This statement is attributable to United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura.

(New York, 18 December 2015) I welcome today the unanimous adoption of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). A political solution is the only way to bring an end to the horrific human rights violations taking place in Syria, including the systematic use of sexual violence. Even as hope springs for peace, I reiterate my calls to all parties to the conflict in Syria to immediately refrain from the use of sexual violence which has been used as a tactic of war, a tactic of terrorism, and an instrument of torture.

The United Nations Secretary-General has called on the parties to take immediate and specific measures as a way to build confidence for the peace process. This includes stopping the use of indiscriminate weapons against civilians, such as “barrel bombs”, allowing unconditional and unimpeded access for aid convoys, halting attacks on medical and educational facilities, and lifting all restrictions on medical and surgical supplies from humanitarian convoys, and releasing all detainees.

In addition to these crucial steps, I urge the parties to commit to prevent and address conflict-related sexual violence and ensure that women, who have been disproportionally affected by this conflict, have a genuine voice and seats at the negotiation table.

I urge the parties to commit to the following confidence-building measures to protect women and girls:

First, given the acute risks and vulnerabilities of women and girls in detention facilities, including to sexual violence, it is crucial that regular access to them is granted and that due consideration is given for their immediate release. At the same time, they must receive medical and psychosocial support that they require and deserve.

Second, all parties to the conflict must make and implement specific and time-bound commitments to combat sexual violence, in accordance with Security Council resolutions 1960 (2010) and 2106 (2013) on sexual violence in conflict. They must issue orders through their chains of command to cease and prevent sexual violence, they must hold perpetrators to account, and they must facilitate access for survivors to the essential care they require.

When I visited the Middle East region this year, including Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, I was shocked and shaken to my core by the testimonies of Syrian women and civil society activists, many of whom have suffered and documented cases of sexual violence and torture in detention facilities run by the Syrian military and intelligence services. I visited one such centre in Damascus – the Kafr Sousa Detention Centre – which was mentioned often in the testimonies that I heard by Syrian women and activists who are now refugees in Turkey and Lebanon. The women detainees who I met there were not able to speak freely to me, but I saw the despair in their eyes, and saw with my own eyes how vulnerable they were in such a setting.

Therefore, it is crucial for the United Nations and other actors such as the International Committee for the Red Cross to have regular access to this and other detention facilities in Syria.

I call on President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian military and intelligence services to grant such access as a signal of commitment to the peace process.

I would also like to express my deep concern about the targeting of minorities for sexual violence, particularly by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other extremist groups. This includes religious and ethnic minorities, as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals who have also been systematically persecuted, sexually tortured and killed.

These violations are an affront to our collective humanity and must cease immediately. The perpetrators must be held to account.

I stand in solidarity with all the women, children and men who have been victims of sexual violence in the Syrian conflict. Your justice may be delayed, but it cannot be denied.

 

For media inquiries, please contact:

Paulina Kubiak, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Communications Officer in New York, +1 9173673819 or kubiakp@un.org.