Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Remarks to the Security Council meeting on Women, Peace and Security

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Security Council, 19 June 2008

Madam President of the Security Council, Distinguished Ministers, Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank the United States for taking this initiative to convene this important debate. I congratulate the Secretary of State Dr. Rice for her leadership. It is critical that the Council lend its full attention to this issue. I look forward to hearing your views on the way forward.

Almost eight years since the Council adopted its landmark resolution 1325, an increasing and alarming number of women and girls are falling victim to sexual violence in conflict. Sexual violence poses a grave threat to women's security in fragile post-conflict countries, and undermines efforts to cement peace. It strikes women who are already struggling to survive and keep their families together in a generalized climate of fear. The breakdown of law and order makes women all the more vulnerable to attacks, and leaves them with virtually no recourse to justice.

Survivors are often so badly stigmatized that they can hardly even hope for a normal life. Outcast by their societies, they rarely seek redress. Even when they do have the courage to come forward despite the humiliations this can bring, the justice system too often fails and the perpetrators run free. This feeds a culture of impunity which does nothing to discourage more attacks. And so the vicious circle rolls forward.

But we can and must push back. This March, I launched a global campaign to end violence against women. The aim is to tackle all manifestations, including the abominable practice of sexual violence in armed conflict. And I will soon appoint a Messenger of Peace tasked entirely with advocacy for ending violence against women.

Around the world, UN peace missions are making a difference by monitoring the problem, helping the victims, and advocating an end to impunity. The UN Mission in Liberia has built a safe house for survivors and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. In Haiti, our peacekeepers are organizing meetings on women's rights for members of the judiciary and police. Our Rule of Law unit in Afghanistan is helping the country draft legislation to eliminate violence against women. The UN Interim Administration in Kosovo has created a special unit to ensure that victims receive help when they seek justice.

All of these initiatives are based on Security Council mandates. When you adopt resolutions with strong language on sexual and gender-based violence, the UN can respond more forcefully. Let us ensure that all future mandates have clear provisions on protecting women and children in conflicts.

When the Council authorizes multidisciplinary missions, we can produce results. And when Member States send us qualified female personnel, we can demonstrate the central role of women in restoring stability to war-ravaged countries.

The concept paper before the Council cites the all-female Indian civil police unit in Liberia as a possible model. I believe this successful initiative serves as an excellent example of the unique contribution that female personnel can make. Through their sheer presence, the members of this Indian contingent are showing Liberian women that they, too, can play a role in law enforcement. We have the numbers to prove it: since the female blue berets first deployed, there has been a marked increase in the number of women applying for jobs with the Liberian police.

I am eager to deploy more women worldwide, not just as police, military and civilian personnel but also at the highest levels of mission leadership. And here is where I need Member States to come forward with more women candidates.

Send me your female troops, your police, your civilian personnel and your senior diplomats and I will ensure that they are all considered; that qualified candidates are rostered; and that the maximum number are deployed to the field as quickly as humanly possible.

The troop-contributing countries are already moving in this direction, and I appreciate all of your contributions to UN peacekeeping. But at the same time, I urge you to do more to provide pre-deployment training for preventing and responding to sexual violence. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is revising its standardized materials on this subject, and we look to troop-contributing countries to help ensure that the UN's own personnel are part of the solution -- not the problem.

Let me be clear: the United Nations, and I personally, are profoundly committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel. This means zero complacency. When we receive credible allegations, we ensure that they are looked into fully. It means zero impunity. When allegations are found to have merit, all personnel -- whether military, police or civilians -- are held accountable based on applicable national jurisdictions. I will strengthen the current code of conduct by upholding the strictest discipline, whereby not only the individual concerned, but also supervisors up the chain of command, are held accountable in a system of collective responsibility.

Madam President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Violence against women has reached unspeakable and pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from conflict. Responding to this silent war against women and girls requires leadership at the national level. National authorities need to take the initiative to build comprehensive strategies, while the UN needs to help build capacity and support national authorities and civil society.

Responding to calls from women's groups, rape survivors and NGOs, we are bringing together a dozen UN entities in a concerted effort called UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. The initiative brings together experts on issues like peacekeeping, development, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, human rights, humanitarian relief and gender concerns to help stop rape and other sexual crimes in conflict-torn countries.

We know what it takes for a strategy to succeed. It takes awareness-raising. It takes effective security measures, including training for national military and police forces. It takes close monitoring of human rights. And it requires prosecuting all perpetrators to the full extent of the law.

At the same time, we have to view this problem in the broader context of women's empowerment. That means revising not only laws dealing with violence but also those that affect women's rights with respect to other issues, like property, inheritance or divorce. And it means creating conditions where justice can flourish -- because the best laws in the world will mean little if they are not enforced through a strong judicial and penal system.

Above all, we must do far more to involve women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and recovery after the guns fall silent. We must have more women participate in searching for justice, in fostering reconciliation, in supporting disarmament and demobilization, and in shaping development policies and rebuilding institutions.

By creating a culture that punishes violence and elevates women to their rightful role, we can lay the foundation for lasting stability, where women are not victims of violence, but agents of peace.

Thank you very much.