Press Release on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

    On the occasion of the first commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission), through its Focal Point for the Study on Human Rights in Conflict Situations and its Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, expresses its condemnation of all forms of sexual violence in conflict as grave violations of human and peoples’ rights.

    This day, whose designation is a welcome development in the fight against the scourge of sexual violence in conflict, is an occasion not only for putting a spotlight on such horrendous act but also to stand in solidarity with victims and survivors and to mobilize action against this violence.

    Sexual violence in conflict is of particular concern for the African Commission due to the fact that it has been a grave problem in a number of conflict zones on the continent over many years. Despite increasing awareness and mobilization on the part of the international community, sexual violence in conflict zones still remains a major challenge. As recent experiences in places such as South Sudan and Boko Haram affected regions of Nigeria show, this is true in Africa not only in situations of civil war but also in areas exposed to terrorist attacks.

    Although the scourge of sexual violence does not spare men and boys, women and girls remain major targets of rape, sexual enslavement and other forms of sexual violence. For these victims and survivors in many conflict settings on the continent, apart from the recognition of their physical and psychological suffering, their healing also requires the support of their families and communities. On top of enabling victims and survivors to get access to medical and psychological help, we call on State Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) to support community dialogue and social services for ensuring the acceptance and full integration of victims and survivors.

    While it often occurs as a brutal manifestation of attacks by warring factions against the civilian population, sexual violence in conflict also arises when it is deliberately used as a weapon of war and terror. We are accordingly concerned about the savage campaign of abduction, rape, sexual slavery and forced impregnation by Boko Haram militias, who have over the years forced thousands of women and girls into their brutal captivity. In areas susceptible to Boko Haram attacks, we call on concerned States to shoulder their responsibility for enhancing security in these affected territories in full respect to the rights guaranteed in the African Charter.

    Recalling the previous Resolutions of the African Commission particularly Resolution ACHPR / Res. 111 (XXXXIII) 08 on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Women and Girls Victims of Sexual Violence, we remind states of their obligations to put in place mechanisms that avail access to justice for victims and ensure that those responsible for violence are held accountable. In this context, we in particular note that States must criminalize rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence as crimes under international law and put in place the mechanisms for effectively investigating these crimes and holding those responsible accountable. 

    Cognizant of ACHPR/Res. 283 (LV) 14 on the Situation of Women and Children in Armed Conflict, and ACHPR/Res. 332 (EXT.OS/XIX) 2016 on Human Rights in Conflict Situations, we also express our alarm at on-going conflict situations affecting a number of State Parties to the African Charter, and the consistent reports of widespread violations human rights and humanitarian law involving attacks against civilian populations including rape and other forms of sexual violence. 

    Considering that the existence of conflict situations create the conditions that make the occurrence of sexual violence possible, we note the importance of enhancing the efforts of the African Union (AU) and its member States for resolving ongoing conflicts on the continent. We also draw the attention of the AU, regional organizations and States parties that all efforts for resolving conflicts including peace support operations must put in place measures for ending and preventing the occurrence of sexual violence in conflict. These include continuous monitoring, investigating and reporting on acts of sexual violence as well as appropriate diplomatic and security interventions in cases of imminent or ongoing acts of violence.

    The AU and State Parties are also called upon to fully integrate sexual and gender-based violence responses and the promotion of gender equality in all peace and security initiatives. We also underscore that the efforts at the continental and national levels for enhanced participation of women in efforts for the prevention and resolution of conflicts needs to be pursued with more vigour and dedication. 

    The campaign for ending sexual violence in conflict situations requires that States Parties to the African Charter also institute preventive measures. Apart from the necessary legal and institutional measures, we recognize and emphasize the particular importance of mobilizing public opinion against sexual violence in all occasions to ensure societal wide stigmatization of perpetration of such violence.

    19 June, 2016


    Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso

    Focal Point for the Study on Human Rights in Conflict Situations

    African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights


    Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor

    Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa

    African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights


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