South Africa

Sexual violence increased during Covid-19 pandemic, UN report shows

CAPE TOWN - Several African nations have been included in a United Nations’ list of countries with non-state actors or entities using sexual violence as a tactic of war and political repression during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Non-state actors” refers to organisations and individuals not affiliated with, directed by or funded through a government.

"Sexual violence was employed as a tactic of war, torture and terrorism in settings in which overlapping humanitarian and security crises, linked with militarisation and the proliferation of arms, continued unabated," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement accompanying the report, adding that the coronavirus pandemic led to a rise in gender-based violence last year.

The report focused on 18 countries where the UN said it had obtained verified information. It lists 52 parties credibly suspected of responsibility for rape or other forms of sexual violence in conflicts.

Over 70 percent of the listed parties were persistent perpetrators. The majority of those on the UN blacklist were opposition, rebel or terrorist groups linked to the Islamic State.

In Ethiopia’s Tigray region where conflict broke out last November between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Guterres said more than 100 rapes had been alleged.

"There were also disturbing reports of individuals who had allegedly been forced to rape members of their own family under the threat of imminent violence, of women who had been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities and of sexual violence being perpetrated against women and girls in refugee camps,” he said.

Sexual violence was also reported in Myanmar's armed ethnic conflicts. The report covered events during 2020, before the military took over Myanmar's government and began a violent crackdown on opponents of its actions.

Restrictions on movement related to the Covid-19 pandemic and limited economic opportunities for women also increased the risk of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“The pandemic led to an increase in child marriage in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and to "survival sex,” Guterres said.

In Cameroon, 24 women were allegedly raped during a military operation involving separatists. In the CAR, pre-electoral violence flared up, exposing women and girls to threats and heightened risks of sexual violence. In Burundi, women from opposition parties faced targeted intimidation, threats and arbitrary detention during the electoral period.

In Sudan, livestock grazing routes were a flashpoint for sexual violence, in particular incidents of rape and gang rape linked to conflicts between farmers and herders. Similarly, in Somalia, clan-based attacks intensified as a result of land-related disputes fuelled by the negative impact of Covid-19.

The UN report said inter-communal rifts intensified in South Sudan, where a significant number of perpetrators were members of civil defence groups, and in the DRC, where conflict was linked to disputes over natural resources and armed groups used sexual violence as a tactic to dehumanise and displace populations.

The secretary-general urged the UN Security Council to demand an immediate end to sexual violence by all parties to armed conflict, to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence faced sanctions and to refer crimes of sexual violence to the International Criminal Court.

He also encouraged UN member states, donors, regional and intergovernmental organisations to ensure that victims of sexual violence were assisted and received reparations.


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