In her latest report on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, stressed that sexual violence has been implemented “as a ‘tactic of terror'” meant to target ethnic and religious minorities, as well as homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender individuals. Bangura’s report discusses sexual crimes committed by non-State actors, including ISIL, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab. These crimes include the abduction, rape, and selling of women and girls into slavery. Bangura also argues that these terrorist groups have been using sexual violence in order to forcefully displace mass amounts of people so that they can use their land for it’s resources or for growing narcotics. Bangura’s report derives from information gathered by UN peacekeeping and political missions, NGO’s, and Member States.
As far as what the international community can do about this, Bangura asserts that the Security Council will have to work with Member States to develop an effective response that will quash this increasing threat. Bangura also notes that it is especially crucial that countries with pervasive sexual violence make a political commitment to dealing with the issue, acknowledging that progress to this end has been made in the DRC, Columbia, Somalia, and Cote d’Ivoire.
Bangura, in an interview previewing the report, also stressed the importance of community and religious engagement in not only helping to understand the nature of the violence, but also in helping the victims get the healing they need. Tackling the issue, according the Bangura, involves capacity-building, technical support, reforming laws, and collaborating with the judiciary to ensure that sexual violence crimes are investigated, perpetrators are prosecuted, and victims are given essential psychological, medical, legal, and livelihood support and services. This is really where a country’s political will come in.
What will be interesting to see is how the international community responds to these allegations made against these terrorist groups, especially since they are non-State actors. Bangura herself notes that this will be a challenge, as these groups are different than the non-State actors that the UN has formerly dealt with. What makes them difficult to deal with is that they are well-organized, have developed structures, have lots of land spread out in many countries, and use up-to-date technology to communicate with their members. To deal with these innovative groups, the UN and the rest of the international community will have to develop new tools and strategies.
Another interesting part of this report is the implication of establishing that sexual crimes have been committed by these actors. While sexual violence has often been viewed as a lesser crime in comparison to other atrocities, there is some precedent for elevating sexual violence crimes to the highest status of crimes, such as we have read about in post-genocide Rwandan justice. Will sexual violence crimes committed by these terrorist groups be elevated to such high status if these groups are ever brought to justice? The answer to this remains to be seen.