I will start with a question: how do we prevent or reduce the suffering of the victims of conflict-related violence? This is a question that we struggle with every day – I look at Zainab Bangura and the work that you are doing, and others around this room. And the question is of utmost importance for the UN and for all of us. It goes to the heart of our response in crisis situations. It goes to the heart of the principles and purposes of the UN. And it goes basically back to the ethical standards we want to set for human solidarity, men and women.
I often quote the first three words of the UN Charter – I will not show it to you as I usually do – namely: “We the peoples.” The preamble of the Charter goes on to reaffirm (and I quote) “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person” (end quote). These words have a profound meaning for all that we do as an organisation. They are to determine the direction and the priorities that should guide our efforts. They demand that we always place the human person, his or her well-being and rights, in the centre of our work.
Crimes and violence during conflicts have devastating effects. The harm and losses experienced by the victims and their families are very often irreparable. Lives lost cannot be recovered; physical and psychological scars cannot be erased. And thus we have a duty to help restore the dignity of the survivors. Efforts to combat impunity have to be supported by efforts to redress and rehabilitate the victims.
Sexual violence is a degrading and horrific human rights violation. It leaves profound and lasting wounds. It also poses particular challenges. Conflict-related sexual violence requires specialized skills of those who conduct investigations and prosecutions, and by those who provide victims with support.
The document that is being presented today aims to strengthen our response to these challenges. It sets out the international legal framework that applies to reparations for conflict-related sexual violence. It also develops the principles and operational guidelines that should guide our support to Member States in this area.
The rule of law is fundamental to the vision and aims of this organisation, and to the principles of the Charter.
Increasingly, the rule of law is understood as both an objective in itself and an instrument for achieving peace, development and human rights. The rule of law provides mechanisms to resolve conflicts peacefully. It helps build fair and equal societies where everybody can realize their human potential – and these are essential conditions for sustainable development. Both human rights and development are highly vulnerable when there is no reliable institutional, legal and political order.
Our efforts to promote peace and security, human rights and development are made more effective when we strengthen rule of law institutions, legal frameworks and access to justice. The rule of law provides us with the framework to ensure legitimacy and fairness.
The understanding that the rule of law affects each and every part of our efforts has led us to work hard to better coordinate the UN system, through the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group (RoLCRG) which I chair. The Group develops Guidance Notes issued by the Secretary-General on many aspects of the rule of law.
To date, the Secretary-General has issued Guidance Notes on rule of law assistance, justice for children, constitution-making processes, transitional justice, statelessness and the rule of law at the international level.
The drafting of this Guidance Note on Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence was ably led by UN Women and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I want to thank you and all others who contributed to this work, and I want to thank you for the commitment to this important cause.
And I look forward to the discussion today. I may have to leave a bit earlier than I expected – the situation in Gaza is not developing the way we had hoped this morning – but I particularly want to learn as much as possible about Member States’ experiences and I am very glad that Ambassador María Mejía is here to share some of the experiences of your own country and also you personally working with these issues. Your insights will provide valuable information on how we can better support efforts in this very important area.
And I think we should go to work with a combination of passion and compassion. Without passion nothing happens in life. Without compassion the wrong things happen. So all the best to you and let’s make sure that what we say in this room will be translated into the realities out there in the world.
Thank you very much.