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Sexual Violence in Conflict and Militarism

National security forces continue to perpetrate with impunity acts of violence against civilians. This is seen in the latest Report of the UN Secretary-General's report on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). At least ten of the twenty situations of conflict, post-conflict and concern in the Secretary-General's report on conflict-related sexual violence involve national security forces.

One of these bodies, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), is listed in the annex as committing or being responsible for patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women, men and children. Not only do these armed bodies of governments fail to protect civilians from sexual and other forms of violence, but they are themselves aggressors and violent perpetrator of such crimes.

UN actors and member states have called in some instances for the "professionalization of national armed forces" as a means to address conflict-related sexual violence. The Secretary-General's report on CRSV cites "the limited progress in the development of an accountable and professional security forces, the lack of regular payment of salaries, the weak command and control structure of the Congolese army" as contributing to continued human rights violations, including sexual violence in the DRC. Training sessions on codes of conduct, securing armories, and providing adequate wages and services to personnel can represent practical means to address armed violence committed by security forces. However, too often these tactics are proposed and implemented to the exclusion of disarmament and demobilization efforts. As such they fail to address the root causes and perpetuating factors of violence, namely militarism and the proliferation of weapons.

Not only do calls to professionalize foreign armies exclude disarmament, they fall upon a backdrop of a global arms trade valued at 50 billion USD per year and a global military expenditure of 1.6 trillion USD in 2010. Women are uniquely affected by the accumulation of weapons, the arms trade and armed conflict. Weapons facilitate trafficking, forced prostitution and sexual violence. Women are not only uniquely targeted due to their sex and their gendered roles during armed conflict, they experience increased violence after the guns have allegedly gone silent, both in the country that experienced violence and the country to which troops return (see for example, Gun Free Kitchen Tables Initiative). Finally, this military funding diverts resources away from investments for gender equality, including access to education, capacity building and health services.

Given the ties between militarism, arms and sexual and gender based violence, WILPF urges that UN bodies and member states re-conceptualize their approach to addressing sexual violence in conflict. This does not preclude providing adequate wages and training to national security personnel. Indeed training of military personnel on gender and gender security issues should be mandated before deployment. Performance reviews should be tied to gender responsiveness and include accountability measures and consequences for non-compliance. Additional measures include eliminating diplomatic immunity in sexual exploitation cases for private contractors and international personnel, ensuring accountability for perpetrators with secured funding for independent prosecutors. In a recent project, WILPF-US proposed these, and 62 other concrete recommendations to the U.S. government in formulating its National Action Plan on SCR 1325.

However, changing states' response to sexual violence in conflict requires the more difficult demand of shifting from militarism, in this case professionalizing armies, to disarming societies. This requires a shift of human, technological and financial resources away from military spending, particularly trading in arms, components and ammunition, towards investing in gender equality. Disarming societies also requires that existing military resources, namely weapons, are regulated. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), currently being negotiated, offers some potential in this regard. For more on the ATT, see the ATT prepcom information provided by Reaching Critical Will above.

Isabelle Cutting
isabelle@peacewomen.org