Press Conference by Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict

31 August 2010

Press Conference by Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict

31 August 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict


In the wake of the latest incidents of mass sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, perpetrators must be held to account and the response of the United Nations must be improved, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict said this afternoon.

“The time when sexual violence is tolerated and sidelined as a product of war is over,” Margot Wallström said, citing universal outrage at the incidents in which, between 30 July and 2 August, at least 154 civilians were raped in 13 villages in North Kivu province’s Banamukira territory of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The atrocities had been blamed on the Mai-Mai militia and the ethnic Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

She said she wanted to send a clear message to the leaders of the groups involved that systematic sexual violence during conflict constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity and that they were responsible for the actions of their subordinates.  Sexual violence, in fact, was an element in the charges of all the cases now before the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The Security Council was now seized of the issue, and perpetrators were now more liable to being “named and shamed” and subjected to sanctions. 

Ms. Wallström said her role was to keep the issue in the forefront of public and diplomatic dialogue, particularly after the findings of the current United Nations investigation were presented in a report to the Security Council, which she hoped would better identify perpetrators so they could be pursued, and show whether peacekeepers could have handled the situation better.  “As the incident made clear, there could be no security without women’s security,” she said.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said, a normative framework for prevention and justice was already in place, but it needed to be backed by a real capacity for implementation — a policy of zero tolerance could not be backed by zero action.  The Government must have a means to bring perpetrators to justice.

In terms of the United Nations response, she said that more work must be done on the prevention pillars of the strategy to protect women and other civilians.  The Organization was coordinating its response within the 13-entity network, under the United Nations Action against Sexual Violence initiative, which would help to build the will and the skill to respond. 

She said that it was often the case that uniformed peacekeepers were the first responders to incidents of sexual violence and they needed to be better prepared.  In addition, early warning systems must be institutionalized and enhanced with such mechanisms as distress call systems, village vigilance committees and targeted patrols. 

Unfortunately, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the latest incidents raised the expectation that operations could be scaled up, but the Government was expecting the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to scale down, exacerbating the already enormous logistical problems of providing protection in vast, forested areas.  Intensive discussion with the Government, members of the Security Council and others would have to continue, therefore, to see what could be done.

In response to questions about the slow response of peacekeepers in the recent incidents, she stressed that it was important that a focus on the United Nations response did not take away attention from the perpetrators, and the need to bring them to justice and stop impunity.  The Government’s responsibility to protect must also not be forgotten.

In any case, there was as yet no information available from the United Nations investigation, she said, so it was too early to judge peacekeeper’s actions.  It was clear, however, that the 80 peacekeepers in the area, which covered over 300 square kilometres, could not be everywhere.  That was not to say that warning signals could not have been picked up.  It was important, therefore, for women to be able to send signals, and for peacekeepers to be able to respond.  But to believe that the peacekeepers could protect all women all the time was simply not realistic.

Addressing the matter of the slow reporting of the incident to her office, she said that part of the follow-up had to be to ensure that such reporting was immediate.  She added that her office had been hampered in reaching full staffing because it was not included in the regular budget, which she hoped would be redressed by the Fifth Committee in the fall.  She admitted as someone new to the system, that she found it surprising that an initiative could be launched without funding assured. 

In regard to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said, dialogue must continue to engage the Government to resolve issues of protection, accountability, and security sector reform.  There were no short cuts that could compel the Government to carry out the many reforms needed, including holding military personnel accountable for rape.

On the economic factors involved in sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said it was clear that sexual violence was a cheap and effective weapon to terrorize whole populations into submission.  In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the purpose was often to gain control over mineral wealth, she acknowledged, and it could be helpful to establish a global system governing mineral exploitation.  She said that she had not yet been to Rwanda, but was hoping for dialogue on civilian protection with, and between, all countries in the area. 

As far as follow-up to the investigation was concerned, she said it was up to the Security Council to keep the issue on their agenda and determine the next course of action.  In addition, it was important to encourage follow-up on the part of the Government and possibly the International Criminal Court, as well.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.