A report by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (2020)

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Table of contents




Executive Summary

Key Findings


Overview of the Research

  1. Defining Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery
  2. Links Between Armed Conflict and the Incidence of Sexual Slavery

III. The Evolution of Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery: Incidences of Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery from World War Two to the Contemporary Geopolitical Context


  1. Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery in the Context of World War Two: Japan’s “Comfort Women”
  2. Evolution of the Context in which Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery Occurs
  3. Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery as a Tactic of Terrorism
  4. Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery in Humanitarian Emergencies
  5. State-Sponsored Sexual Slavery
  6. Gaps and Opportunities to Address Sexual Slavery in International Humanitarian, Criminal, and Human Rights Laws, the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, and Policies on Preventing Violent Extremism and Countering Terrorism


  1. Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery in International Human Rights, Humanitarian, and Criminal Laws
  2. Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery and the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda
  3. Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery in Policies on Preventing Violent Extremism and Countering Terrorism
  4. Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery and Peace Processes, Post Conflict Resolution, and Transitional Justice
  5. Highlighting the Initiatives of Women’s Rights Organizations and Civil Society Groups in Condemning, and Demanding Accountability for Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery


  1. Marginalization and Stigma Experienced by Victims/Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery
  2. Survivors and Women’s Rights Organizations’ Advocacy for Accountability and Efforts to Address the Impacts of Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery during World War Two
  3. Survivors and Women’s Rights Organizations’ Advocacy for Accountability and Efforts to Address the Impacts of Contemporary Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery
  4. Challenges in Holding Key Actors Accountable for the Full and Effective Implementation of the WPS Resolutions and International Laws on Conflict-Related Sexual Slavery
  5. Conclusion and Recommendations


Executive summary


Conflict-related sexual slavery is a widespread, systematic, institutionalized, and deliberate human rights abuse committed by militaries under government supervision, state-sponsored militia groups, non-state armed groups, violent extremist groups, and criminal networks alike. Causing tremendous and long-lasting harm to women, girls, and entire communities, sexual slavery is used as a weapon of war, a wartime strategy, or a tactic of terrorism to recruit and retain fighters, fund operations, instill fear, destroy communities, and promote ideology.

The context in which conflict-related sexual slavery is occurring has evolved since World War Two. The rise of violent extremist groups and criminal networks has contributed to the widespread use of the bodies of women and girls as a form of currency in the political economy of war. Forced displacement, refugee crises, and humanitarian emergencies as a result of armed conflict have further exacerbated insecurity for women and girls, increasing their vulnerability to sexual slavery.

Survivors of sexual slavery are not a homogenous group—each individual experience is unique and affected by geography, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion, among other intersecting factors. Yet survivors across conflict contexts often face high levels of stigmatization and marginalization from their communities and families. In spite of this, many survivors have broken the barrier of silence and actively advocate for accountability and reparations from perpetrators, dispelling the narrative that survivors of conflict-related sexual slavery are passive victims without agency. In the absence of effective action taken by global and national policymakers to address conflict-related sexual slavery, survivors—with the support of women’s civil society—call for accountability, justice, relief and recovery services, protection, and prevention of reoccurrence.

Although international human rights, humanitarian, and criminal laws and policies on preventing violent extremism and countering terrorism recognize and condemn conflict-related sexual slavery, significant gaps persist when it comes to consistent, coherent, and specific efforts at prevention, protection, accountability, and relief and recovery for survivors. The failure to address conflict-related sexual slavery through Bender-responsive peace processes, post-conflict resolution, and transitional justice mechanisms contributes to a reoccurrence of the crime, along with continued impunity for perpetrators and inadequate redress for survivors.

The Women, Peace, and Security resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council provide a critical framework to improve the global response to conflict-related sexual slavery.


However, it is essential to strengthen specific policies, provisions, and programming on conflict-related sexual slavery for the implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security resolutions, including National Action Plans. Localization of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 is an important instrument to ensure that the needs of survivors of sexual slavery are met and to prevent the reoccurrence of the crime, through context-specific, survivor-centered conflict resolution initiatives developed in partnership with women’s civil society.

The coinciding 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, and the 20th anniversary of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal for the Trial of Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery in 2020 present a critical opportunity to highlight the need to step up the response to sexual slavery, particularly justice and reparation for survivors as well as prevention efforts. It is a unique moment for survivors, women’s rights organizations, and civil society groups worldwide to demand that the United Nations, Member States, regional organizations, the International Criminal Court, and the International Court of Justice take concerted action to end sexual slavery in collaboration with civil society, the media, academia, faith-based institutions and other key stakeholders.

The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), with support from the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), coordinated a global research to analyze historical and contemporary incidences of sexual slavery, from World War Two to the present geopolitical context. The overall goal of the research is to promote synergies in the implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda, international humanitarian and human rights laws, and policies to prevent and counter violent extremism to improve the prevention of, protection from, accountability mechanisms for, and relief and recovery for survivors of sexual slavery. To ensure that this research reflects the voices of survivors of sexual slavery and women’s civil society on the ground in conflict-affected communities, the research team produced three case studies: one on sexual slavery during World War Two in Asia and the Pacific, and two on more recent incidences of sexual slavery in Uganda and Iraq respectively. Key informant interviews and focus group discussions with survivors of conflict-related sexual slavery, women’s rights activists, local and national government officials, human rights lawyers, and grassroots peacebuilders in Korea, Uganda, and Iraq, along with global policymakers were conducted.


This advocacy brief summarizes the key findings and recommendations of the global research and case studies. The full-length global research and case studies will also be made available. GNWP hopes that this research will inform and strengthen the global response to conflict-related sexual slavery and survivor-centered implementation of the WPS Agenda. Critically, this research will serve as a key advocacy tool for victims and survivors of sexual slavery and their families, and civil society activists.

Picture credits : UNICEF Crna Gora

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