Engendering Human Security: Thoughts on the Global Summit on Sexual Violence in War

“The veneer of civilization seems to be an exceedingly thin-one that can easily stripped away, especially by the stress of war.”
Iris Chang, 1997
          Now the London Global Summit on Sexual Violence in War  over, opportunities for photo ops and selfies with women’s rights advocacy powerhouse Angelina Jolie explored ad nauseam (bless her committed heart, though) and  an International Protocol providing guidelines for prosecution and evidentiary rules adopted, comes a series of daunting tasks. The first would be moving beyond words, stirring speeches and intentions to design core implementation strategies. The second could be to give back ownership of the wartime sexual violence’s narrative to the victims, and not to celebrities. The latter, in spite of their best intentions, become the faces of the causes they endorse, repackage  it as ‘sexy’ to mainstream otherwise uninterested audiences thus turning issues into ephemeral trends.
        How can or should those gains be incorporated in protection mechanisms already in place and help prevent impunity?  One way would be to capitalize on the increasing relevance of human security and reshape some of its components as to create solid normative foundations for coordinated actions that would help curb sexual violence in war. Having spent a year analyzing the legal evolution of wartime sexual violence as well as the legal status of victims, I was beyond pleased by one implication of the Summit: the increasing prominence of gender in the still legally vague concept of human security or how a nexus can be established between the targeting of women (or attacks on gender), the unique characteristics of the new wars (particularly in the Great Lakes region) and national/regional peace and security.
 Enhanced Ties between War and Livelihoods: Impact of Systemic Sexual Violence on Communities and Regional Stability
            A majority of current civil wars find their origins in the end of the Cold War.  When Eastern or Western blocks-supported regimes collapsed due to lack of support from either power, the resulting political vacuum triggered armed struggles between different factions. In most cases, the struggle is still ongoing but as resources lessened, the impetus for finding alternative sources of war funding increased: diamonds in Sierra Leone, or coltan in the DRC as well to name a few.
            For many rebel groups, civil war becomes, over time, a struggle for control of mineral resources and the forced displacement of rural populations an economic and strategic necessity to the war economy.  Not only is the fight pitting non-state armed groups against states, it also involves foreign armed groups against local rebel groups and states.  In eastern DRC for instance, foreign armed groups from Rwanda and Uganda have allegedly been involved in the illegal mining and smuggle of coltan.  In this war economy context, sexual violence, a ‘cost-effective’ and gratifying tool for all, is used ad nauseam to subjugate, displace or terrorize communities standing between groups and mines. Is it presumably ‘advertised’ by recruiting groups, as a combatant’s reward.
            Further along those lines in the Great Lakes region, and in the DRC in particular, as conflicts endured and failed peacekeeping missions multiplied, the political purpose of rebel groups eroded, giving way to an impetus to continue participating in the war economy. As cattle rarified and agriculture production stalled due to previous conflicts and mass migration in neighboring countries in the early years of the conflict, returning to eastern DRC was to adapt to daunting survival conditions.  The combination of the social consequences of stigmatization and lack of economic development/opportunities for both fighters and victims has a destructive effect on communities.  Great time and efforts are required to rebuild the latter in the aftermath of mass sexual violence sometimes perpetrated by fellow community members.  The existence of children born out of wartime rape or sexual slavery further complicates reconstruction endeavors as their status as spawn of the enemy keeps them and their mothers from fully reintegrating.  Further along those lines, communities unable to find a path to recovery from conflict or trapped in a vicious cycle of violence contribute to the chronic instability that has plagued the Great Lakes region the past twenty years.   Moreover, the transnational nature of both the wars and the crimes perpetrated affects areas sometimes without consideration of borders.  The Lord Resistance (LRA), for instance, an originally Ugandan militia group, has been known to cross into the DRC and engage in sexual violence against Congolese nationals, thus allowing the stigmatization it causes to spread to an entire region.  In any case, this, for lack of a better term, ‘strategy’ clearly impedes efforts to restore peace and stability in the Great Lakes Region as a whole.
Human Security: Defining the Concept
             The end of the Cold War also resulted inter alia, in the emergence of a broader, individual-centered concept of security that stands in contrast with the traditional, state-centered concept of security.  In this new paradigm mechanisms aiming at reducing threats to human dignity and survival, as well as promoting the “humanitarian goals of “protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life, whether in homes, in jobs or in communities” (Paris, 2001: 89) took center stage.  Human security may thus be defined as focused on the individual and, arguably as critical to national, regional and global security and stability as traditional, militarized security.  By protecting the well-being of individuals, answering their needs and mitigating threats to which they might be subjected, entities involved in providing such security, contribute to the greater goal of international peace and security.
            The UNDP’s 1994 Human Development Report established a framework within which areas considered to be paramount to human development can evolve. The Report identified threats in seven distinct areas: 1. Economic security; 2. Food security; 3. Health security; 4. Environmental security; 5. Personal security; 6. Community security; and 7. Political security.  Using the existing theoretical framework, I will determine which aspects of human security could benefit from a gender perspective and contribute to a better protection regime against wartime sexual violence. My focus will thus remain on personal and community security and each term shall be tentatively defined.
            First, personal security seeks to protect individuals from physical abuse/violence by state and non-state actors.  Secondly, community security applies in the context of individual groups whether social, religious, ethnic or gender; ideally it would provide parameters to ensure the latter are not targeted for violence or discrimination by state and non-state actors.
            One of the most interesting advances in the development of the human security paradigm in the past few years, and as demonstrated through the Global Summit, is the inclusion of gender in its different parameters.  Although ‘engendering’ or ‘gender mainstreaming’ as NGOs refer to it, is often manipulated to fit organizational interests, the traditional security model excluded any consideration of gender equality, in spite of the fact that women have been the prime civilian victims of violence and conflict.  A focus on gender seeks to address security concerns specific to each gender groups, bearing in mind that conflict and its aftermath do not affect men and women equally.  Furthermore, an engendered human security model would make gender considerations prerequisites for sustainable peace.  In favoring this approach, I adhere to international human rights specialist Lyal S. Sunga’s interpretation is the most adapted to the challenges of preventing wartime sexual violence. Sunga is in favor of a human security paradigm that relies on an international legal regime encompassing human rights, humanitarian, criminal and refugee law (Sunga, 2009).  Laying the foundations of human security on relevant legal norms will solidify its normative status in the long term, and adapt structures in place to the realities of the new wars.
 Strengthening the Individualized Human Security Paradigm by Cementing its Gender Component
             The introduction on gender or gender mainstreaming, in individual security is not an entirely new phenomenon.  It began with the international women’s rights movement of the 1970s, continued with the post-genocide years jurisprudential innovations of the 1990s (primarily through the works of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda).  Then several UN Security Council resolutions followed, all focusing on women’s experience of armed conflicts, including Resolutions 1325 (S/RES/1325), 1820 (S/RES/1820), 1888 (2009) and  2122 (2013). They contribute to the development of a human security concept fully informed by relevant provisions of international law as defined by Sunga.  From Nanking to Bangladesh, Bosnia and Africa’s Great Lakes region, widespread practice of wartime sexual violence is evidence that no race, culture or country has a monopoly on conflict-related gender-based violence.  Due to the randomness of sexual violence in war, the necessity of adding a gender layer to mechanisms currently in place arise from all corners of the globe where conflict struck, as does creating new protective regimes. An engendered human security paradigm would therefore have the following parameters.
            Personal Security – Widespread and systematic attacks on women during conflicts have been connected to their individual identities as women. As Cynthia Enloe suggested,
 If military strategists […] imagine that women provide the backbone of the enemy’s culture, if they define women chiefly as breeders, if they define women as men’s property and as the symbols of men’s honor, if they imagine that residential communities rely on women’s work—if any or all of these beliefs about society’s proper gendered division of labor are held by war-waging policy makers—they will be tempted to devise an overall military operation that includes their male soldiers’ sexual assault of women.[1]
 The damaging and often permanent effects of sexual violence on the victim’s status or inherent value as a person, the consequential, increased risk of repeated assaults by members of war-shattered communities reluctant to protect them,  should be highlighted in designing legal parameters for the personal security of women.  This would entail acknowledging the individual rights of victims per se, and perhaps prioritize their (and their dependents) access to services (health, social, education, etc.) based on various human rights treaties such as the 1966 International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.
            Community Security – As Sivakumaran suggested (Sivakumaran, 2007: 274),
 the symbolic construction of the female body tends to be that of the community, for example ‘Marianne’ personifying France, the Statue of Liberty of the United States, the Bavarian national statute ‘Bavaria’ and ‘Mother India.’  Accordingly, an attack on the female body is a symbolic attack on the personification and culture of the entire community. In much the same way as sexual violence against women may symbolize to offender and victim alike the destruction of the national, racial, religious or ethnic culture as appropriate depending on the context of the conflict, sexual violence against men symbolizes the disempowerment of the national, racial, religious or ethnic group.  [Sexual violence against men] is symbolic appropriation of the masculinity of the whole group.
 A re-theorization of human security with a gender lens would therefore acknowledge that women may be the targets of violence not only as individuals, but because they are part of a collective group— namely, women (Tripp, 2013:20) and that the same applies to men albeit to a lesser extent.
Engendering Human Security through the Normative Validation of International Law
            The evolution of international law since 1945 has had one primary result: the normativization of  general prohibitive rules meant to safeguard peace, security and actors of the international arena, whether states or individuals.  Norms agreed upon in various degrees of consensus thus formalized a set of common principles or ideologies; prohibition or limitation in the use of nuclear weapons, the laws of armed conflicts, human rights or rules pertaining to state sovereignty are examples.  A concept still in its infancy, human security has the potential to become more than a mere amalgamation of vague principles, at least, as it relates to victims of wartime sexual violence.  Its normative potency can be enhanced by existing legal structures which may help prevention, increase then systematize protection and support.
            International Human Rights Law – The human security paradigm’s focus on human rights is generally limited to issues relating to basic individual rights.  This is of particular relevance, because “in the context of civil war, combatants use rape strategically in order to acquire women’s assets, and both government and rebel forces used violence systematically to strip women of their economic and political assets,” Pillay wrote. With the transferability of their productive and reproductive labor implied in their status as property, women are often targeted for what they may possess, “which is often livestock and land for the army” (Pillay, 2002: 39).  Domestic laws that guarantee the non-transferability of women’s property and ensure their equal treatment before the law, making it illegal to encroach on their economic rights would help mitigate the risks of seeing their prerogative collapse when a war breaks.
            International criminal law – Accounts of judicial proceedings at the ICTY and ICTR have demonstrated one significant fact: the gender lens placed on international criminal cases has resulted in major normative breakthroughs. Engendering the process has allowed the inclusion of rape in indictments that blatantly ignored it despite heavy evidence ab initio. Prominent sexual assault cases were kept from being mere cases of a “bunch of guys got riled up after a day of war” (Sharatt, 2011: 40).  The presence of women’s rights groups has been critical on the ICTY, and this trend should be institutionalized as part of gender mainstreaming.  The individual criminal responsibility of perpetrators of atrocities needs to be systematized to act as a deterrent against impunity, and warring parties constantly informed on the risks they encounter when committing, condoning or failing to prevent sexual violence. The 1998 International Criminal Court (ICC) Statute is thus a critical tool in implementing measures emphasizing gender in international law; it may even be instrumental  in prosecuting crimes omitted by peacekeepers due to Court’s approach to gender crimes (Simm, 2013: 61).
            International Refugee Law – Among the five grounds on which fear of persecution can be alleged and refugee status can be claimed –race, religion, political opinion, nationality and membership in a particular social group- gender is not listed.  Thus, individuals on whom violence was perpetrated solely on account of their gender do not qualify, de lege lata, as refugees.  Although major strides were made in recent years to expand the scope of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees to victims of gender crimes such as domestic violence and female genital mutilation (FGM), and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s publication of guidelines for victims of sexual violence, there is still some level of resistance to the full integration of gender in refugee law.
The End of Impunity?
        The purpose of establishing parameters for human security is to ensure the well-being of individuals independently of the ability of a state to provide for it.  In the context of a conflict, particularly one of internal character, security of the individual may not be left to the state apparatus, as it may not be a fully functioning entity.  A paradigm enforced by an international legal framework would enable the international community at large to palliate a state’s weakness when the latter is fighting for its survival.
            Is gender central to human security? Yes.  Centralizing gender leads to differing conceptions of safety from male and female perspectives; it would contribute to rethinking security outcomes and provide “greater local ownership and more effective” service delivery. In other words, it would help “recalibrate what it means to be secure” (Aolain, Haynes and Cahn, 2011: 61).  Sexual violence occurs in all wars but to varying extent and distinct forms.  The recent abduction of over 100 girls by the Nigerian-based group Boko Haram to service fighters, sexual violence in the DRC’s Kivus and Central African Republic confirm the gendered nature of wartime sexual violence in the 21st century.  It is also evidence that in weak systems, despite the improved legal status of victims, the domestic impact of the current protective regime reveals a gap between what international treaties, institutions and courts recommend and how countries with failing state apparatus implement it.
            Does the individualized notion of security as it relates to victims of wartime sexual violence warrant a responsibility to protect?
            Beyond the moral imperative of protecting vulnerable populations, is one of regional stability, mass migration curbing and fostering environments propitious to development –social, political and economic.  Where a state is no longer able or willing to protect its own citizens from mass gender-based violence, a gendered human security paradigm would be a first step toward improving the current systems of the collective security of individuals who risk becoming spoils of war, enforcement of fundamental rights, and integrity of post-conflict processes.
            Preventing or properly prosecuting sexual violence in times of conflict therefore requires more than legal innovation but a redefinition and resynchronization of all existing political, judicial and military international and regional mechanisms involved in human security.
 [1] Enloe, Cynthia, Maneuvers, 134 as cited in Wood, 2006: 327

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