Under public international law, there is no binding legal framework addressing conflict-related sexual violence. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) calls on states to end discrimination against women. Under the framework of the CEDAW, General Recommendation 30 calls for specific attention to address violence against women in conflict contexts. As a recommendation, it holds persuasive value rather than binding force. An overview of the CEDAW and General Recommendation 30 are provided below.
The core provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) address the broad theme of the Convention – which is the elimination of discrimination against women. There are 30 articles, presented over 6 parts. The CEDAW broadly addresses substantive components under Parts I to IV, while the last two parts pertain to implementation and procedural rules.
Article 1 of the CEDAW defines “discrimination against women.” It considers any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex as discrimination. Such an act should typically cause or aim to cause any impairment or nullification of the recognition, enjoyment, and exercise by of political, economic, social, cultural, and civic human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Article 2 calls on all states that have ratified the CEDAW to declare their intention to include and prioritize gender equality within their domestic laws, to repeal all discriminatory provisions in their laws, and to enact new provisions to address and prevent discrimination against women. It also calls on states to establish tribunals and public institutions to guarantee women effective protection against discrimination. States must eliminate all forms of discrimination against women by individuals, organizations, and enterprises.
Under Article 3, states must guarantee basic human rights and fundamental freedoms to women. Article 4 clarifies that special measures to accelerate equality between men and women is not considered discrimination. Specifically, providing special protection measures for maternity is not a form of gender discrimination under the convention. Under Article 5, states must work to eliminate prejudices and customs based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of one sex over another, or stereotypical rules for men and women. Under Article 6, states must suppress trafficking in women and the exploitation of prostitution of women.
Under Article 7, states must guarantee women equality in political and public life, specifically in voting and participation in governmental and non-governmental organizations. Article 8 requires states to guarantee equal opportunity for women to represent their Government at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations. Under Article 9, states are mandated to grant women equal rights as men to change, acquire, or retain their nationality and with respect to the nationality of their children.
Part III calls on states to ensure that women have equal opportunities for education (Article 10), the right to work – as well as equal pay for equal work, the right to social security, paid leave and maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits (Article 11), appropriate measures are taken to eliminate discrimination against women in and to ensure equal access for them to healthcare (Article 12), equality in economic and social life with respect to financial activities and cultural life (Article 13), and to provide protections for rural women, in order to address their special problems.
Article 15 calls on states to guarantee equality for men and women before law. Article 16 prohibits discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations.
Articles 17 to 24 specifically address the establishment, composition, and procedures of the CEDAW committee, as well as its rules, structures, regulations, and other relevant matters concerning the relationship between CEDAW and its state members.
Articles 25 to 30 speak about the general administrative procedures governing the enforcement, implementation, and application of CEDAW, as well as relevant provisions concerning the ratification of the Convention and the process of entering reservations of the concerned states.
General Recommendation No. 30: on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations (2013)
General Recommendation No. 30 (GR 30) recognises the many pathways that conflict takes to culminate in violence against women. It states, under paragraph 34, "Violence against women and girls is a form of discrimination prohibited by the Convention and is a violation of human rights. Conflicts exacerbate existing gender inequalities, placing women at a heightened risk of various forms of gender-based violence by both State and non-State actors. Conflict-related violence happens everywhere, such as in homes, detention facilities and camps for internally displaced women and refugees; it happens at any time, for instance, while performing daily activities such as collecting water and firewood or going to school or work. There are multiple perpetrators of conflict-related gender-based violence. These may include members of government armed forces, paramilitary groups, non-State armed groups, peacekeeping personnel and civilians. Irrespective of the character of the armed conflict, its duration or the actors involved, women and girls are increasingly deliberately targeted for and subjected to various forms of violence and abuse, ranging from arbitrary killings, torture and mutilation, sexual violence, forced marriage, forced prostitution and forced impregnation to forced termination of pregnancy and sterilization."
GR 30 makes the following recommendations to address conflict-related sexual violence:
Paragraph 17.1: Providing adequate remedies to women for acts of private individual or entities
Paragraph 17.b: Rejecting all rollbacks on women’s rights protections aimed at appeasing non-state actors such as terrorist groups
Paragraph 17.c: Engaging with non-state actors to prevent human rights abuses in conflict-affected areas, including the prevention of all forms of gender-based violence
Paragraph 18.b: Establishing state commitment to codes of conduct on human rights and the prohibition of all forms of gender-based violence
Paragraph 33.e: Addressing the gendered impact of international transfers of arms, especially small and illicit arms, including through the ratification and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty
Paragraph 33.c: Establishing early-warning measures and gender-specific security measures to prevent escalation of gender-based violence and other violations of women’s rights