Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and the UNSC

Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and the UNSC

On April 10th, Five Minutes sat down with Sophie Huvé and Ambassador Melanne Verveer at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security to discuss Huvé’s recently published research titled “The Use of UN Sanctions to Address Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.” The report detailed the inconsistent use of sanctions regimes by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) regarding sexual violence in conflict, and provided suggestions to better curb sexual violence.


Your research background showcases an interest in international law and foreign policy. Based on your background and experiences, what motivated you to probe the research topic of the role of the UNSC in targeting sexual violence sanctions?


SH: I used to intern at the UNSC Sanctions Committee before coming to Georgetown, so I was working on sanctions regimes and doing cross-cutting analysis. One day, I was looking at the Cote D’Ivoire sanctions regime, and saw that it included human rights violations. I started to look at more sanctions regimes and realized that, despite very similar conflicts, some sanctions regimes did include human rights conflicts and some did not. I thought it was interesting, and so a professor motivated me to do specific research on human rights violations in sanctions regimes.


The findings from this research showcase an inconsistency in the way the UNSC targets sexual violence. How do you believe the politics of UNSC and global affairs in general has affected the designation of sexual violence crimes in sanctions regimes?


SH: A lot of research has shown that the places where the Security Council is most effective are the places where the P5 countries (China, France, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.) do not have a strong interest. If you have P5 that have strong competing interests, then it is difficult. Along with economic interests, countries also have different positions on international law. For example, Russia and China have a very different perspective of what the Security Council can or should do to deal with human rights violation or with a specific country situation than other P5’s. Russia and China are very reluctant to use coercive measures, and they’re even more reluctant to use them against governments, because for them it’s an issue of sovereignty. They can accept it from time to time, but it requires a lot of political commitment from other states on the council to get them to agree to these specific measures. In South Sudan for instance, there are a lot of political differences on how to deal with the situation. States in the UNSC are not in agreement on whether or not to use sanctions.


MV: Russia and China have huge interests in Sudan, and they’ve come down on the side of the Sudanese government. There are a lot of political components to all of these decisions. You see it now in the Syria debate. Sanctions aside, you keep seeing Russia saying no to condemnations to some of the worst things happening in Syria.


SH: Russia also has a very different view on how to handle crises. For them, launching rebellions on a government that is in place is something that is not okay. So, they will necessarily oppose that. But then you also have instances where Russia and China were very silent on the sanctions regimes, because they do not have a lot of interest.


This research focused primarily on the role of the UNSC. However, based on the findings, what other actions can the UN and the international community as a whole take to condemn and curb sexual violence?


MV: Certainly, this is one tool, but it is not a singular tool. There are other regional bodies also dealing with the situation. When the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary William Hague was involved in the issue, he made it a priority of the UK government to curb sexual violence. Hague put it on the agenda of the G7 Summit, because he said this issue is serious and should be grappled with. There are other governments, such as Sweden, Canada, and other places today that are really raising these issues as part of their foreign policies. I don’t think there’s any country that really wants to address issues of peace and security that shouldn’t see this as a part of the work that they’re doing. This shouldn’t be confined to one day in the Security Council. This is something that should be worked on every day.


SH: Sanctions are not a criminal punishment; they arrive to coerce a change in behavior or constrain the ability to violate international law. The main body in charge of criminal law is the International Criminal Court, and the fact that the ICC is not truly respected or given the resources that it needs is something that truly needs to change. The ICC is just now starting an investigation for a crisis in 2011 in Cote D’Ivoire, seven years later because they did not have the resources. International courts have a lot of potential to curb sexual violence, but we just need to give them more resources so that they could work as a deterrent for future perpetrators. Furthermore, there can also be country sanctions on individual actors.


Your work clearly shows the need for certain changes in the UNSC and other systems. Now that it has been published, what do you believe the next steps should be?


SH: The goal of this research is to show how sanctions regimes can be useful. At the Security Council and in the Sanctions Committee, you have new diplomats come in every two years, so they do not have an institutional or sanctions memory. Diplomats who arrive at the Security Council or the sanctions committee may not be experts on either human rights violence or sanctions regimes. Therefore, they are interested in looking at research regarding previous sanctions, and having that cross-cutting analysis for sanctions regimes can be helpful.


MV: Whether it be in our research or the other work we do at Georgetown, we want to take scholarly research and not leave it in some silo, but have it impact in practice. For example, Sophie was just at the UN yesterday speaking with a working group, and they are going to be going into debate on this issue soon. Overall, our goal is to affect policy makers to impact change.


This transcript has been edited lightly for content and length.


Ambassador Melanne Verveer is the Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security. Ambassador Verveer served as the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, a position to which she was nominated by President Obama in 2009. She coordinated foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women, traveling to nearly sixty countries. She worked to ensure that women’s participation and rights are fully integrated into U.S. foreign policy, and she played a leadership role in the Administration’s development of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. President Obama also appointed her to serve as the U.S. Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Amb. Verveer serves as the Special Representative on Gender Issues for the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Chairmanship.


Sophie Huvé is the 2017-2018 Hillary Rodham Clinton Law Fellow with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. She received her LLM in International Legal Studies at Georgetown University Law Center, with a certificate in International Human Rights. While a graduate student, Sophie was vice president of the UN Association – Georgetown Law and participated in the Jean Pictet International Humanitarian Law Competition where she was nominated for the Gilbert-Apollis award. Before coming to Georgetown Law, Sophie interned with the Security Council Affairs Division at the United Nations.