Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the event to commemorate 10 years since the establishment of the Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, in New York today:
It is an honour to join you in commemorating the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the mandate on sexual violence in conflict.
Sexual violence in conflict has been called history’s greatest silence: the least reported, the least condemned. The creation of this mandate a decade ago reflected the UN’s commitment to highlight, prevent and seek justice for this crime. It also sent a clear message that the sexual violence that happens during times of upheaval and conflict is not the inevitable collateral of war, but a horrific violation of human rights and international law.
In the past decade, the United Nations has responded to the demands of victims and survivors by creating a global normative framework and a set of institutional arrangements — including Security Council resolutions, investigative mechanisms, reporting frameworks and the office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. Since Special Representative [Pramila] Patten took office in 2017, she has made a survivor-centred approach a main priority of her mandate. The presence of many victims and survivors in this room today demonstrates her commitment to this approach. Pramila, I would like to salute your leadership and commitment to the women survivors of sexual violence in conflict.
Over the past two years, together with Special Representative Patten and other Heads of United Nations entities, I have undertaken a series of solidarity missions with the African Union on women, peace and security and development. We have visited countries and regions where the challenges are especially acute, including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, the Sahel, Afghanistan and, just this past week, the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sudan. Through my meetings with survivors in many of these countries, I heard directly the profound consequences of sexual violence. The cost to individuals, families, communities and the social fabric is horrifying. And sadly, it carries through to next generations.
In my own country, Nigeria, I have witnessed the ways in which women and girls are targeted for abduction, forced marriage and sexual abuse by Boko Haram. This is not unique to Nigeria. Sexual violence has been a recurrent feature of recruitment by terrorist groups, who may promise marriage and sexual slaves to young men, treat women as the spoils of war, and in some contexts, use trafficking in sexual slavery as a form of revenue. These young women and girls are often failed by the justice system, but equally by the lack of services, support and reintegration options.
In South Sudan, we met with women who — when they left the relative safety of their refugee or IDP [internally displaced persons] camps to bring wood and water for their families — knew they were at high risk of being raped but had to weigh the alternative: If their male family members were to leave the camps, they would be killed. This is not a choice that any woman should have to make, ever. In the Horn of Africa, we met women escaping conflicts who were then abused or trafficked while fleeing. In the face of these stories, I am left with the same questions I’m sure each of you has: What drives an individual to such brutality? How is it that sexual violence continues to be perpetrated with almost complete impunity? And how can we better prevent the crime while supporting the short- and long-term needs of survivors?
It is clear that our actions have fallen behind our words and that resolutions and laws are only as useful as the political and financial commitment to implement them. Distinguished representatives of Member States, I call for your concrete action at all levels. If those who are most vulnerable — the victims of violence and abuse — are not heard, we will fail to uphold the core promise of the 2030 Agenda: to leave no one behind.
As a first step, we must continue to place survivors at the centre of our efforts. Decision-making, programmes and policies should be informed by those who know what is needed. The United Nations stands ready to support your efforts. Let us mark the next decade of this mandate by implementing international norms on the ground through tangible action that improves lives of all women. Let us work harder to put an end to sexual violence in conflict. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “it always seems impossible until it’s done”.