Remarks at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Accountability for Conflict-related Sexual Violence

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
February 8, 2019


Madame Minister, thank you for joining us today, and thanks to Germany for convening this meeting, which the United States is pleased to co-host along with 11 other members of the Security Council. And thanks too to today’s briefers for their presentations.

The United States is strongly committed to preventing conflict related sexual violence and holding those responsible accountable.

This security issue requires the continued leadership and action of all member states and the United Nations as well.

Preventing sexual violence in armed conflict is a matter of international peace and security, and as such, it is an issue that belongs before the Security Council, as our United Kingdom colleague has mentioned.

As a deliberate tool, sexual violence is often used to erode and destroy the social fabric, which holds families and communities together. It can also be used as a purposeful tactic of war. It should be combatted and never accepted as an inevitable part of conflict.

All of us are responsible for responding to gender-based violence, including sexual violence, in conflict and crisis.

The United States has been a leader in this regard, and we continue to invest in survivor-centered diplomatic, foreign assistance and accountability efforts.

First, we are committed to bolstering a critical component of prevention: strengthening the framework for accountability and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable.

Second, ensuring survivors have access to the resources and services they need to heal and recover is the first step in addressing the trauma and stigma they experience, and securing the justice they deserve to support their well-being and to use their voices as agents of peace, live free from violence, fulfill their potential and have access to equal opportunities.

And lastly, our efforts focus not only on response, but include a unique commitment to prevent this form of violence in the first place. It’s essential that we promote safe communities and protect women and girls from all forms of gender based violence. This includes providing services, reducing risks, creating a secure environment, and changing the norms that exacerbate violence in conflict and perpetuate gender inequality.

In Burma, the United States condemns the security forces’ persistent pattern of using sexual violence against members of ethnic minority groups, most recently in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States. By conducting interviews with over a thousand Rohingya refugees, the State Department documented that nearly 40% of refugees witnessed the Burmese military or police commit a rape in 2016. The international community must demand accountability for these horrific crimes. To that end, we welcome the establishment of a UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which is mandated to prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings. We also call on the Burmese authorities to bring decades of conflict-related sexual violence to an end by holding perpetrators to account and undertaking security sector reform.

In the Central African Republic, the U.S. supports the operation of the Special Criminal Court, which will investigate conflict-related sexual violence and contribute towards justice for victims. The United States also supported Guinea-Bissau’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for crimes, including crimes of sexual violence, committed in that country during the 2009 stadium massacre. We condemn the extensive use of sexual violence by all parties to the conflict in South Sudan.

Countries where women are empowered, where girls complete their education, and where there is equal access to opportunity, are safer and more prosperous. It is no surprise that women’s empowerment is an essential part of building peace and prosperity and achieving gender equality.

The best long-term protection from sexual violence in conflict is building societies where women and girls are valued and their human rights are respected, with equal protections under the law. Women and girls must have timely access to justice and other support, as well as to the educational and leadership opportunities they deserve.

It’s not a question of whether we should act to end sexual violence in conflict; it’s an imperative of compassion, morality and security: we all must work together to reduce the risk of sexual violence.

Thank you for your attention.