STATEMENT BY THE SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN CONFLICT
Zainab Hawa Bangura
SECURITY COUNCIL OPEN DEBATE
ON SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN CONFLICT
(17 April 2013)
Madam President, Mr. Secretary–General, Distinguished Members of the Security Council, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to thank the Government of Rwanda for convening this debate on sexual violence in conflict, and for your presence Madam Minister to chair the discussion. I am grateful for the opportunity to address this august Council.
Three weeks ago I visited Somalia.
In Mogadishu, I met Luul Ali Osman who, 3 months ago, faced the terrible weight of censure, arrest and imprisonment for daring to speak out about her rape by security forces in an internally displaced persons camp.
Her case reminds us of the tremendous risks associated with reporting sexual violence, not only for the survivors themselves, but for their families, NGO staff who provide vital services and the journalists who try to shed light on such crimes.
For too long has war been waged on the bodies of women like Luul. For too long have women borne the crippling consequences – physical, psychological, social, economic – of wartime rape. They have been ostracized from their communities, cast out by husbands and families, left destitute with their children.
With sexual violence women lose everything; and in the process communities themselves are lost. Because women are the life force of their communities. They are mothers and care-givers to the next generation; they are the healers, the economic backbone, the peacemakers and the peacekeepers.
This is why today we lift our voices in unison, and once again join hands around this high table to renew our pact to break the silence and turn the tide on war’s oldest and least condemned crime.
In so doing, we stand in solidarity with the many thousands of victims and survivors around the world – not only women, but also children and men. To say to them that they are not forgotten, that their plight is of the highest priority, at the highest level of the international system.
Over the course of 5 years we have witnessed progress towards eradicating this crime. This Council has led from the front, ushering in a paradigm shift that has fundamentally altered our approach to dealing with sexual violence in conflict.
Crucially, the Security Council’s engagement has challenged long-standing myths that sexual violence is cultural, private, inevitable, or simply the random acts of a few renegades.
Resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1960 affirm that sexual violence, when committed systematically and used as a tool of war, is a fundamental threat to the maintenance of international peace and security, and as such requires an operational security and justice response.
It is an affirmation that there can be no credible security approach that does not take into account the security of women as part of its central calculus.
Practically, it requires us to expand the circle of stakeholders beyond gender experts to also engage uniformed peacekeepers, mediators, ceasefire monitors, war crimes prosecutors, and the full range of civilian protection actors.
Madam President, Members of the Security Council,
Notwithstanding the progress that has been made as a result of the engagement of this Council, the report of the Secretary-General before you today paints a grim picture.
In total, it covers 22 situations – conflict, post conflict and other situations of concerns. It also lists 32 parties in the Annex of the report. Of these, 6 are state actors, while 26 are non-state parties.
The report highlights some critical themes such as:
- The nexus between sexual violence and the illicit extraction of natural resources;
- Sexual violence as a driver of displacement of civilian populations;
- Forced marriages, rape and sexual slavery by armed groups;
- Sexual violence as a tactic in the context of detentions or interrogation;
- And, the plight of children born of wartime rape, about whom there is little or no information available and therefore no meaningful programmatic interventions.
The report emphasizes the urgency of ensuring that sexual violence considerations are explicitly and consistently reflected in peace processes, ceasefires and peace agreements; and in all Security Sector Reform and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration processes in which the United Nations is involved.
The report also stresses the acute lack of services for victims. It is absolutely essential that we continue to meet our obligations to the survivors – the critical health, psycho-social, legal and other interventions that they must have to rebuild their lives.
At the same time, we also have to throw a more concerted spotlight on the perpetrators. That is, those who commit, or command, or condone sexual violence in conflict.
The continued engagement of the Security Council must serve as an unequivocal statement of intent: sexual violence in conflict will not be tolerated, and the full force of international order will be brought to bear to ensure accountability for such crimes.
The perpetrators must understand that there can be no hiding place; no amnesty; no safe harbour. They must know that they will be pursued by any and all means at our collective disposal.
In the process, we will begin to transfer the stigma of this crime from the survivors, to the perpetrators.
Madam President, Members of the Security Council,
The main promise of resolution 1960 is prevention. It sets us on the path of accountability and deterrence.
In this respect, it marks a political commitment to bring all of the Security Council’s tools to bear in preventing the atrocity of wartime rape. The purpose of the 1960 accountability regime is to influence the conduct of perpetrators, and would-be perpetrators.
Going forward, we must reinforce this regime. An effective compliance system can, for the first time, raise the cost and consequences for those who would commit such crimes, where until now the price has been borne by their victims.
Today it is still largely ‘cost-free’ to rape a woman, child or man in conflict. Sexual violence has been used through the ages precisely because it is such a cheap and devastating weapon. We can and must reverse this reality, making it a massive liability to commit, command or condone sexual violence in conflict.
Since taking office in September 2012, I have placed particular emphasis on engaging national stakeholders in order to foster national ownership, leadership and responsibility.
While actions by this Council or the work of international justice mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court are essential to send a ‘zero-tolerance’ message to perpetrators, ultimately they complement the measures that must be taken at the national level.
It is at the country-level where the political will is most required, to strengthen national laws, institutions and capacities to prosecute sexual violence crimes, and to care for survivors.
This cannot be only a United Nations issue. It belongs first and foremost to Member States, who bear the primary legal and moral responsibility to ensure the protection and wellbeing of their citizens.
The role of my Office, of the Team of Experts on Rule of Law/ Sexual Violence, and the UN Action Network composed of 13 UN entities working together to address this problem, is to support national authorities to strengthen their responses.
However, I cannot over-emphasize that the commitment of the UN system, however great it may be, can never substitute for the political will and action of national authorities.
Madame President, Members of the Council
Three weeks ago I undertook my first trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I visited a community where last year 11 babies, between 6 and 12 months old, were raped by elements of Mai Mai Morgan. It is unimaginable that anyone could have committed such atrocity.
Yet, under the cold light of strategy and tactics, the rationale and purpose is clear. What more effective way can there be to destroy a community than to target and devastate its children?
Faced with such horror, we are compelled to turn the despair in our hearts into unshakable resolve that this will not happen to our children.
A resolve that matches the ruthlessness of those who would commit such crimes, with our own relentless and unwavering pursuit of accountability, and ultimately deterrence and prevention.
I am pleased today to announce a Joint Communiqué of the Government of the DRC and the United Nations to strengthen cooperation in a number of critical areas, signed by the Prime Minister at the end of my visit. It reflects the firm commitment that was made to me by President Kabila to more effectively prosecute crimes of sexual violence.
The Parliament of the DRC has also committed to establishing a Parliamentary Working Group on Sexual Violence, and the Senate and National Assembly will hold a special session on this issue.
The Communiqué represents an opportunity for renewed action on sexual violence prevention and response in the DRC. Together we must hold the President to his commitments. At the same time, we must support him and his Government – technically and financially – to deal decisively with this problem.
In Somalia, our collective efforts over the past months have freed Luul Ali Osman, and those who dared to speak out for her cause. And last week, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud speaking to military cadets in Mogadishu, declared that security forces who rape the citizens of Somalia will be fought and defeated like any enemy of the state.
I commend the President and his Government for their resolve to address this problem. We anticipate that a Joint Communiqué outlining a framework of cooperation to address sexual violence will be adopted in early May when the international community convenes for the Somalia Donor Conference in London.
That preventing sexual violence will be one of the central issues discussed at the conference, is an important commitment in itself. It signals that this issue does not remain on the margins of the discourse on peace consolidation in Somalia. Addressing sexual violence is an essential pre-requisite for durable peace and development.
I urge international donors to match the strong political commitment with the necessary financial resources, particularly for the services for survivors on the ground. If we are to break this evil in Somalia and elsewhere, the level of financial commitment must meet the level of political commitment.
As the Council is aware, I also visited the Central African Republic in December 2012.
Like all of us around this table, I am distressed by the subsequent outbreak of conflict that has shredded the Libreville peace agreement, costing lives and resulting in sexual violence, child recruitment and other grave human rights violations.
A number of commitments were made by the parties during my visit, expressed in two Communiqués. We must send a clear message to the Seleka Coalition and all the parties to the conflict that they are expected to uphold the commitments made.
They must immediately identify and release all children and forcibly recruited women from their ranks. And, they have to issue and implement clear command orders prohibiting sexual violence, and investigate all allegations to hold perpetrators to account.
The international community, and this Council, should insist that no party can be a credible partner in the peace process unless these basic conditions are met.
I wish to highlight the fact that the ceasefire signed by Seleka in January did include explicit reference to sexual violence as a definition of that ceasefire. In its principle this was exemplary, and must be carried forward in the CAR process, and elsewhere.
Therefore, let us make the commitment around this table today that in situations where sexual violence is a concern, there will never again be a peace agreement, ceasefire agreement, or ceasefire verification mechanism that does not explicitly address sexual violence.
This includes the agreements that must eventually be concluded in Mali and Syria, to bring an end to these conflicts.
I also wish to draw the attention of the Council to the visit to Colombia of my predecessor, Margot Wallstrom, shortly before she left office.
During her visit the Vice President on behalf of the Government expressed openness to develop what he referred to as a ‘framework of cooperation’, outlining key technical areas in which the United Nations and the Government may enhance cooperation to address sexual violence in conflict.
The multi-faceted response of the Colombian authorities to sexual violence in conflict carries important lessons for our global response. The key challenge in Colombia remains implementation, and it is my intention to follow up on Margot Wallstrom’s visit, to offer the technical support of the UN, including the Team of Experts who have already conducted a follow up visit.
In the meantime, I urge the Colombian authorities to ensure that sexual violence considerations are explicitly reflected in the on-going peace talks with the FARC.
I also intend to take up invitations by the authorities in Syria, Mali and South Sudan to visit those situations as soon as possible.
Conducting country-visits will continue to be a key aspect of this mandate.
Through these visits we bear witness to the plight of survivors, and carry their voices to those in power. They are intended to open space locally for dialogue and action on sexual violence. They serve as a means to engage parties to conflict for tangible protection commitments. They aim to foster international cooperation in the implementation of such commitments.
The gravitas of this Council, and the mandate created by you to address sexual violence in conflict, open doors at the highest levels. We will continue to rely on the Security Council to support this ‘engagement-based approach’.
I was also delighted last week to participate in the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting in London, and for the historic Declaration on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict that was adopted by the G8.
The Declaration represents important political and financial support. It gives us additional momentum, at a crucial moment.
The impetus afforded by such support at the highest levels of the international system is key to driving forward the prevention and protection agenda on the ground.
Madam President, Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
We have an opportunity like at no time before in history to break the back of this age-old evil. We must believe that sexual violence in conflict is not inevitable; to eradicate it is not a ‘Mission Impossible’.
But it will require political leadership and political courage, matched by bold and strategic protection initiatives on the ground.
It is our hope, therefore, that on the basis of the Secretary-General’s report and his recommendations, that the Security Council will once again show its resolve and unity of purpose, and adopt in June a new resolution on sexual violence in conflict.
A resolution focused on accountability and prevention, to further consolidate and institutionalize the sexual violence response in the context of the United Nations peace and security architecture and Council mandates.
May this be a decisive moment; our moment to put an end to this crime that is a blight on our collective humanity.