All conflicts see incidences of gender based harm and sexual violence. Rape and sexual violence in a conflict setting are internationally defined as crimes against humanity.
Of course due to their nature these harms are often hidden from public view or accountability.
In Ireland there was clearly significant experience of sexual and gender based conflict harms in both the public and private spheres.
In the public spheres there was systematic sexual and gender based violence in the holding centres and prisons. There was systematic use of strip searching of women in Britain, Armagh and Maghaberry. There was also the use of sexual violence and degradation against men in the male prisons.
The sickening use of children for sexual trafficking from Kincora was located in clear conflict policy.
That these abuses occurred in the public realm does not necessarily mean that they are immediately easy to identify, record or seek accountability for. However, if examined thematically, it would be clear that they are conflict based harms and require consideration as part of any process to deal with the past.
Due to its very nature, abuses in the private realm are particularly problematic. In the nationalist community there was no confidence in the RUC which was involved in perpetuating abuses and violations on a daily basis. In cases of sexual violence there was evidence that rather than holding suspects to account that abusers were instead recruited as informers.
For any victim of sexual abuse on the 1970s-1990s on these islands the search for justice for sexual violence was difficult – in the context of the conflict it must have felt impossible.
Non-state actors filled a policing role in many communities. In the context of RUC paramilitarism there was a community demand that non-state actors fill the void of policing. However as recently acknowledged, this simply was not effective or desirable.
Therefore in scenarios with those accused being engaged in the crimes of paedophilia and rape there was no prospect of appropriate due process or accountability.
Media sensationalisation of any of the few matters that have been made public has not helped those still living in silence. The stubborn refusal to examine these matters within human rights obligations and conflict contexts has led to narrow and unhelpful debate. It is astounding, for instance, that Kincora has not been considered for the Stormont House Agreement mechanisms when Military Intelligence is implicated.
Under international law these are crimes for which there must be accountability and the primary responsibility for these failing to protect, and to ensure accountability, lies with the state.
Of course this is a very difficult matter to progress in the current context where all matters pertaining to the past remain a site of political and legal contest.
If we consider how Article 2 violations are met by the state what hope is there for sexual and gender based harms?
In these complex and sensitive matters we need to stop pretending that a conflict context did not apply, and locate them in our processes to deal with the past, which in turn, will demand truth, justice and accountability from all.

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