Sexual violence has been, and to a large extent continues to be, shrouded in silence. However, its prevalence and horrific toll on individuals and societies, as well as the dynamics behind it, have been progressively better understood over the last two decades.
The increasing public awareness and denunciation of the horrors of sexual violence in armed conflict have been accompanied by significant progress in a number of areas. A growing understanding of the consequences of sexual violence has led to multiple initiatives from various humanitarian organizations, United Nations (UN) agencies, civil society actors, governments, militaries and academics. Strong jurisprudence on the criminalization of acts of sexual violence during armed conflict has also been developed by domestic, regional and international courts. The ad hoc international criminal tribunals, in particular, have documented horrendous episodes of suffering and have held individuals responsible for these acts. The development of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was seen by many, including by large numbers of civil society organizations, as a long-awaited opportunity to create clarity on the legal parameters related to sexual violence. From a humanitarian perspective, initiatives have included enhancing and improving assistance and protection activities in this area. Additionally, the focus has shifted from the particular plight of women in conflicts to a broader approach, based on the vulnerabilities experienced by both men and women on the basis of their gender and their sex.
Sexual violence continues to be committed in the twenty-first century’s conflicts.
While it remains extremely difficult to quantify due to its still rather “invisible” nature, available estimates indicate that acts of sexual violence are perpetrated on a large scale in various regions of the world today. Studies have demonstrated that all types of actors in conflict, be they State armed forces, non-State armed groups and/or multinational forces, may commit sexual violence.
Today, although we know more about the causes of conflict-related sexual violence, its magnitude and human cost, this knowledge has yet to be translated into effective prevention and response activities.