Sexualized Violence against Men and Boys

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Sandesh Sivakumaran - Picture: Stephan Röhl -License: BY-NC-ND

Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1888

By Sandesh Sivakumaran

By Sandesh Sivakumaran

A focus on sexual violence

In recent years, considerable attention has been paid to the serious problem of sexual violence perpetrated in armed conflicts. Barely a week goes by without a story in the news media, or a report of a non-governmental organization, documenting the problem. The subject has also pervaded all areas of the United Nations, from the work of the Security Council to the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General and from the World Health Organization to the ad hoc international criminal tribunals. Such is the impact of the problem that an inter-agency initiative, ‘Stop Rape Now: UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict’, has been established inter alia to co-ordinate UN responses to the problem.

The most high-profile of recent UN advances in the area was the passage of Security Council Resolution 1820 (2008). In that resolution the Security Council ‘demand[ed] the immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians with immediate effect’ and ‘request[ed] the Secretary-General to submit a report to the Council … on the implementation of this resolution in the context of situations which are on the agenda of the Council’. It also gave the imprimatur of the Security Council to tackling the problem. This was followed by Security Council Resolution 1888 (2009) and the creation of the position of Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1888

Security Council Resolutions 1820 and 1888 were part of the women, peace and security process started by Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000). This has two possible dangers. First, the important linkages made between women and peace and security may be reduced to one of women and sexual violence. The tendency to focus on sexual violence, though valuable, may mean that the experience of women in times of armed conflict becomes synonymous with sexual violence. The manifold other ways in which women are affected by armed conflict have the potential to be overlooked.

Second - and the subject of this contribution - Security Council Resolution 1820 has become the centrepiece of UN efforts to tackle sexual violence in armed conflict. Given that Resolution 1820 arose out of the women, peace and security process, there is a danger that the focus of efforts will be on sexual violence against women in time of armed conflict and not the problem of sexual violence more generally. This is not a theoretical danger as will be seen below.

Sexual violence against men and boys

There is considerable evidence indicating that sexual violence takes place against men and boys in armed conflict. What remains unknown is the precise extent to which this occurs. 

It is likely that male sexual violence in armed conflict is more prevalent than we currently think, for the lack of hard numbers is due to the under-reporting of the practice and the fact that it is not picked up, rather than because the practice itself does not exist. It is generally accepted that there is an under-reporting of rape and sexual violence in general and male rape and male sexual violence in particular. This is due to a combination of shame, confusion, guilt, fear and stigma. Men also may be loath to talk about being victimised, considering this incompatible with their masculinity. Further, if sexual violence formed but part of the abuse male survivors faced, they may view it as beatings or torture generally rather than sexual violence or sexual torture in particular. Those on the ground may mirror the responses of survivors, failing to pick up signs of male sexual violence. If the abuse is recognised, it may not always be seen as sexual violence, for the issue is often recorded under the rubric of ‘abuse’ or ‘torture’, with castration being recorded as ‘mutilation’ and rape as ‘torture’. There is a need to recognise the general -- rape as torture -- as well as the particular -- rape as rape. 

Another reason for believing that, were some serious work to be undertaken on the issue, the numbers would unfold before us is the varied nature of the practice.  It is not limited to any particular part of the world.  It is not confined to state forces, armed groups or private military contractors.  It is not limited in its age of victims, or its place of commission.  It has been documented in over 25 armed conflicts. (1) The numbers vary: in some conflicts the sexual violence seems sporadic and ad hoc, in others, it is more systematic.  In conflicts in which sexual violence has been properly investigated, male sexual violence has been recognised as regular and unexceptional, pervasive and widespread.  The most thorough investigation of sexual violence in armed conflict is that of the atrocities committed in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.  During and after that conflict, examples of male sexual violence were found at all stages of the investigative process, from reports of states, non-governmental organisations and United Nations experts, through to indictments and convictions of individual offenders.  In the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with respect to which reports of sexual violence are increasingly surfacing, reports of sexual violence against men are interspersed with those of sexual violence against women. (2)

Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888 and sexual violence against men

UN reports on sexual violence in armed conflict are now attuned to the problem of male sexual violence. Accordingly, they sometimes carry a sentence along the lines that ‘men and boys are also subject to sexual violence’. (3) However, such a sentence, if indeed present, is usually the sole reference to men and boys in any report. Accordingly, this brief recognition has not translated into concrete efforts on behalf of male victims, be they mechanisms for raising awareness of the problem, focused research agendas on the issue, or strategies for prevention.

Occasionally, reasons are given to explain why the focus is on sexual violence against women. However, those reasons are not always convincing, for example, that women and girls comprise the ‘majority of civilians targeted for this particular form of atrocity ... their reproductive capacities are ruined by gang-rape and brutality’ and because ‘[v]iolent sexual attacks on women and girls in fact pose special challenges for peacekeepers – challenges that differ even from cases when men are the targets of sexual attack.’ (4) These challenges are considered to include the lack of reporting on the part of female victims and the social stigma associated with the sexual violence. (5) Yet, many, if not all of these points, actually apply to male sexual violence as well. Regardless, the explanations are to be commended as continuing the conversation and are to be preferred over silence.

More concerning is Security Council Resolution 1820. Presumably (and hopefully) unintentionally, that resolution seems to exclude male victims of sexual violence from its framework.  Although, at times, the Resolution does refer to sexual violence against, ‘in particular women and girls’, or the protection of civilians ‘including women and girls’, all too often the Resolution slips into the language of ‘sexual violence against women and girls’ (emphases added). For example, the Security Council:

Affirms its intention, when establishing and renewing state-specific sanctions regimes, to take into consideration the appropriateness of targeted and graduated measures against parties to situations of armed conflict who commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls in situations of armed conflict (6)

Of particular interest are the precise places in which the language of the Resolution is inclusive and when it becomes exclusory. An analysis of the Resolution indicates that when it seeks to describe the problem of sexual violence and on the occasions in which it adopts general measures, the language is inclusive. However, when the Resolution comes to specifying concrete, detailed measures of implementation or enforcement, the language becomes exclusory. This is best demonstrated through consideration of passages in which both the descriptive and the implementation measures are considered together, or when both the general measures and the specific measures are dealt with together. For example, the Security Council:

Encourages troop and police contributing countries, in consultation with the Secretary-General, to consider steps they could take to heighten awareness and the responsiveness of their personnel participating in UN peacekeeping operations to protect civilians, including women and children, and prevent sexual violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations …; (7)

When it is at the level of heightening awareness and responsiveness, the language is inclusive – all civilians, including women and children. However, as the provision goes on, and when the matter shifts to the more onerous prevention of sexual violence, the objects of protection are exclusively women and girls.

Fortunately, the follow-up to the Resolution has been more satisfactory. The Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to SC Res 1820 is written in largely gender neutral terms, and it expressly notes that ‘sexual violence has been used against civilians, particularly women and girls, in many conflicts throughout history’ and that ‘[w]hile women and girls are particular targets and are the majority of the victims of sexual violence, the case-law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) also bears testimony to the use of sexual violence against men.’ (8)

Even more sensitive is SC Res 1888. That resolution, which builds on resolutions 1325 and 1820, is far more careful in its terminology. The vast majority of its paragraphs are carefully phrased so as to be inclusive of male and female victims of sexual violence. This includes, crucially, the paragraphs that envisage the creation of a post of Special Representative, the deployment of teams of experts to situations of concern, and the adoption of sanctions. (9)

However, another problem arises. The entire process focuses on sexual violence against civilians. Yet a sizeable proportion of sexual violence in time of armed conflict is carried out in situations of detention, against prisoners of war and members of the armed forces or armed group. It is also carried out against child soldiers, both boys and girls. Yet none of these forms of sexual violence are covered by SC Res 1820 with its exclusive focus on civilians. With the increasing numbers of female combatants and female persons taking a direct part in hostilities, the Resolution’s focus on civilians alone also limits the scope of protection for women.

(1) S Sivakumaran, ‘Sexual Violence against Men in Armed Conflict’ (2007) 18 European Journal of International Law 253.
(2) See e.g. the recent briefing to the Security Council by the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, following the reports of mass rape in North and South Kivu, UN Doc S/PV.6378, 7 September 2010, page 6. 
(3) See e.g. Women, Peace and Security: Study submitted by the Secretary-General pursuant to Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) (United Nations, 2002) 16, para. 59.
(4) A-M Goetz, ‘Introduction’, in Women Targeted or Affected by Armed Conflict: What Role for Military Peacekeepers? (Wilton Park, 27-29 May 2008) 4 (emphases removed).
(5) Ibid.
(6) Security Council Resolution 1820, operative para. 5 (emphasis added).
(7) Ibid, operative para. 8.
(8) Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to Security Council resolution 1820 (2008), S/2009/362, paras 3 and 6.
(9) SC Res 1888, operative paras 4, 8, and 10, respectively.

Read more Articles about Masculinity.

Sandesh Sivakumaran

Lecturer in Law, University of Nottingham
Sandesh Sivakumaran is Lecturer at the School of Law and member of the Human Rights Law Centre, University of Nottingham. He has acted as an expert for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, served as international law advisor to the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and advised on international law aspects of peace processes. Sandesh is a member of the International Law Association Committee on International Human Rights Law and a member of the Bar of the State of New York. He previously worked at the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. In 2009, Sandesh was awarded the Journal of International Criminal Justice - Regione Toscana Giorgio La Pira Prize for his work on non-state armed groups. 

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Coping with Crises, Ending Armed Conflict – Peace Promoting Strategies of Women and Men

In cooperation with:

PeaceWomen Across the Globe & German Women's Security Council

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