Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by commending the Inter-Parliamentary Union, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and United Nations Officer of Counter-Terrorism for organizing this very First Global Parliamentary Summit on Counter-Terrorism. Today, as sexual violence is increasingly being used as “a tactic of terrorism” – from Iraq, Syria and Yemen in the Middle East to Somalia, Nigeria and Mali in Africa, I am grateful for this opportunity to address you on how Parliaments can support victims of terrorism and on the importance of addressing violence against women and girls as an integrated part in countering and preventing violent extremism.

This Summit is also timely as COVID-19 alters perceptions of safety and security for millions of women and girls in social isolation. The pandemic poses a significant threat to the maintenance of peace and security, with international, regional and national conflict resolution efforts and peace processes stalled on the one hand, as the world responds to COVID-19 and, on the other hand, terrorist groups seeing a window of opportunity to strike, while the attention of most governments is turned towards the pandemic.

Sexual violence is not an inevitable consequence of conflict, but a systematic and strategic tactic of war. The same litany of horrors are recounted by Yazidi women held captive by Daesh extremists in Iraq; by girls who fled from Boko Haram; by Somali women liberated from the Al-Shabab extremist group, and by women living under Al-Qaeda-linked militants in northern Mali.

I commend the organizers for shining the spotlight on sexual violence in conflict and its systematic use by terrorist groups which until recently, was very much ignored in discussions about countering terrorism and extremism. Despite extensive documentation of its strategic uses, sexual violence has largely been framed as an issue of protection of civilians and has, accordingly, been merely an afterthought in approaches to counterterrorism.

Since taking office as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, I have focused on many countries where conflict-related sexual violence has been used as a tactic of terrorism-Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Mali among others. I still recall the stories of unimaginable sexual violence against women and girls- sexual slavery, forced marriage, kidnapping, rape and other atrocities perpetrated by extremist actors in Al-Shabaab -controlled regions of Somalia. The stories of the Yezidis women, I met in the IDP camp in Mosul, Iraq remain indelible to me, and they are the same stories that shocked the conscience of the world. These women were reduced to slavery, sold in markets to members of ISIL based on age or perceived beauty, and raped and traded multiple times. I saw the very documents that turned these women from individuals into property. In Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria, in the crowded conditions of displaced persons camps, I met with hundreds of very young women who had been released from Boko Haram captivity holding their babies that were the result of their rapes by Boko Haram fighters. These young women were hit by the double tragedy of rape and rejection by their own families and communities.

The modus operandi of these terrorist groups depict how rape and other forms of sexual violence have become part of the very political economy of terrorism with women and girls becoming expendable currency. Terrorists raid, pillage, abduct, extort, ransom, trade, and traffic to supplement their personal micro-economies, while women suffer structural discrimination at the macroeconomic level, which reduces their resilience to financial and security shocks. Terrorist groups use rape, sexual slavery, and other forms of sexual violence to recruit new fighters; to terrorize communities into compliance and displace them from strategic areas; to torture and extract intelligence; to compel conversion and indoctrination through forced marriage; and to generate revenue through sex trafficking, slave trade, and ransoms. They use sexual violence because it is cheap and effective at displacing thousands of individuals from territory they seek to control, to change the demographic makeup of communities, and to humiliate and punish their adversaries. Rape is also a silent weapon. Few survivors speak out about it and accordingly, impunity prevails for perpetrators.

My message to you this morning is that addressing sexual violence is not only a question of protection. It is absolutely critical for you to understand and recognize the ways in which sexual violence supports and sustains terrorist groups and why combatting sexual violence should be a central part of effective counterterrorism response. For Parliaments to better shape prevention and response efforts and support survivors, it is important for you to understand the strategic benefits of using sexual violence and why sexual violence needs to be conceptualized as a strategy of terror and destruction rather than as an isolated act related to the warzone.

Parliaments can play a critical role in shaping both prevention and response efforts to sexual violence through legislation, oversight processes, budget allocation and advocacy. By working to combat sexual violence, you can seriously undermine one of the most effective destabilizing strategies of terrorist and extremist organizations. As ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and other terrorist actors systematically use women’s bodies in their efforts to spread fear and destabilize societies, you need to craft more nuanced responses that both address the impacts of sexual violence on women and communities and undercut the benefits accrued by terrorist groups.

Although over the past decades, many States have adopted or improved legislation to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict, significant gaps in legal frameworks persist and are most apparent in contexts where sexual violence has been committed by terrorist groups. Sometimes, national legal frameworks and social norms can even exacerbate these problems, as for example, in Afghanistan, where victims of sexual violence can be prosecuted for “moral crimes” and are at risk of murder through so-called honor killings.

You can and must address the multiple gaps in legislative frameworks. Robust laws are necessary not only to punish perpetrators of sexual violence but also to prevent new crimes and send a strong signal to would-be-perpetrators that it is no longer cost-free to commit such crimes.

Ending impunity by prosecuting sexual crimes is another critical first step. Did you know that not a single Islamic State militant has faced trial for sexual violence crimes against the Yazidis in Iraq and the same goes for crimes committed by Boko Haram?

My Office has recently published a model legislative guidance and provisions on the investigation and prosecution of conflict-related sexual violence, a practical tool that will allow Member States to build and bolster accountability frameworks at the national level.

The Legislative Guidance sets out crimes such as sexual violence as an act of genocide and sexual violence as an act of terrorism, reflecting the most advanced standards. This tool was prepared with survivors, and thus, it is about and for the survivors. This tool contains all those elements that are truly necessary to prosecute these crimes and empower the victims.

In addressing legislative gaps, Parliaments must also ensure that laws adopted are survivor centered; that they recognize survivors as rights holders who deserve respect, in addition to physical and legal protection, holistic medical and psychosocial support, reintegration and rehabilitation services, as well as restitution. Too often, victims of sexual violence by terrorist groups are seen as accomplices, as intelligences assets who are arrested, interrogated and detained. It is critical that survivors of sexual violence are recognized as legitimate victims of conflict and terrorism who are entitled to relief, reparations, and equality before the law.

The Guidance ensures that the justice system will not only “do no harm” but will actually “do it right.”
Victims and survivors of CRSV have been disempowered by the perpetrators, and putting them in the driver’s seat in the justice process puts the power back into their hands, where it belongs.
Victims and survivors deserve justice close to home; justice which involves and includes them; justice which empowers rather than sacrifices them; justice which honours their courage and respects their constraints; justice which considers their needs as a core consideration rather than an afterthought; justice which uplifts them rather than further victimises them; justice which paves the path for other victims to come forward; justice which is accessible, tangible, visible, and transformative.

I am deeply convinced of the potential that parliamentary action can bring to this agenda of countering terrorism. Adoption of these Model Legislative Provisions by parliamentarians in national jurisdictions can be a meaningful step toward fulfilment of the priorities set out in the Framework of Cooperation, which I signed with the IPU in June, in particular, the commitment to promote the adoption, review, and implementation of national legislation to promote and protect persons affected by, or at risk of, conflict-related sexual violence used as a tactic of terrorism.

Thank you.