Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me at the outset to extend my sincere thanks to my esteemed friend and former colleague, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, for the invitation to participate in this event to discuss the important guidance provided by GR 35 and address the remaining challenges in preventing and combating gender-based violence against women, both in conflict and non-conflict settings.
Since I took office as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, one of my strategic priorities for the mandate has been to address the root causes of conflict-related sexual violence, with gender inequality and discrimination as its invisible driver.
In all countries covered by my mandate, we see how structural gender inequalities and discrimination are exacerbated in conflict and post-conflict situations, placing women and girls at a heightened risk of various forms of sexual and gender-based violence. This continuum of violence requires a holistic response that focuses on the advancement of substantive gender equality before, during and after conflict, and takes into account the survivors’ diverse experiences of conflict and specific needs. It is in this context that in July 2018 my Office signed a Framework of Cooperation with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, marking a first collaboration between a Security Council mandated body and a human rights mechanism.
I would like to highlight some of the synergies between my mandate and the key elements of GR 35 and provide some examples on how my Office works with national authorities, civil society and other actors in addressing these challenges. Some of these elements are also connected to GR 30 on “Women in Conflict Prevention, Conflict and Post Conflict Contexts”, which called for a concerted and integrated approach to ensure that gender equality becomes integral to conflict prevention, peacebuilding, post-conflict reconstruction and accountability.
Despite the recognition that conflict-sexual violence is a threat to international peace and security, and despite important normative and institutional advances over the past ten years at the international level, the reality that confronts us today is that sexual violence continues to be used a tactic of war, terrorism, torture and repression, with parties to conflict seeking to gain strategic military advantage, advance their ideological and political agendas, and profit from human trafficking. While the majority of perpetrators are non-State actors, in some contexts, national security actors – those very institutions that bear the primary responsibility to protect their population – are also responsible for those crimes. GR 35 in this context clearly defines different levels of liability of States for acts and omissions committed by its agents or those acting under its authority and for failing to act with due diligence to prevent and protect women and girls from violence, including violence perpetrated by non-State actors, and ensure access to remedies for survivors.
To address this issue in a way that promotes national ownership and engages States’ responsibility in line with their international obligations, my Office has put emphasis on developing specific, time-bound commitments, expressed in the form of Joint Communiqués or Frameworks of Cooperation. Thus far, such agreements have been signed with the Governments of the Central African Republic, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Mali, Myanmar, Iraq, Somalia and South Sudan. These agreements establish priority areas for a holistic approach to prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence – in areas such as accountability, reparations, access to justice, legal reform, commitments by defence and security forces, and provision of comprehensive services – and specify the national institutions and actors who commit to take action. I have made it a priority to reflect in these agreements that all actions be integrated in the context of wider, national efforts on gender-based violence, so that the response to sexual violence contributes to the transformation of preexisting structural gender inequalities and thereby enables the consolidation of more inclusive democratic societies. Just two weeks ago, for example, I signed a Joint Communiqué with the Malian Government, which included, as key priority areas, the acceleration of the implementation of the National Strategy on Gender-Based Violence and the full and effective participation of women in the implementation of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.
I would like to highlight an important aspect highlighted in GR 35 that is also critical for my mandate – namely, the need to change social norms and stereotypes that condone such violence or put the blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Across most conflict and post conflict settings, victims express reluctance to report their experiences due to stigma, fear of reprisal or rejection by their families and communities. Limited capacities to investigate conflict-related sexual violence, paired with frequently deep-rooted gender biases to women and girls, can also impede the effectiveness and sensitivity of investigative and judicial authorities. Even when medical and psychosocial services may be available, survivors often do not seek care due to threats to their lives, stigma, community pressures or lack of availability or awareness about services. HIV-related stigma and discrimination often have profound implications for HIV prevention, care and support. In this context, my Office is also paying particular attention to the stigma faced by children born of rape, who often suffer a lifetime of marginalization and vulnerability, including to recruitment by armed groups.
As we celebrate this year the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the sexual violence in conflict mandate, it is my firm conviction that the comprehensive and multi-sectoral response to this scourge must be anchored on addressing gender inequality and discrimination as the root causes of sexual violence in times of war and peace. This requires the full compliance of Member States with their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
I look forward to continuing to strengthen the synergies between our respective mandates to ensure a better understanding of the gendered impact of conflict so that we can provide a more comprehensive and more coordinated approach to the guidance we are providing to Member States to enable their full compliance with their international obligations.