Sexual Violence Still ‘Horrific Feature’ of Conflicts Worldwide, Urging Stronger Prevention Efforts, Justice for Victims
Following are UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council high-level debate on conflict-related sexual violence, in New York on 23 April 2019:
I thank Germany and His Excellency the Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, for hosting this important debate. I welcome Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege and thank them for their extraordinary work.
Their advocacy highlights two vital elements of our response to sexual violence in conflict: the call for justice, and the need for support and assistance to victims. While their efforts originate in Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they have global impact. The United Nations is proud to work with victims and survivors to support the movements they have started. I also welcome Inas Miloud and Amal Clooney and thank them for their activism and advocacy.
It is 10 years since the establishment of the mandate and Office of my Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Over the course of this decade, there has been a paradigm shift in the understanding of this crime, its impact on international peace and security, the response required to prevent and end it, and the full range of services required by survivors.
This is the result of advocacy and action by individuals, Governments, non-governmental organizations and institutions. I commend all those involved, including this Council, which has established a robust normative framework to address the issue.
Increasing numbers of Governments have shown a willingness to pursue justice and provide services for survivors. Advocacy groups have demonstrated beyond doubt that sexual violence is deliberately used as a tactic of war, to terrorize people, to dehumanize communities and to destabilize societies, so that they struggle to recover for years or even decades.
Local civil society organizations, many of them women’s organizations, are on the frontlines of our efforts to prevent and provide redress for this crime, and they deserve our strong and consistent support. Individual heroes, including those with us today, have shown great courage in speaking out on the enormous and lasting damage done by this crime, which is most often perpetrated against women and girls.
And the United Nations system has stepped up, by taking action to implement the resolutions passed by this Council on women, peace and security. To give just a few examples, United Nations peacekeepers now receive consistent training to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict. We have strengthened our ability to investigate crimes of gender-based and sexual violence, deploying dedicated investigators to United Nations commissions of inquiry and to national and international courts. We have improved our data and analysis of these crimes – an essential basis for successful prevention. And we are supporting Governments to improve their response and support for survivors.
Despite all these efforts, the reality on the ground has not changed. Sexual violence continues to be a horrific feature of conflicts around the world.
Throughout my career, I have heard first-hand accounts of sexual violence in war zones from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the former Yugoslavia. In Bangladesh last year, Rohingya refugees told me of the gang-rape of women and girls in their homes before they fled Myanmar.
That is why the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, and I pledged earlier this year to step up efforts to prevent and to end these crimes, and to put victims and survivors at the centre of our response. At the same time, we urged Governments to do more to address this issue and to support survivors.
We must recognize that sexual violence in conflict largely affects women and girls because it is closely linked to broader issues of gender inequality and discrimination. Prevention must, therefore, be based on promoting women’s rights and gender equality in all areas, before, during and after conflict. This must include women’s full and effective participation in political, economic and social life and ensuring accessible and responsive justice and security institutions.
We must also recognize that there are links between sexual violence in conflict, gender inequality and discrimination, and violent extremism and terrorism. Extremists and terrorists often build their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls and use sexual violence in various ways, from forced marriage to virtual enslavement.
Sexual violence continues to fuel conflict and severely impacts the prospects for lasting peace. My report outlines a series of recommendations that are intended to provide a comprehensive approach to conflict-related sexual violence.
Prevention is a strong theme running through the recommendations. I encourage this Council to include the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence in all your country-specific resolutions, and in the mandates of peace operations.
I also encourage you to integrate the issue of conflict-related sexual violence fully into the work of your sanctions committees; and to include measures to prevent these crimes in your initiatives on security sector and justice reform.
Strengthening prevention in the context of your larger peacemaking efforts is also critical.
Where women are part of peacekeeping missions, we know that reporting and protection from sexual violence increases. Where women are at the peace table, there is greater likelihood of accountability for these crimes. Where women are part of ceasefire monitoring, they can ensure that gender-based crimes are monitored and reported.
My recommendations also stress the need to strengthen justice and accountability. Despite a handful of high-profile convictions, there is widespread impunity for sexual violence in conflict. Most of these crimes are never reported, investigated and much less prosecuted.
My recommendations include increasing support to national authorities as they reform laws, improve their capacity to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and protect survivors who testify from stigma and fear of reprisal. They also emphasize the need for greater support for survivors and their families, including health care, reparations and other assistance.
I commend the efforts of Dr. Mukwege to create a global fund to support victims and call on all Member States to contribute so that the fund can transform the lives of those affected and provide a measure of redress.
I thank members of this Council for your leadership in the past decade. This agenda has benefited from both the commitment and the consensus of Council members. I encourage the Council to continue working together to reconcile differences. The global response to these crimes must ensure punishment of the perpetrators and comprehensive support to survivors with full respect for their human rights.
Together, we can and must replace impunity with justice; and indifference with action.