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International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, 19 June

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Fahad Ali

The term “conflict-related sexual violence” encompasses a wide range of grave sexual offences, including rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, and other comparable forms of sexual violence. These acts are committed against women, men, girls, or boys and are directly or indirectly linked to a conflict. The definition also includes trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual violence or exploitation in conflict situations. This type of violence is a pervasive issue, but due to fear and cultural stigma, the majority of survivors do not report these crimes. It is estimated that for every reported rape in connection with a conflict, 10 to 20 cases go undocumented.

UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/69/293, adopted on June 19, 2015, designated June 19 as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This day aims to increase awareness about the urgent need to end conflict-related sexual violence, honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence worldwide, and acknowledge those who have dedicated and sacrificed their lives to eradicate these crimes. The resolution commemorates the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1820 on June 19, 2008, which condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war and an obstacle to peacebuilding.

In response to the increase in violent extremism, the UN Security Council passed resolution S/RES/2331 in 2016, the first resolution to address the intersection of trafficking, sexual violence, terrorism, and transnational organized crime. It recognized sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism and affirmed that victims of trafficking and sexual violence committed by terrorist groups should be eligible for official redress as victims of terrorism.

The current global landscape is witnessing a surge in conflicts, with the highest number of such incidents since World War II, resulting in a staggering 117 million individuals compelled to flee their homes. The blithe disregard for international law, proliferation of arms, and escalating militarization are exacerbating sexual violence and posing grave threats to the safety of civilians, particularly vulnerable groups.

Increased attacks on civilian infrastructures, such as healthcare facilities, are intensifying, depriving communities of fundamental rights such as access to healthcare and posing significant challenges for safe reporting and response. This situation poses serious threats to the safety of civilians, especially vulnerable groups like survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, as hospitals play a crucial role in providing life-saving assistance in conflict-affected areas.

The long-term detrimental effects of conflict-related sexual violence on victims are well-documented, as this abhorrent practice is often used as a tactic of war, torture, and terrorism. It inflicts devastating physical, sexual, reproductive, and mental health effects and tears apart the social fabric of affected communities. Women and girls are subjected to brutal forms of sexual violence, and armed groups frequently control access to medical services. The prevailing fear, stigma, and insecurity prevent most women and girls from seeking essential medical attention. Moreover, the destruction of health facilities, targeting of health workers, and restrictions on humanitarian access further hinder life-saving assistance for survivors.

It is imperative for us to pledge to eradicate this scourge, express solidarity with survivors, and reiterate our commitment to safeguarding hospitals and healthcare facilities during conflicts.

The military use of hospitals poses a threat to these critical institutions, as well as the safety of patients and medical personnel. Attacks on healthcare facilities in conflict zones have dire consequences, leading to an unprecedented number of women and girls losing their lives before or during childbirth. Ensuring their safety, providing comprehensive care, and supporting survivors are essential to prevent long-term harm and marginalization. The safety of hospitals in conflict zones is crucial for the well-being of survivors of sexual violence and those at risk, and it is pivotal in supporting their pursuit of justice and redress.

The international humanitarian law provides protection to hospitals from attacks and emphasizes the principles of distinction and proportionality. The international community must ensure the protection of these vital structures, which are indispensable for survivors of sexual violence. Financial support should prioritize survivor-centred responses in conflict situations, including comprehensive support services, access to justice, and socioeconomic reintegration.

It is imperative to guarantee safe and equitable access to inclusive and quality education, including digital literacy for all. Furthermore, international cooperation must be strengthened to counter the increasing instances of sexual and gender-based violence, harassment, and hate speech, both offline and online, as these pose a significant threat to democracy by undermining the participation of women and girls in society.

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