International Day on the Elimination of Violence against Women

GENEVA (24 November 2023) – The international community must redouble its efforts to ensure the full protection of women and girls in times of armed conflict, UN experts* said today. In advance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the experts issued the following statement:

“As the world grapples with an increasing number of brutal conflicts we are gravely concerned that women, together with girls, continue to be disproportionally exposed to violence and bear the brunt of armed conflicts worldwide. Women and girls are often the primary targets of warring parties, groups, and repressive regimes as they are subjected to recurrent violent acts and unspeakable horrors during war.

Rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, including forced prostitution, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery, continue to be used as a weapon of war. Across the world, sexual violence continues to be used as a deliberate strategy to subjugate, break, and at times, destroy the opponent and intimidate the population. These atrocities can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and/or genocide.

Today, the distressing scale and gravity of crimes committed against women and children, including girls, and those belonging to minority groups, is due, at least in part to the failure of States to prevent such atrocities and to hold the perpetrators accountable. Violence against women, including domestic violence, which continues with impunity during peace time translates into even greater impunity for crimes against women in war times. The absence of effective documentation and investigation into such egregious violations perpetrated by both State and non-State actors, including armed and criminal groups, colonial settlers, and mercenaries, as well as the non-implementation of the required legislative and other necessary measures to prevent such violence; punish those responsible; close the gap of accountability; and provide survivor-centric transformative, and gender-sensitive reparations, risks emboldening perpetrators and re-victimising the survivors.

The impunity for perpetrators is further exacerbated by the failure to put in place a democratic international financial system to ensure that taxes are shared, and illicit financial flows are prevented. Governments and corporations engaged in war economies must avoid war profiteering, including through the levy of taxes and the destruction of infrastructure of a State, that their engagement can potentially cause, thereby negatively affecting the lives of affected populations, including women and girls.

The proposed inclusion of sexual and gender-based crimes in a future treaty on crimes against humanity would be an important milestone towards adopting a gender-sensitive lens, including by increasing the accountability and expectations of States to prevent and punish gender-based violence in peacetime and in conflict, and to ensure adequate provisions compliant with international human rights standards are incorporated into domestic laws.

Recently, there has been a significant regression in relation to the human rights and protections that women and children are entitled to during times of conflict and post conflict settings. Women and girls fleeing gender-based violence and persecution must have access to gender sensitive asylum and international protection procedures that recognize gender-related claims. They must be able to seek asylum and find safe refuge, particularly when they have fled rape and other forms of violence, such as dowry-related violence, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, arbitrary forced displacement, trafficking, slavery, child and forced marriage, among others, in addition to enjoying other fundamental protections afforded to displaced persons. Other fundamental human rights that are at threat to women and children include the right to education, freedom of movement, and access to information as well as enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health rights.

Non-citizen women who are survivors of violence during conflict must have equal access to national measures for assisting and protecting victims of violence rather than being relegated to parallel procedures and services.

The international community must not only put pressure on parties to conflicts to respect international human rights, humanitarian and refugee laws, but to also allow and facilitate unimpeded funds, debt forgiveness, and unconditional life-saving humanitarian relief and assistance, that are sex and gender sensitive and take into consideration -amongst others- the sexual and reproductive needs of women and girls.

It is imperative that all relevant actors, including those individuals, government and non-governmental entities and organisations, tasked with responding to the humanitarian and protection needs of affected populations in conflict, and in post-conflict situations, as well as those affected by political repression and instability, are granted access to the affected population.

Women’s rights organisations, women human rights defenders and civil society activists in particular must receive the necessary support, both financially and politically, to be able to engage with women and girls in humanitarian settings, to better respond to their needs and to advocate for protection of women’s rights. The safety and security of women’s associations and activists must be maintained and ensured.

The rights of women to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in conflict settings must be upheld and facilitated, so that women activists can advocate for adequate protection and services for women and girl victims of conflict-related sexual and gendered-based violence and freely mobilise to ensure women’s voices are heard and meaningfully included in any conflict resolution-efforts. These rights are vital for ensuring the public participation of women, so that they can influence laws and policies guaranteeing effective women’s rights protection in conflict and in periods of transition.

The extent to which women and children, including girls, are protected during armed conflict and in its aftermath is the real litmus test of the international community’s commitment to gender equality and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Within the current global context, and the ongoing conflicts that are ravaging many countries across the globe, we are failing this test. The safety of women and girls is far from being achieved.

In addition to being disproportionately affected by conflict, women also have a crucial role to play in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and recovery processes. In 2020, the UN Human Rights Council recognized the role of women in conflict prevention and resolution, stressing the importance of their “full, equal and meaningful participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Women continue to be strongly underrepresented in formal peace processes.”

The international community must take all necessary measures to step up its interventions to prevent gender-based violence, including sexual violence, against all women and girls, online and offline, in times of both peace and conflict. The full participation of women and girls in the prevention and resolution of conflict, displacement and peace building is indispensable for ensuring a meaningful and lasting global peace and stability.

*The experts: Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequencesDorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstić, Haina Lu, and Laura Nyirinkindi, Working group on discrimination against women and girlsThomas Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in MyanmarAlioune Tine Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in MaliCecilia BaillietIndependent Expert on human rights and international solidarityJavaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of IranAshwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intoleranceMariana Katzarova, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation; Nicolas Levrat, Special Rapporteur on Minority issuesTomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequencesGehad MadiSpecial Rapporteur on the human rights of migrantsPaula Gaviria BetancurSpecial Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced personsDr. Mohamed Abdelsalam BabikerSpecial Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in EritreaRichard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on AfghanistanAnaïs Marin Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in BelarusClément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defendersIrene Khan Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and ExpressionAttiya Waris, Independent expert on foreign debt, other international financial obligations and human rights, Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in CambodiaCarlos Salazar Couto (Chair-Rapporteur), Sorcha MacLeod, Jovana Jezdimirovic Ranito, Chris M. A. Kwaja, Ravindran Daniel, Working Group on the use of mercenariesMs. Elizabeth SalmónSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.