Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues,
I thank NATO for the invitation to this workshop. I am also grateful for the inclusion of my Office in the Expert Advisory Panel tasked to support the development of NATO’s new Policy on Preventing and Responding to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. My Office stands ready to ensure synergy of action and effort at all levels– political, strategic and operational.
Today, we are faced with the stark reality that while significant normative progress has been made on this agenda over the past decade, sexual violence tragically persists as part of 21stCentury wars. Spoilers to the peace continue to treat women’s bodies as the spoils of war. Sexual violence as a tactic of war and terror, a tool of political repression, and a driver of forced displacement, is still met with staggering rates of impunity and recidivism. This breeds further violence and undermines social cohesion.
The Annual Report of the Secretary-General, compiled by my Office, covers 19 situations of concern and lists more than 50 State and non-State parties that systematically commit these crimes. National security actors – the very institutions entrusted with protecting their populations – are often among the worst perpetrators. That is why, over the years, my mandate has prioritized engagement with the security sector to proactively prevent and address this scourge, as an integral part of gender-responsive security sector reform.
Since the establishment of my mandate by the United Nations Security Council in 2009, we have witnessed a fundamental transformation in the way this problem is understood, and accordingly the manner in which it is addressed. Having long been history’s greatest silence and the world’s least-condemned crime of war, sexual violence is now viewed as a self-standing threat to international peace and security, which therefore requires an operational security response, combined with access to justice and services for survivors.
This shift in paradigm and perspective has served to expand the circle of stakeholders beyond traditional gender experts, to also engage and activate the full range of civilian protection actors, including: multilateral security institutions such as NATO; uniformed peacekeepers; conflict mediators; ceasefire monitors; war crimes prosecutors; military justice officials; and practitioners in the fields of disarmament and security sector reform. It has also expanded our understanding of peace and security to include the perspectives and experiences of women. Indeed, in many ways sexual violence challenges conventional notions of what constitutes a security threat. It is often invisible in disarmament processes and ceasefire monitoring; it is low cost yet high impact; and predominates in homes, fields, camps, compounds and prisons, which may be far from the ‘battlefield’.
Since 2008, a robust normative framework has evolved at the global level through a series of groundbreaking Security Council resolutions aimed to combat conflict-related sexual violence as a war crime, crime against humanity, and/or constituent act of genocide. These resolutions have brought new tools to bear to compel compliance with international law, such as the imposition of sanctions and targeted measures, essentially putting in place a prevention framework.
This framework not only sets out a problem, but also presents a transformative solution. The first operative paragraph of resolution 1820 (2008) states that: “Effective steps to prevent and respond to acts of sexual violence can significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security”. This is a recognition that addressing sexual violence advances the cause of collective security, as well as gender equality. Indeed, the resolutions make clear that sexual violence must be excluded from the scope of amnesty provisions and addressed in transitional justice processes, or there will be no peace or peace of mind for women.
The most recent resolution, 2467 adopted in 2019, marks the first articulation by the Security Council of the imperative of pursuing a survivor-centered approach in all prevention and response efforts. Such an approach recognizes that survivors are not just stories or statistics; their lived experience must guide the search for solutions, including strategic decisions about policy and resource allocation. In order to deliver security solutions that serve entire populations, we must be alert and attuned to the diverse realities of all survivors, noting they are not a homogenous group.
In October 2019, I commemorated the ten-year anniversary of my mandate by holding a Survivors’ Hearing at UN Headquarters in the spirit of bridging political leaders on the world stage with frontline actors in theatres of war, and connecting the treetops of high diplomacy with survivors at the grassroots. In shaping our forward agenda, we must stand guided by their perspectives and amplify their voices. I welcome the platform given to survivors and civil society experts at this workshop today, in line with a survivor-centered, rights-based approach.
From the United Nations perspective, we are encouraged by the fact that the NATO Military Guidelines on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, endorsed by the nations in 2016, not only cross-referenced the framework of relevant Security Council resolutions, but also went a step further by making explicit reference to NATO’s role in reinforcing the compliance regime they create. These Guidelines, which will be complemented by the forthcoming Policy, provide a concrete framework to deepen the engagement between NATO and the UN.
Specifically, there is significant potential for an enhanced NATO contribution to the Security Council-mandated Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Arrangements on CRSV, which aim to provide timely information on incidents, patterns and trends as an evidence-base for advocacy and remedial action. I am confident that the new NATO Policy will facilitate enhanced information sharing, including on emerging threats and early-warning indicators.
Where appropriate, NATO operations can also play a critical role in facilitating engagement between the United Nations and parties to conflict in order to obtain protection commitments and concrete undertakings to cease all forms of sexual violence and put risk-mitigation measures in place.
The United Nations is currently working on the basis of such political and protection commitments in several priority settings (the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the DRC, Guinea, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan). These frameworks generate action plans focused on enhancing internal discipline and accountability, typically through the issuance and enforcement of command orders prohibiting sexual violence, zero-tolerance policies, and the training and mentoring of military justice actors to investigate and prosecute such crimes. Indeed, ensuring that those who commit, command or condone sexual violence are duly held to account is an essential aspect of prevention and deterrence. UN and NATO mentoring, training and advisory missions can be mutually-reinforcing in this regard. In some cases, we have seen the signing of undertakings by commanders to reinforce their individual and superior responsibility, and the creation of specialized courts to address sexual and gender-based violence. Some of the armed forces we are working with have committed to make the signing of commitments a pre-requisite for promotion and deployment.
In addition, a number of non-State armed groups have issued unilateral communiqués and commitments in the framework of my mandate, notably in Mali and South Sudan.
As we embark on the third decade of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, and the second decade of the CRSV mandate specifically, we have a clearer sense of what the security sector response should entail, namely:
- Equal opportunity for women in terms of recruitment, promotion and retention in the armed and security forces;
- More effective preventive action by peacekeepers and other uniformed personnel on the basis of sound situational awareness informed by gender analysis;
- Vetting in the context of security sector reform to exclude perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence;
- Ensuring this issue is visible in DDR processes, conducted under UN or NATO auspices, as well as in ceasefire monitoring and verification, which is often undertaken by military personnel; and
- Putting internal disciplinary and accountability measures in place.
Protection means more than simply having military boots on the ground: it means being trained and configured in a way that enables outreach, connection and communication with affected communities and civilians at risk.
We also know that comprehensive and sustainable progress requires ownership on the part of national political and security sector leaders at the highest levels. In this regard, the concerted advocacy of the UN, NATO and other multilateral institutions with national authorities in affected countries, to foster ownership, leadership and responsibility, remains as urgent as ever.
It is my hope that these considerations will be reflected in NATO’s new CRSV Policy. Moving forward, it will be important to reinforce our strategic and operational relationship, particularly in contexts of common concern, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, where NATO is also actively engaged. For example, the NATO training and advisory mission for Iraqi forces represents an opportunity to build their capacity on the prevention of CRSV, in a manner consistent with the Joint Communiqué signed between the Government of Iraq and the United Nations in 2016. Moreover, the new Policy could encourage NATO missions in settings such as Afghanistan and Iraq to facilitate links between designated UN actors, such as the Security Council-mandated Women Protection Advisers (WPAs), and specific commanders and parties to conflict, both State and non-State actors, as contemplated in the 2016 NATO Military Guidelines.
The forthcoming Policy could also ensure that the issue of conflict-related sexual violence is explicitly reflected in NATO’s counter-terrorism strategies and approach, in line with the recognition that sexual violence is deployed as a tactic of terrorism by multiple violent extremist groups, as an integral aspect of their ideology, operations and financing. This has been articulated by the Security Council in resolutions 2242 (2015), 2331 (2016), and 2467 (2019), which condemn sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism, including trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation, which has been used to fund and fuel the operations of extremist groups, which reduce women and girls to an expendable currency in the political economy of war. This is relevant to NATO’s efforts to fight groups such as ISIL and the Taliban that have the oppression of women at their core.
The forthcoming policy will also complement NATO’s 2019 Policy on SEA, which is a matter of credibility and operational effectiveness for both of our organizations, which must model the highest standards of conduct, including in terms of treating local women as valued contributors to the consolidation of peace.
In terms of institutional collaboration, the Policy presents an important opportunity to call upon NATO’s Senior Enlisted Leaders, who are responsible for translating strategic-level decisions into operational instructions and training, to continue to address CRSV systematically, including in the context of their annual seminar. It would also be useful to add CRSV as a standing agenda item for future UN-NATO Staff Talks, as a way to track progress.
At this critical moment of overlapping and intersecting global crises, it is essential that we do not allow the political momentum and progress of the past decade to be rolled-back or reversed. Having been elevated onto the peace and security agenda, we must keep this issue high on our radar, and bring the full weight of the defense and security sector to bear. To that end, I look forward to the adoption of a robust new NATO Policy on CRSV, which will send a powerful signal to other militaries around the world. It will equip security personnel with clear guidance on translating best intentions into best practice, and hard-won commitments into compliance.