Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict


By Kamala Kanta Dash


 The prevention of sexual violence must remain one of our highest priorities António Guterres, The UN Secretary General

Today the world is observing the day to end sexual violence in conflict. International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict is an effort to bring the sexual violence in conflict to public sphere and prepare policies and institutional mechanism to deter and stop it.

The United Nations and the human rights group have long recognised that Sexual Violence has been used as a tactics in war. Nisha Varia of the Human Rights Watch says “In conflicts around the world, armies and armed groups use sexual violence as a devastating tactic of war,” and also that of terrorism.

The United Nations has reported that sexual violence is increasingly used as a tactic of terrorism, employed by radical extremist and violent groups in places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and Mali to advance their military, economic and ideological ends.

The Economist in 2011 titled its story on sexual violence as ‘War’s Overlooked Victims’ to highlight the neglected focus on rape of women in conflict. Though the incidents of sexual violence have recently caught the global attention from the developments in ISIS and Boko Haram dominated areas in Middle East and Africa, ongoing conflicts in Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria have shown ugly face of sexual violence.

As a tactics to terrorise population through rape is not just confined to these conflict ridden African nations. This actually has been an ancient tactic of domination, humiliation and ethnic cleansing, but not required as a modern tactic of war and the Economist article argues that it’s also neither effective when the perpetrators are using rape as a tactic of intelligence gathering or if they have ambition to return to power to govern these people.

This year the theme is “Preventing Sexual Violence Crimes through Justice and Deterrence”. The effort has been made at the international level to raise awareness regarding these heinous crimes that women are subjected to in conflict situations. There is also an immediate need to halt these kind of crimes through appropriate law enforcement and judicial intervention.

This day’s focus is also on to provide protection and rehabilitation to the victims of sexual violence. Victims would invariably need ‘‘timely assistance, access to medical support, legal aid and psycho-social support’’. The component also includes extending “economic support to promote the victims’ rehabilitation and also at the same time combat efforts to stigmatize them within their communities”.

India at the United Nations has argued that there is an urgent need to punish the perpetrators of sexual violence on women and children as “prosecution is essential for prevention” and at the same has highlighted “the need to increase involvement of women in conflict prevention and resolution”.

Preventing Sexual violence in conflict needs to get the same attention as Countering violent extremism is getting. It needs to be talked about more in the open, including the impact of the prevention initiatives. This day is also for the women survivors who have shown extraordinary courage and resilience and their story needs to be told and retold, again and again.

*Prof Dash is with Sri Sri University, Odisha and is a Senior Editor at