|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Minister for Women’s Rights, Government Spokesperson of France
With World Health Organization (WHO) statistics showing that more than one in three women would encounter physical or sexual violence during their lives, the international community must make the fight against sexual violence a priority, France’s Minister for Women’s Rights and Government Spokesperson said at Headquarters today.
“Rape is a weapon of mass destruction and women have become the battlefield,” declared Najat Vallaud-Belkacem at a press conference, describing sexual violence as a weapon of war. France was committed to mobilizing global support for women’s rights, and the issue of sexual violence in conflict zones would be addressed during an upcoming summit on peace and security to be hosted by the French Government in Paris this December, she said.
Speaking after her address to the Security Council debate on sexual violence in conflict, she acknowledged the political progress made over the past 12 years since the adoption of Council resolution 1325 (2000), but emphasized that that the international community could not rest on its laurels and had a “long way to go”. Strengthening women’s participation in post-conflict reconstruction and peacekeeping was essential, she said, stressing that women must be integrated fully into reconstruction processes.
She went on to lay out a four-point plan for prevention of sexual violence, protection of victims, prosecution of violators and participation of women in peacekeeping. Encouraging all States to adopt national plans of action on the issue, she expressed support for the development of women’s councils that would prevent violence and protect victims. They could be set up in areas beyond the conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali, she said, adding that, as part of the ongoing fight against impunity, prosecuting violators was crucial to stopping sexual violence in conflict zones. “This violence, in no case, should be unpunished.”
Asked about the ongoing “sexual terrorism” in Syria, she condemned it, saying France wanted the regime to abide by international law and give independent, humanitarian organizations access to people in conflict zones.
In response to a question about the role of women counsellors, she said their expertise needed development, noting that their role included supporting victims during the prosecution process. For example, they could accompany women when they went to identify evidence that could lead to a court trial.
Responding to a question about the 135 women and girls allegedly raped by Government soldiers in Minova, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2012, she emphasized that condemnation was not enough and the perpetrators must be prosecuted. France was very disturbed by such atrocities, whether committed by a rebel group or by Government troops, she added.
When asked about the Security Council’s decade-long efforts to stop sexual violence in conflict zones, she cited the Secretary-General’s appointment in 2008 of the Special Representative on Sexual Conflict in Violence. With its reports, that office had helped to raise the international community’s awareness of the issue, she pointed out. The Organization had also instituted a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual attacks, she added. “The United Nations had to be exemplary.”
The recent adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty, which recognized the link between gender-based violence and the international trade in arms, also demonstrated progress. “Little by little, the international community is raising the bar in not tolerating violence against women,” she said, stressing however: “There’s a long way to go.”
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