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CRSV: Moro Conflict, Mindanao, The Philippines

This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the Conflict

The Moro Conflict (Gutierrez and Borras 2004) is the term given to the ongoing insurgency in Mindanao, Philippines. It has involved a range of different armed groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and began in March 1968 (Gross 2007). The conflict has its roots in the Bangsamoro resistance to foreign rule, including the American annexation of the Philippines in 1898 (Gross 2007). The Jabidah Massacre on March 18, 1968 wherein 60 Filipino Muslim commandos who went on a planned operation to reclaim Sabah, eastern Malaysia, were killed. In 2000, President Joseph Estrada declared an all-out war against the MILF, and several conflicts in and around Mindanao erupted, resulting in heavy casualties (Amnesty International 2000). In 2014, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro Peace Agreement was signed between the Government of Philippines under President Benigno Aquino and the MILF. In 2016, the MILF and MNLF expressed their commitment to peace, and the 47-year-old insurgency ended, although some offensives against splinter groups in the insurgency continued. In May 2017, the Battle of Marawi began. The five-month-long armed conflict was waged between the Philippine government security forces and militants affiliated with the Islamic State, and the Maute and Abu Sayyaf Salafi jihadists. Finally, on July 26, 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law, abolishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and providing for the basic structure of government for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

Reports suggest that both separatist groups and the army carried out acts of sexual violence and human rights violence (Amnesty International 2001; OMCT 2003; US Department of State 2006). During the Battle of Marawi, 45% of the conflict-affected sites reported instances of sexual violence (GBV Working Group n.d.). There are no comprehensive records of data on the precise extent to which sexual violence and rape prevailed.

Basis of the Use of Sexual Violence

Sexual assault and violence were used as a means of torture in secret detention centres (Amnesty International 2001). Women were often targeted in keeping with their activities and affiliations, or on the mere suspicion of being sympathisers of an armed opposition group (Amnesty International 2001). In many instances, women and girls were also trafficked for sexual exploitation and labour, as the insurgency provided an enabling environment with impunity (Amnesty International 2001). The breakdown of the security sector enabled opportunistic sexual violence, as the state of impunity meant that reporting and justice were out of reach for survivors. However, at the moment, there are no records to suggest that there was a systematic use of sexual violence and rape in the conflict (Dwyer, n.d.).


1. Amnesty International (March 2001) Philippines: Fear, Shame and Impunity. Rape and Sexual Abuse of Women in Custody, 23.

2. Gross, Max L. (2007). A Muslim Archipelago: Islam and Politics in Southeast Asia.

3. Gutierrez, E. and Borras, S. Jr (2004). Moro Conflict: Landlessness and Misdirected State Policies. East-West Center Washington.

4. OMCT (2003) State Violence in the Philippines: An Alternative Report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Geneva

5. US Department of State (2006) 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Philippines, section 1c.

6. GBV Group (n.d).

7. Dwyer, L. (n.d.). Gender and Conflict in Mindanao. The Asia Foundation.

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