The High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of refugees. In its efforts to achieve this objective, UNHCR strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, and to return home voluntarily. By assisting refugees to return to their own country or to settle permanently in another country, UNHCR also seeks lasting solutions to their plight. UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the UN General Assembly have authorized involvement with other groups. These include former refugees who have returned to their homeland; internally displaced people; and people who are stateless or whose nationality is disputed.
UNHCR defines protection as “all actions aimed at ensuring the equal access to and enjoyment of the rights of women, men, girls and boys of concern to UNHCR, in accordance with the relevant bodies of law (international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law).” As such, UNHCR views the prevention and response to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) as an integral component of its mandate. It is committed to the principle of participation, believing that refugees and others who benefit from the organization’s activities should be consulted over decisions which affect their lives.
UNHCR carries out its work in collaboration with many partners, including governments, regional organizations, international and non-governmental organizations.
In March 2018, UNHCR launched an updated policy on Age, Gender and Diversity (AGD). Building on long-standing commitments and lessons learned, the policy aims to further enable displaced and stateless women, men, girls and boys to enjoy their rights on an equal footing, and to ensure that they are better able to participate fully in the decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their family members and communities.
“UNHCR’s updated policy brings together all the essential components for change: stronger and clear accountability, defined responsibilities across the organization, as well as consistent monitoring which can lead to evidence-based and regular reporting,” Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk 2018.
The policy is mandatory for all personnel and operations through the application of 10 core actions. Among them is the commitment that “Women and girls will have access to comprehensive SGBV prevention and response services”. It acknowledges that SGBV disproportionally affects women and girls, but also men, boys. As such UNHCR and partners need to work closely with communities, including men and boys and national authorities, to promote the equal rights, integrity, well-being, and equitable access to SGBV prevention and response services for all persons of concern, from preparedness and the onset of crisis to solutions. As a core action. UNHCR operations “will adopt and implement SGBV standard operating procedures, operationalizing the four main referral pathways for all survivors (safety/security, legal, medical, and psychosocial), and will promote the same with partners, including Governments”
Creating safe environments and mitigating the risk of SGBV is a high priority for UNHCR. Therefore, UNHCR continues to establish safeguards against such violence for all people of concern and works to ensure that response interventions are accessible for all survivors of SGBV.
The implementation of UNHCR’s SGBV prevention and response strategy, Action against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: An Updated Strategy, launched in 2011, has strengthened UNHCR’s focus on six key action areas:
Multi-year country-level SGBV strategies have been developed in country operations in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East.
UNHCR takes into consideration gender-related persecution in the determination of refugee status. In addition, in seeking durable solutions for refugees, specific attention is paid to the needs of survivors and those at risk of SGBV. Depending on the circumstances, one of the durable solutions available to them is resettlement to a third country.
In addition, UNHCR has embraced a mainstreaming approach to the prevention, risk mitigation and response to sexual and gender based violence, aimed at systematically mainstreaming SGBV prevention and response into all areas of UNHCR’s work. This involves thematic and cross-sectoral responsibilities to more effectively integrate and address SGBV prevention, risk mitigation and response. It aims to bolster leadership, mainstreaming SGBV prevention and response across all sectors, and share responsibility and accountability at all levels. This effort is an operationalization of the IASC Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action.
Working with men and boy survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in forced displacement, UNHCR (2012). Available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5006aa262.html
Action against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: An Updated Strategy, UNHCR (2011). Available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e01ffeb2.html
Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Intersex Persons in Forced Displacement, UNHCR (2011). Available rel="noopener noreferrer" at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e6073972.html
UNHCR Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls, UNHCR (2008). Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/protection/women/47cfae612/unhcr-handbook-protection-women-girls.html
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Guidelines rel="noopener noreferrer" for Prevention and Response, UNHCR (2003). Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/3f696bcc4.html
Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in rel="noopener noreferrer" Humanitarian Action, IASC (2015). Available at: http://gbvguidelines.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2015-IASC-Gender-based-Violence-Guidelines_lo-res.pdf
UNHCR’s Engagement on Security Council Resolutions 1612 and 1960 (Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism MRM and MARA Available at: http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/5a6edf734.pdf
UNHCR continues successful capacity building of staff, partners, government and people of concern. In 2017, 41 staff from the Africa and Middle East and North Africa regions completed an SGBV learning program, which certified trainers on SGBV View More
UNHCR continues successful capacity building of staff, partners, government and people of concern. In 2017, 41 staff from the Africa and Middle East and North Africa regions completed an SGBV learning program, which certified trainers on SGBV prevention and response.
UNHCR’s focus on online training and multiple gender-related modules, including on Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, and Prevention of Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Abuse of Authority in the Workplace, has seen more than 7200 staff capacitated.
In addition, UNHCR has been systematically mainstreaming SGBV prevention and response into all UNHCR operations. This involves thematic and cross-sectoral responsibilities to more effectively integrate and address SGBV prevention, risk mitigation and response. This effort is an operationalization of the IASC Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action.
In UNHCR operations, capacity building and sensitization of communities on SGBV prevention and response were carried out using mass sensitization and awareness campaigns, and targeted trainings of community leaders and influential groups, including youth and male activists against SGBV. Communities have in turn mobilized community-based structures to lead on prevention and response and advocate for action against SGBV.
UNHCR formulated Guidelines for the Protection of Refugee Women in 1991. In 2003, it released Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees, and Internally Displaced Persons: Guidelines for Prevention and Response, which was an update of its existing 1995 guidelines. The guidelines have been published in the six United Nations languages and in 13 other languages, and have been distributed to persons of concern, government counterparts, and implementing and operational partners. In addition, a Handbook on the Protection of Women and Girls was provisionally released in 2006.Hide
UNHCR’s Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls (March 2008) describes the protection challenges faced by displaced women and girls and explains how UNHCR and partners work together to promote gender equality, in particular, to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence through a rights and community-based approach.Hide
In Serbia, a report on “Domestic Violence - Protection and Prevention” was presented by UNHCR in March 2009, providing an analysis of the legislative framework and a recommendation for the adoption of a Law on Domestic Violence, ensuring a coordinated and effective response to instances of domestic violence.Hide
UNHCR advocated for legal reforms related to gender equality and sexual and gender-based violence in 2012. For example, in Georgia a new law on domestic violence requires police to respond immediately to cases of domestic violence, and even if there is no apparent injury but violence has occurred, the police is required to issue a restrictive order.Hide
In 2008, UNHCR allocated an additional USD 1.5 million for prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence. Projects include: creating a manager post on sexual and gender-based violence and community outreach teams in the Central African Republic; hiring an expert in Chad; signing agreements with implementing partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo.Hide
UNHCR, UNICEF and UNFPA are currently implementing a Capacity Development Project on gender-based violence, funded by ECHO, which focuses on Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan. UNICEF focuses on Ivory Coast, CAR and Chad, and UNFPA focuses on Sudan, Occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and Iraq. The objective is to train 63 capacity promoters, who will bolster the capacity of 360 international and national staff in the coordination of gender-based violence programming in these nine countriesHide
UNHCR has developed a Strategic Plan for Reproductive Health (2008-2012), including key sexual and gender-based violence strategies on the establishment of policies, guidelines and programmes to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence; clinical management and protocols for rape survivors; access to early diagnosis; and care and treatment for rape survivors.Hide
During 2008, all UNHCR offices were required to view and discuss the film “To Serve with Pride”, produced by the ECHA/ECPS UN/NGO Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. UNHCR has also taken the lead in developing guidance for field offices in setting up community-based complaints mechanisms for sexual exploitation and abuse.Hide