United Nations sanctions can be used to limit the weaponization of sexual violence in conflict situations, Sophie Huvé (LAW ’17), a Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security fellow, argued in a report published by GIWPS last week.
Huvé has been asked to present her findings to UNrepresentatives later this month.
The GIWPS report is the first of its kind to review the use of sanctions as a tool to combat conflict-related sexual violence. Huvé gathered research from UN documents, nongovernmental organization reports and interviews with diplomatic experts for her report. Later this month, the UN Security Council is set to hold debates about the use of sanctions, with Huvé briefing delegations on her report in preparation.
Conflict-related sexual violence, as defined in the report, is “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls, or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.”
GIWPS Executive Director Melanne Verveer (SLL ’66, GRD ’69) said the report focuses specifically on gender-based violence and its impact on women as a tool of war.
“Sexual violence today has been weaponized,” Verveer said in an interview with The Hoya. “It is a tool of war. It is, in many of these conflicts, the preferred tool of armed combatants, and it’s highly effective.”
Huvé said sanctions can be used effectively against sexual violence, as it is used against traditional weapons of war, to increase the cost of committing violence in war.
“It doesn’t cost anything to use sexual violence as a weapon of war,” Huvé said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s not a weapon you have to buy. How can we change what’s happening on the ground? Well, we can increase the cost of the weapon. What is one of the most effective ways to increase the cost of that weapon? It’s to target the key stakeholders with individual sanctions.”
The report challenges current UN precedent: While UN sanctions have been used in the past to combat broader humanitarian crises, they have never specifically targeted acts of sexual violence.
Huvé’s report presents several methods to increase the effectiveness of the proposed UN sanctions. According to Huvé, UN sanctions committees are often limited, sometimes by word count, in the amount of information they can include about human rights violations. In these situations, sexual violence is often overlooked.
Huvé’s report argues that the UN should clearly define what it means to perpetrate sexual violence, and make doing so a standalone justification for sanctions, to draw attention to sexual violence in particular and distinguish it from other crimes. Huvé also advocates more UN experts focused on the protection of women in conflict.
“Sexual violence for a long time has been considered a women’s rights issue, and not a peace and security issue,” Huvé said. “If most of the diplomats are men, well, women’s issues are not going to be the priority for them. The experts are the eyes and ears of the Security Council, so if you do not have a gender expert, how can you focus on sexual violence?”
Huvé also noted that the proposed solutions, which include the creation of definitions for sexual violence and a panel of experts as well as the use of sanctions, would come at a low cost — which may make them appealing in the eyes of the Security Council.
However, Verveer said that implementing sanctions against political actors presents a large challenge for those attempting to protect women from sexual violence.
“Political will is always the biggest challenge,” Verveer said. “There’s a political hesitancy to go after the governmental criminal actors.”
Some member states of the Security Council are reluctant to impose sanctions for sexual violence given their own past transgressions, according to Huvé.
“You have a lot of the Security Council members, including P-5, [whose forces have perpetrated] sexual violence,e” Huvé said. “They’re not using it as a weapon of war, necessarily, but so many of them have been accused of sexual violence as a practice.”
Discussions about conflict-based sexual violence therefore represent a threat to members of the UN, a roadblock to potential reform. The threat of sanctions incentivizes states such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo to change their behavior even if eliminating sexual violence is not their priority.
“They don’t care about sexual violence,” Huvé said. “But they do care about their self-interest.”
Verveer said this report has the potential to make substantial and impactful change.
“It’s breaking new ground,” Verveer said. “Too often, sexual violence in conflict is marginalized. It’s got to end, and we’ve got to figure out better ways to address it. Sanctions are one of those ways.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the GIWPS report was the first of its kind to propose sanctions for sexual violence. In fact, the report was the first to review the use of sanctions to combat sexual violence.