Recent UN Achievements for Women Victims of Sexual Violence

Conflict makes people especially vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation and enslavement by groups like Da’esh/ISIL, and Boko Haram. Armed groups including ISIL and Boko Haram are openly reviving slavery and organising slave markets, using social media platforms to both groom victims and to auction them off.

It was recently reported that Daesh kidnaps women and children to sell as sex slaves on social media – more than 7,000 young women and children have been kidnapped from their homes and sold into slavery in a chilling new money making operation by Islamic State leaders.

It has recently been reported that ISIS terror groups strip women in the street at a “Slave Market”when selling them as sex slaves – children aged between one and nine are sold for $165 – ISIL fighters have used apps such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Threema to auction enslaved Yazidi women and launder the resulting profits.

The Security Council first took up the issue of human trafficking in conflict in December 2015 at the prompting of the United States and after hearing the heart-wrenching testimony of Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a Yazidi survivor of sexual enslavement by ISIL.

Unfortunately, UN Peacekeepers are also known traffickers. The first report of a UN Peacekeeper trafficking the ones they are meant to protect surfaced in 2012, then again in 2014 and then again last year. Now, the UN is taking steps against this horrific abuse of power, the rule of law, human rights principles and a violation of international law – and it has been addressed through Security Council Resolutions, a change in leadership, and a prosecution in the International Criminal Court. 

Days of ‘silence’ on sexual exploitation and abuse are over, says UN envoy in Central African Republic:

The United Nations is sending a very strong signal that the days of silence and compromise with behaviour related to sexual exploitation and abuse by its troops are over, according to the UN envoy in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga was appointed head of the UN Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) last August after his predecessor resigned amid allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers under his command.

In 2015, 22 of the 69 cases against peacekeepers serving under the UN flag took place in the CAR, and fresh allegations have surfaced in 2016.

While the Organization is taking new measures to protect from these crimes, including through a recent Security Council  resolution, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga told the UN News Centre that “this is appalling,” and it is unacceptable “that anyone working under the blue flag could be seen not as a protector but as a predator.”

Sexual violence, human trafficking and exploitation of the most vulnerable continues to be used as a weapon of war. 

Photo: UN Special Representative and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) Parfait Onanga-Anyanga. Credit: MINUSCA

When governmental leaders are involved in these corrupt and vile acts, this abuse of power is relentless … 

The former Congolese vice-president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, has been found guilty in the first trial at the international criminal court (ICC) to focus on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war – was reported in The Guardian recently.

The 53-year-old warlord commanded a militia that committed mass murder, rape and pillage in neighbouring Central African Republic, the court ruled at the end of his trial in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The verdicts mark the first time the ICC has convicted defendants of rape or command responsibility for the actions of their troops, a legal principle established by other UN tribunals that makes a commander responsible for failing to take action to stop crimes he knows are being committed by subordinates.

Jean-Pierre Bemba takes his seat in court on Monday. The former Congolese vice-president was arrested in Belgium in 2008. Photograph: Jerry Lampen/AP

Rape was first recognised as a crime against humanity when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued arrest warrants based on the Geneva Conventions and Violations of the Laws or Customs of War. 

The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action condemns systematic rape as well as murder, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy, as the: “violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law“, and requires a particularly effective response.

The Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum recognises rape, sexual slaveryenforced prostitutionforced pregnancyenforced sterilization, “or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” as a crime against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systematic practice.

In the Rwandan Trials, more specifically, the Trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba Commune in Rwanda held that rape, which it defined as “a physical invasion of a sexual nature committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive“, and sexual assault constitute acts of genocide insofar as they were committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted group.

The United Nations continues to crack down on these horrific international crimes, not only through the passing of Security Council Resolutions, changing leadership, condemning corruption from within, but also calling the broader community to be a part of the solution – including the corporate sector. 

Institutionalised sexual slavery, forced child recruitment as suicide bombers, and trafficking in organs are horrifying new twists on human trafficking says Dr James Cockayne, Head of the UN University Office in New York. The UN University has recently put out a Report addressing these issues, calling on greater responsibility amongst the corporate sector. 

The UN University Report suggests the UN Security Council could encourage the financial, technology, employment and recruitment sectors to develop due diligence standards to prevent their businesses’ implication in facilitating human trafficking in conflict.

The report proposes 10 ‘Ideas for Action’ by the Security Council, including: 

1. increased monitoring of armed groups’ involvement in human trafficking, 

2. data-sharing, 

3. the use of sanctions, 

4. international criminal cooperation, 

5. implementing existing sanctions, and 

6. strengthening the role of international criminal courts.

The report considers ideas for strengthening international denunciation of slavery and human trafficking in conflict, which can constitute a crime against humanity.

The private sector has an important role to play in monitoring and disrupting human trafficking in conflict.

The Security Council could help states and the private sector work together to develop clearer expectations and safeguards: 

  1. developing due diligence standards; and 
  2. foster training of risk and compliance officers to protect supply-chains from being tainted by human trafficking in conflict.

In addition to the above, as a global community, we all need to take greater responsibility to prevent human trafficking form occurring, including being aware of what we are purchasing as consumers – and asking the question:

“is there slavery in the supply chain of this product?” and

“can you guarantee that this product is slave-free?”

We can all contribute to the eradication of human trafficking in our lifetime – whether as consumers, exercising corporate social responsibility, trough our Humanitarian Aid programs, within our judicial systems, through community education as a form of prevention, by supporting programs that protect victims, but most of all by ensuring we are not a nation that creates a demand for the commodification of flesh – or accepts gender based violence and violence against women as a social norm in our nation and region. 

If you would like to take part  in advocacy or lobbying in this important area of international human rights law, please contact FFJF here – and let us know what specific skills you can contribute. 

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