Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings.
I sincerely wish I could have attended your seminar in person, but I am nevertheless delighted to be able to contribute through this video message.
I would like to start by commending Deutscher Frauenring for hosting this seminar at a time when we are striving to bridge the declared intent of international policymaking with the reality of domestic action in many corners of the world.
While it is easy to be frustrated at the slow rate of change, it is also important that we recognize our successes. Regarding my mandate, it was exactly a decade ago, that the Security Council adopted the groundbreaking resolution 1820 which elevated the issue of conflict-related sexual violence on its agenda, to a threat to security and an impediment to the restoration of peace. The recognition of the fact that such incidents are not random or isolated but integral to the operations, ideology and economic strategy of a range of state actors and non-State armed groups, marked a shift in the classic security paradigm.
Through successive resolutions, the Council has called for a complete halt to sexual violence in conflict zones. The issue has since been included in an increasing number of peacekeeping mandates, designation criteria of sanctions regimes, training curricula of security sector institutions, mediation processes and jurisprudence of national and international tribunals.
Unfortunately, the significant normative progress is not yet matched by facts on the ground. The rise or resurgence of conflict and violent extremism, with the ensuing proliferation of arms, mass displacement and collapse of the rule of law, continue to trigger patterns of sexual violence with wars being fought on and over the bodies of women. The effects of such sexual violence echo across generations, through trauma, stigma, poverty, poor health and unwanted pregnancy.
Since I took office in June 2017, I met with survivors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Maiduguri in North East Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Iraq, Darfur, South Sudan. In many of these conflicts, sexual violence continues to be employed as a tactic of war, terrorism, torture and repression including the targeting of victims on the basis of their actual or perceived ethnic, religious, political or clan affiliation with women and girls being used as sexual slaves, human shields and suicide bombers.
Despite increased awareness of the issue, many incidents of mass rape continue to be met with mass impunity. To date, not a single member of ISIL or Boko Haram has been prosecuted for offences of sexual violence. At the same time, all the survivors I met have expressed a thirst for justice. My strategic priorities for the mandate are firstly: converting cultures of impunity into cultures of deterrence through justice and accountability; secondly addressing structural gender-based inequality and discrimination as the root cause and invisible driver of sexual violence in times of war and peace; and thirdly fostering national ownership and leadership for a sustainable, survivor-centered response, that empowers civil society and local women’s rights defenders.
Accordingly, it is survivors’ diverse needs and experiences that drive all my strategies and interventions.
In an era when armed extremist groups place the subordination of women at the top of their agenda, our response to place the empowerment of women and girls at the top of our agenda. Women are powerful actors in sustaining peace in their communities. It is therefore critical that we achieve a shift from the ad-hoc inclusion of women in peace processes to making women’s leadership a norm.
The history of wartime rape has been a history of silence and denial. We cannot give up. We must keep the searchlight of international scrutiny on this historically-hidden crime.
Ending sexual violence requires us to harness the energies, skills and resources of all key actors – Member States, regional organizations, the media, civil society and youth. It is in that spirit that my Office has broadened its collaboration with a range of stakeholders.
Since taking office, I have established a Civil Society Advisory Group. I have signed a Framework of Cooperation with the UN CEDAW Committee. Last week, in the margins of the Francophonie Summit, I signed a Framework of Cooperation with OIF. Last month, I was in Addis Ababa to actively engage with the African Union with whom my Office has signed a Framework of Cooperation.
Wartime rape is preventable, and not inevitable. Addressing it is our collective responsibility. The survivors are watching and waiting – we cannot afford to fail them.
It is critical for all of us to send a clear message that we stand united in the aim of creating an environment that heals, supports and empowers women and girls, and all survivors of sexual violence, in all aspects of their lives.
I wish to commend the efforts undertaken by community leaders, civil society, public institutions and survivors themselves to break the silence that has historically surrounded this issue and shielded the perpetrators from justice. On behalf of my Office, you can rest assured of my continued partnership, political advocacy and support.