A global normative and legal framework has been developed to address gender-based crimes and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). This constitutes an important shift in understanding and recognition of gender-based crimes: that they are not committed in isolation, and that they rather reflect deeper patterns of gender-based inequalities and structural violence. Indeed, many of these types of gender-based crimes continue in the post-conflict/post-authoritarian setting, and thus CRSV should be understood as a category within the wider term of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
Since the early 1980s, truth commissions have become a standardised response among countries transitioning from conflict and authoritarian rule to document violence committed by a prior regime, or different armed actors in conflict, and to make recommendations to governments to avoid similar abuses in the future. With growing awareness about the severity of CRSV and a greater understanding of the gendered experience of conflict, there are heightened global expectations regarding what transitional justice mechanisms in general, and truth commissions (TCs) in particular, can do to address CRSV in post-conflict and post-authoritarian settings. At the same time, there is very limited systematic analysis on the track record of TCs in this field.
This project asks how do truth commissions address conflict-related sexual violence, and what do they contribute to promoting reparative and preventive measures? We hypothesise that TCs have increasingly addressed CRSV since their initial establishment in Latin America in the early 1980s. We further hypothesise that there is potentially a close connection between the development of international norms seeking to protect especially women and girls – and more recently men – from sexual violence in conflict and peace, and the inclusion of these ideas in the strategies, mandates, reporting and recommendations of TCs. Yet, we know very little about whether and how this takes place and, if so, how and why. Despite heightened awareness and policy commitment to the issues, there is little systematic knowledge about the range of strategies, measures and recommendations that have been included in TCs to address CRSV. We also know very little about how governments implement, or civil society follow up on, these recommendations, that is, the wider impact of TCs.
The first objective of this project is therefore to map in detail how TCs have dealt with sexual violence in contexts of conflict. We are particularly interested in empirically and analytically mapping the connections between the various ways in which TCs undertake to address CRSV in the context of regional and international norms. Who pushes and shapes the CRSV agenda? Who opposes it? Which voices are heard? Which are not? Using the database we develop, we will empirically investigate how and in which ways different TCs have addressed the politically contentious and hard to investigate issue of CRSV. In addition to mapping how truth commission have addressed CRSV increasingly over time, the project will consider the effects of this change over time. Even when TCs include CRSV in their mandates or address CRSV in the recommendations provided to governments in their final reports, we cannot assume that the recommendations will be followed, and that there will be wider societal, legal or policy change in relation to the impossibly difficult traumas connected with CRSV. Do TC recommendations lead to policy or legal change that addresses CRSV and other forms of SGBV? If not, are there other ways that words have a function, quite apart from whatever policy action the TC mandates?
The project will contribute to policy development through framing recommendations on how TCs can be more effectively geared to address SGBV in their mandates, operations and recommendations. It will also explore lessons for how civil society and other stakeholders can more effectively use TCs to promote SGBV justice agendas.
This project is a collaboration among CSVR, the Christian Michelson Institute in Norway and the Overseas Development Institute in the UK. The project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council (NorGlobal2) and runs from 2021 to 2024. The project leader is Elin Skaar, based at the Christian Michelson Institute.
CSVR Project Staff
Hugo van der Merwe