UNITED NATIONS — Combatants in wars around the globe, particularly nonstate actors in militia groups, continue to sexually assault, enslave and torture women and girls, as well as men and boys, where they fight, a new report said.
UN officials and ambassadors cited the report on sexual violence in conflict in 19 countries during a debate yesterday in the Security Council.
But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ report, which documents sexual violence reported in 2016, also notes a disturbing trend in an already depraved practice: Combatants are using their victims as currency to be bartered like household goods, held indefinitely as sexual slaves, employed as human shields and even forced to serve their captors as suicide bombers.
“In 2016, sexual violence continued to be employed as a tactic of war, with widespread and strategic rapes, including mass rapes, allegedly committed by several parties to armed conflict, mostly in conjunction with other crimes such as killing, looting, pillage, forced displacement and arbitrary detention,” said the report, which was the basis for yesterday’s ministerial-level Security Council debate.
“It is further used to generate revenue, as part of the shadow economy of conflict and terrorism, through sex trafficking, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and the extortion of ransoms from desperate families,” the report continued. “In some circumstances, women and girls are themselves treated as the ‘wages of war.’ ”
The discussion was initiated by Uruguay, whose ambassador is the president of the Security Council for the month of May, but all 15 council members agreed on the escalating rise in sexual violence and the need for the UN, designated as the world’s primary guarantor of peace and security, to help stop it.
“Sexual violence constitutes one of the worst attacks on human dignity,” said José Luis Cancela, vice foreign minister of Uruguay, who chaired the debate. “In the framework of human rights law, it is a direct attack on dignity, an attack on the right to freedom, to honor and, of course, an attack on the right to life.”
The report documented harrowing tales of victimization, often occurring on a mass scale — and in public. It was being debated in the Security Council chamber a week after 82 girls, who were among nearly 300 abducted from Chibok in northern Nigeria in April 2014, were released by Boko Haram. Many of them were forced into marriage and became pregnant after they were captured by the militant group.
Some of the worst offenders, ambassadors and UN officials said, include the Islamic State — which notoriously terrorized and enslaved Yazidi women after occupying Iraq — as well as the al-Qaida-affiliated militia in Syria, Nusra Front; Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan; and Al Shabaab in Somalia.