I thank the organizers for shining the spotlight on a crime -which just over a decade ago was one of history’s most silenced and least condemned. I am in awe of the talented cast, who so vividly depicted the brutality and devastation of sexual violence in conflict. The trauma captured in this play is sadly, as relevant today in 2021, as it was eleven years ago when the play originally opened in 2010, just one year after the creation of my mandate by the UN Security Council. Yet, sexual violence is not an inevitable byproduct of conflict.  It is a preventable crime.

My mandate currently covers 19 conflict and post conflict countries where widespread sexual violence remains a devastating reality and is a very effective, cheap and silent weapon with long lasting effect on societies and communities.In spite of the chronic underreporting of cases, now compounded by the COVID 19 pandemic, in 2020, out of the 19 country situations, the highest number of cases was registered in the DRC (1,079 cases).

This play actually depicts what I have heard from survivors and seen in warzones around the world. Sexual violence does leave survivors feeling “ruined” as they are left alone and desperate.

The truth is that each survivor experiences conflict in a unique way and in order to truly address their needs, their voices must be heard and heeded.In line with the survivor-centred approach advocated by my Office, we must strive to provide tailored interventions that address the multiple consequences survivors face. Survivors I met in Goma, eastern DRC, most of whom were afflicted by the double tragedy of rape and rejection by their husbands and community, stressed how their physical security was linked with their economic empowerment, and requested financial support through micro-credit programmes. I understood how economic support fosters self-sufficiency, self-esteem, and resilience, which in turn reduces their exposure to risk, and bolsters their perceived worth and value in the eyes of their community.

Everywhere, what survivors ultimately demand is to be respected and treated with dignity. The difference between recovery and “ruin” is whether survivors are provided with services and support that enable them to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

The testimony of Salima in Act Two, who shares the horrific details of how she was raped by multiple soldiers and held as a sexual slave for five months reminds me of countless similar accounts from survivors in other countries- from Myanmar to South Sudan or Iraq. The fact is that conflict-related sexual violence does not occur in a vacuum, but has a direct correlation with factors such as: militarization; mass population displacement; natural resource exploitation; conflicts over land and ethnic identity; and the weakening of state authority, including the collapse of security and justice institutions.

Everywhere the consequences for survivors are severe: including increased marginalization and poverty; life-long mental and physical suffering, including trauma, fistula, infertility and deadly infections.  Ruined showcases how sexual violence demoralizes and dehumanizes victims and the communities to which they belong. It is therefore imperative to put survivors’ voices at the centre of all response efforts intended to protect them and promote their wellbeing.

Although we have a long way to go to eliminate the scourge of sexual violence, we have achieved a lot in one decade. While justice remains elusive for many, some progress in the fight against impunity must be acknowledged such as in the DRC or South Sudan. In DRC, we have seen some landmark prosecutions and convictions in 2019 and 2020 for crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery.  Today the United Nations system is reaching and supporting thousands of survivors who had once been invisible and inaccessible. However, COVID-19 is revealing the fragility of hard-won progress especially as resources are redirected to the prevailing public health emergency. My office is striving to ensure that gains are not rolled-back or reversed.

Let me end by acknowledging that art is a powerful tool for raising awareness about the devastating reality of women caught in the midst of men’s wars, and fostering empathy with the plight of survivors in conflict zones who are too often invisible and inaccessible. Art has the power to deepen understanding of the emotional truths of war, as experienced by the women and girls whose bodies have, for too long, been part of the battlefield. I salute the resilience and defiance of those survivors, as depicted in the play, and  hope that the message of this powerful production will contribute to galvanizing change on the part of armed actors in contemporary theatres of war, who pursue power at any cost, as well as political leaders on the world stage, who have the power to prevent and punish these crimes.

Thank you.