Launch of Code of Conduct for Gathering & Using Information on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence
April 27, 2022
By: Lauren Salim
On 13 April 2022, during a UN debate on how best to strengthen accountability and prevent future uses of sexual violence as a weapon of war, Nadia Murad announced the launch of a new set of guidelines known as the “Global Code of Conduct for Gathering and Using Information about Systematic and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence” or the Murad Code. The Code will provide standard-setting for journalists and investigators collecting evidence in conflict areas.
Murad is a human rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and President of Nadia’s Initiative, and an impressive advocate for survivors of genocide and sexual violence. When Da’esh attacked her homeland in the Sinjar district of northern Iraq in 2014, she and thousands of other Yazidi women were sold into sexual slavery.
During Da’esh’s occupation of the region, they kidnapped an estimated 6,417 Yazidis and killed 12,000 through starvation, dehydration, or execution. After her escape, Murad began speaking out on behalf of the Yazidi community and other survivors of sexual violence. In particular, her work focuses on raising awareness of the use of sexual violence in war and gaining international acknowledgement that what happened to the Yazidis constitutes genocide.
The Murad Code has several main components including the code of conduct, a practical guide for how to apply The Code across sectors, a ‘survivors perspectives’ document entailing how to engage with survivors, and a survivor’s guide or toolkit for how to demand better protection and respect for their rights during the documentation process.
Conflict-based sexual violence is a widespread issue and is one of war’s oldest yet least talked about crimes. Kirthi Jayakumar, a legal researcher and lawyer focusing on international law and gender issues, argues that sexual violence in conflict scenarios is primarily about dominance and power. In Bosnia and Rwanda in the 90s, for example, armed groups incorporated sexual violence into their war strategy to hurt and humiliate opposing groups. Jayakumar writes, “Though it is often easier to believe that it is those that serve in armies that suffer most, war inflicts greatest sufferings on women.”
In a UN report, Pramila Patten, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, cites 3,293 UN-verified cases of rape and sexual violence in warfare in 2021. That number is undoubtedly far higher. 97% of the UN-verified victims were women and children, but it is also important to note the other cases of men, boys, and members of the LGBTQI community who were targeted and may be less likely to report.
Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the UN, and other watchdog organizations have issued reports of instances of sexual violence against women and children and human trafficking in Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.
The international community has committed to doing more, including allocating more aid resources to prevention efforts. However, the presence of sexual violence in conflict zones has not abated. As the UN and other international bodies ramp up efforts to increase accountability and punitive measures for conflict-related sexual violence, it will be increasingly important to use the best practices for investigating and documenting these crimes, while also considering the well-being of survivors.
A copy of the Murad Code is available in Arabic, English, French and Spanish here.