See related documents

Resolution 1670 (2009)

Sexual violence against women in armed conflict

Author(s): Parliamentary Assembly

Origin - Text adopted by the Standing Committee, acting on behalf of the Assembly, on 29 May 2009 (see Doc. 11916, report of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, rapporteur: Mrs Smet). See also Recommendation 1873 (2009).

1. Sexual violence against women in armed conflict is a crime against humanity, a war crime and an absolutely unacceptable weapon of war.
2. Unfortunately, it is also a very effective weapon of war. Raping, sexually assaulting and mutilating, forcibly impregnating and infecting with HIV/Aids the wives, daughters and mothers of the “enemy” not only have terrible physical and psychological effects on the victims themselves, but are capable of disrupting, if not destroying, whole communities.
3. Following the devastating effect of chemical munitions in the First World War – another effective weapon of war – it did not take long for them to be outlawed. Similarly, following the dreadful attacks on the civilian population in the Second World War – another effective weapon of war – it did not take long for the Geneva Conventions to be drafted to protect the civilian population. It is not the effectiveness of a weapon that leads to its use being outlawed: it is its total unacceptability as a violation of human rights, an attack on human dignity and even on humanity itself.
4. It is thus surprising that it has taken centuries for sexual violence against women in armed conflict to be outlawed. The inclusion of rape and sexual slavery as a war crime and a crime against humanity by the Rome Treaty on the Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998 marked a major step forward, but it was not until 2008 that the international community, via United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 (2008) on women, peace and security, recognised that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity and a constitutive act with respect to genocide.
5. The Security Council demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians” and expressed its deep concern that, despite repeated condemnation, violence and sexual abuse of women and children trapped in war zones were not only continuing, but, in some cases, had become so widespread and systematic as to “reach appalling levels of brutality”.
6. Today, the main victims of this crime are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (especially in Kivu) – where it has been said that it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier – and in Sudan (especially in Darfur). However, sexual violence against women was also a characteristic feature of the Balkan wars just over a decade ago. To this day, the exact figures are disputed, but it is estimated that upward of 20 000 Bosniac, Croat and Serb women were raped, often gang raped, and sometimes sexually enslaved and forcibly impregnated in so-called “rape camps” by armies and paramilitary groups.
7. Since there have been almost no prosecutions for rape and other crimes of sexual violence before the domestic courts, for example in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even fewer before the international courts, thousands of victims have been denied access to justice, reparation and redress. The lives of the victims remain blighted in many ways while the perpetrators enjoy almost complete impunity for their crimes.
8. The Council of Europe has a duty to ensure that human rights are guaranteed on the territory of its member states. Even though the mass rapes during the Balkan wars are not justiciable before the European Court of Human Rights now, this does not exclude the possibility that such crimes may again be committed on European soil in the future. The Council of Europe must not only be ready to face such a threat, but should also look into the possibility of providing assistance – in particular to its member states – in dealing with the legacy of past sexual violence in armed conflict.
9. The Parliamentary Assembly recalls that stopping sexual violence against women in armed conflict is intimately linked with empowering women and changing patriarchal societal models, as well as with ensuring that justice is done each and every time a woman is raped in an armed conflict, be it close, on European soil, or far away on another continent. The key to eradicating sexual violence against women in armed conflict is gender equality.
10. The Assembly thus calls upon member states to:
10.1. comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) on women, peace and security, and to draw up a national action plan, if they have not already done so;
10.2. lobby at United Nations level to extend Resolution 1820 (2008) to girls and women who are forced into the army and who do not fall under the scope of the current resolution;
10.3. recognise sexual violence in armed conflict as a gender-based form of persecution entitling to asylum in member states;
10.4. ensure that appropriate laws are on the statute books, and that effective prosecution of crimes of sexual violence in armed conflicts is possible, should they occur within their jurisdiction;
10.5. consider sanctioning countries that are unwilling to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict or unwilling to prosecute the perpetrators;
10.6. when national troops or international peacekeeping missions are sent into conflict situations, ensure that they have a clear mandate to protect the civilian population, in particular women and girls, from sexual violence and that they are properly trained in gender equality. Furthermore, women should make up a substantial proportion of these missions;
10.7. consider sending civilian missions to support and monitor the rule of law in order to complement the protection provided by peacekeepers; such missions should ideally be composed of an equal number of women and men, and their members should be properly trained in gender equality;
10.8. promote gender equality, including respect for women’s and girls’ bodily integrity, before, during and in the aftermath of armed conflict and also through an appropriate participation of women in peacemaking processes (at least 40%).