Navigating the legal issue: Sexual Violence in Conflict Areas

Our duty is not just to stand in solidarity with the survivors, but to actively work towards eradicating sexual violence in conflict and creating a future free from fear – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.


The world has seen various conflicts over numerous reasons throughout its history and further various tactics and actions have been undertaken to destroy the opposite nation with arguably, sexual violence in such areas being the worst.

Sexual Violence has been defined as “Sexual violence is any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object” by the World Health Organization.

Further, conflict related sexual violence is defined as “refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict” by the United Nations.

As reflected by the quote, the article will try to analyze the way forward in relation to sexual conflict in conflict areas herein referred to as Conflict related sexual violence.


It has been noted that the act of rape was criminalized by few army codes as early as 14th century noting the affect it would have had on the civilians as well as the discipline of the army. 

The Lieder Code drafted during the American Revolution in February of 1863 has been considered as the earliest known legal code which tried to establish the law dealing with armed conflict which mentions and states that sexual assault was a punishable offence.

World War 2 was another armed conflict where sexual violence was silent evil which prevailed as a silent crime. after the end of the war saw one of the most criticized judgments regarding to sexual violence, produced by the judges who were a part of the Nuremberg Trials, they had stated that the laws of the war which explicitly criminalized sexual violence in conflict areas was only applicable to the enemy nations and not the allied forces[1]. This was further in relation to the highly debated Sexual violence allegations which was leveled against the soviet Army which was part of the Allied forces.

On the backdrop of the World War 2, the Geneva Conventions,1949 was passed which explicitly criminalized wartime Rape through Article 27. Further, this period saw many nations around the world gain their independence and further, enact their own laws criminalizing Sexual Violence altogether. But Conflict related sexual violence is still very much prevalent in the modern days with many allegations being leveled against various countries and their armies in the 21st century. few of the recent armed conflicts where there was an alleged large scale sexual violence are Tigray War, Myanmar Civil War, Russian Invasion of Ukraine etc.

It must be noted that even with various international conventions which have been ratified by various countries across the globe, Conflict related sexual violence is still as prevalent as it was in the 20th century with many being recorded for namesake without holding anyone responsible for the same.


The United Nations report on conflict-related sexual violence covering 2022 underscores the urgent need to address this horrific issue. It has persisted despite international efforts to eradicate it, and the report highlights the dreadful situation that continues to spread out in various conflict-ridden regions around the world. Survivors of conflict-related sexual violence constitute a diverse and multifaceted group. The report documents cases involving women, girls, men, boys, and individuals of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and those affected by disabilities. Their ages range from the very young to the elderly, with the majority coming from socioeconomically marginalized communities. 

It is important to note that the report further uncovers the often-overlooked reality that men, boys, and gender non-conforming individuals are also strongly impacted by conflict-related sexual violence. Despite progress, it is crucial to confront the ongoing challenges faced by survivors and the children born of conflict-related rapeStigma, insecurity, and socioeconomic isolation persist, casting long shadows over the lives of those affected.

As the civic space decreased and the rule of law weakened in 2022, both state and non-state armed groups saw the opportunity to exploit the vulnerabilities of affected populations. Groups used sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, and abductions, as real weapons, and instruments, causing immeasurable suffering to individuals and communities.  Internationally recognized terrorist organizations and transnational criminal networks have employed sexual violence as a tactical weapon to destabilize already fragile regions. 

This action and tactic of committing sexual violence has hindered all sorts of morality as well as any attempt made for a peaceful resolution of the issue. In several instances, sexual violence has been used as an instrument of intimidation. In some cases, the authorities responded to civilian demonstrations and protests with disproportionate force, including the use of sexual violence as a means of repression. This abuse of power creates a climate of fear that completely suppresses dissent and undermines basic human rights.

The involvement of multiple countries and their armies has made it difficult to hold perpetrators accountable. All too often, attribution for these dreadful crimes has been hindered because of the presence of multiple and varied actors, including state forces, private military and security companies, and militias operating alongside national armed forces. This lack of accountability perpetuates an extremely dangerous cycle of impunity, emboldening those who commit sexual violence to continue their actions without any fear of consequences. 

In order to address all these issues, it is pertinent to make sure that every claim of sexual violence is thoroughly investigated by a third independent body whose reports and findings are bindings as well as further acting as a solid proof in order to meet the ends of justice.


Conflict related sexual violence is still a huge issue which has to be addressed with due care and regards. It has often so happened that various instances of such conflict related sexual violence have just been forgotten or addressed poorly with the victims finding absolutely no justice. Further, the crippled international laws and organisations are bound by their limitations due to which they do not address such issues and cases until and unless they are in the interests of the countries which are considered to be the first world countries.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to address the issue of sexual violence in conflict areas with humanity and justice at the core rather than beneficial interests of the countries and for this to happen, there is a need for the international organisations to take up such issues more seriously and make sure that the nation at fault is punished according to the conventions laid down because at the end of the day, everyone is a human regardless of which country they belong to.

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Article Written By – Namratha Sharma

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