International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict: Combatting Stigma, Empowering Survivors and Strengthening Accountability

19 June 2021

Sexual violence is present wherever there is conflict, yet it was only after the wars in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in 1994 that the international community started to become increasingly aware and concerned about these crimes. The ICTY, the ICTR and the International Criminal Court contributed to the recognition of conflict-related sexual violence as being very serious and of international concern. To increase its awareness further, in 2015 the General Assembly proclaimed 19 June as a day to call for the elimination of sexual violence in conflict. However, as conflicts have continued to erupt around the world, sexual violence has continued to take place in countries such as Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen, among others.
Conflict-related sexual violence includes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and enforced sterilisation. These crimes are often followed by the fear of stigma and shame felt by survivors, which leads to underreporting. The pandemic and its containment measures have led to an increase of this underreporting and made the horrifying situation of survivors even more difficult. In addition to this, as highlighted during a meeting of the Security Council taking place in April this year, the responses to sexual violence in conflicts remain underfunded and the global commitments to end such violence “unmet”. Besides the obstacles keeping survivors from reporting their cases, access to justice is another problematic area that needs to be strengthened, as several representatives highlighted in the meeting mentioned before.
No Peace Without Justice joins these concerns, highlighting the need to empower survivors. We believe that the response to conflict-related sexual violence must focus on survivors and echo their needs and realities. Following this belief, in the recent years we have worked to empower Syrian refugee women. Empowering survivors means, among other things, to guarantee their access to justice and to health and psychosocial services and to combat the obstacles to their full participation in society, including stigma. To combat stigma, the configuration of the societies and communities they have to return to must be transformed. Only after this happens will survivors feel safe enough to report the cases of violence against them and reach out for the support they need. We remain convinced that the perspective of survivors must always be included in the definition of what constitutes sexual violence, which is why we participated as partners in the creation of the Hague Principles on Sexual Violence, developed with the input from over 500 survivors.
Another main area of work for us is impunity, and we see it as being at the core of the worst abuses and as a significant obstacle to eliminating sexual violence in conflict. It is of paramount importance to strengthen the fight for accountability through referrals to the ICC or any other mechanism available. At national levels, strong legislations are needed to prevent sexual violence in all contexts.
Much needs to be done for the global commitments to eliminate sexual violence to be met, but if this does not happen, sexual violence will be used once more as a weapon of war against women, girls, men and boys at risk.
For further information, please contact Alison Smith, Director of International Justice, on or Nicola Giovannini, Press & Public Affairs Coordinator on