Justice now:

Ending impunity for sexual and gender-based violence as international crimes

Sexual and gender-based violence is a pervasive human rights violation

While anyone can experience violence, unequal power relationships and entrenched gender inequalities have a disparate impact on women and girls.

This violence is especially prevalent in times of insecurity or conflict and under regimes with no recourse to justice.

and territories
are affected by fragility, conflict and violence.
Source: World Bank

Historically, sexual and gender-based violence was considered an inevitable by-product of war — not a crime to be prosecuted.

After World War II, the charters of the International Military Tribunals at Nuremberg and Tokyo, which were established to prosecute wartime atrocities, did not explicitly recognize sexual and gender-based crimes.

Today, sexual and gender-based crimes are considered especially grave
violations of international law.

They can be categorized as war crimes, crimes against humanity, or acts of genocide depending on how the crimes are committed and in what context. The same crime can also fall into multiple categories.

Types of International Crimes

War crimes

are serious violations of international humanitarian law during armed conflicts.

Case Example

Today, former rebel military leader Bosco Ntaganda stands trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes allegedly committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2002 and 2003. Because these crimes occurred during an armed conflict, the defendant’s charges include the war crimes of rape and sexual slavery.

Crimes against humanity

are committed as a part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.

Case Example

In North Korea, pregnant women who have been repatriated from China are often subjected to forced abortions in government prisons. Because this is part of a widespread attack against civilians, a UN investigation has determined that the government of North Korea is committing the crime against humanity of forced abortion.


is committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

Case Example

In Syria, the Islamic State (ISIS) has enslaved more than 3,000 Yazidi women and girls, and sells them repeatedly to be sexually abused. Because ISIS commits these crimes with the intent to destroy the Yazidi ethno-religious group, a UN investigation has determined that they are crimes of genocide.

Victims have a right to justice under international law

The path to justice can take many forms.
Dig deeper to find out how.

Criminal Prosecutions

National, regional and international courts can hold individuals criminally responsible for their actions, and sentence them to punishment.

Case Example

In 2016, a Guatemalan court convicted two former military officers of sexual and gender-based crimes against humanity against indigenous Q’eqchi’ women. This was the first prosecution of sexual slavery in a national court using international criminal law.

Truth Commissions

Truth commissions report on past human rights violations, often by taking statements and holding public hearings with both victims and perpetrators of atrocities.

Case Example

In 2015, a truth commission in Canada reported on the country’s residential school system for indigenous children, which separated children from their families to destroy indigenous cultures. The report linked present-day violence against indigenous women to risk factors including racism and poverty — the legacy of the residential schools.


Reparations include compensation, restitution of property, physical and psychological rehabilitation for victims, and reforms to ensure violations do not recur.

Case Example

Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law provides assistance and reparations to victims of the country’s decades-long conflict. The 2011 law includes special measures to protect women’s rights, and gives female heads of household priority access to land restitution, credit, education, training and subsidies.

Without evidence, impunity prevails.

Impartial, timely and professional investigations are the first step towards justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based crimes. They have a right to tell their stories in a safe and empowering environment. Investigators need special skills and tools to ensure that this happens.

Quality investigations make a difference

Hear from a survivor

Hear from an investigator

Gender-sensitive approaches to evidence collection

Survivors may

  • Need time to open up to an investigator
  • Want to tell their stories in their own ways
  • Use euphemisms to describe sexual violence
  • Fear retaliation for speaking to an investigator
  • Be retraumatized by sharing their stories

Investigators should

  • Allocate sufficient time for interviews, based on a gender-sensitive investigation plan
  • Use interview techniques that empower the survivor
  • Understand the local language and context
  • Ensure that witness protection meets the needs of survivors
  • Refer survivors to psychosocial support services
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Since 2009,

UN Women and Justice Rapid Response have rapidly deployed specially trained experts to investigations around the world to ensure sexual and gender-based crimes are accurately and safely documented.

In Numbers

  • 217 Experts
  •   on the Justice Rapid Response-UN Women SGBV Justice Experts Roster
  • 73 Nationalities
  • 42 Languages
  • 52% From the
    Global South
  • 67 Deployments
    since 2009
  •   + As of 1 July 2017

Behind the scenes: UN Women-JRR investigators

Investigators have also documented crimes in:


Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, nine experts have been deployed to the UN’s ongoing investigation of crimes. These experts have helped to expose sexual and gender-based crimes committed by all parties — evidence that will be essential to holding perpetrators to account.

Documented: Sexual and gender-based war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide, including:

  • Rape, sexual violence and sexual slavery of Yazidi women and girls by ISIS
  • Murder of gay men, targeted based on their sexuality, by ISIS
  • Rape, sexual violence used against women and men by government forces

North Korea

In 2013, an expert was deployed to support a UN investigation of human rights violations in North Korea, which has been ruled by a ‘supreme leader’ since 1949. The investigation garnered international attention for exposing the government’s pervasive and brutal sexual and gender-based crimes.

Documented: Sexual and gender-based crimes against humanity, including:

  • Forced abortions performed on women repatriated from China, also amounting to torture
  • Rape and inhuman and degrading treatment of women inmates in political prison camps
  • Gender-based persecution of women inmates in the political prison camps

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The DRC experienced a wave of armed conflict from 1994 to 2003. An expert deployed to the International Criminal Court’s investigation there helped to capture the evidence needed to bring charges against Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel leader, for sexual and gender-based crimes. Ntaganda is currently on trial.

Documented: Sexual and gender-based war crimes and crimes against humanity, including:

  • Rape of civilian women and girls
  • Sexual slavery of civilian women and girls
  • Rape, sexual slavery, and enlistment and conscription of child soldiers under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities

UN Women and Justice Rapid Response stand ready to support survivors and bring an end to sexual and gender-based violence in conflict.

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