Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Human Rights Watch - Home Page
Recent Reports 
 Support HRW 
About HRW
Site Map



Refugee workers assisting victims of sexual violence have long needed guidelines. Initially, guidelines were drawn up for use in asylum camps in South-East Asia. Subsequent events in the former Yugoslavia, Kenya and Rwanda have renewed attention to this need. The Guidelines begin by defining sexual violence, where it may occur, its causes and effects, and outlining reasons why many incidents remain unreported.

The second chapter suggests a range of preventive measures that can and should be taken involving the refugees themselves, as well as those responsible for their care.

The third and fourth chapters deal respectively with practical measures to be taken in response to incidents of sexual violence, and with the legal aspects. The final chapter offers guidance on media interest, female genital mutilation and staff trauma.

A checklist of the practical measures suggested is included in Annex 1. A Sexual Violence Needs Assessment and Programme Framework tool is provided in Annex 5.

The Guidelines are intended to assist all staff, particularly in the field, who are concerned with providing protection and assistance to refugees. Addressing protection is the responsibility of all UNHCR staff members. While some staff have professional skills which make them particularly qualified to deal with protection matters, the extent of the problem requires all staff to understand, and to master basic skills in addressing it. UNHCR hopes that the Guidelines will be useful not only to our own staff, but also to the staff of other United Nations bodies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and national governmental agencies working with refugees. These Guidelines have been drafted for use in a broad range of cultural and political contexts.


The Guidelines provide basic advice on appropriate action, particularly preventive, and are also intended to encourage active reflection and discussion between colleagues. They seek to promote attitudinal changes in relation to sexual violence where these are an obstacle, to improve or initiate services that address psychosocial as well as health needs, and, overall, to create an awareness andsensitivity to the special needs and concerns of refugees who have been subjected to sexual violence. While they indicate the type of referral or action required, they are not a do-it-yourself handbook f for areas in which specialized care is needed.


Focus on females

The pronouns in these Guidelines in relation to victims of sexual violence are phrased in the feminine voice and the pronouns in , relation to perpetrators of sexual violence are phrased in the masculine voice. This is in recognition of the fact that the majority of reported cases of sexual violence among refugees involve female victims and male perpetrators. Since women and girls appear to be the ones most often subjected to sexual violence, these Guidelines focus on sexual violence against female refugees. Very little is known about the true incidence of sexual violence against male refugees other than in the context of detention and torture.

"Refugees" and "refugee camps"

For the sake of convenience, "refugees" refers also to asylum seekers, returnees and to internally displaced persons ("IDPs") protected or assisted by UNHCR.

Similarly, "refugee camps" refers also to reception centres or places of detention for asylum-seekers, or centres for IDPs.

The Guidelines apply with the necessary changes being made to asylum-seekers, returnees and IDPs.

The term "victim"

Although the term "victim" is used in these Guidelines, the stigmatization and perceived powerlessness associated with being a "victim" should be avoided by all concerned parties. While victims require compassion and sensitivity, their strength and resilience should also be recognized and borne in mind.


Certain guidance will not apply or may be difficult to implement due to the limited capacity and resources available. Nonetheless, use of these Guidelines to the greatest extent possible is encouraged.

Each refugee situation is different and the manner and extent to which these Guidelines apply may differ depending on:

* the cultural context

* whether camp or urban

* the caseload

* available resources

* the legal system.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page