In 1993, the prevalence of Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in armed conflict settings came to light during the UN peacekeeping mission to Cambodia in 1993. In 2000, it became apparent thanks to the work of Navanethem Pillay at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that sexual violence in armed conflict contexts is not a byproduct of war but a carefully deployed strategy. Until then, sexual violence in conflict contexts was never addressed for what it truly was. This produced a systemic erasure of sexual violence in conflict both in post-conflict peace processes and transitional justice mechanisms. In 2000, the ICTR, ICTY, and the Women, Peace, Security Agenda subverted this narrative and brought the crime within the scope of public knowledge. Even as these legal and policy vocabulary for sexual violence in armed conflict evolved to its current form only two decades ago, the crime itself has taken place as a deliberate and systematically executed form of violence across time and region. Over time, even to date, conflict-related sexual violence has been not received the attention it deserves in law, policy, and justice: in some contexts, it has been denied outright, too.
The victor’s pen determines the storyline that will be carried forward as the legacy of the conflict. Coupled with the normalization of patriarchy, misogyny, and heteronormativity that characterizes societies in peacetime and wartime alike, sexual violence in armed conflict is almost entirely erased, ignored, and side-lined overtly and systemically. Memory is fundamental to countering silencing, revisionism, and denial.
The Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) Observatory is a memory project that seeks to preserve the truth of what happened in the world’s many violent conflicts – and continues to happen world over. It strives to establish a record of events to draw fundamental lessons that can inform the future in preventing the recurrence of the atrocity. This project also acknowledges that “memory” need not be a priority for survivors across different contexts. Some individuals, communities, and societies may wish to “forget” or may actively strive “not to remember” (Buckley-Zistel, 2006; Samii, 2013). This project respects the agency of a survivor, a community, and a society in not actively being forced to relive the memory they would much rather not remember. Thus, the focus is thus not on forcing survivors to perform their memories, but on documenting broad events through archival research; not on sensationalism, but on keeping a record; and not on graphic depictions, but on factual presentations.
While the project title suggests a heavy focus on "Conflict-Related Sexual Violence" alone, the endeavour in each case study provided is to also include data on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. According to the United Nations (UN), sexual exploitation refers to the abuse of a position of vulnerability, power, or trust for sexual purposes, and sexual abuse means any actual or threatened sexual intrusion committed by force or under unequal or coercive conditions. Both these forms of violence take place against the backdrop of armed conflict - often with greater exacerbation owing to the conflict environment. The broad aim for this is to specifically recognize violence as a phenomenon taking place across the peacetime-wartime continuum, and to make a compelling case for the fact that no justice mechanism should ignore Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in post-conflict prosecution.
The CRSV Observatory, created and run by The Gender Security Project is a memory-activism project aimed at dismantling the historical silencing, sidelining, and erasure of conflict-related sexual violence. The Observatory documents cases where sexual violence has been deliberately and systemically deployed to target particular sections of society against backgrounds of violent conflict.
While most (of the limited) data so far have emphasized on the impact of armed conflict in the form of CRSV on women, the CRSV observatory strives to follow the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) framework. To this end, wherever available, case studies will report CRSV and SEA targeting a range of individuals across the SOGIESC spectrum.
The imagery on the observatory falls under two categories. The broader theme is that of “cloth,” or “fabric,” as an allegory of the notion that conflict-related sexual violence is aimed at destroying the fabric of society, leaving whole communities to pick up threads in the aftermath. There is a separate gallery of images of memorials dedicated to CRSV survivors, collected through Creative Commons licenses and submissions from visitors.
The Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) Observatory was established in response to a call for action from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, to understand femicide, its causes and consequences for countries.