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International Women's Day: the fight against sexual violence must not falter

07-03-2011 News Release 11/46

Geneva (ICRC) – The widespread perception of sexual violence against women as inevitable in armed conflict is wrong, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today. In the run-up to International Women's Day on 8 March, the ICRC is calling on States and other entities not to relent in their efforts to prevent rape and other forms of sexual violence that harm the lives and dignity of countless women in conflict zones around the world every year.

"Sexual violence in times of conflict does not happen automatically and can be avoided," said Nadine Puechguirbal, the ICRC's adviser on issues relating to women and war. "Sexual assault, as we all know, is an appalling and unlawful act that has to be prosecuted. Would-be perpetrators might hold back if they knew they were going to be punished."

Sexual violence committed in connection with armed conflict is a war crime prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, the two Additional Protocols of 1977 and the Statute of the International Criminal Court. States have an obligation to prevent and prosecute sexual violence and to punish the perpetrators. To do so, they need to have suitable domestic legislation and other measures in place.

Weapon bearers, whether belonging to government armed forces, organized non-State armed groups or peacekeeping forces, must refrain from and prevent all crimes of sexual violence through suitable training, strict orders and sanctions for offenders.

"Deplorably, it happens all too often that the rules protecting women are not observed," said Ms Puechguirbal. "This frequently leads to a climate of impunity – and that is precisely what has to change."

In addition to promoting compliance with international humanitarian law, the ICRC has set up various programmes of support for victims of sexual violence that cover medical, psychological, social and economic issues. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the ICRC supports counselling centres ("maisons d'écoute") for victims of sexual violence. In Colombia, the ICRC cooperates with the Profamilia organization, which provides health care, psychological support and legal advice. Every year, all over the world, the ICRC provides tens of thousands of displaced women, including victims of sexual violence, with aid of various kinds, ranging from essential household items to micro grants.

For further information, please contact:
Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17

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