Thank you. I especially want to thank our briefers today for their excellent work on the ground. I appreciate Poland very much for convening this important session at this important time. And like many of my colleagues today, I want to extend a special thanks to Evelyn Amony for sharing your story and for the important work that you are doing to restore the lives of victims. We couldn’t be more honored to have you here speaking with us today. And I agree with my colleagues who have said that we need more voices from the ground to help remind us why the work that we do here – which often becomes very detached from the reality on the ground and descends into arguing about commas and periods. And we often forget that we are talking about the real lives of real people who are affected by these conflicts. So thank you for reminding us.
Imagine being a Colombian boy whose middle name is “Colonel” because that’s the rank of the man who raped his mother. Imagine being a girl born in Iraq to a Yezidi mother, who was a sex slave to an ISIS father, born without documentation of her birth and with questions about her religion and identity. Imagine being a Somali child ostracized by her grandparents and cast away along with her young mother, who is practically a child herself. Imagine the bleak future of children of rape, born in the Rohingya refugee camps to young girls whose lives have been destroyed by sexual violence. None of these children has a normal childhood. Often with their mothers, they are ostracized, stigmatized, and marginalized – continually revictimized – for the crimes that led to their very existence.
Sexual violence in conflict is a criminal matter, but it is also a security issue for all of us because it reinforces conflict and instability.
Boko Haram and ISIS are among the major non-state perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence and of the legacy of a new generation of children born of rape. By mere circumstance of their birth, they risk statelessness and limited futures. As we have discussed in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, this vulnerable population could be recruited or even raised by violent extremist organizations. We can end this cycle by taking action to restore the dignity of these children and their mothers and offer an alternative path toward justice and opportunity.
Lack of birth registration and legal documentation can increase the risk of statelessness and other vulnerabilities for children born of sexual violence. Without such identity documents, access to health care, education, and community support networks is limited. This bodes poorly for their future, particularly in communities that are already struggling with the effects of conflict.
These children may also face heightened risks of child, early, and forced marriage, child labor, family separation, trafficking in persons, recruitment into criminal and violent extremist groups, and other forms of exploitation and abuse that have implications for years to come.
Providing protection, documentation, and support networks to children born as a result of sexual violence in conflict, as well as their mothers and families, can help prevent future security issues. Such support is essential to reducing risk and integrating children born of rape, and their mothers, back into their communities and societies. In turn, we should promote sustainable solutions that increase community resilience.
The United States strongly supports the “I Belong Campaign to End Statelessness” and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness. This includes efforts to ensure birth registration and remove discrimination in nationality laws that prohibit women from transmitting nationality to their children on an equal basis with men.
In places like Iraq, this also means advocating for changes to personal status laws so that a child’s name does not become a cause for ostracism and so that women can transmit religious affiliation to their children.
We welcome efforts by Bangladesh to address the challenges faced by Rohingya women and their children born in the camps and stand ready to provide additional support to them.
Through $15 million in efforts this year, we are supporting women and girls at risk of violent extremism, including survivors of sexual violence and their children, as well as women leaders who are standing up to prevent terrorism and combat sexual violence in their communities.
The United States is also redoubling its efforts to empower women as leaders in preventing conflict in the first place. Women’s meaningful participation in security initiatives leads to better outcomes. Through the Women, Peace, and Security Act signed by President Trump last year, we are exploring innovative approaches to ensure that more women are involved in preventing and responding to conflict than ever before.
Late last year, I met with an American obstetric nurse who had just returned from working for an international NGO as part of what was then still the emergency response to the Rohingya refugee crisis. She sat in my office describing an epidemic of dangerous self-termination of unwanted pregnancies, an unprecedented situation, where for every normal, healthy pregnancy her organization was seeing in the women’s health clinics, they were seeing an early termination, an unsafe self-induced abortion, unsafe home remedies to eliminate a pregnancy, and other efforts by desperate young women and their families. A one-to-one ratio of healthy pregnancies to terminated pregnancies. This was something she had never seen in her years of working in some of the most desperate conflict and refugee situations in the world. She was utterly traumatized by what she had seen in the camps.
This cycle of violence, stigmatization, and hopelessness can only be stopped when would-be perpetrators know there will be accountability for these violations. We look forward to working with our Council colleagues to strengthen accountability for sexual violence in conflict and the use of rape as a weapon of war and call on all Council members to recognize the particular responsibility we bear in preventing, punishing, and ending these horrific abuses.