Concept Note on an International Partnership
Concept Note on an International Partnership
The Moscow Attack, Afghanistan’s Islamic State Branch and the Ukraine War
The Moscow Attack, Afghanistan’s Islamic State Branch and the Ukraine War
Commentary / Global 5 minutes

Concept Note on an International Partnership


In October 2010, the UN Security Council will likely commemorate the tenth anniversary of the passage of UNSC Resolution 1325 by holding a high-level meeting at which each member state will be expected to announce a new, concrete and time-bound commitment to address an aspect of UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security.  In this context, an international partnership should be developed to help prevent and respond to sexual violence against displaced women.  Such a partnership would include financial support from major donors, and include governments of specific countries facing this phenomenon, international agencies and organizations (including UNHCR, IOM, ICRC and the African Union), NGOs, and most importantly, women affected by displacement and abuse.  A pilot project would identify a few key sites prime for action, and establish clear goals, indicators and accountability mechanisms.  It would address the challenges of sexual violence during population flight; in camps, rural settings and urban communities; and during return or resettlement.  It would support such measures as livelihoods programs, collection of fuel, girls’ education, women’s health, psycho-social support, accountability for perpetrators, and camp management, protection and design.

Background on Sexual Violence against Displaced Women

UN Security Council Resolution 1325, passed in October 2000, committed the international community to take concrete and time-bound action to prevent and respond to sexual violence against women displaced by armed conflict.  Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions and policy statements identify numerous responsibilities for the UN Secretariat, member states and non-state actors, including protecting women and girls from sexual abuse, ensuring the humanitarian nature of IDP and refugee camps, protecting human rights and international humanitarian law, training international forces, providing financial assistance, and engaging civil society. Despite this commitment, sexual violence against displaced women is expanding, as documented by concrete evidence, anecdotal reports, documentary films, and cases of the use of rape as a weapon of war.  There are clear patterns of abuse in such varied situations as eastern Congo, Darfur, Myanmar, Colombia and many others. Host governments for refugees and local governments for IDPs have often shirked their responsibilities under international law and the humanitarian practices, including by adopting laws that prevent girls from going to local schools and women from engaging in economic activity.

These failings occur despite the existence of good operational guidelines developed by UNHCR and the OCHA, and adopted and disseminated by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) in Guidelines for Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings: Focusing on prevention of and Response to Sexual Violence in Emergencies.  These guidelines reflect years of institutional knowledge, a well-considered rights and community-based approach, and a  commitment to mainstreaming, coordinated planning, and effective monitoring and evaluation.  The guidelines highlight protection, water and sanitation, food security and nutrition, shelter and site planning, health and community services, and education.  But dissemination of these guidelines is incomplete and sometimes non-existent among host governments, NGOs, peacekeeping forces, displaced women themselves and even implementing UN agencies.  Systematic implementation is even sketchier, reflecting not only a lack of knowledge and familiarity with the guidelines, but also inadequate financial and personnel resources, lack of high-level attention and prioritization, weak coordination, and the absence of goals and indicators needed to hold individuals and institutions accountable.

Displaced women are generally not in engaged planning and implementing programs: they are frequently seen as merely victims or beneficiaries of protection efforts, but not as a vital resource for the design and implementation of projects.  As a result, projects are often ill-adapted to local traditional, cultural, and economic realities, and are frequently rejected by the very individuals they are designed to assist.  Efforts to build effective women’s groups among the displaced through institutional support, consultations mechanisms, or granting of contracts for service provision are sporadic.

Coordination structures within the UN are inadequate, notwithstanding multiple mechanisms, including the IASC, UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, and OCHA.  The lead agency for cluster groups is typically inadequately staffed and resourced to perform this work.  There is also confusion as to the division of responsibilities between multifunctional teams and the focal point system.  Even where focal points exist, they tend to be low-level officers with little training, expertise, and authority.  One particular weakness is the absence of a comprehensive approach to psycho-social support to displaced women, which is now often limited to a brief intervention for survivors of sexual assault, as opposed to a comprehensive and integrated support.  Similarly, there is insufficient attention to displaced women in urban and rural settings outside the context of camps, even though most displaced persons are located in these settings.  There is also insufficient attention to displaced women in flight or during their return or resettlement processes.

An Inclusive Partnership

A partnership should be formed to prevent and respond to sexual violence among displaced women, to be announced ahead of the UN commitments conference so as to catalyze similar commitments by other countries, and rolled-out in detail at the conference itself.  Partners would include major donors, governments of countries facing  internal displacement, governments of countries hosting refugees; international agencies, including UNHCR, IOM, WFP, ICRC, UNFPA and OCHA; regional and sub-regional organizations, including the African Union; international and domestic humanitarian NGOs; and women affected by displacement and sexual abuse.  Foundations, business groups and international financial institutions (IFIs) would also be encouraged to support the partnership financially.

Assistance to implementing agencies and NGOs would enhance existing efforts to carry out IASC guidelines on sexual violence in emergencies, including livelihood programs; girls’ education; comprehensive psycho-social assistance; protection in fuel gathering and provision of alternative fuel sources; dissemination of IASC guidelines;  camp design, management and set-up; health systems, including reproductive healthcare;  training for peacekeepers, national security forces and other protection forces; accountability measures for perpetrators of sexual violence; and monitoring and evaluation.  The initiative would address the challenges of sexual violence during population flight; in camps, rural settings and urban communities; and during return or resettlement of refugees and IDPs.  The initiative could serve as a pilot project, identifying a few key sites prime for action, such as eastern DRC, Darfur, Colombia, Dadaab camp in Kenya, Sri Lanka, or Burmese refugees in border sites.  The project would establish clear goals, indicators and accountability mechanisms, and be subject to regular evaluation and monitoring, with reporting to a review committee involving implementing partners and outside monitors.  Future funding for the initiative would be dependent on positive evaluations during the pilot project.

A memorandum of understanding would be signed by all partners to clearly delineate their commitments.  In a model agreement, foreign donors would provide financial support to UN agencies, governments and directly to women’s groups on the ground.  International agencies, NGOs, local governments and women’s groups would assign new personnel to serve as monitors, health officials, and psycho-social counselors.  Camp managers and coordinating bodies would more effectively monitor results against established indicators.  Local authorities would change laws and practices to facilitate women’s livelihood programs and girls’ education.  Women in the camps would form committees to engage in all planning and implementation decisions.  Foundations and local and foreign investors would support the initiative through social responsibility programs. The UN would establish a roster of trained experts in gender-related displacement issues to displaced women and issues of concern to them are included throughout peace processes, from initial negotiation of ceasefires until the return or resettlement of displaced persons.

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