During the 27th session of the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organised a panel to discuss gender in transitional justice, and in particular the issue of reparations for conflict-related sexual violence.

Addressing sexual violence in transitional justice

Transitional justice refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures, such as criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, memory initiatives, reparations, and institutional reforms, implemented in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses.

Living Proof - Birth in NepalThe experts in the panel agreed that although much progress has been made in terms of addressing gender and women issues within the framework of transitional justice, there is still a long way to go.

Women are too often perceived as victims while they should be involved as civil society representatives and community leaders. In many conflict-affected countries, victims see little judicial action against perpetrators of sexual violence.

Additionally, institutional reforms are generally slow and sporadic while it is of the utmost importance to reform the security sector in the aftermath of a conflict: indeed, sexual and gender-based violence in times of conflict is commonly perpetrated by regular armies and armed groups.

Women’s access to justice

In accessing justice, whether it is in transitional justice or outside a post-conflict context, women face numerous barriers and obstacles. Justice has a cost that many women living in poverty cannot afford; in addition, they are often discriminated against and re-victimised due to gender stereotypes.

Women’s safety is not always guaranteed when they provide testimonies or submit complaints, and there is a clear lack of health and psychological assistance to the victims, in particular victims of sexual violence.

In addition, in both transitional and outside post-conflict contexts, women very often do not even obtain reparations, or only on a very limited scale. Yet, reparations are a key element in the whole access to justice issue.

Reparations should not merely be remedies, they also have to be adequate and prompt, and should suit women’s needs, in order to ensure that justice also has long-term transformative impacts for victims and the society as a whole.

What to do?

The OHCHR and UN Women have recently published a guidance note on reparations for victims of sexual violence. In addition, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is currently drafting a General Recommendation on access to justice.

However, although the transformative potential of transitional justice is undeniable, transforming power relations based on gender will take an extremely long time.

Legislations and guidelines are not sufficient to build new and more equal societies. It’s a long-term process that must also include a change in the society’s mentality. Indeed, beyond justice, it is vital to shift the stigma from victims to perpetrators of sexual violence, to ensure a fair and impartial justice system for women.


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