Wartime sexual violence not inevitable, says TRIAL expert

24.11.2016 ( Last modified: 25.11.2016 )

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, celebrated in 25 November, sheds a light on the scourge of wartime sexual violence. Only a strong justice system can play a dissuasive role and put an end to these atrocities.

Dozens of women raped and burnt alive in South Sudan. Over 1’500 Yazidi women and girls still held prisoner by Daesh. Almost 70 sexual violence accusations in 2015 against UN Blue Helmets, supposed to protect civilian populations.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the record is harrowing. From Colombia to the DRC, tales of sexual violence are countless – yet only a small proportion of victims ever come forth and denounce these abuse, which hints at the real scale of the phenomenon.

Of course, sexual violence can be perpetrated against men and boys too, but the prevalence of these crimes against women in times of conflicts deserves particular attention.


Peace and justice are tightly linked

All too often, sexual violence is perceived as a regrettable but inevitable corollary of armed conflicts. This is wrong: sexual violence, like other crimes, may be curbed if justice plays its dissuasive role. “The almost complete impunity of rapists is one of the main causes why these crimes keep occurring”, says Lucie Canal, Legal Advisor on Sexual Violence at TRIAL. “It also weakens the reconciliation process: justice and durable peace are tightly linked.”

All our efforts should therefore be directed towards building a strong justice system:  laws that punish all forms of sexual violence, water-tight inquiries, prosecutors and judges sensitized to the victims’ trauma, and adequate reparations effectively paid to said victims.


Change is underway

Awareness throughout the world has leapt forward over the last few years. For this we pay homage to the courage of victims who refused to wall themselves in shame and silence, and to the relentless activism of human rights defenders.

The recognition of a right to justice for victims of sexual violence has progressively emerged. “The condemnation of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court in August 2016 for rape as a war crime and a crime against humanity is a recent illustration of this trend. So is the development of international tools like the International Protocol for the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict.”

 The fight against sexual violence is underway. Let us pursue our efforts and call for strong international action to guarantee that all victims finally access justice.

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