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United Nations: Security Council Condemns Use of Sexual Violence as Weapon of War

(Sept. 10, 2015) In a statement issued on August 28, 2015, the United Nations Security Council condemned the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in the Middle East. The statement referred specifically to sexual enslavement and sexual violence “related to or resulting from forced marriage” as a war tactic in Iraq and Syria. (Security Council Condemns Use of Sexual Violence as ‘Tactic of War’ in Iraq and Syria, RELIEFWEB (Aug. 28, 2015).)

The statement followed a briefing presented to the Security Council by Zainab Bangura, the U.N. Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, who had visited the Middle East recently. (Id.) It referred to the fact that rape and sexual violence in armed conflicts are breaches of the Geneva Conventions and considered to be war crimes. (Id.) Protocol I of the Geneva Convention bans “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault.” (Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977, art. 75 ¶ 2 (b), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) website.) This prohibition was re-enforced in Protocol II, which includes a total ban on “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault,” as well as “slavery and the slave trade in all their forms.” (Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977, ICRC website, art. 4, ¶ 2 (e) & (f).)

The Security Council recognized the role the underlying condition of war plays in creating opportunities for sexual violence. The statement therefore expressed the need to resolve conflicts in the region, including by implementing counter-terrorism measures, peace-building, and conflict resolution. (Security Council Condemns Use of Sexual Violence as ‘Tactic of War’ in Iraq and Syria, supra.)

Other United Nations bodies have also responded to the situation, noting the human rights abuses that have occurred in Iraq and Syria. The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in March of this year that actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) might constitute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In the same month, that office and the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq issued a report about violations committed against civilians in areas under the control of ISIS. Then in June, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee described the destruction of antiquities by groups fighting in the Middle East as also possibly constituting war crimes. (Steven Wildberger, UN Condemns Use of Sexual Violence as War Tactic, PAPER CHASE (Aug. 29, 2015).)