Women, peace and security


Conflict situations exacerbate pre-existing patterns of gender discrimination and put women and girls at heightened risk of sexual, physical and psychological violence. Sexual violence, which encompasses, inter alia, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, indecent assault, and human trafficking, is a form of violence that continues to disproportionately affect women and girls during conflict. Women and girls displaced by conflict are also particularly vulnerable to violence. The end of conflict does not translate into an end to the violence that women and girls endure. Women continue to suffer from the medical, physical, psychological and socio-economic consequences of the violence suffered during conflict long after it has ended. The stigma associated with sexual violence is ever present, in conflicts and in their aftermath. Violence against women and girls also spikes in post-conflict societies, due to the general break down of the rule of law, the availability of small arms, the breakdown of social and family structures and, perhaps most importantly, the “normalization” of sexual violence as an additional element of pre-existing gender discrimination. 

The Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women recognized in General Recommendation 19 that “Wars, armed conflicts and the occupation of territories often lead to increased prostitution, trafficking in women and sexual assault of women, which require specific protective and punitive measures”. The mandate of the SR VAW has highlighted that violence happens in a continuum and the division between violence in peace-time and violence during conflict is often artificial.

Over the years, important framework that has been put in place since the adoption by the Security Council of specific resolutions on this issue (1325, 1820, 1888 and 1960) to guide the work of UN agencies, Member States and other stakeholders. They go beyond the issue of violence and deal, inter alia, with women’s participation in mediation, peace-making and peace-building.

Resolution 1325 (2000) emphasizes the obligation of states to put an end to impunity and prosecute those responsible for war crimes including those related to sexual violence against women and girls. Resolution 1820 (2008) recognises sexual violence as a tactic of war and that addressing it is a matter of international peace and security. Resolution 1888 (2009) calls for the appointment of a Special Representative to take the lead and coordinate efforts to engage with governments, parties to armed conflict and civil society to end sexual violence in armed conflict. It also stresses the need to identify women’s protection advisers (WPA) within UN Peacekeeping operations and to identify a Team of Experts that can be rapidly deployed to situations of particular concern with respect to sexual violence.  Resolution 1889 (2009) and Resolution 1960 (2010) requests parties to armed conflict to make specific, time-bound commitments to combat sexual violence.

Together with international human rights instruments, these resolutions represent the framework of OHCHR’s work in the area of women, peace and security.

What OHCHR does

In conflict and post-conflict situations, OHCHR promotes the integration of gender perspectives into demobilization, disarmament, security sector reform, reintegration and rehabilitation programmes. It further promotes women’s participation in peace making and peace building and advocates for inclusion of women and gendered analysis in negotiating and implementing peace agreements. The approach is to anchor commitments made in the context the development and implementation of the above-mentioned Security Council resolutions to human rights principles and standards. OHCHR advocates linking UN system’s, States’ and civil society’s efforts on women, peace and security to recommendations by human rights mechanisms. It also promotes closer cooperation between the mechanisms established by the Security Council on women, peace and security. Cognizant that conflict and political strife and instability heightens the risk of violence for women, OHCHR work on women, peace and security is primarily informed by the fact that conflict and instability can also present opportunities for change and for addressing historical power imbalances and gender-based discrimination.

OHCHR promotes the participation of women in the development, implementation and monitoring of programmes and initiatives. It also promotes specific attention to the situation of women who have been traditionally marginalized and excluded. OHCHR advocates for specific efforts to strengthen the capacity of women to claim their rights and to ensure accountability mechanisms at national and international level. OHCHR provides tools and technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of duty bearers to respect, protect and fulfil women’s rights in conflict and post conflict situations and political instability.

1. Advocacy and Awareness Raising

OHCHR undertakes advocacy on violence against women and on women, peace and security issues at different levels and with multiple actors, including States, civil society organizations, international and regional organizations and other UN entities.

2. Support to Human Rights Mechanisms

OHCHR supports the work of Human Rights Council and it human rights mechanisms, including special procedures and treaty bodies, as well as the universal periodic review process and encourages them to look into issues related to women, peace and security, including conflict-related sexual violence and to closely cooperate with the mechanisms established by Security Council’s resolutions on Women, Peace and Security. OHCHR also facilitates coordination and cooperation between the office of the SRSG Sexual Violence in Conflict country-specific special procedures in connection with country visits, as well as with treaty bodies.

OHCHR also promoted greater linkages between the work of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms and the women, peace and security agenda. In 2011 the SRSG SVC addressed the Human Rights Council in the framework of its annual full-day discussion on women human rights. The second panel of the annual day discussion focussed on sexual violence against women in conflict.

OHCHR will present a set of recommendations on synergies and linkages between the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, and with other relevant intergovernmental processes on the issue of violence against women and girls to the Human Rights Council at its 2013 June session.  The report makes a number of recommendations to build and reinforce the work of the Human Rights Council with the UN architecture on women, peace and security. 

OHCHR supported the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women of the Human Rights Council in the production of a report on reparations for women subjected to violence, which has a specific section on “Reparations for women subjected to violence in countries coming out of widespread conflict or authoritarian repression”; OHCHR promoted cooperation between relevant geographic mandates, the SRSG SVC and the Team of Experts in connection with country visits, advocacy efforts and development of specific projects; with the strong support of UN Women,.

OHCHR is also assisting the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in the formulation of a general recommendation on women in armed conflict and post conflict situations in the context of articles 2, 4, 5 (a), 6 to 12 and 15 (1) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Finally, OHCHR supports the organization of country visits by special procedures mandate-holders.

3. Strengthening national capacity to promote and protect human rights

OHCHR field work on women, peace and security has focused on specific areas. Human Rights Components of peace missions engages in monitoring and investigations of sexual and gender-based violence as part of their mandate. These monitoring has resulted in public human rights reports and special reports on sexual violence. They also provide substantive inputs into the sexual violence section of Secretary-General Mission annual reports and in the annual report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence. Human Rights Components of peace missions and other OHCHR field presences also works to strengthen national capacities to address sexual and gender-based violence and promote women’s rights  in conflict and post-conflict situations including through: capacity building and awareness raising activities; promoting access to justice; advocating for and supporting legislative reform; assisting in the development of national policies and plans; supporting the participation of women in peace building processes; and working to ensure that victims’ needs are taken into account in the provision of remedies and reparations.  Also, support is being provided to the development of 1325 National Action Plans. 

OHCHR has provided support to Kosovo on the implementation of 1325 NAP; support for the deployment of Women Protection Advisers; training on monitoring and investigating conflict-related sexual violence to human rights components of peace missions. The regional gender advisors have also supported a variety of activities. In Asia Pacific, the gender advisor as a member of the Pacific Regional Working Group on Women, Peace and Security assisted in the drafting and developing a Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

OHCHR is increasing efforts to engage in a dialogue directly with victims to discuss their perception of just reparations. In 2010, the High Commissioner for Human Rights convened a High Level Panel to hear directly from victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo regarding their expectations.

In a similar effort, OHCHR Office in Uganda jointly with the Uganda Human Rights Commission undertook field research in the Greater North of Uganda between 2007 and 2011 to collect the views and priorities of victims of serious violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law which resulted from the conflict between the Government of Uganda and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It details their priorities for remedy and reparations including gender-just reparations. The findings are detailed in the report “The dust has not yet settled: victims Views on the Right to Remedy and Reparations”.

The OHCHR Office in Kosovo has commissioned a study on reparations for survivors of sexual violence related to conflict in Kosovo, which will be published in 2013.  Also in Kosovo, OHCHR supported research to understand patterns and consequences of sexual violence during the 1999 conflict including identifying gaps in access to justice analyse institutional capacity needs as well as to get the perspectives of survivors with regard to reparations.

OHCHR has developed a two-day specialised course on monitoring and investigating conflict related sexual violence (CRSV). The training is aimed at strengthening the capacity of human rights officers to monitor, investigate and report on conflict-related sexual violence and contextualises it to the mandate of the UN Security Council on conflict-related sexual violence. A pilot edition of the course held in Juba, South Sudan in November 2012. In 2013 the course will be delivered in Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

4. Engagement with inter-agency mechanisms and external partners

WHRGS works closely and in collaboration with UN Women, Office of the SRGS on SVC, DPKO, DPA and other partners to advance the objectives of Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, including 1820, 1888 and 1960 on conflict-related sexual violence.

OHCHR participates actively in the work of the Standing Committee on Women, Peace and Security and UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. OHCHR is a member of the Resource Mobilization Committee of the UN Action Multi-Donor Trust Fund.

OHCHR is one of the members of the Team of Experts under Security Council resolution 1888. OHCHR also greatly strengthened its coordination and cooperation with DPKO on matters related to women, peace and security. OHCHR presents before the C.34 on its work on conflict-related sexual violence together with DPKO and SRSG SVC. OHCHR and DPKO are also working closely together on the deployment and training of WPAs.

Training for Security Forces: OHCHR is assisting the OSRSG SVC and the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre to develop and implement a training program for country military forces and polices offices on “human rights, international humanitarian law and gender perspectives as a tool to preventing conflict related sexual violence”.

In the context of the 57th session of the CSW, OHCHR co-hosted two side-events, including one with the SR VAW on custodial violence, and with UNFPA on sexual violence.

5. Policy guidance

OHCHR is partnering with UN Women in a number of initiatives looking at the gender aspects of transitional justice, including the development of a guidance note on reparations for victims of conflict-related sexual violence and the preparation of guidelines on gender integration into transitional justice processes. WRGS also provided extensive inputs into the development of a guidance note on gender and security sector reform.

Main speeches

  • Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Full-Day Discussion on Women’s Human Rights,  17th session of the Human Rights Council Panel on Conflict-related Violence against Women, Geneva, June 2011
  • Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Annual Full-Day Discussion on Women’s Rights Panel on Remedies and Reparations for Women who have been subjected to violence, June 2012
  • Statement by the Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), High-Level Side Event on: Sexual Violence: Forms, Consequences and Interventions hosted by UNFPA in collaboration with OHCHR.