The United States is proud to have played a leading role in strengthening the collective efforts of the UN Security Council to address sexual violence in conflict.
This is not only a human rights issue, but also a security issue demanding our attention and response. The effects of sexual violence are severe and traumatic not only to the victims, but to entire communities. It prolongs and intensifies conflict over time.
When used as a tactic in conflict, sexual violence rips at the fabric of societies by isolating and stigmatizing survivors, devastating families, and depriving entire generations of cohesive, thriving communities. It makes achieving post-conflict reconciliation and lasting stability more difficult, especially when not addressed through restorative practices, justice, services, and peace processes. When perpetrated on the scale we see in many of the world’s worst conflicts, sexual violence poses a direct threat not only to dignity and survival, but to international peace and security.
Ten years since this Council came together for the first time to recognize sexual violence as a security issue, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two bold voices who have worked to shed light on this important issue. This is a remarkable milestone in recognition of the growing movement to counter sexual violence in conflict and to stand up for the survivors of these horrible crimes. The United States recognizes Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege for their work in defense of survivors of sexual violence in conflict. We are humbled to have supported their organizations and communities over the years.
The UN Security Council should continue to condemn the impact of sexual violence in all its forms, including its impact on international peace and security. Up to 65 percent of women in some locations in South Sudan have experienced sexual or physical violence. In Syria, the Assad regime has used rape as a tactic of war to silence dissent. We have also heard from survivors and witnesses who have provided disturbing reports of interrogators raping and sexually abusing detainees in Assad’s military intelligence facilities. Last year, Madam Patton gave this Council heart-rending and stomach-churning testimony on the use of sexual violence in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya women.
Our collective approach should be three-pronged. First, we need to redouble our efforts to support survivors. The United States recognizes that there is a gap in global humanitarian response and calls on Member States to invest more in responding to gender-based violence in emergencies to close this gap irrespective of age and gender. When reconciliation efforts do not attend to survivors’ needs, peace agreements are less durable and comprehensive, and peace is less tenable.
Second we should promote justice and accountability for these actions, including by raising the cost of gender-based violence for those who seek to use it. Most survivors of sexual violence in conflict never receive justice, as all too frequently the police, military, or peacekeepers – whose duty is to serve and protect – are the perpetrators. This is also an area in which sanctions play an important role. Earlier this year, this body expanded the acts for which individuals can be designated in South Sudan, to include “planning, directing, or committing acts involving gender-based violence.” We must continue to promote accountability for those responsible for these acts, including through the application of targeted sanctions.
The DRC is another context where such sanctions would be useful – where local militia and soldier groups have systematically used rape as a tool to violate women, destroy families, and impose fear in local communities. Dr. Mukwege’s work to treat survivors in the DRC in Bukavu has been vitally important, but we should be working to put him out of a job.
Third, we should invest in women as key leaders in building a more secure future for their communities. Evidence shows that women’s participation in efforts to prevent conflict leads to more sustainable peace, and societies with higher rates of gender equality are less likely to experience conflict. To prevent the wars that lead to sexual violence, there is further work to be done to support women’s empowerment and participation in decision making about security issues.
The United States is pleased to note that the work of the Special Representative is seeking to address across these critical pillars and welcomes the continued leadership of Madam Patten’s office in this regard.