By Laura d’Elsa
The Malian Government and the United Nations published this year its first Communique on preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence in Mali. This initiative is the outcome of three years of advocacy and engagement and creates momentum around conflict-related sexual violence in the country. It affirms the Malian government’s commitment to reduce conflict-related sexual violence and impunity and helps to create an action plan to address this problem and attract funding for new programmes of support such as one-stop service centres for survivors to come forward and report abuse.
Conflict-related sexual violence is extremely difficult to address. The subject matter is very sensitive, and cases are infrequently reported and often go unpunished. Nonetheless, the use of sexual violence to intimidate and terrorise civilian populations is a common weapon of war. It has been and continues to be utilised around the world in places such as South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Colombia, Rwanda, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo — the last two being the home country of the recipients of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, Nadia Murad and Dennis Mukwege, recognized precisely for their work in this area.
The Communique reinforces existing efforts by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to protect civilians. This includes providing the Malian government, armed parties of conflict, UN entities, international and national NGOs, and civil society entities with technical assistance to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence. In some instances, such assistance is achieved by implementing early warning mechanisms (based on a set of criteria that influence the likelihood of future conflict-related sexual violence) and training members of these organisations on conflict-related sexual violence, reporting, and how to engage with survivors.
MINUSMA has also been working with the government to draft a gender-based violence law and is now collaborating with a coalition of NGOs to push for its ratification. With this work, MINUSMA aims to improve reporting of conflict-related sexual violence and gender-based violence in general, address their impunity, and ultimately decrease the overall number of cases committed in the country.
In Mali, the scope of this issue came to light at the height of the Malian war in 2012 in a report by Human Rights Watch. As a response, the country received its first mention in the Secretary-General’s 2012 annual report on conflict-related sexual violence, which lead to Mali’s UN country team to start monitoring the issue. Then, in 2013, the Security Council established MINUSMA and included an office dedicated specifically to conflict-related sexual violence.
In 2016, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, visited Mali to meet with government representatives, armed groups, religious leaders, and survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. At the end of her visit, the Malian government and the Mission agreed to start work on a joint statement to address conflict-related sexual violence in Mali, the result of which is the Communique published this March.
The author is Women’s Protection Officer at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).