Impunity in sexual violence against girl children during armed conflict

Master's Thesis, 2016

31 Pages, Grade: 4.5/6


Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The Context of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict

Chapter 2: Legal Protection Afforded in Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict

Chapter 3: Reasons Leading to Impunity for SGBV Crimes




Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


According to the Former Deputy Force Commander of the UN mission to the DRC “ It is more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict”. Indeed, sexual violence is the silent crime happening massively during all armed conflicts. The question of the extension of the problem has been tackled several times by several international organizations, researchers, UN bodies, and by the States affected. However, nobody really knows which is the real impact of these crimes. Speculation and inferences are used all the time due to the lack of information, and the chaotic scenario where this happens.

As was mentioned previously, the crime of sexual violence is primarily suffered by women and girls.1 Women and girls are usually disproportionally affected, and crimes such as these have devastating, long-term effects on the lives of survivors, their families, and the communities in which they live. Noting that this is a crime that affects particularly women and girls, special mention on this issue must be made on girls. Among the categorized six grave violations against children in armed conflicts, sexual violence has, as previously underlined, a specific gender dimension making girl children especially vulnerable, and main target of those practices. The extension of the problem is alarming, girls accounted for more than half of the victims of sexual violence in the armed conflicts. On the other side, perpetrators of sexual violence continue to enjoy near complete impunity. Gender concerns have been markedly absent across jurisdictions in transitional justice proceedings. So, when there is no accountability, children are again the main victims of government’s inactivity.

It must be noted that, while the objective of this paper is to focus as much as possible on girl children, the information available puts most of the time women and girls together, therefore this paper would not be complete if women were not mentioned as well.

This paper tries to shows that sexual violence occurring during armed conflict follows common patterns, that is to say, that regardless of the country where it happens, surprisingly it feels like the practice follows the same template of perpetration. It will also proves that girl children are the main victims, which makes sense that they are the ones more protected by the legislation against sexual violence during armed conflict. However, this paper will finish showing that the lack of law enforcement leads to impunity due to different reasons, which happens to be a constant repetition of similar motives every time, and everywhere.


Sexual violence has happened in every continent.2 Africa is the region with he highest number of modern conflicts, and has registered the highest impact of sexual violence in wartime, not surprisingly DRC has been named by UN officials the “rape capital of the world”.3

The most common practices registered have been described as:

“ Brutal forms of sexual violence including sexual slavery, gang rape, mutilation, torture, and insertion of sharp objects into women ’ s vagina ” 4

In the American continent the trend has not been any different, where women go through:

“ A wide variety of sexual violence including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, mutilation of sexual organs, and removing foetuses from pregnant women ” 5

Save the Children reported the specific impact of these practices in girls, especially adolescent girls (13-18 years old), presented as the main victims of sexual violence in war;6 In Sierra Leone 70% of the victims were under 18 7 (and in the area of Freetown HRW reported that at least half of the victims were under 14 years old),8 while in Liberia 83% where under 17.9 In DRC, 65% of the cases recorded by UNFPA were adolescent,10 while in Colombia (and a very huge number under 14 years old) and CAR it is estimated that more than half of the victims are girl children.11

However, these numbers cannot be taken as absolutes since there is a large lack of reporting and data disaggregation,12 which makes it very difficult to know what is the real impact.

The question of whether these alarming numbers are a result of the armed conflict or of a pre-existing condition remains also challenging. We will see along the paper that sexual violence is used during armed conflict for purposes linked to the conduct of hostilities themselves, such as a war tactic. This was acknowledged by the UNSCR 1820 (2008)13 and also supported by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.14

Tactics of war serve to punish the enemy, or terrorize the communities.15 In DRC, it was used particularly to punish, humiliate a particular community that was allegedly “supporting the enemy”.16 In Colombia, the Special Rapporteur of violence against women explained in 2002 that sexual violence terror is a successful strategy for paramilitary groups to demonstrate their strength and also to gain control of the territory.17 Besides, in Colombia the Office of the General Attorney reported that 232 children (among which 214 were girls) suffered sexual violence as a result of a strategic policy of the guerrilla established by High commanders.18 In Yugoslavia, where there were “rape camps”, rape was used as a technique of ethnic cleansing; while in Rwanda rape was used as a method to genocide.19 In other cases, as in Darfur and DRC, terrorizing the population has helped the armed groups to have control of the areas rich in resources and therefore to increase their financial capacity.20

Many children are kidnapped by armed groups to serve as soldiers but also as sexual slaves. In Colombia for example, girls apart from suffering the same violations as boys, they are also subjected to an non-ending circle of sexual violence and abuses, usually related too with forced abortions and sexually transmitted diseases.21

Many women in South Sudan, and Iraq (the Yazidi women and girls) are given to the combatants as war trophies or payment for their services, to use them as sexual slave or to marry them. In Colombia those gratifications have a big impact on girls due to the value accorded to virginity.22

During times of armed conflict sexual violence can occur anywhere, because places that used to be safe for children in peacetime, are not anymore. Women can be sexually assaulted anywhere while they are doing their daily duties, such as going for water or for wood.23 In DRC, many girls have been kidnapped in the local school by the soldiers of Kakwavu, and enslaved for a few days.24

Refugees and IDP women are also especially vulnerable25. According to the CEDAW, the situation of poverty can lead women to transact sex for goods to survive.26 This practice has actually happened in the refugee camps of Ethiopia and Lebanon, with Somali and Syrian refugees, respectively, where girl children have been used by their families for transactional sex in exchange of money or goods.27 It is also a common practice to marry very young girls in order to “prevent dishonour” or even marry the child to the rapist to minimize that dishonour.28 In Darfur, in 2006 attacks against 200 women and girls were reported in the largest IDP camp of the area.29

However, it is not possible to speculate what would have been the percentage of sexual violence if the conflicts had not existed, especially in countries such as Colombia and DRC, that have been in war for dozens of years now. It is of common sense that if a country is in war, this lack of stability will have consequences in the enforcement in the rule of law. In the Colombian case for example, it is been acknowledged that the lack of a benchmark and of any centralized victims tracking record established by the government undermines the follow-up the issue.30 However, the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science, the most accurate tracking mechanism working to date in Colombia, revealed in 2009 that 85% of the examinations of victims of sexual violence corresponded to children, and at the same time, UN agencies were worried by the high levels of sexual violence perpetrated by the FARC against women and girls.31 In DRC it is estimated that the real figures of rapes may be from 10 to 20 times higher than the reported numbers.32

Besides, while there are some people that argue that sexual violence in conflict has increased over the years;33 there are others that argue that it is impossible to predict what the evolution has been. However, it is complicated to know the real extent; in Colombia, Oxfam found that 82.1% of the women did not report sexual violence occurred in conflict.34


The perpetrators are non-state armed groups, state armed groups, UN peacekeepers and civilians.35 In Colombia for example, the Constitutional Court acknowledged that all the actors in the armed conflict participate in this practice.36 In DRC, half of the perpetrators are armed groups and half state armed forces.37 In eastern DRC, there is a huge number of armed groups committing sexual violence, abducting women making them their sex slaves. In CAR armed groups practice forced recruitment, sexual slavery and forced marriage against girls and women.

One of the problems in DRC is that the government integrated many armed groups that had committed many violations into the state armed forces.38 As a result, the majority of the convictions by military courts since 2011 go against state armed forces.39 Indeed, according to HRW, the DRC state forces are responsible for “some of the worst abuses over the past two decades”,40 so it is not surprising that 73% of those convicted by military courts for sexual violence were FARDC members.41 In Colombia, according to the Ombudsman, the State security forces commit sexual violence taking advantage of the situation of outbreak, and not as a war tactic.42 It is also of concern for the CRC for Colombia (2015) that many times, the perpetrators of crimes of sexual violence against children are their own family members.43 Lastly, the reported behaviour of UN peacekeepers in MONUSCO in DRC and MINUSCA in CAR of sexual abuse of children is also worrying.44


1 For the purpose of this paper we will consider that girl children are all those under 18 years old, in accordance in article 1 of the CRC.

2 Nobel Women’s Initiative (2011), Report “War one women : time for action to end sexual violence in conflict”. Available at : web.pdf. Last visit : 1/08/2016. p.4

3 Ibid

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid, p. 7

6 Save the children (2013), “Unspeakable crimes against children: Sexual violence in armed conflict” df91d2eba74a%7D/UNSPEAKABLE_CRIMES_AGAINST_CHILDREN.PDF

7 Ibid.

8 HRW (2003), “Sierra Leone “We’ll Kill You If You Cry” Sexual Violence in the Sierra Leone Conflict” Vol. 15, No. 1 (A). Available at : Last visit : 19/07/2016

9 Supra note 5, Save the children report (2013)

10 This data could be seen as contradicting the OHCHR report by MONUSCO (2014), para.25 which states that from 2010 to 2013 only 25% of the victims of sexual violence recorded were children.

11 Supra note 5, Save the children report (2013)

12 COALICO (2014), “Stop hunting children : Report on Sexual Violence committed against children and adolescents in the armed conflict in Colombia”. p.6

13 UNSC Res 1820 (19 June 2008) UN Doc S/RES/1820 (2008)

14 ABColombia (2013) “Colombia: Women, ConflictRelated Sexual Violence and the Peace Process” Available at : Last visit : 26/07/2016, p.10

15 CEDAW (2013), General Recommendation No. 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict and postconflict situations, UN Doc CEDAW/C/GC/30, para. 35

16 HRW (2014) « Democratic Republic of Congo: Ending Impunity for Sexual Violence” Last visit : 19/07/2016

17 HUMANAS (2009), Report “Situacion en Colombia de la Violencia sexual contra las mujeres”

18 HRW (2016), Article “Colombia : La violencia sexual de las FARC queda al descubierto”. Available at : descubierto. Last visit : 12/08/2016

19 Supra note 1, Nobel Women Initiative Report, p.10-12

20 OHCHR (2014), MONUSCO Report “Progress And Obstacles In The Fight Against Impunity For Sexual Violence In The Democratic Republic Of The Congo”, p. 8; See also, OHCHR (2015), “ Rights on Impunity and accountability in Darfur for 2014”.

21 ICTJ (2014), Report “Reparación integradora para niños, niñas y jóvenes víctimas de reclutamiento ilícito en Colombia”

22 Amnesty International (2011) "This is what we demand. Justice!" : impunity for sexual violence against women in Colombia's armed conflict. Last visit : 19/07/2016

23 Supra note 14, CEDAW GC 30 para. 34

24 HRW (2014), “ Dispatches: First Congolese General Convicted of Rape”. Last visit : 19/07/2016

25 Supra note 14, CEDAW GC 30 para. 36

26 Supra note 14, CEDAW GC 30 para. 54

27 Supra note 6, Save the children report (2013)

28 Ibid.

29 Supra note 1, Nobel Women Initiative Report p.6.

30 Supra note 21, Amnesty International (2011) Report Colombia

31 Ibid.

32 Robbing 28 Million Children Of An Education By Exposing Them To Widespread Rape And Other Sexual Violence, Targeted Attacks On Schools And Other Human Rights Abuses, Unesco's 2011 Global Monitoring Report Warns."States News Service 1 Mar. 2011. Expanded Academic Asap. Web. 18 July 2016. Available at : Http://Go.Galegroup.Com/Ps/I.Do?Id=Gale%7ca250228614&V=2.1&U=Hei&It=R&P=Eaim&Sw=W& Asid=F819832d75d5530d4adba6083a7acb30. Last Visit : 19/07/2016

33 See for example, COHEN (2014), “Sexual violence in armed conflict Introducing the SVAC dataset, 1989-2009” who argues that from 1989 to 2002 sexual violence in conflict settings has increased steadily. See also, World bank Report WORLD BANK (2011) “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence in Situations of Fragility and Conflict” Social Development Notes, Social cohesion & violence prevention, No. 133 / July 2011; detailing the higher number of rapes in today prevailing conflicts as for example DRC with 1.8million estimated, as opposed to 20.000 in BosniaHerzegovina.

34 Supra note 21, Amnesty International (2011) Report Colombia

35 Supra note 14, CEDAW GC 30 para. 34;

36 Amnesty International, (2014) “Colombia: new law aims to address impunity for conflict-related crimes of sexual violence” AMR 23/024/2014, available at: Last visit : 9/08/2016

37 European Parliament,(2014) Article “Sexual violence in the DRC”. Available at : Last visit : 27/07/2016. See also CEDAW (2013) for DRC.

38 Supra note 15, HRW Report DRC (2014)

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 OHCHR (2014), MONUSCO Report “Progress And Obstacles In The Fight Against Impunity For Sexual Violence In The Democratic Republic Of The Congo”, p. 8 Available at : %20Report%20on%20Fight%20against%20Impunity%20Sexual%20Violence%20- %20April%202014%20-%20ORIGINAL%20VERSION.pdf. Last visit : 27/07/2016, p. 12

42 Supra note 13, ABC Report Colombia, p. 11

43 CRC (2015), Colombia: Concluding Observations. UN Doc CRC/C/COL/CO/4-5

44 UNGA, Annual report of the Secretary-General on Children and armed conflict (A/70/836–S/2016/360), April 2016,

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Impunity in sexual violence against girl children during armed conflict
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Marina Fernandez Arroyo (Author), 2016, Impunity in sexual violence against girl children during armed conflict, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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