Thank you Steve Letsike and thanks to all other panelists for sharing their experiences.
Since assuming office, my primary emphasis has been on engaging with survivors so they can share with me what works and does not work for them, and on ensuring that their needs and perspectives direct and drive our strategies and interventions.
When we talk about sexual violence in conflict, we have to first bear in mind that we are talking about:
- A crime that remains shrouded in stigma
- A crime that is most under-reported
- A crime for which survivors rarely receive justice.
What works to address sexual violence in conflict is to address the three above dimensions:
- Reversing the stigma
- Addressing the root causes of sexual violence including gender-based discrimination
- Replacing a culture of impunity by a culture of deterrence.
(What works 1 – How to reverse the stigma)
Shame and stigma are integral to the logic of rape when used as a war tactic. It is hence important to shift the stigma from the survivors to the perpetrators and to recognize survivors of sexual violence as victims of conflict.
Survivors endure multiple, intersecting stigmas in the wake of sexual violence, including the stigma of association with an armed or terrorist group, and of bearing children conceived through rape by the enemy. Often, these women and children are viewed as affiliates, rather than victims, of violent extremist groups. The divisive force of stigma prevents family reconciliation, in some cases leading to renewed displacement, with survivors fleeing to escape reprisals by their own relatives or communities. Stigma can also have lethal repercussions, including “honor killings”, suicide, untreated diseases (such as HIV), traumatic fistula, unsafe abortion, maternal mortality, and high-risk survival behavior.
A more operational response to stigma alleviation is hence needed.
Engaging religious and tribal leaders has led to positive outcomes in redirecting the stigma from survivors to perpetrators. In Iraq, for instance, my Office worked with Baba Sheikh, the Yazidi religious leader, who played a significant role in welcoming back survivors and supporting their reintegration in the Yazidi community. Similarly, Sunni religious authorities issued a fatwa last year to support the reintegration of victims of Daesh.
Ensuring that first responders and front-line workers, such as health professionals, are trained and equipped to address immediate needs of survivors through a survivor-centered approach, and without re-victimizing the victims, is also crucial.
Cross-learning from one situation to another, from one country to another should be further encouraged. For instance, in Guinea, we brought a team of health professionals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) led by Dr. Mukwege from the Panzi hospital. They trained Guinean doctors on how to deal with sexual violence. In the DRC, we also worked directly with the Government to develop a standard medical report and to waive fees to establish medical certificates for survivors of sexual violence. Similarly, in the area of forensic expertise, we ensure that both Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea can learn from Colombia. From Cox’s Bazar to Iraq, the psycho-social support available is far too limited and inadequate. However, notably, Germany’s Baden-Württemberg university has been partnering with Dohuk university in Kurdistan to develop a curriculum for trained Iraqi psychologists to deliver more specialized mental health and psycho-social support services.
(What works 2 – Addressing the root causes of sexual violence)
Secondly, I believe that a holistic approach is required based on the fundamental understanding that structural gender-based discrimination is the invisible driver of sexual violence crimes, both in times of war and peace. Women and girls are disproportionally affected by sexual violence due to their lack of economic and social capital and their lack of representation at all level of political powers.
Sexual violence both arises from, and reinforces, unequal gender relations, impeding the realization of women’s rights and freedoms.
From Mosul to Madiguri, from Goma to Cox’s Bazar, survivors are most of the time women and girls living in displacement camps, with no family support, widowed or rejected by their families, their physical security cannot be guaranteed without economic empowerment. On Monday, during the Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict I called on members of the Security Council to better address their response to gender-based violence (GBV) in humanitarian settings. The response to GBV, including livelihood programming, remains chronically underfunded, and we see, time and time again, how a lack of resources translates into a lack of protection.
(What works 3 – justice/accountability)
All survivors that I have met and spoken with have expressed a thirst for justice as urgent as their needs for psycho-social and livelihood support. They want to see the perpetrators punished. Therefore, the continued focus on accountability for crimes of sexual violence remains fundamental and essential. Accountability must become the rule and not the rare exception.
On Monday, for the very first time, the Myanmar Armed Forces were listed by the Secretary General in the annex of his Annual Report on Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Security Council has played a pivotal role in charting a path towards accountability. This has led to a gradual shift from a reality in which committing rape during conflict has been cost-free to one in which there are consequences for anyone who commits, commands, or condones such crimes. We have made some important gains but we have not yet reached the tipping point at which fear of accountability effectively restrains the behavior of perpetrators.
That’s why on Monday, during the Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict, I asked the Security Council to systematically and immediately incorporate sexual violence as a stand-alone criterion when adopting a new sanction regime. The Security Council should use sanctions – specifically the designation criteria and the subsequent listing of sanctioned individuals – to prevent and curb sexual violence in armed conflict. The sanction tools offer significant – and yet largely unexploited – potential to advance women’s protection from sexual violence. (Example of Canada and USA’s sanctions against Myanmar military).
In addition, my Team of Experts on Sexual Violence on Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict (TOE) works directly with national justice and security sectors to strengthen national capacity including to revise legislative framework. In Iraq, with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights we are supporting the domestication of International Law through the drafting of a new law on crimes against humanity and genocide. In the DRC, the TOE supported mobile courts in remote areas. In Guinea, my office funded experts to follow up on 7 indictments, including that of the former President, following the 28 September 2009 massacre and mass rapes.
Let me share with you the impact of just one case that my Team of Experts on Rule and Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict assisted with last year in a town called Kavumu in South Kivu Province. A former parliamentarian and members of his militia were brought to justice and found guilty of crimes against humanity and were given life sentences for the rape of 39 very young children. This trial brought an end to the serial rapes in Kavumu, and helped to disband a militia that was threatening local security.
To summarize, what I have just highlighted is actually the three-pillar priority agenda I outlined when I took office, namely:
– converting cultures of impunity into cultures of deterrence through consistent and effective prosecution;
– addressing structural gender-based inequality as the root cause and invisible driver of sexual violence in times of war and peace; and
– fostering national ownership and leadership for a sustainable, survivor-centered response, that empowers civil society and local women’s rights defenders.
Finally, we have emerging evidence, like in the situation of Colombia, that sexual violence in conflict directly impacts the nature and scale of intimate partner violence (IPV) against women and girls in post conflict situations, hence the necessity to address sexual violence in conflict to further prevent IPV in times of peace.