Tackling sexual violence must include prevention, ending impunity – UN official

Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström

27 April 2010 – Fresh from her visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which she described as the “rape capital of the world,” a senior United Nations official today urged the Security Council to make the prevention of sexual violence a top priority, and stressed the need to end impunity for the scourge.

“Women have no rights, if those who violate their rights go unpunished,” Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, told the 15-member body.

Ending impunity for sexual violence is a critical part of the Council’s broader mandate to shepherd situations “from might to right, from rule of war to rule of law, from bullets to ballots,” she noted.

“If women continue to suffer sexual violence, it is not because the law is inadequate to protect them, but because it is inadequately enforced.”

Ms. Wallström said she is haunted by what she heard in the DRC – that women are still not safe, under their own roofs, in their own beds, when night falls. “Our aim must be to uphold international law, so that women – even in the war-torn corners of the world – can sleep under the cover of justice,” she stated.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), more than 8,000 women were raped in the DRC during fighting between warring factions last year. The UN mission there, known as MONUC, has been trying to combat the problem 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, sexual violence remains a dominant, even escalating, feature of the conflict in DRC, which continues to be “the rape capital of the world,” said Ms. Wallström, noting that the core of the problem is impunity, which is the rule rather than the exception.

She also warned that politically-motivated rape is a disturbing trend, witnessed in the wake of Kenya’s contested elections, and more recently, in broad daylight on the streets of Guinea. Such crimes, she said, present a security crisis that demands a security response.

Ending impunity is one of the five priorities Ms. Wallström, who was appointed in February, has set for herself, in addition to empowering women, mobilizing political leadership, increasing recognition of rape as a tactic and consequence of conflict, and ensuring a more coherent response from the UN system.

Also briefing the Council, Rachel Mayanja, the UN Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, stressed the Secretary-General’s commitment to tackling violence against women.

“Through the appointment of his Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, he has demonstrated his determination to address the persistent scourge of violence against women, including sexual violence, to lead by example and to strive to empower women and girls to play a meaningful role in peace and security, including in situations or armed conflict.”

She noted that the Mr. Ban himself has witnessed and been deeply troubled by the effects of violence, abuse and blatant violations of the rights of women and girls in conflict-affected countries, and he remains “unflinchingly” committed to this cause.

In his latest report on women, peace and security, which Ms. Mayanja presented to the Council, the Secretary-General lamented the fact that the implementation of a call by the UN a decade ago to have women play a more prominent role in conflict prevention and resolution remains slow.

He outlines measures intended to track the implementation of the Council’s resolution 1325 of 2000, including a set of 26 indicators pertaining to prevention, participation, protection, and relief and recovery.

The indicators, said Ms. Mayanja, range from those that aim to assess the situation of women and girls, to those that assess the degree to which gender considerations are mainstreamed in peace processes, to those that seek to determine resource availability and institutional capacity for addressing peace and security issues.

In a presidential statement adopted at the end of the meeting, the Council took note of the indicators put forth in the report, adding that they will need “technical and conceptual development” before they can become operational. It also expressed its intention to take action on the indicators on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of resolution 1325, which will be marked in October.

The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) welcomed the Council’s support for the indicators, which were produced by 14 UN entities under the leadership of the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues.

“The Security Council’s commitment to take action on these indicators represents one of the most significant moves by the international security system in recent years to accelerate implementation of resolution 1325,” said UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi.

“The indicators will reveal where women are experiencing exclusion and threats to their security and help identify good practices. They will be much more than numbers on a paper. They will provide a sensitive barometer of the current situation and help identify future priorities.”


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