LITTLETON, Colorado — U.N. WOMEN, the U.N. organization fighting for global gender equality, released the Guidance Note of the Secretary-General on Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in June 2014. The Guidance Note was released at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London where U.N. Special Envoy Angelina Jolie was present.
The document identifies eight guiding principles by which the U.N. will assist in reparations for victims of sexual violence in conflict. It also encourages non-U.N. actors involved in reparations efforts to conduct themselves according to these principles.
Reparations include five distinct but interconnected categories: restitution, compensation, satisfaction, rehabilitation and guarantees of non-repetition of which the U.N. details extensively in the Guidance Note. According to the Guidance Note, all reparations must also be proportional to the gravity of the crime committed against the victim or victims.
The eight guiding principles are as follows:
1) “Adequate reparation for victims of conflict-related sexual violence entails a combination of different forms of reparations.”
This means that multiple forms of reparations should be used to address the crime due to the serious nature of conflict-related sexual violence, which merits no one “right” solution. Multiple reparation methods should also be used, according to the Guidance Note, because of the impact that interconnected reparations can have on transforming gender inequalities and discrimination; these methods could be effective in removing the stigma attached to both female and male sexual violence victims in many countries.
2) “Judicial and/or administrative reparations should be available to victims of conflict-related sexual violence as part of their right to obtain prompt, adequate, and effective remedies.”
Victims should be allowed to use both in- and out-of-court mechanisms in their country to receive reparations. All barriers to women obtaining access to these services should be removed as well.
3) “Individual and collective reparations should complement and reinforce each other.”
Individual reparations are self-explanatory. According to the document, collective reparation refers to “a group of people who suffered harm as a result of violations of international human rights law ad international humanitarian law.” The benefit of collective reparation is that it does not single out specific individuals which may encourage victims both individually and collectively to speak out about their experience. The Note emphasizes that while there are benefits to collective reparation, individual reparation must be provided equal attention and care.
4) “Reparations should strive to be transformative, including in design, implementation and impact.”
The Guidance Note stresses that reparations can change the unequal and discriminatory structure of society that perpetuates sexual violence. Reparations should be designed to carry out this transformative effect so that the crime becomes less and less frequent and so that women are empowered to speak out against such crimes in their societies without fear of reinforcing unequal societal structures.
5) “Development cooperation should support States’ obligation to ensure access to reparations.”
The document also explains a potential link between reparations and development efforts. The empowering effect that reparations programs have on women could allow and encourage women to take a greater part in development efforts, therefore removing inequalities in society that perpetuate crimes such as sexual violence. Additionally, focusing development efforts on building infrastructure and services that victims of conflict-related sexual violence are most likely to use could benefit the potentially transformative power of reparations programs.
6) “Meaningful participation and consultation of victims in the mapping, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of reparations should be ensured.”
Under no circumstances should reparations efforts marginalize victims. According to the Guidance Note it is imperative that victims are not only aware of their rights in the reparations process but that reparations are designed and conducted according to their uniquely specified needs. Reparations must be sensitive to culture and religion as well as any other factors that play a major part in the individual’s life. Confidentiality during the process is also absolutely essential to encourage others to come forward with their stories and protect them.
7) “Urgent interim reparations to address immediate needs and avoid irreparable harm should be made available.”
The Note acknowledges that reparations processes take significant time and resources to carry out. Therefore, immediate efforts to protect and care for victims of conflict-related sexual violence are necessary to address immediate concerns. Such concerns include medical treatments or medications necessary to repair severe damage to victims’ reproductive systems, provision of antiretroviral drugs for individuals who contracted HIV/AIDS as a result of the crime, access to safe abortion services should the individual wish to use them and psychological support to help victims deal with their traumatic experience.
8) “Adequate procedural rules for proceedings involving sexual violence and reparations should be in place.”
In order to more effectively address this crime in court systems, the Guidance Note recommends that somewhat lower evidence standards be used as it can be difficult to actually prove conflict-related sexual violence in a legal setting. It does not help the court process either that sexual and gender based violence is underreported in most of the world. Therefore, court proceedings should take into account the difficult nature of procuring evidence for this particular crime.
U.N. WOMEN hopes that this framework will not only help victims of conflict-related sexual violence receive reparations, but that it will also empower them in their communities so that gender inequalities and discrimination may be removed and so that the number of sexual violence crimes decrease in conflict-areas.
– Erin Sullivan