Secretary-General: Attempted cover-up of crimes using United Nations Flag will not be tolerated
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at an event on conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, in Geneva on 25 February:
It is good to be back in this room after almost two years. Thank you very much for being here, as President Peter Maurer and I, together with Madame Julienne Lusenge, launch an urgent joint appeal for global action to prevent and end sexual and gender-based violence in and around conflict.
These crimes are just some of the tragic violations of international humanitarian law that we see around the world. As we mark the seventieth anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, I congratulate President Peter Maurer and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for their guardianship of the Conventions — a powerful assertion of human dignity — and for their work to save lives around the world.
Throughout my years at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], I was frequently horrified by first-hand accounts of sexual and gender-based violence in war zones, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the former Yugoslavia. Last year, in Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees told me of the gang-rape of women and girls in their homes before they fled Myanmar. And earlier this month, we heard of brutal sexual violence, including the rape of at least 130 women and girls, in South Sudan between September and December last year. We should also remember that all forms of violence against women, including domestic abuse, increase in situations of armed conflict and displacement.
Let me be clear. Sexual and gender-based violence in conflict is not only a horrendous and life-changing crime, most often perpetrated against women and girls. It is also used as a tactic of war to terrorize families, dehumanize communities and destabilize societies so that they struggle to recover for years, or even decades, after the guns fall silent. That is why sexual and gender-based violence in conflict is now widely recognized as a war crime that is preventable and punishable. The United Nations Security Council has played an important role in the past decades by passing successive resolutions that emphasize accountability for perpetrators and services for survivors.
I salute those who have been working to bring these crimes to the world’s attention, including Nobel Laureates Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. I also commend the activists and civil society organizations that have played such an important role in supporting survivors, and I thank Julienne Lusenge for representing them here today.
But, while there have been significant steps towards accountability, most sexual and gender-based violence in and around conflict is never reported, investigated or prosecuted. And while supporting the women and girls who survive such violence costs relatively little, many victims and survivors are isolated and stigmatized, rejected by their families and communities, and without the support they need to deal with unimaginable physical and emotional trauma.
Governments have the central responsibility for tackling this global crisis. And we are also grappling with how to address the non-State actors that perpetrate such crimes. But, it doesn’t stop there. All of us must do everything in our power to prevent and end sexual and gender-based violence in and around conflict, and to support victims and survivors.
At the United Nations, I have taken serious steps in the past two years to make zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations staff and peacekeepers into a reality. We will not tolerate anyone who attempts to cover up these crimes with the United Nations flag.
Today, I am proud that the United Nations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement are united in our commitment to do more, and to demand more of others, to prevent and end these crimes. We will replace impunity with justice and indifference with action. Survivors — their experiences, needs and demands — will be at the heart of everything we do. And the United Nations will scale up its efforts in several ways.
First, we are instructing all our peace operations around the world to make sure they have policies and systems in place to prevent conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, and to pursue justice for victims and survivors.
Second, our peace operations, and where relevant, other field presences will include gender and protection advisers who will be able to respond to this crisis and conduct outreach with local communities and organizations.
Third, we are stepping up efforts to mobilize resources for grass-roots organizations, particularly women’s organizations, that are on the front lines of prevention and response.
And finally, we are directing staff across the United Nations system to promote women’s meaningful participation in conflict prevention and resolution, and in all formal peace processes.
The world is growing ever more aware of the ubiquity of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. We must do everything in our power to end the horror and stigma that affects hundreds of thousands of women and girls, as well as men and boys, worldwide.