G8 Nations Pledge to Fight Sexual Violence during Conflict by Increasing Awareness, Victim Support and Law Enforcement Capacity

Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura
Credit: UN

During a meeting of foreign ministers in London on April 11, 2013, the Group of Eight (G8) nations endorsed the Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, a new initiative to fight rape and sexual violence.  Reiterating that rape and sexual violence are war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions, G8 foreign ministers pledged $35.5 million in order to prevent such acts and hold perpetrators accountable. [UN]  Specifically, the foreign ministers intend to draft protocols setting international standards on investigating and prosecuting these crimes and improving access to services for survivors of rape and sexual violence.  [CNNAll Africa]

The agreement followed a G8 meeting with Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, who supported the initiative and emphasized that conflict-related sexual violence does not affect just one person, but whole communities.  [UN]  She also praised the effort to focus on punishing “all those who commit, command, or condone sexual violence in conflict.”

The G8 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – hold an annual summit during which they discuss issues such as international trade and relations with developing nations, crime and drugs, energy, and terrorism.  This year’s summit, to be held in June, and the foreign ministers’ meeting are hosted by the United Kingdom, which currently holds the G8 presidency. [Gov.UK]

Existing International Prohibitions of Sexual Violence

Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention holds that “[w]omen shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.”  Similarly, Article 4(2)(e) of the Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form or indecent assault.”

Litigation before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has advanced legal accountability for rape as an international crime. The ICTY cited the Geneva Conventions in holding perpetrators of rape and sexual assault criminally responsible for genocide, torture, and violations of international humanitarian law. See e.g., Prosecutor v. Bralo (Case IT-95-17), ICTY, Trial Chamber, Judgment of 7 December 2005, paras. 5, 28; Prosecutor v. Furundžija (Case IT-95-17/1), ICTY, Trial Chamber, Judgment of 10 December 1998, para. 44.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has found individuals guilty of crimes against humanity for acts of rape and sexual violence, even though the Geneva Conventions did not directly apply. See e.g., Prosecutor v. Akayesu (ICTR-96-4-T), ICTR, Chamber I, Judgment of 2 September 1998, para. 696.  And, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has charged individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity based on acts of rape and sexual assault, though it has not as yet convicted anyone of these crimes. See e.g., Prosecutor v. Gombo, ICC, Decision Pursuant to Article 61(7)(a) and (b) of the Rome Statute on the Charges of the Prosecutor Against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, ICC-01/05-01/08, 15 June 2009, paras. 160, 282.

The Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict

The G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict is a political commitment by these States to contribute to the prevention and prosecution of such crimes.  It identifies sexual violence in situations of armed conflict as a serious human rights concern, recognizes the international legal framework for accountability, and commits the G8 governments to contributing additional effort and resources to assisting victims and punishing perpetrators.  The Declaration reaffirms States’ international obligations with regard to justice and accountability, but asserts that efforts to date have been insufficient, stating:

1. Ministers welcomed the positive efforts in recent years by States, the UN, other intergovernmental organisations, local and international civil society and nongovernmental organisations to prevent and respond to sexual violence in armed conflict. Despite these efforts, sexual violence in armed conflict continues to occur. In some conflicts it is systematic or widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality. […] Sexual violence in armed conflict represents one of the most serious forms of violation or abuse of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Preventing sexual violence in armed conflict is therefore both a matter of upholding universal human rights and of maintaining international security, in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1820. Ministers emphasised that more must be done to address these ongoing crimes, including by challenging the myths that sexual violence in armed conflict is a cultural phenomenon or an inevitable consequence of war or a lesser crime.

2. Ministers recognised the positive steps in holding perpetrators to account at both the national and international level including through the work of the International Criminal Court, the ad hoc and mixed tribunals, and the specialised chambers in national tribunals. But in conflict and post-conflict situations national justice systems are significantly weakened resulting in a limited number of perpetrators facing justice. Ministers recalled that international humanitarian law maintains a long-standing prohibition of sexual violence in armed conflict and that sexual violence when it is part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population can constitute a crime against humanity and can be a constitutive act with respect to genocide. They also recalled the existing normative frameworks established under UN Security Council Resolutions 1261 (1999), 1325 (2000) and 1612 (2005) and all subsequent resolutions on children in armed conflict and on women, peace and security, as well as UN Security Council Resolution 1983 (2011). Ministers expressed their full support for the work of the UN in addressing sexual violence in armed conflict, particularly that of UN Women, and for the mandates of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representatives on Children and Armed Conflict and Sexual Violence in Conflict. They welcomed, in particular, the work of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict to build coherence and coordination in the UN’s response to sexual violence in armed conflict through UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict as well as her focus on national ownership and responsibility.


4. Ministers recalled that rape and other forms of serious sexual violence in armed conflict are war crimes and also constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and their first Protocol. States have an obligation to search for and prosecute (or hand over for trial) any individual alleged to have committed or ordered a grave breach regardless of nationality. Accordingly, those accused of grave breaches should be brought to trial, in a manner consistent with international norms. There should be no safe haven for perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict

In response, the governments are promising to “raise awareness of these crimes, to strengthen international political will at the very highest levels to remove the barriers that prevent the effective monitoring and reporting on situations of sexual violence in armed conflict, to provide better support to victims, and to build both national and international capacities to respond to sexual violence in armed conflict including through investigating the crimes and prosecuting the offenders.” Declaration, para. 5.