A new UN report says 2014 was marked by "harrowing accounts of rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage" being used by extremist groups such as Islamic State (IS), the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram, and Al-Qaeda affiliates.
The report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, released on April 13, expresses "grave concern" at sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups, including those promoting extremist ideologies in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Libya, and Yemen.
It says that sexual attacks in Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria were "integrally linked to strategic objectives, ideology, and funding of extremist groups."
Sexual violence is used "as a tactic of terror by radical groups," it says.
The report says some 1,500 civilians may have been forced into sexual slavery in Iraq in recent months.
It describes an increase in the number of reported cases of sexual violence committed by terrorist groups and in particular IS, which it says "uses sexual violence to spread terror, persecute ethnic and religious minorities and suppress communities that oppose its ideology."
It notes a "significant increase" in the number of cases of sexual violence in Syria, with abductees from Iraq being sold in markets in areas of Syria controlled by IS militants.
One such case outlined is the kidnapping of hundreds of Yazidi women and girls in Iraq who were then "sold" as sex slaves in markets in Syria.
The report’s release came a day before the anniversary of the April 14, 2014, abduction by Boko Haram of 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, a town in northern Nigeria.
Boko Haram often forces the girls and women it kidnaps into forced marriages.
"Abducted girls who refuse marriage or sexual contact within marriage have faced violence and death threats," the report says, calling the abduction "one of the most alarming episodes of 2014."
The report focuses on 19 countries immersed in conflict or recovering from fighting where sexual violence such as rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, or forced pregnancy occurs mostly against women and girls as well as against boys and men.