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Sexual Savagery in Armed Conflicts: A Critique of the United Nations Response

James E. Archibong, Ph.D.

Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, University of Calabar, Calabar, Nigeria. Email:, Phone: +2348033834038

Miebaka Nabiebu

Ph.D. Candidate, University of Calabar, Calabar, Nigeria


One of the consequences of the Second World War was the formation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. The horrendous crimes committed in that war, including sexual violence against women and girls, necessitated the elevation of issues of human rights to the top of the UN agenda. The UN over the years evolved various mechanisms to end sexual violence against women during armed conflict. These measures have achieved minimal results. The problem is even worse as sexual violence is now employed as a tactic of war, while the UN appears unable to help the victims. This article examines UN measures to end wartime sexual assault on women, among them, adoption of resolutions, advocacy, the imposition of sanctions and prosecution of offenders. There are also challenges such as the non-binding character of its resolutions, lack of intervention force, the absence of data and paralysis in the Security Council. The work finds that the UN has not done enough to protect women in conflict zones, and recommends the training of peacekeepers on gender issues, prosecution of offenders and inclusion of women in peace-building.


Sexual violence in conflict depicts a serious moral issue. It has had negative impacts on families and communities and undermined efforts at peace and security. The term encompasses rape, sexual mutilation, sexual humiliation, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy (Women 2000, 1998). It also includes forced marriage, forced maternity and various forms of sexual abuse (Lindsey-Curtet, Hoist-Roness, and Anderson, 2004:25). In virtually all armed conflicts, the female population is exposed to various forms of sexual abuse.

It has been a long-standing view that where there is an armed conflict, there is inevitably sexual violence. It has been part and parcel of conflicts for centuries and has been described as a by-product of war. (Lindsey-Curtet et al.,2004). The victims are generally women and girls. They bear the brunt of the armed conflict. Often women and girls are regarded as part of the spoils of war (Women 2000, 1998) and as sexual objects (Etuk, 2003). They are also targeted for socio-cultural and discriminatory reasons. Most worrisome, however, is the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war ((Ndifon and Archibong, 2009)) to conquer and humiliate the adversary, to extract information and for ethnic cleansing (Prosecutor v Kunarac Case No IT-98-23/2).

International law prohibits sexual abuse in peacetime and in time of hostilities. The Law of Armed Conflict encapsulated in the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocols, and various international instruments declare sexual violation a war crime, crime against humanity and the constitutive act of genocide depending on the circumstance in which it was committed. However, states to which these legal instruments are directly addressed are unable or unwilling to observe, implement or enforce them, thereby creating a fertile ground for impunity to thrive. It is in this regard that the UN finds relevance. This article examines the role of the UN and its measures for addressing the problem of sexual violence during armed conflicts. It also appraises the challenges encountered by the world body as well as proffers remedial measures for the way forward.

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