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The first annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

On 19 June, the United Nations commemorated the first annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Sexual abuse and rape have historically served as methods of terror used in states of war across many countries, including Rwanda, South Sudan, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cote D’Ivoire, among others. Current terror groups continue to commit these atrocious crimes, most recently seen in actions by Boko Haram and ISIL.

"Sexual violence is now widely recognized as a deliberate strategy used to shred the fabric of society; to control and intimidate communities and to force people from their homes. [...] We must continue to speak up for the women, girls, men and boys whose bodies for too long have been considered the spoils of war,” said Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General.

In a recent report, the Human Rights Council stated that over 3,200 Yazidi women and children are still held by ISIL, most of them being in Syria, where women continue to be sexually enslaved.

One girl, who was 12 years old at the time of her capture, shared her story: “[ISIL] took our names, ages, where we came from and whether we were married or not. After that, [ISIL] fighters would come to select girls to go with them. The youngest girl I saw them take was about 9 years old. One girl told me that ‘if they try to take you, it is better that you kill yourself.’”

ISIS considers the Yazidis to be infidels and, according to the report, the terror group has publicly cited the Yazidis’ faith as the basis for attacks. The Commission said that ISIS has referred to the Yazidi as a “pagan minority [whose] existence […] Muslims should question,” adding that “their women could be enslaved […] as spoils of war.”

ISIL and its fighters have been holding thousands of women and girls in both slavery and sexual slavery, with some victims as young as 9 years old. The report stated that many Yazidi women and girls are being sold, gifted and willed between fighters, occurring in slave markets in the Syrian governorates of Raqqah, Aleppo, Homs, Hasakah and Dayr Az- Zawr.

“Survivors who escaped from [ISIL] captivity in Syria describe how they endured brutal rapes, often on a daily basis, and were punished if they tried to escape with severe beatings, and sometimes gang rapes,” said Commissioner Vitit Muntarbhorn.

In an effort to counter these crimes, the Secretary-General put in place several initiatives, including creating a post of Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Zainab Bangura is currently holding this position.

In early June, Bangura told the UN Security Council that this report was the eighth account of conflict-related sexual violence.

“Cumulatively, these reports build a historical record for a crime that has long been omitted from official accounts of war and peace,” Bangura said. “As this report outlines in harrowing detail, we are confronting new and previously unforeseen threats. Just as we make inroads with national security forces, the problem of sexual violence by non-State actors acquires ever-more difficult and disturbing dimensions.”

She referred to the report by noting “counter-terrorism strategies can no longer be decoupled from efforts to protect and empower women and girls and to combat conflict-related sexual violence,” and continued to highlight the following steps being taken to counter these crimes, including enforcing religious leaders to use moral authority to negate any attempt of legitimizing rape on religious grounds and raising the cost of these inhuman crimes, among others.

Bangura also mentioned the sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers within field operations, which continue to go unreported. The UN continues to actively enforce solutions. As part of her official visit to Cote D’Ivoire in May, Bangura met with the country’s senior government and UN officials to discuss the progress made in addressing sexual violence crimes during the post-electoral crisis.

“We have been able to identify remaining challenges in the implementation of the [Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire] FRCI Action Plan to combat conflict-related sexual violence and discussed the way forward towards the delisting of the FRCI from the annex of the annual report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence,” Bangura said.

A panel discussion to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict will be held at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Tuesday, 21 June 2016.

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