We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

Press centre

Press release

Women in armed conflict at extreme risk of sexual violence

Impunity for rape and sexual violence in war must end immediately

NEW YORK/GENEVA, 25 November 2004 – “The systematic use of rape as a weapon of war is a violation of human rights that demands urgent attention and an end to impunity,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said today.

“The prevalence of rape and sexual violence during armed conflict is not a new problem, but it is as serious as it has ever been,” Bellamy said on the International Day for the Prevention of Violence Against Women. “Perpetrators of sexual violence during armed conflict are violating international law. States must hold them accountable, and there must be resources for victims to seek justice.”

“War has always dealt cruelly with women, but the nature of violent conflict in the world has changed in the past decades in ways that are taking an even greater toll on women and children,” Bellamy said. In the 14 years after the end of the Cold War, from 1990 to 2003, there were 59 different major armed conflicts in 48 locations. Only four of these involved war between nations.

“This means that fighting is now more often taking place, not on the battleground, but in the places where people live,” Bellamy said. “It means that civilians are more likely to be direct or indirect targets of violence.”

“During conflict, in flight and in refugee camps, women and girls are extremely vulnerable to violence, sexual abuse and exploitation,” Bellamy said. As community structures crumble and violence escalates, there are fewer measures in place to ensure safety and security.

Bellamy said that one of the most disturbing phenomena of the past two decades is the use of rape as a deliberate tactic of war, a way of demoralizing and humiliating the enemy and destabilizing entire communities.

“In situations of armed conflict, girls and women are routinely targeted in campaigns of gender-based violence, including rape, mutilation, prostitution and sexual slavery,” she said.

Bellamy pointed to the conflict in Darfur, considered one of today’s worst humanitarian crisis, where militias have routinely engaged in rape of young girls and women of all ages. That conflict has forced more than a million people to leave their homes and seek refuge in makeshift camps for displaced persons. But even there, women and girls are in grave danger of being sexually assaulted, particularly when they venture beyond the camp for firewood. 

“Perpetrators of sexual violence during armed conflict, as well as those who authorize attacks, must be prosecuted,” Bellamy said. She said that ending the impunity that
surrounds these crimes requires concerted action on the local, regional, national and international levels and should include:

  • Monitoring systems to document, investigate and prosecute incidents of rape and sexual abuse.
  • A dramatic increase in resources to provide necessary support to women and girls who have endured rape and other forms of sexual violence so that they can rebuild their lives.
  • Improvement of security measures for refugee and IDP camps.
  • Increased involvement of women in devising protective measures both for refugee and IDP camps and all phases of post-conflict operations.
  • The training of peace keepers in the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence.

“Rape is being used as a weapon of war, often with complete impunity,” Bellamy said. “In the interest of human rights, human decency and human dignity this must end.”

For further information, please contact:

Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF Media, New York, 212 326 7269 jsedky@unicef.org
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva, 41 22 909 5716, dpersonnaz@unicef.org

For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 158 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, access to clean water and sanitation, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of governments, businesses, foundations and individuals, and through our National Committees for UNICEF we sell greeting cards and other products that help advance humanity.




New enhanced search