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Sexualized violence as a weapon of war – politics

  • Under the chairmanship of Federal Foreign Minister Maas, the UN Security Council is debating sexualised violence in conflicts.
  • According to the United Nations, this includes not only rape and abuse, but also forced prostitution, sterilization, forced pregnancy or forced abortion.
  • Exact numbers on how many of these attacks happen worldwide, there is not. Also because the situation is often too chaotic for stringent data collection.

The girl is wearing a face painting. Under the white and blue color it is barely recognizable. The woman has a traditional cloth wrapped around her head, just a lock of hair and her dark eyes look out. At her glance you can see how serious the facial expression must be. The man is in the shadows, only part of his face is visible – another man stands behind him like a threat. The three photos from this year's Report on Sexual Violence in Conflicts of the UN Secretary-General are just icons. But even if they do not show actual survivors, they can be seen as emblematic of the subject. Sexualized violence is widespread in war and conflict areas and yet the problem is not present in the world public: those affected are not seen.

"In modern conflicts it is more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier": This sentence of a UN general in 2008 referred to the situation in Central Africa. Not only there is the sentence more than ten years later still current. Many conflicts are marked by attacks on women and increasingly against children, as Secretary General António Guterres writes in the informative illustrated report on the subject. "The analysis of the 2018 trends confirms that sexual violence continues to be part of the broader conflict strategy and that women and girls are particularly affected." According to the United Nations, this type of violence involves a series of offenses: not only rape and abuse, but also forced prostitution, sterilization, forced pregnancy or forced abortion.

Sexual violence in conflicts

"We have to do something"

In the Washington Post, US actress Angelina Jolie and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas call for a crackdown on sexual violence in crisis areas. Maas today chairs a UN meeting on the subject.By Isabel Pfaff, Bern, and Barbara Galaktionow


Exact numbers on how many of these attacks happen worldwide, there is not. For one thing, the situation is often too chaotic for stringent data collection. On the other hand, those affected are stigmatized in many countries. "Unfortunately, many survivors of conflictual sexual violence encounter discouraging social and structural barriers, which is why their cases are not counted and certainly not pursued," Guterres said.

However, the conflicts in which this type of violence plays a role are understandable, especially as a result of reports from UN officials and NGOs, for example. The perpetrators are also known. This creates a kind of world map of horror:

The UN report confirms an impression of many local NGO and UN employees: the attacks are increasingly being committed by non-state actors. "During the reporting period, non-state actors such as armed groups, local militias and criminal elements were responsible for the majority of incidents," writes Guterres. This reflects today's conflicts, which are often no longer between two governments.

The causes of this form of violence are not easy to identify. One thing is certain: these are usually not isolated cases, carried out by mentally abnormal perpetrators. From eastern Congo, for example, it is known that mass rapes have been used as a weapon to punish the civilian population for alleged cooperation with the enemy and to destroy village communities. In recent decades, when fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo has never stopped, several hundred thousand women and girls have been raped. As the United Nations reports, the number of victims in 2018 has even risen again.

In many cases, there is a threat of multiple conflict parties, such as in Syria: According to the report, it is difficult for the country to obtain reliable data. But there are credible evidence about attacks on women and girls in refugee camps, on roadblocks or if the men were arrested in their household. The perpetrators come from the army and from militias allied with the government forces. In addition, the United Nations criticizes the fact that women – and even very young girls – are still being forced to marry. Where extremists have taken control, men were subjected to "medieval" punishment on suspicion of homosexuality – meaning they were murdered. As a strategy against Yazidi, the so-called IS has kidnapped their women and girls and held them captive, abused and raped for a long time. But it's not always clear who the perpetrators are.

The UN Security Council deals with the issue

For a long time, such crimes were not an issue for international politics. The interest of the general public aroused aid organizations and human rights groups only in the 90s, they denounced the mass rape in the Balkan conflict. In a number of UN Security Council resolutions, rape has since been condemned as a war crime and crimes against humanity.

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council deals with the topic. In addition to Guterres, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and Nobel Peace Prize winners 2018 Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege are expected to attend. Both fight against sexualized violence – the Jesidin Murad as a survivor, the Congolese Mukwege as a doctor who helps those affected again to a life in dignity. The meeting heads Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas; Germany has one of the non-permanent seats until 2020 and currently chairs the panel.

Maas wants to bring in a resolution to focus more on survivors and to punish individual perpetrators and leaders of criminal groups. In addition, an informal working group should deal with the topic. However, the US is reportedly trying to veto the resolution.

"The fact that sexualized violence is seen as a topic in German politics is a success, no question, but that has only recently become so," emphasizes the doctor and activist Monika Hauser, who has been advocating for survivors for some 30 years. In an interview with SZ, she emphasizes that there is still a lot to do in the fight against sexual violence and worldwide impunity for states like Germany. One possibility, for example, is a "consistently feminist foreign policy", as pursued by Sweden, for example, which considers the effects on women in all decisions.

"If we do not want more cases of rape and imprisonment against women, we need to hold accountable those who have used sexual violence as a weapon": This was the phrase set by activist Murad in December 2018, when she accepted the Nobel Prize – and showed Being cautiously optimistic that the renewed attention to the issue will be sustainable: "I hope that today a new era will begin – where peace is a priority and where the world collaborates on a plan to protect women, children and minorities from persecution and especially against sexual violence. "

Collaboration: Markus C. Schulte of Drach

"We speak of survivors, not victims"

The doctor Monika Hauser calls for more say for women in peacekeeping missions. The UN Security Council today addresses sexual violence in conflict.Interview by Isabel Pfaff


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