Excellencies, distinguished participants, co-panelists, ladies and gentlemen,
I thank the Government of Iraq for inviting me to speak at today’s event. I also thank the Government of Germany, UN Women, and the Grace Initiative for co-hosting the event.
In 2016, during the height of the fighting with Da’esh, the Government of Iraq became the first country in the Arab world to sign a Joint Communiqué with the United Nations on the Prevention and Response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in the framework of implementing Security Council resolution 2106. The signature of the Joint Communiqué by the Government was and remains a recognition of the devastation Da’esh caused to all components of the Iraqi society through conflict-related sexual violence. It is also a recognition of the importance of providing accountability and services to survivors as well as preventing these crimes from ever happening again. I am grateful that the new Government formed by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi will remain steadfast in the implementation of the Joint Communiqué, as well as Prime Minister Barzani at regional level.
I assumed Office as the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict on 12 June 2017 and, two weeks later, I went to Berlin to meet Yazidi women living in Germany as part of the Special Quota Project of the State of Baden-Wurttemberg. I take this opportunity to again commend the Government of Germany which took in over 1,000 Yazidi women and girls who were at acute risk from Da’esh with the aim of granting them special status in Germany while allowing their return to Iraq so they did not have to permanently abandon their ancestral homelands. I also had the opportunity thereafter to go to Iraq at the invitation of the Government to meet with survivors, civil society and government officials and I went to Baghdad, Mosul, Erbil and Dohuk. During that mission, I saw first-hand the devastation Da’esh brought to Iraq. The accounts I have heard from Iraqi women and girls who spent years in captivity with Da’esh shook me to my core. These women and girls spoke of being traded as slaves and raped by multiple perpetrators. Da’esh created an intricate system to regulate their sale and keep them in captivity to extend and populate their so-called caliphate. Da’esh not only committed the transnational crime of terrorism, but the most serious of crimes under international law including war crimes, crimes against humanity and potentially acts of genocide.
The needs of women and girls are and remain great in Iraq. As we speak, there are still thousands of women and girls that remain missing as a result of Da’esh’s crimes and who urgently remain to be found. Almost every woman and girl that spoke to me had family members missing and were seeking information as to their whereabouts and potential return.
Women and girls in Iraq who have suffered from Da’esh’s crimes still remain in need of medical and psychological care, livelihood support, safe housing and shelter, and the integration of children who may have been born due to rape by Da’esh. The Iraqi Government committed in the Joint Communiqué to reintegrate survivors and their children and provide services to survivors. I welcome the Implementation Plan that has been developed by the Iraqi Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to fulfil these commitments. It is absolutely imperative that these commitments are supported as part of the reconstruction of Iraq because, without these basic needs being met, there can be no reconciliation within and among communities. It is my hope and expectation that the Implementation Plan can be harmonized as part of Iraq’s new national Action Plan on women, peace and security to reduce duplication and enhance delivery. My Office remains committed to assist the Iraqi Government in these efforts and I hope that the international community helps Iraq meet the scale of the challenge including through providing resources and capacity building. More importantly, all those working on reconstruction must commit to rebuild lives and not only infrastructure.
During my mission to Iraq I saw seeds of hope and rebuilding. To that end, none of the survivors of Da’esh’s sexual violence should be considered passive victims, but rather as agents of change for their society. They must be active participants in the reconstruction of Iraq and their local communities, and indeed many of these survivors have spoken loudly and clearly about the need to combat Da’esh. Now that Da’esh has been defeated on the battlefield in Iraq we all globally have a significant debt to repay to these brave women.
I also do not believe reconciliation in Iraq can be possible without holding Da’esh accountable for their crimes. Many of the women I spoke to who suffered sexual slavery by Da’esh were eager for justice. And they want to see justice in a court of law against members of Da’esh not simply for the crime of terrorism, but for the sexual violence committed against them as individuals, as women, on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. Accountability returns agency to survivors. To date, there has been no conviction of any ISIL perpetrator anywhere in the world for sexual violence crimes that we all have borne witness to, despite the many trials for terrorism being carried out. We must commit to changing this. I call on the Government of Iraq to try Da’esh perpetrators not only for the crime of terrorism but also for the sexual violence crimes they have committed, in accordance with due process of law. This is the only way to acknowledge fully the suffering Da’esh inflicted on Iraqi women and girls.
Finally, we must also honor the sacrifice of the victims of Da’esh by ensuring these crimes never happen again. In the Joint Communiqué, the Government of Iraq committed to reform its legal framework on addressing sexual violence crimes. I believe Iraq can show true leadership by updating its criminal law on sexual violence to meet international standards, as we have seen with other countries in the region. One significant step would be to abolish the provision of the Iraqi criminal code that allows perpetrators of rape to marry their victim in order to quash a criminal proceeding against them in Article 398 of the Iraqi criminal code. I hope we can commit at this gathering of the Commission on the Status of Women to support Iraq in making these needed reforms.
How better to ensure that we counter Da’esh ideology of degrading women by improving women and girls’ legal status and protection in Iraqi society?
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge that Iraq faces in its reconstruction. But what gives me hope is the numerous Iraqi women and men who want to see their society change in the wake of Da’esh. I sincerely believe that the Government and people of Iraq can rise to the challenge of ensuring every woman and girl is protected, supported, and become leaders in their communities and their country. Iraq can have peace and security but it will only be durable peace if women and girls are included as full participants in their society.