Curbing sexual violence in conflict is ‘mission irresistible’ for new UN envoy

Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström

9 February 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s newly appointed Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict promised today a more coherent and effective battle against the scourge, citing recent mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and calling her new task “mission irresistible.”

“Sexual violence against women is not cultural, it’s criminal. It’s not a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. It’s for both men and women to make sure that women have the right to their body,” Margot Wallström, a Swedish politician with a long history in defending women’s rights, told a news briefing in New York, citing the need to end impunity as a priority area. “Women carry half the sky, so they have to be valued that way.”

Ms. Wallström was introduced by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro who said the new appointment was “a major step” towards protecting civilians subjected to sexual violence not only in conflict but also in post-conflict situations.

“Ending sexual violence in conflict situations remains a top priority for the Secretary-General who has called for increased actions by the international community to prevent violence, to protect individuals, to punish perpetrators, and to provide redress to victims,” she added.

Today’s presentation came just a day after the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that more than 8,000 women were raped in the DRC during fighting between warring factions last year. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy told the briefing that such abuse was occurring not just in the DRC. “In most of our missions we have this extremely serious question of sexual violence,” he said.

In the DRC the UN is combating the scourge by developing a greater presence on the ground, escorting women going to market or fetching firewood or water, developing early warning systems, and working with local mayors.

“At the same time, it is not enough,” he added, noting that UN peacekeepers in all DRC numbered 20,000 soldiers while just the two war-torn eastern Kivu provinces, where most rapes occurred, had a population of 10 million people. “We cannot be behind… [every] tree.”

Ms. Wallström said the DRC would be one of the first places she would visit, but cautioned that her main challenge would be living up to all the expectations put in her given the breadth of the mandate and its limited length of only two years. “We’ll also have to create some success stories if you ask me,” she added. “It is also obvious where the hotspots are, where everybody expects us to be present and to do as much as we can. Of course, the DRC is the obvious example…

“I will never be able to live up to all these expectations,” she said. But, she added, “of course I feel honoured and humbled and excited. It’s a tough task and the mandate is short, two years, but it is mission irresistible to me at this moment.”


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