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Alarming reports of gender-based violence
by UN News, OHCHR, Medecins Sans Frontieres, agencies
10:44am 1st May, 2024
Apr. 2024
Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict remarks at the Security Council open debate on “Preventing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence through demilitarization and gender-responsive arms control”. (Extract):
"We meet today to consider the 15th annual Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at a time when gender equality gains are being rolled back, even as militarization is being bankrolled at unprecedented levels; at a time when the world’s resources are being used to feed the flames of conflict, while women and children starve; at a time when military spending has soared to over 2.2 trillion USD, while humanitarian aid budgets have been slashed; and at a time when weapons continue to flow into the hands of perpetrators, while the vast majority of victims remain empty-handed in terms of reparations and redress.
We meet at a time when the pursuit of peace and gender equality has once again become a radical act. The essential, existential task we face is to silence the guns and amplify the voices of women as a critical constituency for peace.
Yet, right now, in the Sudan and Haiti, women and girls are being brutalized and terrorized by sexual violence committed at gunpoint. In Afghanistan, the systematic assault on, and erasure of, women and their rights is destroying lives and livelihoods. Two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, thousands of displaced and refugee women and girls face a heightened risk of being preyed upon by traffickers.
In the Middle East, women and girls are disproportionately affected by the ongoing bloodshed, displacement, trauma and terror: they are among the many victims of the 7th of October attacks on Israel by Hamas, and they comprise more than half of the victims of the relentless bombing of Gaza, which has shattered the healthcare system, leaving pregnant women, and others in desperate need with nowhere to turn.
The report before us today provides a global snapshot of incidents, patterns and trends of conflict-related sexual violence across 21 situations of concern. It records 3,688 UN-verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence committed in the course of 2023, reflecting a dramatic increase of 50 per cent as compared with the previous year. This spike in recorded cases is particularly alarming in a global context where humanitarian access remains severely restricted and constrained.
In 2023, women and girls accounted for 95 per cent of the verified cases. In 32 per cent of these cases, the victims were children, with the vast majority being girls (98 per cent). Twenty-one cases were found to target LGBTQI persons on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
While the report conveys the severity and brutality of UN-sourced and verified incidents, it does not purport to reflect the global scale or prevalence of this chronically underreported, historically hidden crime.
We know that for every survivor who comes forward, many others are silenced by social pressures, stigma, insecurity, the paucity of services, and the limited prospects for justice.
In terms of global trends, the report documents how sexual violence has curtailed women’s access to livelihoods and girls’ access to education, amid record levels of internal and cross-border displacement. Women and girls face heightened levels of sexual violence in displacement settings, as returnees, refugees and migrants.
For instance, in eastern DRC, the climate of interlinked physical and food insecurity has driven many displaced women and girls into prostitution out of sheer economic desperation.
In Ethiopia, reports surfaced of sexual exploitation in exchange for food, as well as continued sexual enslavement in Tigray, in proximity to the compounds and barracks of arms bearers.
Moreover, in many contexts, women with children born of wartime rape are often accused of affiliation with the enemy, excluded from community networks, and plunged into poverty.
By contrast, sexual violence perpetrated with impunity remains profitable in the political economy of war. Conflict-driven trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation continues to generate profits for armed and violent extremist groups.
In Haiti, armed groups and criminal gangs continue to generate revenue through kidnapping, using the threat of sexual violence to extort ever-higher ransoms.
Sexual violence remains part of the repertoire of political repression, used to intimidate and punish opponents, and as a tactic to silence women actively participating in public and political life, notably in Libya and Yemen.
The report further records a discernible trend of digital threats in Myanmar, where online harassment and hate speech specifically targeted women associated with the resistance movement, and included the release of sexually explicit images and incitement to violence.
This year’s report highlights an unprecedented level of lethal violence used to silence survivors in the wake of sexual assault. In 2023, reports of rape victims being subsequently killed by their assailants surfaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar, demonstrating the need to strengthen forensic capabilities, investigations, and accountability processes that ensure the protection of victims and witnesses.
Frontline service providers and women human rights defenders were not spared. Armed actors threatened healthcare workers in Sudan, and reprisals against human rights defenders were reported in South Sudan, the DRC and elsewhere.
Across time and space, we see that the availability of weapons directly facilitates these attacks. Between 70 and 90 per cent of conflict-related sexual violence incidents involve the use of a weapon, in particular firearms, according to United Nations research.
In eastern DRC, the threat of rape at gunpoint remains a horrific daily reality that overshadows the lives of women and girls, impeding their essential livelihood and sustenance activities. During one incursion into a village, fighters from an armed militia gang-raped 11 women, looted their belongings, and set fire to their homes. Four of the women were mutilated and killed. The seven survivors were taken to a health center, but left without medical treatment, as the clinic had been burnt and raided;
In the Central African Republic, women and girls tending farms and fields face the persistent risk of rape by roving armed actors in the area;
In Haiti, women and girls travelling to work or school face the risk of collective rape by gang members armed with weapons largely trafficked from abroad.
The accelerated withdrawals of peace operations from Mali and the Sudan have brought issues of transition and exit to the fore. Weapons management strategies are a critical part of preventing the occurrence and recurrence of conflict-related sexual violence in such settings.
In 2023, I visited the border area between Sudan and South Sudan, where women and girls have been targeted for rape, gang rape and abduction on the basis of their ethnicity, with the perpetrators emboldened by entrenched impunity.
Since the resurgence of conflict in the Sudan, I have engaged with both parties listed in the Annex to the annual report, namely the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). These parties are required to take specific measures to prevent and address sexual violence. Moreover, all States must abide by the sanctions imposed by this Council, notably the arms embargo on Darfur, as part of efforts to achieve a comprehensive and sustainable peace.
The report before us today lists 58 parties that are credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of sexual violence in situations on this Council’s agenda, the vast majority of them being non-State actors.
Over 70 per cent of listed parties are “persistent perpetrators”, meaning they have appeared on the list for five or more years without taking the requisite remedial or corrective action. It is critical to ensure coherence between the list of implicated parties and the measures imposed by UN sanctions regimes.
We must use these tools to stop the flow of weapons into the hands of perpetrators of sexual violence. There could be no more direct and effective way to disarm the weapon of rape and, ultimately, to prevent and eradicate these crimes.
In terms of access to justice, far too many perpetrators of wartime sexual violence still walk free, while women and girls walk in fear. Left unchecked, these crimes set back both the cause of gender equality and the cause of peace.
Today we know more than ever before about the factors that either enable or restrain the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence. We know that illicit weapons cast a long shadow over the lives of innocent civilians, while emboldening those who seek to spread fear and pursue criminal aims.
Today’s debate brings into focus the need to better align the CRSV and arms control agendas, as part of prevention and risk mitigation. We cannot condemn the perpetrators of sexual violence in our speeches, while continuing to fund and arm them through our supply chains.
For decades, we have heard survivors of conflict-related sexual violence say: “that man had the gun, and he had the power”. Recently, we documented the case of a 19-year-old Haitian woman in Cité Soleil, accosted by masked men who put a gun to her neck, dragged her into a field, and raped and beat her, while pressuring her to confess an association with men she did not even know.
In 2023, the UN documented the case of a 60-year-old woman in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, who was gang-raped at gunpoint by three soldiers while hiding in a field near her home. A frontline service-provider in Unity State, South Sudan, reported to my Office: “the youth are now accustomed to carrying weapons wherever they go…those who have weapons are the ones threatening people and perpetrating sexual violence, making disarmament a key step in prevention”.
Indeed, we cannot address sexual violence without shifting power dynamics. Starting today, we need women in the room, weapons under regulation and embargo, money for human rights defenders on the table, and change on the ground.
This includes supporting the courageous civil society activists who speak truth to power wielded at gunpoint, never allowing threats to silence them.
Women in the war-torn corners of our world need to see hope on the political horizon. Our words, deeds and decisions in this Chamber and beyond must give them cause for hope and must contribute to peace with justice, peace with gender equality, peace with dignity and development, peace that endures".
25 April 2024 (UN News)
The international community must take immediate action to end the wave of sexual violence being carried out against women and girls in Sudan, two senior UN officials said on Thursday.
Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten together with Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya, said that more than a year into the battle for control of the country between rival militaries, the “barbaric acts” being committed “echo the horrors witnessed in Darfur two decades ago”.
They urged UN Security Council members who met this week to debate Ms. Patten’s latest report on sexual violence to send “an unequivocal message: under international humanitarian law, civilians in Sudan must be protected and must never be subjected to acts of sexual violence, which constitute war crimes.”
The disturbing reports show how women and girls are being disproportionately impacted. Allegations of rape, forced marriages, sexual slavery, and trafficking of women and girls – especially in Khartoum, Darfur and Kordofan – continue to be recorded with millions of civilians at risk as they flee conflict areas in search of shelter, inside Sudan and in neighbouring countries.
The two top women officials noted that the true scale of the crisis remains unseen, “a result of severe underreporting due to stigma, fear of reprisals, and a lack of confidence in national institutions.” Without more financial and political support for frontline responders, access to life-saving services will only continue to shrink, they warned.
Nov. 2023
Sudan: Alarming reports of women and girls abducted and forced to marry, held for ransom. (OHCHR)
We are deeply alarmed by reports that women and girls are being abducted and held in inhuman, degrading slave-like conditions in areas controlled by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Darfur, where they are allegedly forcibly married and held for ransom. Credible information from survivors, witnesses and other sources suggests more than 20 women and girls have been taken, but the number could be considerably higher.
Some sources have reported seeing women and girls in chains on pick-up trucks and in cars.
Initial allegations arose early in the conflict in the Khartoum area, which has remained largely under the control of the Rapid Support Forces. One of the reports indicated that women and girls had been abducted and detained at a location in the city’s Al-Riyadh district, from as early as 24 April.
Since then, we have continued to receive reports of abductions, with an increasing number of cases being reported in the Darfur region, particularly North, Central and South Darfur, and in the Kordofan region.
These shocking reports come amid a persistent climb in cases of sexual violence in the country since fighting broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces six months ago.
According to our documentation, at least 105 people have been subjected to sexual violence since the hostilities began on 15 April 2023.
As of 2 November, our Joint Human Rights Office in Sudan had received credible reports of more than 50 incidents of sexual violence linked to the hostilities, impacting at least 105 victims - 86 women, one man and 18 children. Twenty-three of the incidents involved rape, 26 were of gang rape and three were of attempted rape.
At least 70 percent of the confirmed incidents of sexual violence recorded - 37 incidents in total – are attributed to men in RSF uniforms, eight to armed men affiliated with the RSF, two to men in unidentified uniform, and one to the Sudan Armed Forces. The remaining cases involved as yet unidentified men.
We restate High Commissioner Volker Türk’s calls on senior officials of both the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces – as well as armed groups affiliated with them - to unequivocally condemn these vile acts and issue – urgently – clear instructions to their subordinates demanding zero tolerance of sexual violence.
They must also ensure the abducted women and girls are promptly released, and provided with the necessary support, including medical and psychosocial care, and that all alleged cases are fully and promptly investigated, with those found responsible held accountable and brought to justice.
Oct. 2023
Sexual violence in Central African Republic is a “public health emergency”. (MSF)
Between 2018 and 2022, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) treated more than 19,500 survivors of sexual violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), nearly 60 per cent of the total number of people who received treatment for sexual violence in the country over that period. The number of people MSF treated in 2022 for sexual violence tripled compared to the number our teams treated in 2018.
These striking figures comes as MSF releases a new report on sexual violence in CAR, urging the government and humanitarian organisations to take action to address the crisis, including providing expanded medical and psychological support to survivors.
“Sexual violence in CAR is a taboo public health emergency and cannot be solely addressed as an armed conflict-related problem”, says Khaled Fekih, MSF country director in CAR. “Despite some positive developments over the past five years, many survivors of sexual violence don’t report their cases and don’t seek treatment.”
“We know the number of patients seen is still just the tip of the iceberg,” Fekih continues. “More concrete actions are needed by both the CAR government and other national and international humanitarian organisations to change this situation.”
In the report “Invisible Wounds”, MSF analyses quantitative data from a dozen projects and emergency interventions we support or run in CAR. While an increasing number of survivors of sexual violence (95 per cent of whom are women) have had access to assistance over the last five years, many gaps in treatment remain.
These include basic and comprehensive medical care, initial psychosocial support, and sophisticated psychiatric care for complicated cases. Survivors also lack access to protection as well as socio-economic and legal support.
“Patients face many barriers to seeking care in a timely manner, including fear, lack of transportation means or resources, and ineffective care pathways,” says Liliana Palacios, MSF health adviser. “In some locations, MSF received patients who had travelled 130 kilometres, which can mean very long hours or even days of travel because of the poor state of road networks in CAR.”
“At times, patients sought care only years after suffering the aggression,” says Palacios.
Sexual violence in CAR goes far beyond the long-running conflict. MSF’s five-year analysis found a minority of assailants were armed (approximatively 20 per cent) and the vast majority of them were well-known to the survivor (approximatively 70 per cent).
Unfortunately, very few perpetrators are convicted because of flagrant impunity, while survivors face acute stigmatisation and other significant obstacles to continue normal life in their community. To help them reintegrate into society and not be penalised when they seek help, survivors of sexual violence need access to legal support and socio-economic assistance.
“A much stronger collective and holistic approach is needed to do more, faster and better,” says Fekih. “It must be a survivor-centred approach based on confidentiality, empathy, and respect.”
Oct. 2023
Report of the United Nations Secretary-General on women and peace and security:
Nearly a quarter of a century after the adoption by the UN Security Council of its resolution 1325 (2000), women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in building peace should be the norm, not an aspiration or an afterthought, but the data show that this is far from being a reality.
In peace processes, negotiating parties continue to regularly exclude women, and impunity for atrocities against women and girls is still prevalent.
Women continue to face entrenched barriers to direct participation in peace and political processes, and women’s organizations struggle to find resources, while military spending continues to grow every year.
This remains the case even though there is ample evidence that women’s participation contributes to more robust democracies and longer-lasting peace.
A growing share of the world’s population lives under autocratic rule, after many years of democratic backsliding. Misogyny is a common thread in the rise of authoritarianism and in the spread of conflict and violent extremism.
The number of people in need of humanitarian aid increased by 25 per cent over the past year, and the world is undergoing the largest global food crisis in modern history.
Much of this increase is driven by nearly 200 armed conflicts and situations of organized violence, as well as by the climate crisis and the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
In this difficult context, the number of women and girls living in conflict affected countries reached 614 million in 2022, 50 per cent higher than the number in 2017.
In early 2022, the number of people forced to flee war, violence and persecution surpassed 100 million, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 117.2 million people will be forcibly displaced or stateless by the end of 2023.
As these negative trends turn back the clock on women’s rights, they also turn back the clock of history, setting back both gender equality and global peace.
When fighting broke out in the Sudan in April 2023, widespread sexual violence terrorized the women and girls of Darfur and elsewhere in the country, mirroring violence witnessed in Darfur two decades ago. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have issued more than 50 edicts to suppress women’s and girls’ rights, in a return to the oppression of the 1990s.
The UN Secretary-General report on women, peace, and security is issued annually coinciding with the UN Security Council Open Debate on resolution 1325, which calls for all parties to conflicts to ensure the safety of women and girls, and for women’s full involvement in peace processes.
The report is informed by data and analysis provided by entities of the United Nations system, including peace operations and country teams, inputs from Member States, regional organizations and civil society, and analysis from other globally recognized data sources.

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