For the first time ever, the declaration issued by participating Heads of State and Government at the NATO Summit in Chicago last month included a paragraph on sexual and gender-widespread violence. This is not only a recognition of the changing nature of conflict, but also an acknowledgement by NATO of the importance of the role of women and girls in building sustainable peace.
Sexual violence in conflict is a serious, present-day crisis affecting millions of people around the world. It is used by political and military leaders to achieve political, military and economic ends, destroying the very fabric of society. Practically every day, the UN system receives reports from the field about sexual violence used as a tool or tactic of war. It is a silent, cheap and effective weapon with serious and long-lasting effects, affecting both the individual and the chances of building an enduring peace. Acts of sexual violence do not only maim its victims mentally and physically, but they sow the seeds of destruction of an entire community: female survivors in some instances become pregnant, often get infected with sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/Aids, and are regularly rejected by their own families. There is a lingering myth that rape is inevitable in times of war. But if sexual violence can be planned, it can be punished; if it can be commanded, it can be condemned.
Ending sexual violence as a tactic of war remains one of the greatest challenges to the protection of human rights. The United Nations Secretary-General’s annual report earlier this year was the first to contain a list of ‘named and shamed’ for crimes of conflict-related sexual violence. The list is the Security Council’s most recent tool in the fight against impunity and sends a strong signal to those who tolerate sexual violence that they do so in defiance of international law.
It is positive and encouraging that NATO and the UN are collaborating on this issue. Realizing that sexual violence is a serious impediment to building long-term peace, Heads of State and Government at last month’s NATO Summit endorsed a Strategic Progress Report on mainstreaming UN Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security into NATO-led operations and missions. In order to ensure women’s and girls’ security in the efforts to develop peace and stability, the Alliance is currently integrating a gender perspective into NATO operations and exercises. Concretely, this will be ensured through training, education, and the appointment and deployment of Gender (Field) Advisors and by creating partnerships with other international and local organizations.
Much still remains to be done in the fight against rape as a tactic of war. Through continued, joint efforts by NATO and the United Nations, we have a good chance of putting an end to this scourge.
Margot Wallström is the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict
General Sir Richard Shirreff is Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe