Emerging threats demand renewed fight against sexual violence in conflict – UN envoy

Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, briefs journalists. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

14 April 2015 – Those who use rape as a weapon of war are becoming increasingly “brutal and ruthless,” the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict said today, warning against a lax attitude that would allow emerging armed groups to gain further ground and continue committing such atrocious crimes.

“We have made tremendous progress in the last few years, but we must redouble our efforts in the face of new threats,” Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura told journalists at a UN Headquarters briefing this afternoon, which coincided with the one-year anniversary of the abduction by Boko Haram of 276 school girls in Nigeria.

She urged the international community to renew its commitment and apply increased pressure so as not to lose the ground we have gained and to meet the demands of new and emerging threats. To garner this support, Ms. Bangura will present the Secretary-General's 2015 report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence to the Security Council tomorrow.

The report, documenting horrendous crimes committed in conflict zones around the world between January and December 2014, identifies some 19 countries and lists 45 armed groups suspected of committing these crimes, including state forces, opposition groups and violent extremist groups. Combating sexual violence in conflict remains a challenge in Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East. Indeed, it is a “global problem,” the Special Representative said.

The report chronicles the disturbing trends of new and emerging non-State actors, listing some 45 armed transnational groups suspected of rape and other forms of sexual violence. It records how this new threat– different from traditional Government security forces – use sexual violence to persecute ethnic and religious minorities and target people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Crimes committed by non-State actors who may not follow the same rules of engagement and may not respond the same penalties. They also subjugate women as a “tactic to terrorize” and their use of modern day technology to advance mediaeval beliefs is alarming because social media helps them get their message out.

“Our opponents are brutal and relentless. They are cunning and if we relax for even a moment they may gain the upper hand,” said Ms. Bangura, calling on the international community to find new ways to deal with the emerging threats and warning against a “culture of denial and silence.”

Governments where the crimes occur must foster national ownership and leadership of the solutions. In 2014, some countries progressed on the issue. In Colombia, the law was broadened on the definition of sexual violence to include provisions that now protect survivors and ensure that they have a prominent place at the table in peace negotiations to end that country's decades-long civil war.

In its recommendations, the report underscores the need for broader efforts to strengthen institutional safeguards against impunity. For example, in the past year military and police officers in countries covered by the report have been indicted, prosecuted, and convicted on charges of conflict-related sexual violence. More women must be involved in peacekeeping and peacebuilding processes, she said.

It is also critical to increase medical, psychosocial, legal and economic services and support for survivors so that they can rebuild their lives. National and regional early warning systems that sound the alarm against escalating sexual violence should be adopted to help prevent these atrocities before they occur.

“A country that does not respect women in peace time will not protect women in conflict. Change the dynamics and change the opportunity for women,” Ms. Bangura declared.

In a recent interview with the UN News Centre, she stressed that the countries where these crimes are being committed have to make sure they have the political will and commitment. “The donors who are supporting them need to make sure they provide the resources to support these countries so that they take the necessary action,” she added.


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