Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
I wish to begin by acknowledging the leadership of Germany and the personal commitment of His Excellency the Foreign Minister Mr. Heiko Maas for hosting this Open Debate;
I am proud to join two of the heroes of our common cause, Ms. Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege, recipients of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, who give voice to the survivors of this heinous crime. Their award is a triumph of all survivors;
Allow me also to thank Ms. Inas Miloud for being here to amplify the voices of indigenous women affected by sexual violence in conflict;
As well as Ms. Amal Clooney for her presence today.
In the 10 years since the establishment of this mandate by the Security Council, a crime that has often been called ‘history’s greatest silence’ has seized the consciousness of the international community and global action has escalated in an unprecedented way.
This Council has played a critical role by recognizing that the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and terrorism constitutes a fundamental threat to international peace and security, and that it requires a focused and strategic security and justice response to prevent such crimes, as well as comprehensive services for survivors.
Although stigma and other social barriers contribute to chronic under-reporting of sexual violence, we now understand much more about its many forms, drivers, and impacts, and about the devastating physical, psychological, and social burdens survivors bear.
In the past decade, prevention of sexual violence has been incorporated in peace agreements and ceasefire verification frameworks, and Governments and Regional Organizations have signed Joint Communiques and Frameworks of Cooperation with the United Nations as a basis for joint action. Technical assistance has been provided to national security and justice sector actors to strengthen accountability. UN peacekeepers are receiving more consistent training to improve operational readiness to prevent sexual violence in conflict.
Still, after a decade of concerted attention and action, the reality that we must face is that the implementation of resolutions, policies, agreements and commitments remains slow, and that criminal accountability for these crimes remains elusive. We have not yet improved the situation on the ground in a sustained, meaningful way. Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls.
Sexual violence, in its destruction of the individual and the pervasive way it undermines the prospect of peace and development, casts a long shadow over humanity. It is used precisely because it is such an effective means to target individuals and devastate entire communities. Sexual violence fuels conflict and severely impacts the prospects for lasting peace.
Victims are often targeted on the basis of their actual or perceived ethnic, religious, political or clan affiliation. When I visited South Sudan last year I was horrified by the sheer brutality of the sexual violence, perpetrated along ethnic lines against women and girls, even children as young as 4 years. I met with communities who had arrived only days before in the Protection of Civilian site in Juba, having fled attacks in Western Equatoria. They were utterly shell-shocked, describing the reign of terror, the scale and brutal methods used, including gang rape and abductions for sexual slavery.
Sexual violence persists as part of the broader strategy to displace communities, expel an undesirable group, or seize contested land or resources. It continues to function as both a driver and result of forced displacement. In Cox’ Bazar in Bangladesh, I met with Rohingya women and girls who described a pattern of widespread atrocities including gang rape, committed as part of military “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State, in Myanamr.
In Libya, we have seen that new or exacerbated vulnerabilities can develop in the course of migration, giving rise to rape, trafficking, and sexual exploitation and abuse among those who, once displaced, find themselves without access to resources or legal status. The despair wrought by conflict often gives rise to further abuse in the name of protection. Imagine a desperation so raw that parents would marry their daughter off to one stranger to spare her rape by many.
In Iraq, I met women abducted by Daesh – including Yezidi, Turkmen Shia and Christian women – who face heart-breaking choices of leaving their children born of conflict-related sexual violence behind in order to gain acceptance back into their communities; or else not returning home at all because they could not bear to abandon their children. Such children may number in the thousands after protracted conflicts in Bosnia, Colombia, Syria, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, the DRC and in West Africa. Their marginalization and lack of legal status represents a global peace and security concern as they are especially vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment by armed groups.
In Maiduguri, Nigeria, I met with women and girls who had escaped from Boko Haram. Sitting in a room with dozens of them, I counted so many babies in their arms. I was shocked when they told me that they were better off with their Boko Haram captors. Because from being abducted and raped by one man, now they were being subjected daily to sexual violence in the camps and having to sell their bodies to feed their children. It is essential that victims of sexual violence by terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, Daesh or Al Shabab are able to return in dignity and that services are provided for them, rather than being treated as affiliates or intelligence assets.
This is all the more critical when we consider how such groups are using sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism, as a means of advancing political, military and economic objectives. They have used sexual slavery and forced marriage as part of the system of punishment and reward through which they consolidate power and build a world order cast in their own image and beliefs.
Everywhere I have traveled I have seen that survivors are not a homogeneous group, and that they require tailor-made services and interventions. This includes women, who are disproportionately affected in every conflict zone; children who are increasingly targeted as a way to destroy the future of communities; men and boys who often endure sexual violence in the context of detention and interrogation; women’s human rights defenders and journalists who report sexual violence; or members of LGBTI communities who have been targeted on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The urgency to ensure comprehensive health services for all survivors, including sexual and reproductive health, as well as psychosocial and legal support, could not be more acute. This is at the heart of the survivor-centered approach that the Secretary-General articulates in his recommendations, and the central pillar of the strategic priorities that I have established since taking Office.
Yet, if we are ever to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place, we must confront the unacceptable reality that it is still largely ‘cost-free’ to rape a woman, child or man in armed conflicts around the world. To turn the tide, we must increase the cost and consequences for those who commit, command or condone sexual violence in conflict. We must convert a centuries-old culture of impunity into a culture of accountability.
Therefore, we must prioritize deterrence and prevention through justice and accountability.
One of the critical challenges going forward will be how to ensure compliance with international law and the resolutions of this Council of parties to conflict who are listed year after year by the Secretary-General. Of the 49 parties listed this year, 36 non-state actors have made no commitment to prevent sexual violence, and most of them have now been listed for 6 years or more. If these parties perceive that there is neither scrutiny nor consequences for their actions, they will have no ‘incentive’ to cease violations. I urge the Security Council to consider additional targeted measures that may be undertaken to apply pressure on these parties.
At the same time, an approach that places survivors at the center of all our actions requires a holistic concept of justice and accountability, ensuring that survivors receive the livelihood support that they require to rebuild their lives, as well as reparations that are the obligations of States under international law. Therefore, I wish to emphasize the recommendation of the Secretary-General for Member States to give due consideration to the establishment of a survivor’s fund.
Finally, we must recognize that civil society organizations in situations of conflict all around the world continue to be the most important protection actors on the front-lines. It is imperative that we support a broad range of such civil society actors as central to our overall prevention strategies.
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
I wish to express my appreciation to the members of the Security Council for your serious deliberation of the platform of recommendations of the Secretary-General. The draft resolution put forward by Germany on that basis would represent a significant step forward in terms of strengthening justice and accountability and adopting a survivor-centered approach in all our interventions
The acute vulnerability of so many women, children and men to sexual violence in conflict situations around the world must now crystalize our resolve into clear action to prevent these crimes. It is essential that we translate promises into practice, and resolutions into solutions. It is time to bring these crimes, and those who commit them, into the spotlight of international scrutiny and to send a clear message that the world will not tolerate the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and terrorism.