendous stigmatization and difficulty reintegrating into their conservative society.

    • Libya: As a transit country for waves of migrants and refugees — about 163,000 people traveled through the lawless country to reach Italy by sea in 2016 — women and girls are exposed to attacks by smuggling rings and in detention centers en route to the Libyan coast. Media have reported that women prefer to risk the almost-deadly conditions of crossing the Mediterranean than to stay too long in Libya and be subjected to pervasive threats of rape.

    • South Sudan: It may win the prize for the most incidences of conflict-connected sexual violence in 2016, with the UN reporting 577 cases, including 57 girls, some of whom were under 10 years old and even infants.

    • Syria: All parties in the six-year war stand accused of violence against women, done prolifically through house searches, at checkpoints, in jails and in displacement camps and in refugee camps outside the country. Forced marriages of young women and girls are also part of the grisly picture, which has no end in sight.

     

    Dulcie Leimbach

    About

    Dulcie Leimbach is a fellow of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of CUNY. She is the founder of PassBlue, for which she edits and writes, covering primarily the United Nations, West Africa, peacekeeping operations and women's issues. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas in West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) as well as from Europe (Scotland, Vienna, Budapest and The Hague).

    Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA, where she edited its flagship magazine, The InterDependent, and migrated it online in 2010. She was also the senior editor of UNA's annual book, "A Global Agenda: Issues Before the UN." She has also worked as an editorial consultant to various UN agencies.

    Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Colorado, graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before she worked in New York at Esquire magazine and Adweek. In between, she was a Wall Street foreign-exchange dealer. Leimbach has been a fellow at Yaddo, the artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and taught news reporting at Hofstra University. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

    One Response to Rape by Terrorists: A UN Report Documents Sexual Attacks in War

    1. Alison
      May 4, 2017 at 11:56 am

      Thank you so much for publishing this article. We need to counter violence against women and girls in a systematic way across the globe. We need to link the horror stories in a unifying narrative so that these tragedies do not burn on in isolation. With comprehensive reports such as this article, we are better poised to mobilize disparate voices and scattered resources for a coordinated, systemic response.

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