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Submission to Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment — Report on Sexual Torture

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I. Introduction

Over the years, parties to armed conflicts have systematically used sexual and reproductive violence against civilians to demoralize, terrorize, destroy, and even alter the ethnic compositions of entire communities. A large proportion of the victims of this violence, sometimes over 80%, are children. Stark examples include Rwanda, where nearly 250,000-500,000 women were raped in one hundred days as a part of the genocide in 1994, and an estimated 20,000 “enfants mauvais souvenirs” (children of bad memories) were born from these rapes. In Bosnia, women were held in rape camps, repeatedly raped until they became pregnant, and intentionally confined until it was too late for them to obtain an abortion. Boko Haram raped hundreds of women and girls and held them in sexual slavery. During one rescue of victims kidnapped by Boko Haram, at least 214 women and girls were found to be pregnant.

More recently, the UN confirmed that Russian forces have committed numerous acts of rape and other sexual violence, with victims ranging from age four to eighty-years-old, which the UN said in some cases amounted to torture and war crimes. The UN has also documented armed gangs in Haiti using sexual violence to punish individuals associated with rival gangs, and to “assert power and control over people”. While most victims have been women and girls, men and boys have also been abused and subjected to violence. LGBTQ+ individuals have also suffered grave sexual violence in Haiti, with LBTQ+ women recounting incidents of “corrective rape” to “cure” them of “homosexuality.” Sexual violence in conflict settings can amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CIDT) in violation of international human rights law (IHRL), international humanitarian law (IHL) and international criminal law (ICL).

While all people in conflict settings have a right to protection from sexual violence and to reparations for such grave harm, all too often the compounded or independent reproductive harms individuals suffer go unrecognized and unremedied. For example, reproductive violence such as forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced contraception and forced sterilization occurs regularly in conflict. Additionally, other reproductive rights violations such as lack of access to abortion, particularly when pregnancies are the result of rape, and to contraception and/or sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services to enable individuals to prevent unwanted pregnancies occur frequently in crisis contexts. Maternal mortality and morbidity rates are also disproportionately high in conflict settings due to inadequate living conditions and lack of access to prenatal and maternal health care.