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APPG on Women, Peace and Security: Understanding Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in the Context of Contemporary Proxy Warfare

On Tuesday 30th April, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) organised an event in collaboration with the Henry Jackson Society, “Understanding Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in the Context of Contemporary Proxy Warfare”. The event—chaired by Baroness Hodgson, co-chair of the APPG-WPS—  discussed rising conflict-related sexual violence around the world and how our failure to stop the upsurge results from outdated International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the failure of global institutions to acknowledge the changing character of warfare. Also speaking at the APPG was Baroness Helic and Tim Loughton MP.

Megan Gittoes from the Henry Jackson Society and author of the report, ‘Culture of Impunity: Understanding Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Contemporary Proxy Warfare,’ began by introducing her paper, the case studies and the policy proposals. She emphasised that the 21st century’s reliance on proxy war has increased the prevalence of non-state actors in armed conflict. Gittoes highlighted the concerning escalation of CRSV amidst global militarisation and arms proliferation, underlining the catastrophic impact that the strategic deployment of proxy warfare has on vulnerable communities around the world.

While CRSV is perpetrated in every theatre of war, by state and non-state actors alike, Megan’s case studies from Syria, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Israel offered critical insights from a range of conflicts into how a growing reliance of proxy warfare intensifies the prevalence CRSV. Megan’s policy objectives included a call for the U.K. Home Secretary to consider CRSV and gender based violence when exercising their discretion to proscribe an organisation, or non-state actor, Under the Terrorism Act 2000. Additionally, she urged the U.K. to lead international diplomatic efforts to forge a coalition against the use of proxy warfare that contributes to CRSV, and lead on the creation of a new legal framework for IHL that would end a culture of impunity for state-sponsored CRSV.

Baroness Arminka Helic’s remarks delved into a reflection on the progress made in countering sexual violence but acknowledged that victims are often left without justice. She highlighted the dangers of proxy warfare, militarisation and non-state actors adding that those who commit sexual violence are foot soldiers, linking to Megan’s case study of the DRC. Baroness Helic offered supportive comments to Megan’s policy proposals, adding that we should use the tools that we have in our hands at a national level, particularly Gittoes’ suggestions on proscription and sanctions. She made an additional suggestion of creating an International Independent Commission to investigate crimes of sexual violence. This commission would be non-political and consist of trauma experts and those who have experience of collecting forensic evidence to allow for adequate prosecutions and ending the culture of impunity.

Tim Loughton MP drew on the foreword he wrote for the report and commented that CRSV is an understated element of modern warfare and not appreciated for the level of violence it represents. He emphasized how proxy warfare allows state actors to engage in covert operations through third parties, providing a layer of deniability. Loughton endorsed the report’s findings and policy recommendations as well as indicated plans to present the report to the Home Affairs Select Committee and explore further research on facilitating their implementation by the government.

The Q&A session delved into a range of pressing issues. Discussions addressed the ongoing sexual violence in Sudan, the logistical challenges of investigating war crimes and how we can improve forensic evidence collection for prosecutions. Participants also explored the potential of leveraging large scale data sets and statistics to advance social justice issues. A particularly concerning topic was the alarming use of social media by proxy forces and non-state actors who publish their crimes online. This underscores the need for immediate action from the UK government, alongside long-term international efforts to create a path towards redress and hold perpetrators accountable.

Baroness Hodgson thanked the speakers, the organisers and all who attended.

GAPS was not involved in the organisation of this event for the APPG. This event and its contents do not reflect the position of Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS).

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