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Women, Peace and Security: Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict

On Monday (16 April), the Security Council will hold an open debate on “preventing sexual violence in conflict through empowerment, gender equality and access to justice”. The debate will be chaired by Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra Velásquez, Permanent Representative of Peru to the UN. The briefers will be: Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten; and Razia Sultana, Senior Researcher at Kaladan Press, on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. Sultana is a Rohingya lawyer, researcher and educator specialising in trauma, mass rape and trafficking of Rohingya girls and women. No outcome is expected.

The objective of the debate is to discuss how to prevent sexual violence in conflict through women’s empowerment, gender equality and access to justice. It is expected to focus particularly on patterns and trends identified in the Secretary-General’s annual report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (S/2018/250), including in relation to structural discrimination, economic inequalities, climates of impunity and insecurity, among other root causes.

Mohammed is expected to brief on key aspects of the Secretary-General’s report, while Patten will brief on the work of her office, including her recent country visits to Myanmar, Iraq and Sudan. Sultana will brief on her work with Rohingya women and girls in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Her perspective on the situation could help provide useful information to Council members ahead of the Council visiting mission to Myanmar and Bangladesh expected to take place later this month.

A concept note circulated by Peru outlines some trends and emerging concerns contained in the Secretary-General’s report, in relation to the use of sexual violence by parties to armed conflict as a tactic of war and terrorism. In this regard, the note highlights aspects of the report including, that such violence can cause long-term physical and psychological trauma, and that conflict-related sexual violence has devastated the physical and economic security of displaced, minority and rural women in particular. It also underscores the importance of support for socioeconomic reintegration aimed at restoring community cohesion in the wake of war and how women suffer structural discrimination at the macro-economic level, which hampers their ability to realise their rights. The report further notes the high-levels of impunity in the aftermath of most incidents of mass rape, with the majority of victims of conflict-related sexual violence being politically and economically marginalised women and girls living beyond the reach of law enforcement and the protection of rule of law institutions.

The open debate aims to identify opportunities and gaps at the national, regional, and international level to improve efforts to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence through the empowerment of women, gender equality, and access to justice. The concept note suggests a number of areas members could focus on, including measures taken at the national level, how to strengthen justice mechanisms, and the role of the Council and member states. Among the specific questions raised are:

  • What specific measures have been taken at the national level to prevent conflict-related sexual violence, particularly long-term initiatives focused on women’s empowerment, advancing gender equality, and ensuring that perpetrators of sexual violence are brought to justice?
  • What gaps in national legal frameworks, policies, and programmes would need to be addressed in the above regard?
  • How can the participation of women and civil society be promoted as part of efforts to ensure women’s protection, as well as their economic recovery, empowerment and resilience?
  • What strategies can be implemented in order to strengthen justice mechanisms to sanction those responsible for sexual violence and to end impunity?
  • How can conflict-related sexual violence be more effectively addressed through International Commissions of Inquiry, referrals to and cooperation with the ICC, and the establishment of ad hoc, hybrid and national tribunals?
  • How can the Council, when establishing and renewing the mandates of UN peacekeeping and political missions, as well as relevant sanctions regimes, more effectively promote gender equality, the empowerment of women in conflict and post-conflict situations, and accountability for sexual violence crimes?
  • How can member states continue to support the efforts of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict?


Most members are supportive of the Council’s treatment of sexual violence in conflict. However, there are divergent views on how to incorporate this issue into the Council’s sanctions regimes, and more broadly, how to advance and deepen efforts to integrate the women, peace and security agenda across all areas of the Council’s work. China and Russia have typically resisted many elements that they interpret as an expansion of the women, peace and security agenda or perceived as infringing on state sovereignty or the competencies of other parts of the UN system. Sweden and Peru serve as co-chairs of the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security, established following the adoption of resolution 2242 in October 2015. The UK is the penholder on the issue.

In Monday’s debate, Council members may choose to raise several of the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report. These could include:

  • giving due consideration to the early-warning signs of sexual violence in conflict situations, especially in relation to periods of rising violent extremism, political instability, elections and mass population movements, and to take appropriate action;
  • employing all means to influence state and non-state parties to conflict to comply with international law, including by referring relevant situations to the ICC;
  • using the Council’s periodic field visits to focus attention on sexual violence concerns; and
  • supporting the accelerated deployment of women’s protection advisers in order to facilitate implementation of resolutions on sexual violence in conflict.


Some Council members may also seek to address sexual violence in conflict in the context of the Secretary-General’s sustaining peace agenda, including how to give due consideration to the identified risk factors of sexual violence as an early-warning indicator that could enable the Council to better fulfil its conflict prevention role.

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