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Sexual Violence in Conflict: Documentation for Justice

Violence against women is one of the most widespread abuses of human rights. It happens all over the world and takes many forms, devastating the women who are targeted.

In situations of war and disaster, women are uniquely impacted by violence. In conflict zones all over the world–from Guatemala to the former Yugoslavia to Rwanda and now Syria–women are targeted with rape and other forms of gender-based violence as a deliberate weapon of war intended to destroy women's lives and terrorize their communities, often with impunity. What's more, women also face an increased risk for sexual harassment, forced prostitution, sex trafficking and forced marriage. damaging their families and communities. For over 30 years, MADRE has worked to combat violence against women, providing emergency medical care, safe houses and trauma counseling, and working with women to document violence so they can prosecute their attackers and seek justice.

Documenting sexual violence in conflict offers more than personal healing for survivors of violence. It's an essential tool for civic rebuilding post-conflict and a critical step for ensuring peace, justice and accountability for women.

Processes for Peace, Justice and Accountability

The international community has begun to understand that the failure to address sexual violence and rape in conflict severely threatens any future, lasting peace. The physical and emotional effects of sexual violence often last well beyond the conflict. A failure to include the issue in peace talks or to prosecute perpetrators in war crimes tribunals is a failure for peace and security. And in many cases, the resulting impunity means that sexual violence is likely to continue after the conflict.

Post-conflict international tribunals, like the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) made important strides in recognizing and condemning sexual violence as a war crime and a crime against humanity. And in Haiti, where women were targeted with rape by the military for their political organizing, MADRE helped document cases and bring women's testimonies to the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS in turn declared these rapes to be a form of torture and to be in violation of international law.

However, despite the international community's condemnation of sexual violence in conflict, and despite the conviction of some individual perpetrators in the ICTY and ICTR, no state has ever been held accountable for the use of rape as a weapon of war. Most cases still go unpunished. And until recently, women's experiences and rights have been largely ignored in peace and justice processes. In fact, only 16% of peace agreements from 1990 to 2010 referenced women. Only 3% referenced sexual violence.

With the peace process for Syria in its initial stages, MADRE is committed to supporting the demands of Syrian women for inclusion in these negotiations. We are training women to document cases of rape and other crimes against women. Collecting this evidence is key to ensuring that this issue cannot be ignored in peace talks and that prosecutions of war crimes against women can be obtained.

In Syria, Haiti and wherever the women of our sister organizations have been targeted with sexual violence, MADRE is determined to stand with them as they testify to the truths of what they have faced and as they seek peace and justice.