‘Women, Peace and Security’: Addressing Accountability for Wartime Sexual Violence


Aroussi, Sahla. 2011. "‘Women, Peace and Security’: Addressing Accountability for Wartime Sexual Violence."  International Feminist Journal of Politics 13 (4): 576-93.

Author: Sahla Aroussi


This article examines the issue of accountability for wartime sexual violence within the UN agenda on women, peace and security. The study offers a unique contribution to the growing body of literature on Resolution 1325 by reviewing how the issue of accountability for sexual violence has been treated in peace agreements signed since its adoption in October 2000. The author triangulates data collected from peace agreements with interviews with elite peacemaking practitioners to establish that justice for victims of sexual violence continues to be side-lined. The central argument of this article is that the lack of attention to accountability for sexual violence is symptomatic of larger problems within the UN agenda which is underpinned by a masculinized perception of accountability limited to sanctions and punishment and a narrow focus on sexual violence as a weapon of war. The author argues that unless a holistic approach to justice and accountability and a broader concern with gender-based violence are adopted, the UN's aim of ending impunity for wartime sexual violence will remain unfulfilled.

Keywords: UNSCR 1325, UNSCR 1820, sexual violence, peace agreements, amnesty, justice, accountability, rape as a weapon of war



"This study critically examines the treatment of accountability for sexual violence in the UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 and argues that unless a holistic approach to justice and a broader focus on gender-based violence are adopted, the UN will be unable to respond adequately to victims' needs." (577)

"The study found that while twenty peace agreements have addressed issues of gender-based violence only five agreements included provisions on justice and accountability for gender-based violence. In this article, the author examines the provisions coded from the five peace agreements and argues that the UN agenda on women, peace and security has not led so far to the inclusion of real commitments to justice for women in peace agreements." (578)

"Criminal prosecutions, as Cahn (2005) points out, are almost exclusively focused on the perpetrators' actions, guilt or innocence, while the victims are assigned to the periphery of the witness stand. In these adversary processes, the legal meta-narrative of 'women as victims' reinforces gender and cultural essentialism, and disempowers women by undermining their agency (Mertus 2004)." (579)

 "It can also be the case that in conflicts, where mass atrocities were committed not all crimes and perpetrators can be prosecuted, partly due to limited judicial capacities. In these circumstances, transitional justice mechanisms become highly selective, prioritising which perpetrators to hold accountable and what kind of crimes to prosecute (Haskell 2009). As a rule gender-based harm generally struggles to gain a space in this hierarchy (Ni Aolain 2009)." (579)

"Moreover, the narrow and masculinized concept of justice limited to prosecution and punishment as employed in transitional justice processes is not very useful for women victims (Cahn 2005)….Women continue to suffer from the consequences of the violence even when perpetrators are successfully caught and punished." (579-80)

 "This study analyses 111 peace agreements signed between the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 in October 2000 and the end of December 2008 and finds that only five agreements included provisions linked to accountability for gender-based violence. These are the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) of Sudan (2006), the Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation of Uganda (2008), the Inter-Congolese Negotiations, the Final Act of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (2003) and the regional Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region (2006)." (581)

"One glaring omission from all the peace agreements examined is the absence of any forms of reparations or other forms of redress for victims of wartime sexual violence." (585)

 "The research participants suggested that there are many reasons why provisions on accountability for gender-based violence remain absent from peace agreements. First, some interviewees expressed concerns that insisting on prosecution for wartime crimes of gender-based violence may endanger the peace process. A senior Norwegian diplomat argued that simply by insisting on prosecution you may end up without a peace agreement. The interviewee explained that the Juba peace process of Northern Uganda (discussed above) went into a deadlock over the issue of ICC indictments against the LRA leaders for crimes against humanity….Similarly, a Swedish diplomat also claimed that addressing issues of accountability for gender-based violence in peace agreements is not possible, arguing: 'Who has the say in the peace agreement?  It is the perpetrators. So do you really expect that they will accept and say yes we will be prosecuted, and for sexual violence!'" (586)

"De Brouwer (2007:208) argues that because of the physical, psychological, economic and social consequences of sexual violence, female survivors deserve a separate consideration when it comes to reparation. Cahn (2006) suggests adopting the concept of 'social services justice' as the way to ensure justice for women in post-conflict societies. Social services justice according to Cahn (2006:339) 'provides another dimension to concepts of justice by focusing on the social, economic, medical and psychological components of providing justice to victims'. The current focus of the UN agenda on women, peace and security on accountability, narrowly construed according to scholars and practitioners, is neither helpful for peacemaking nor useful for the victims." (588)

"Another problem with Resolutions 1325 and 1820 is in their use of the concept of rape as a weapon of war. While rape as a weapon of war is widely accepted in the scholastic literature with incontrovertible evidence as to its existence, the strategic rape theory at its root is rather problematic. This theory coupled with the UN's narrow focus on women instead of gender has very serious repercussions not only in terms of access to justice but also in relation to humanitarian protection in times of emergencies. Rape as a weapon of war creates a multi-layered hierarchy of victims. The first hierarchical distinction between victims of sexual violence as a targeted strategy and victims of random, rape, making access to justice for victims of equally vicious attacks being dependent on the perpetrators' intent. The second hierarchy is between victims of sexual violence and those affected by other forms of violence. For instance, Resolution 1820 in paragraph 3 calls for the 'evacuation of women and children under imminent threat of sexual violence to safety' (United Nations Security Council 2008:3). But what about women facing imminent threats from non-sexual wartime violence, such as a bomb attack, or men at risk of sexual violence?  The final layer within this hierarchy is between men and women. Making gender-based violence synonymous with sexual violence against women clearly obscures all other types of violations and the multiple identities of victims and perpetrators. This hierarchical stratification of victims, in the context of peace and security, may have detrimental consequences in terms of civilian protection (Carpenter 2005; Otto 2009). For instance, while the international community for many years has been focused on violence against women in Afghanistan, the traditional practice of 'Bacha Bazi' or 'Boy Play' which involves the sexual exploitation and enslavement of young boys was only recently uncovered (Quraishi 2010)." (588-589)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Justice, UN Security Council Resolutions on WPS, UNSCR 1325, UNSCR 1820, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women

Year: 2011

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