Ålands fredsinstitut
The Åland Islands Peace Institute

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AX-22100 Mariehamn, Åland, Finland
Tel. +358 18 15570
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The Åland Peace Blog

Since the very beginning (in 1992) the Åland Islands Peace Institute has
worked with questions of security, minorities and autonomy. The purpose is
to prevent and manage conflicts, always with a gender awareness. Throughout
the years we have gathered knowledge and strengthened expertise within these
areas, and a new phase was initiated in 2007 with the development of the
Peace Institute's research and investigation capacity. The Peace Institute
arranges seminars, conferences and courses within these areas and regularly
publishes reports and books. We believe that some of the knowledge and
the insights that we acquire should be disseminated to a wider public in a
shorter and quicker form. This is why we are creating the blog. It is
knowledge-oriented and analyzes or comments briefly - but quickly -
news, events and phenomena with the purpose of providing deeper
understanding. The staff and the board of the Peace Institute will
contribute to the blog.

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark
Director of the Peace Institute, Associate Professor in International Law

Pia Christina Kalus. LL.M. International Criminal Law University of Amsterdam with a focus sexual violence in conflict and international criminal law. Pia will continue her education in early 2011 with studies in Transnational Criminal Justice and Crime Prevention at the University of Western Cape/ South Africa.

The blog is written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.

Gender-based violence is any form of violence committed against an individual on the basis of her or his gender, that is her or his socially constructed role based on the biological difference between ‘male' and ‘female'. It is not limited to acts of a sexual nature, but they are often regarded as its main manifestation.

The International Community has taken up the fight against gender-based violence two decades ago and although much has been achieved, it has remained an omnipresent problem. Reports of rape, sexual abuse, trafficking in people, domestic violence, harmful traditional practice are all considered as forms of gender-based violence and make it to the news frequently. In South Africa, for example, a survey about sexual violence from 2009 in which 1700 men in the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces were questioned, revealed that one in four men admitted having raped a woman, and even though sexual violence in war is criminalized in international law, the rapes committed in the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been described as epidemic.

In the past, the focus has been put on lawmaking as a tool to combat gender-based violence. However, because gender based-violence is a consequence of gender discrimination, the efforts made thus far have proofed inadequate to eliminate both.

Global Problems call for Global Action - The Beginning of the Combat against Gender-based Violence

In 1993 the UN General Assembly adopted the ‘Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women' (A/RES/48/104). Violence against women is understood as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life." This includes any form of physical and sexual violence and abuse against women by the family, the community, or perpetrated or condoned by the State.

Soon after the adoption of the Declaration, the UN Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 1994/45 and created the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, since August 2009 Ms Rashida Manjoo from South Africa is holding office.

These steps were part of the effort to recognize violence against women as the violation of human rights, because the Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that was adopted 14 years earlier makes no explicit reference to violence against women. The women's rights initiatives of the 1990's reached their height with the 4th UN World Conference in Beijing, which led to the adoption of the Beijing Declaration in 1995 and the creation of the Platform for Action. One year later, the GA established the Trust Fund to End Violence against Women by Resolution 50/166, which is managed by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

The Platform's identified objectives regarding the elimination of gender-based violence focused strongly on the enactment of sanctions on the one hand and gender-mainstreaming on the other in order to achieve gender equality. As a result, Governments ratified legislation to meet the formulated standards and to ensure that women will have better access to justice. Additionally, all UN organs recalled the importance of the elimination of gender-based violence against women as demanded in the Beijing Declaration in numerous resolutions, with the overall goal of its complete abolition in all its forms. However, at the same time, reports of mass scale gender-based violence in Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia became more and more frequent and once the dimension became clear, the calls for action became louder.

With the creation of the two ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) through Security Council Resolutions 827/1993 and 955/1994, the combat against gender-based violence took on a new dimension. The statutes of the tribunals list rape as a crime against humanity and as a war crime and women's rights activists and NGOs demanded that special attention was paid to sexual violence. This led to the adoption of definitions of sexual crimes that went beyond what was set out in the statutes. Women's rights NGOs for example pressured the prosecutor to include rape charges in the indictment against Jean-Paul Akayesu, which ultimately resulted in the ICTR's finding that sexual violence can constitute genocide if all other elements of the crime are met.

The efforts made by the international women's rights movement regarding international criminal law bear fruit, sexual crimes including sexual slavery and forced prostitution were included in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which was established through an agreement between Sierra Leone and the UN, convicted members of the RUF and the AFRC of sexual violence. Moreover, the Security Council in resolution 1820/2008 has stressed, that sexual violence in conflict when committed deliberately against civilians or as part of a systematic and widespread attack against a civilian population may impede the restoration of international peace and security.

Gender-based Violence - A Problem of Discrimination

On the 2nd of August 2010, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon upon request of the UN General Assembly (Res 63/155 and 63/156 (2008)) issued two reports on the status of violence against women and trafficking of women and girls.

In the report on violence against women the Secretary General observed that women, regardless of all legislative efforts made by numerous countries, are still subject to different forms of gender-based violence, and that new forms are constantly evolving. In the Beijing Declaration, gender violence has been understood as an obstacle to achieve gender equality. Although this view has changed and gender violence is now more and more understood as a consequence of gender discrimination, the achievements in the international criminal arena placed a heavy weight on criminal law and women's access to justice. However, criminal law by its ex post nature cannot reach the roots of the problem. Economic marginalization, limited access to education, and especially gender stereotyping contribute to perpetuate gender violence which cannot be addressed by criminal law. Several observers have already criticized the adequacy of criminal law to address gender-based violence on the international level. Going through the ordeal of testifying about sexual violence and especially cross-examination are a heavy burden for the victims. There are also reports about Rwandan women who were killed after they testified at the ICTR, due to lacking protection by the Tribunal. Also, at both ICTs' charges for sexual violence apparently have been included in indictments for the sole purpose of plea-bargaining.

Congolese soldiers explained in a video interview why they rape: It is a mixture of rigid gender roles, myths about raping women to become invulnerable in battle and the humiliation of the enemy that fuels sexual violence in conflict. The conflict in the DRC is prominent for a high frequency of rape and the brutality with which it is committed, without the perspective of a soon ending.

Although gender-based violence is a gender neutral term, it is mainly used to refer to violence against women, also in the UN system. It seems ironic, but this understanding has a discriminatory effect: the marginalization of gender-based violence against boys and men, especially in the context of war. However, they are frequently subject to sex-selective massacres, forced recruitment, but also to sexual violence. It has been estimated that between 5000 and 7000 men were sexually assaulted during the 1993 Bosnian conflict, including rape and sterilisation. The ICTY dealt with sexual violence against men in the Tadic case, in particular with ordered castration of Bosnian-Muslim men. In the Congo, male on male rape is used as a tool of humiliation by the rebels and the Congolese army alike. The stigma attached to homosexuality in most societies keeps many men from reporting sexual violence.


Gender and especially sexual violence against women at this point are well established as a Human Rights violation and the latter even as an international crime. However, many women are still facing violence on an everyday basis. The Secretary General in his latest report therefore stressed, that a stronger focus must be placed on prevention, especially through educational programs and awareness raising campaigns to tackle gender stereotypes that enhance violence against women. Regarding conflict, more attention must be paid to sexual violence against men and boys. Additionally, it must be noted, that the Security Council has more than once stressed the importance of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, which is a clear statement away from women as the mere victims of conflicts toward gender equality and shared responsibility. 

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Bloggen skrivs av Fredsinstitutets nuvarande eller tidigare personal, gästforskare och styrelseledamöter eller av inbjudna gästskribenter. Åsikterna är författarens egna.

The blog pieces are written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.