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Covid-19 pandemic led to rise in sexual violence as war tactic – UN report

The report found that the Covid-19 pandemic led to a spike in gender-based violence last year
Edith M Lederer, AP

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a spike in gender-based violence last year, and combatants continued to use sexual violence as “a cruel tactic of war” and political repression in a number of countries, a UN report said.

The report focused on 18 countries, and listed 52 parties “credibly suspected” of responsibility “for patterns of rape or other forms of sexual violence” in conflicts on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

More than 70% of the listed parties are persistent perpetrators, the report said.

The majority of those on the UN blacklist are “non-state actors” – meaning opposition, rebel or terrorist groups linked to the so-called Islamic State or al-Qaida extremist groups.

National military or police forces on the list, including Myanmar’s military and border guard, are barred from participating in UN peace operations until they adopt time-bound commitments to cease violations.

The “blacklist” also includes government and police forces in Congo and South Sudan; government forces and intelligence services in Syria; armed forces and rapid support forces in Sudan; and army and police in Somali and forces in its Puntland region.

Countries with non-state actors on the list include Congo with 20 groups; Central African Republic with six; Mali with five; South Sudan and Syria with four each; Sudan with two; and Iraq and Somalia with one each.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Sexual violence was employed as a tactic of war, torture and terrorism in settings in which overlapping humanitarian and security crises, linked with militarisation and the proliferation of arms, continued unabated.”

In Ethiopia’s Tigray region where conflict broke out in November between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Mr Guterres said more than 100 rapes had been alleged.

“There were also disturbing reports of individuals who had allegedly been forced to rape members of their own family under the threat of imminent violence, of women who had been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities, and of sexual violence being perpetrated against women and girls in refugee camps,” he said.

Sexual violence also was reported in Myanmar’s armed ethnic conflicts, Mr Guterres said, citing involvement of both the Tatmadaw security forces and ethnic rebel groups in Rakhine, Chin and Shan states.

The report covered events during 2020, before the military took over Myanmar’s government in February and began a violent crackdown on opponents.

The secretary-general said restrictions on movement related to the Covid-19 pandemic and limited economic opportunities for women also “increased the risk of trafficking and sexual exploitation”, he said.

The pandemic led to an increase in child marriage in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and to “survival sex”, he said.

In the West African nation of Cameroon, Mr Guterres said reports indicate 24 women were allegedly raped during a military operation involving separatists in February 2020, an incident which was not disclosed until July.

“In the Central African Republic, pre-electoral violence flared up, exposing women and girls to threats and heightened risks of sexual violence,” he said.

“In Burundi, women from opposition parties faced targeted intimidation, threats and arbitrary detention during the electoral period.”

In Sudan, livestock grazing routes “were a flashpoint for sexual violence, in particular incidents of rape and gang rape linked to conflicts between farmers and herders”, the secretary-general said.

“Similarly, in Somalia, clan-based attacks intensified as a result of land-related disputes fuelled by the socio-economic impact of Covid-19.”

Intercommunal rifts intensified in South Sudan, where a significant number of perpetrators were members of civil defence groups, and in Congo, £where conflict was linked to disputes over natural resources and armed groups used sexual violence as a tactic to dehumanise and displace populations,” Mr Guterres said.

The secretary-general urged the UN Security Council to demand an immediate end to sexual violence by all parties to armed conflict, to maintain that perpetrators of sexual violence can face sanctions, and to refer situations where crimes of sexual violence appear to have been committed to the International Criminal Court.

Mr Guterres encouraged UN member states, donors, regional and intergovernmental organisations to ensure that victims of sexual violence are recognised, assisted and receive reparations.

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