The Asia-Pacific region has been embroiled in multigenerational conflicts for decades; conflicts that arise from unequal distribution of power and resources as well as religious fundamentalism resulting in increased terror attacks. The conflicts and the ensuing displacements and refugee crises presents a multi-pronged human rights issues that especially affect women and girls more than others: exacerbation of systemic violence due to pre-existing structural inequalities; sexual violence which is used as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic groups; and the reaffirmation and escalation of patriarchal forms of control, especially in matters relating to their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
The effects of conflicts on SRHR are far-reaching, lasting from their beginnings to well after their resolutions. On the onset of conflicts, for example, child, early and forced marriages are used as a way to ‘protect’ girls and children from sexual violence and abduction as well as to avoid conscription to the military groups. During conflicts, as seen in Timor-Leste during the occupation of Indonesian military and independence struggles, hundreds of instances of sexual violence which includes rapes, sexual slavery, forced birth control, torture of pregnant women and forced abortions were documented. Similar types of gender-based violence also occurred during the Maoists insurgency in Nepal between 1996-2006, despite the fact that women constituted 20% of the combatants
Large population displacements that usually follows conflicts – According to UNHCR, as of February 2016, the Asia and Pacific region was home to over 8.5 million persons of concern to UNHCR, including some 3.9 million refugees and 2.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) – are also problematic in the context of SRHR. More often than not, SRH services included in humanitarian response packages are limited, if any at all, and rights based approach is completely missing. These gaps resulted in cases such as young Rohingya girls and women who were raped during their boat journeys to Malaysia and Thailand as well as at makeshift camps on the Malaysia-Thai border, for example.
The under-reporting of sexual violence in times of conflict is largely due to the victim blaming attitudes and culture of impunities that exist in societies and systems, which cannot guarantee the safety and confidentiality of the victims. ARROW’s study in Myanmar have found that even when military rape against ethnic minority women were reported, they were undertaken by military tribunals which adopts no transparent processes and that often acquits perpetrators. Often military personnel and leaders enjoy constitutional guarantee with a blanket amnesty that protects them from accountability for war crimes, including sexual violence against women in ethnic states. In some countries such as Bangladesh where women have testified before the tribunals set up for war crimes, the women have faced backlash and reprisals in their homes and communities.
To leave no one behind and achieve sustainable peace as stipulated in SDG 16, addressing sexual violence in conflict situation is crucial, and it requires a comprehensive, multi-angled approach. ARROW calls on governments and member states to: