Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Ambassador Tete Antonio. And thank you very much, Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed, for your briefing on the tremendous challenges that women continue to face in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Lake Chad Basin. We applaud this inaugural, joint effort you have launched with the African Union to draw needed attention and renewed international impetus to advancing women’s roles in peace and security and development processes worldwide. The Security Council needs to do a better job understanding the threats that women face in conflict zones, as well as acknowledging that we can better help countries recover from conflict by promoting the full inclusion of women in peace processes.
The use of sexual violence in conflict in the DRC has a long history, and the recent violence in the Kasai regions is the latest horrific chapter. The UN has received more than 600 reports of sexual violence in Kasai since August, including 186 reports of conflict-related sexual violence by certain units of the DRC armed forces. We have heard reports of atrocities against civilians, including executions of children. Civilians are being mutilated, burned alive, and hacked to death, and the violence is still getting worse. The violence and on-going and egregious abuses have forced more than 1.3 million people to flee their homes in search of safety.
It is important, Madame Deputy Secretary-General, that you have raised these issues with us today. Far too many of victims are suffering with too little attention paid to their plight. This Council needs to act now to stop this violence, including by demanding that government forces cease violations and hold accountable those who commit sexual violence and other atrocities.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram has ravaged the northeastern regions of the country, kidnapping scores of women and children, subjecting them to slavery, and brainwashing these victims to carry out still more attacks. In March of this year, I had the opportunity with other Council members to visit the Lake Chad Basin and to meet with the displaced in Maidaguri in northeastern Nigeria. The women there spoke movingly of what they had endured at the hands of Boko Haram. There were accounts of kidnappings, forced marriage, and of gender-based and sexual exploitation perpetrated by Boko Haram and other armed groups. And the victims, including women and girls, continue to suffer enormously from stigmatization and a lack of psycho-social support. These abuses are sickening. They should shock us. Seven years of violence in northeastern Nigeria has taken the lives of more than 15,000, forced more than 2 million from their homes, and left more than 4.7 million dependent on food aid and at risk of famine in many areas.
As you have reported, women and girls who have been liberated from the traumas they faced under Boko Haram sometimes return home to their villages only to face new trauma. This new reality comes in the form of exclusion and stigmatization from communities they once called home. After capture by Boko Haram, these women and girls cannot go home even once they are freed. These women and girls – and in many cases, the children born while they were in Boko Haram’s custody – face homelessness and despair. And these challenges may well linger for generations.
The United States will continue its work with the Government of Nigeria to root out Boko Haram and support stabilization in the northeast. The threat posed by Boko Haram and ISIS affiliates in West Africa remains grave. But as we work to make progress in the conflict, it also remains essential that Nigeria continues to work to win the peace. This will require strengthening government institutions, in particular local governments in regions impacted by the conflict, supporting economic investment and development, providing services to citizens, and establishing effective and regionally coordinated disarmament, demobilization, deradicalization, and reintegration programs.
Now the DRC and the Lake Chad Basin are, unfortunately, just two examples of a much broader pattern characteristic of the conflicts on the Security Council’s agenda. In more and more places, when war breaks out, when conflict breaks out, women are among the first to be victims of unconscionable abuse. Fighters often see degrading the dignity of women and girls as a central element of their strategy for repressing the populations they target.
Madame Deputy Secretary-General, we hope that your trip and your briefing today will help increase awareness of this dire and widespread problem. The United States will remain strongly supportive of policies that aim to protect women who are the victims of conflict and that promote the role of women as peacemakers when violence ends. Indeed, one suspects that many of the intractable conflicts on this Council’s agenda would perhaps be a little less intractable if more women were at the table.
The United States will work to recognize the unique contributions women make and to draw attention to their plight when women are the victims of conflict, and the United States also remains committed to implementing the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, a plan born out of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
We hope that today’s session will help push the members of this Council to take action in the DRC, the Lake Chad Basin, and in other conflicts where women and girls are at grave risk. The Deputy Secretary-General has brought these issues to our attention and to the world’s attention today. Our responsibility as the Security Council now is to follow up this briefing with consequences for those who perpetrate the abuses. The United States will continue to lead the way in pressing for this much needed accountability.