Briefing to the European Commission and Members of the European Parliament

EU Humanitarian Aid Must Uphold the Rights of Girls and Women Under International Law


A recent change in policy, but not in practice.

In September 2015, the European Commission acknowledged that under international humanitarian law (IHL) and like all persons wounded in war, girls and women impregnated by rape in armed conflict have the right to necessary medical care, including abortions. The EU’s 2016 budget also newly specifies that EU humanitarian aid must be provided in line with the non-discrimination rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, and not be subject to any restrictions imposed by other donors. This means that the EU’s humanitarian aid partners must ensure women suffer no “adverse distinction” in their medical treatment options, and must separate their EU funds from US funds in order to avoid the US ban on abortion currently restricting EU funds. The European Commission has yet to make these changes effective. 

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15 Years after the Adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325: Enforcing International Law

"Moving the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda from Paper to Practice"


Fifteen years ago, the UN Security Council undertook addressing and understanding the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women in its maintenance of international peace and security. To this end, the Council adopted Resolution 1325 (2000), creating the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. The Council subsequently adopted seven more resolutions as part of this agenda—Resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013), and 2242 (2015)—which together inform the protection and promotion of women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict settings.

In recognition of the fifteenth anniversary of Resolution 1325 and its creation of the WPS agenda, in 2013, the Council requested a review of 1325’s implementation, which resulted in the publication of the Global Study in October 2015. The Study identifies gaps, challenges, trends, and priorities to consider in moving forward with the WPS agenda. The Study undertakes an in-depth evaluation of the past fifteen years and highlights major successes in addressing gender issues arising in conflict, including the inclusion of a comprehensive list of gender crimes in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC); the appointment of a Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and the adoption of General Recommendation No. 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict, and post-conflict situations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee). The Global Study also provides essential recommendations for the future of the WPS agenda’s implementation.

Furthermore, the Study acknowledges that significant challenges remain to implementing the WPS agenda. Indeed, obstacles persist due to, for example, a lack of prosecutions of sexual violence crimes; a dearth of National Action Plans (NAPs) on women, peace, and security; and the rise of violent extremism, terrorism, and militarism.

These challenges are rooted in one unaddressed weakness of the WPS agenda: its failure to explicitly incorporate the mandates of international law. This document will thus focus on how the panoply of women’s rights under international law can be used as a tool to achieve the objectives of the WPS agenda in two areas: (1) humanitarian responses to gender crimes and (2) prosecuting and deterring gender crimes. This document will also highlight the need for the Security Council to mainstream and integrate the WPS agenda into all of its work.

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Making IHL Work For Women and Girls

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) has admirably taken on the task of rethinking and retooling humanitarian action to meet the challenges facing the world today. In modern conflicts, the increased targeting of civilians, including the strategic use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, means that humanitarian action must be tailored to respond to victims’ distinct needs. In other words, because humanitarian needs in conflict are specific, we need specific and relevant ways to respond to them.

Importantly, this response must be grounded in the rights of war victims under International Humanitarian Law (“IHL” or the laws of war). This includes comprehensive and non-discriminatory medical care, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support, and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence.

However, while the nature and face of modern conflict has changed, the laws of war have remained mired in the antiquated models of warfare they were derived from; men fighting men on defined battlefields. In the context of modern humanitarian action, where civilians constitute over 90% of those affected by war and where women and girls are often specifically targeted, this has meant that women and girls are left behind.

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Daesh’s Gender-Based Crimes against Yazidi Women and Girls Include Genocide

Daesh Strategically and Intentionally Targets Yazidi Women and Girls for  Heinous Crimes on Ideological Grounds

Daesh continues to commit heinous crimes against women and girls, and, to date, has done so with impunity. Victims and witnesses who have fled Daesh control consistently describe being subjected to attacks that aim to terrorize and silence the population. But even in the context of Daesh’s blanket persecutions against ethnic minorities, Daesh has singled out the Yazidi religious and ethnic minority, and most notability Yazidi women and children, for particularly brutal treatment.

Further, its state-building strategy requires subjugation of women and control over their reproductive capacity to guarantee future generations for the so-called Caliphate. These policies, strategies and practices lead to and provide a perceived justification for Daesh fighters’ carrying out the horrendous crimes against Yazidi women and girls detailed below.

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