Mr. President, Members of the Security Council, Your Excellency Ambassador Téte, Permanent Observer of the African Union, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank the Security Council for this opportunity to brief you on my recent visit to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This undertaking, from July 19th to 27th, was the first of its kind: a high-level mission focused entirely on women, peace, security and development.
I was pleased to be joined by the Executive Director of UN Women and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict -- both of whom are here with me today – as well as the African Union Commission’s Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security.
We were four African women, from two organizations, visiting two countries, with one goal: advancing peace by advancing the equality, empowerment and well-being of women.
This reflects both the Secretary-General’s vision and the Security Council’s agenda, as embodied initially in resolution 1325 and reaffirmed most recently in resolution 2242.
The mission also deepened the partnership between the United Nations and the African Union as we work together to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 as well as the accompanying joint framework for enhanced partnership on peace and security signed in April at the initiative of the Secretary-General. I am pleased that the Permanent Observer from the African Union is briefing alongside me today, reinforcing the joint nature of this mission.
With this broad context, let me now share with you some of what we saw and heard – and some thoughts on what we must now do.
In both countries, we met with heads of state, ministers, donors, diplomats, faith leaders, Parliament and the United Nations Mission and Country Teams. We made a point of spending the lion’s share of our time with the women and girls most affected by conflicts, including through visits to camps for internally displaced persons.
While each country is unique, the situations share some commonalities.
Both have dismayingly low levels of women’s political participation and are experiencing conflicts marked by extremely high levels of sexual- and gender-based violence. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sexual violence is widespread. In northern Nigeria, abductions, forced marriage and the use of women as suicide bombers have taken a terrible toll, and in the camps sexual exploitation including in the form of sex for food is a new and alarming trend. The international community needs to better understand the role of women in development and peace building alongside the gender dimensions of conflict if our responses are to be effective.
Both countries are also in the grip of grave humanitarian crises.
In Nigeria, the eight-year conflict in the Northeast has generated a risk of famine, displaced 1.9 million people and left 8.5 million people in need of assistance.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 7 million people need assistance and 3.8 million are displaced -- the largest internally displaced population in Africa and one of the worst situations globally.
These dire circumstances are being made worse by the large gap in humanitarian funding including meeting the commitments made at the Oslo Humanitarian Conference. There is an acute need for sustained and scaled up funding to avert famine in Nigeria and address the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Beyond these immediate concerns, since both crises are rooted in conflict, poverty and political challenges, they will require regional political solutions and integrated responses that cut across historically siloed approaches.
Let me turn now to some of the specifics of each.
In Nigeria, we were moved by our meeting with the Chibok Girls facilitated by the Honourable Minister of Women Affairs. Their remarkable strength as survivors rather than victims is inspiring. Many are receiving education and psychosocial support to prepare them for reintegration. But thousands of other young women who have been abducted and returned, subjected to sexual violence and affected by conflict in other ways are still to receive adequate support. We also interacted with displaced women and girls who are facing exploitation and abuse in the camps. We held meetings with women leaders who underscored the need to address mental health and Women’s empowerment.
I commend the Governments of Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria for their efforts to promote stability, including through the Multinational Joint Task Force within the Lake Chad Basin Regional cooperation. International support will continue to be crucial in addressing the root causes of the crisis in very complex situations.
I am pleased to note that since our visit, the Acting President of Nigeria has established a Judicial Commission to investigate alleged violations of human rights by Nigerian security agencies, and to recommend ways to prevent such violations. I commend this initiative and encourage the relevant authorities to include sexual- and gender-based violence within the Commission’s work. The United Nations stands ready to support this important effort and also to reinforce protection measures for displaced women and girls.
The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains complex and volatile, with both state and non-stated armed actors perpetrating violence, illicit flows of natural resources and deepening political tensions, including over delayed elections. There are real risks of increased political instability and a deepening crisis if the 31 December 2016 agreement becomes irrelevant.
We are well aware of these and other challenges, yet we also see a real opportunity to get the country on track towards stability. In all of our meetings, we emphasized the need to respect and implement the 31 December agreement and the willingness of the United Nations to provide support. This endeavour will require deeper investment, not a scaling back of our capacities and resources. While it is imperative to ensure the most efficient use of available resources, particularly in a fiscally-constrained environment, it is equally critical that mitigating measures are taken to avail vulnerable populations the level of protection they need. In this respect, I commend MONUSCO for the steps taken to mitigate the possible impact of the closure of its bases in some locations and for its efforts to develop and implement a more holistic approach to protection of civilians.
We commend the efforts of the Government, including through the appointment of a Personal Representative of the President on sexual violence and child recruitment, to decrease incidents of conflict-related sexual violence committed by the security forces and to take real steps towards delisting from the Secretary-General’s reports on conflict related sexual violence. These efforts must continue, along with the United Nations’ support, until we reach zero.
At the time of our visit, the electoral commission had registered more than 80 per cent of voters. That number now stands at more than 90 per cent, with registration expected to be accelerated in the Kasais following the calming of tensions. Of those registered, 48 per cent are women, placing the country in the same bracket as more established democracies such as Solomon Islands and Paraguay. The collection of sex-disaggregated data is itself commendable. So is the provision on gender parity in the constitution, which now should be supported to be translated into laws.
In this regard, I had a lengthy conversation with President Kabila, who has committed to release an elections calendar and to hold elections that are violence-free and Congolese-led, but where international observers will be welcome. We welcome this commitment and look forward to the early release of the electoral calendar.
The UN-AU delegation met with women in Goma who were being moved as a result of the closing of an Internally Displaced Persons camp where they had lived for years in barely life sustaining conditions. Despite those hardships, some women did not want to return to their communities without assurances that a key means of support in the camps – micro-credit – would continue to be available. While it was not possible to delay closure of the camp, I am encouraged to note that our intervention made it possible for some of the women to remain in local communities and continue to be supported through micro-credit programmes. For these women, security is a matter of financial empowerment. I thank the donors that are generously supporting these efforts and call on all to do even more.
We also met with women who have no choice but to cook with coal in their tents, at great risk to their health and that of their children. These tents were their only shelter, and coal their only accessible mode of sustenance and heat.
We asked about the future of these women and their families as the camp closes, and were informed that the United Nations does not have the funds or capacity to shift from humanitarian assistance to support host communities or the reintegrated individuals. While we may debate the humanitarian-development nexus philosophically here in New York, without resources flowing to both sectors simultaneously and a real investment in early recovery, we can neither sustain peace nor prevent future gender based violence. In that spirit, I encourage donors to respond to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s reintegration challenges at this time based on need, and need alone.
While in the Democratic Republic of the Congo our delegation was briefed on MONUSCO’s investigation into the murder of two experts working for the United Nations. The report on this horrific incident, which I strongly condemn, is to be published shortly, and I would like to reiterate the need for thorough investigations and justice for the perpetrators of this crime. The United Nations will continue to support this effort until justice is served.
I would like to thank the many dedicated men and women with whom we met during our important and productive journey. In particular, the colleagues in MONUSCO, especially the women, whose work was greatly appreciated by all we met, as well as the United Nations Country Team in both countries and within them UN Women whose efforts to support the empowerment of women is so crucial. I am most grateful for the invaluable contribution from the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
I would also like to express my gratitude and thanks to the African Union as partners in progress. Their partnership is invaluable as we strive to continue to work together to stabilize the region, silence the guns, and achieve 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063.
One message resounds most: investing in women and girls must be central to our efforts in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and beyond if we are to have sustainable peace and development. Giving special consideration to the context will be key to responses that deliver the right results.
We look forward to working with national Governments, regional organizations, civil society, women and girls themselves, and international partners to deliver results that will advance peace, development and dignity for all.