Sexual violence is all too common in conflict and post-conflict settings, causing horrific physical and psychological damage and preventing peace building efforts. As recognized in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467 (2019), all individuals are at risk of sexual violence in conflict, and detention settings are a particular context of risk, especially for men and boys. 

Taking up Resolution 2467’s call to increase international attention and coordination on the issue, the All Survivors Project and the International Human Rights Clinic partnered to author the Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in Detention Settings. Drawing from existing sources of international law and authoritative guidance, the document’s ten principles and accompanying commentary outline the international community’s responsibility to prevent and respond to CRSV. 

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On Wednesday October 7, academic experts, policy makers, and diplomats came together at a virtual side event to the UN Human Rights Council to officially launch the Principles and highlight their significance. (Watch a recording of the event here.) Moderator Lara Stemple, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies and International Student Programs and Director of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at UCLA School of Law, prefaced the conversation by underlining the driving motivation for the All Survivors Project’s work — including these principles — that “human rights protections must be afforded to all people, regardless of their individual characteristics.” Panelists included Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, who supervised the Clinic’s work on the project; HE Premila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict; Professor Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and  leader of a recently completed global study of children in detention; and Sophie Sutrich, Head of Addressing Sexual Violence for the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

The event began with opening remarks from representatives of three states that have championed CRSV prevention. Situating the place of the Principles in wider efforts to cultivate international peace and prosperity,Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland and Ambassador Peter C. Matt of Liechtenstein underlined their importance and timeliness. As Ambassador Lauber observed, “the Principles are clearly intended to be of practical use, as they contain specific recommendations for implementation.”Ambassador Tine Mørch Smith of Norway explained that “the physical hurt suffered from conflict related sexual violence does not discriminate between male and female victims.”She committed that CRSV prevention, including a focus on men and boys, would be a priority when Norway takes its seat as a non-permanent Security Council member in 2021.

A woman speaks on Zoom. Her background is a statue with a lamp.
HE Premila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, spoke during the October 7 event about the principals and their significance.

After the opening remarks, Stemple moved to the panel discussion.Crowe provided an overview of the Principles, from the general prohibition on CRSV in international law to the necessary actions to make prevention and response a reality in detention settings. The Principles, Patten observed, “crystalliz[e] existing law on this issue into a set of guiding principles.”Nowak emphasized the particular importance of prevention measures for boys and girls,who are especially vulnerable to sexual violence.

A man holds a book up on zoom. There is a map behind him.
Professor Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and leader of a recently completed global study of children in detention, who was also a peer reviewer of the principles.

Unfortunately, though CRSV is “shockingly” pervasive in detention settings, Patten pointed out it “remains largely hidden and ignored, neglected in terms of recognition, resources and policy provision.”The problem is particularly difficult given its connection with deep-seeded patriarchal structures in societies at large. But, as Sophie Sutrich noted, being aware of this problem only sharpens the need for those in the international human rights community to address our own biases and center the focus on survivors. Highlighting the importance of a survivor-focused approach, Patten emphasized that “survivors must be seen by their societies as the holders of rights that will ultimately be respected and enforced.”

A woman wearing a headset and mic speaks on zoom.
Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, supervised teams of students who worked on the principles from 2019-2020.

In the Q&A portion of the event, the panelists turned to next steps. Crowe and Nowak praised the governments of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Norway for their support for the Principles and focus on addressing CRSV in detention. Crowe noted that CRSV in detention is an issue that has gained increased attention in recent years. While there are “clear good signs on the horizon,” she said that the challenge lies in building consensus and generating resources and will to operationalize the Principles. Nowak observed that there were “so many clear recommendations in these Principles that could be taken up,” and they should be “somehow adopted by the proper UN bodies.”

By shining a light on the issue and providing a pragmatically-focused legal foundation for that work, the Principles – as Patten observed – signify “an important step in challenging the shame and stigma” that has for too long held back meaningful domestic and international responses to CRSV in detention. Following the event, Crowe reflected on the future of advocacy in this area: “Effectively confronting the horrors of CRSV requires increased awareness and evermore international coordination to make sure that all people are protected. Ultimately, the international community should build on Security Council Resolution 2467 to make that coordination a reality. Our Clinic remains committed to supporting this important work.”  

In Spring 2020, Clinic students Smith, Yanitra Kumaraguru LLM ’20, and Amanda Odasz JD ’21 worked under Crowe’s supervision to research and draft the principles and commentary. They were significantly aided by research conducted by Clinic students Terry Flyte LLM ’19 and Radhika Kapoor LLM ’19, who worked under the supervision of Crowe and Emily Keehn, formerly the Associate Director of the Academic Program of the HLS Human Rights Program. 

The All Survivors Project and the Clinic produced the Principles with assistance from the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego, the Health and Human Rights Law Project at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, and the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University.