Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed, Special Representative Patten, and Ms. Sultana, for your briefings today. The SRSG’s report on the rising levels of conflict related sexual violence is chilling. We welcome this discussion today, and hope it serves as the impetus for this Council to take concrete steps to both ensure justice for survivors and to help prevent these crimes from occurring. Thank you, Mr. President, for convening this session today.
We should all be appalled by the level of sexual violence taking place in conflicts around the world. In war zone after war zone, horrific violence against women is not an unfortunate byproduct of conflict, but a weapon of conflict.
As the Secretary-General’s report details, and as Razia describes in horrible detail, in Burma as we speak, the military is using sexual violence as a tool for ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya and for terrorizing other ethnic communities across the country with impunity. And what does that mean?
It means using mass rape, sexual exploitation, and sexual slavery of women and girls – girls as young as 12 or 13 – to drive groups of people out of their homes. It means using the terror, stigma, and shame of rape to drive families from their country, often from the only place they’ve ever known. As the mother of a precious 9-year-old girl, the horror of these crimes is unfathomable.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, sexual violence is a common tactic used by armed groups to punish and humiliate people allied with their enemies. Women and girls are the battlefield on which the conflict is waged. A staggering 27 percent of Congolese women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
And let’s all understand why women have been targeted in so many conflicts: because violence against women is violence against families. And violence against families is violence against whole communities.
Survivors are stigmatized and isolated. Families and communities ripped apart. And entire generations are left less able to find peace and reconcile their communities. Sexual violence is the poison root of societies suffering endless conflict, poverty, and dislocation.
And it is for this reason that we welcome this debate. When we recognize the role of sexual violence in conflict, we recognize the link between human rights and conflict. The United States has long urged this Council to address human rights as an issue of peace and security. Debates like the one we are having today do that in a powerful and undeniable way.
This linkage should be apparent to anyone who’s spent any time in conflict zones or the refugee camps that house the survivors. The sexual violence these survivors experience isn’t random. It is calculated and designed to inflict punishment and fear in a community. Tragically, we could go on all day about the different aspects of this problem around the world. But we’re here to discuss solutions.
The Council has sanctions tools at its disposal to punish these heinous actors around the world, but unfortunately, they are terribly underutilized. For example, last year, former SRSG Bangura proposed names to this Council of perpetrators who should be held accountable for their crimes, but nothing has been done.
It is now time for the Council to use these tools to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. It is now time to end impunity for these criminals and show survivors and the rest of the world that the international community will respond. It is now time that Member States actively develop sanctions designations for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict. We can also designate criminals operating in conflict zones where we already have UN sanctions regimes in place. Taking these steps will not only end impunity for sexual violence in conflict, it will also helped to deter future abuses.
The United Nations also has a role to play in countering violence against women in the field through our peacekeeping missions. Women talk to each other, and more importantly, they understand each other. We should capitalize on this fundamental truth and do a better job recruiting and including more women in peacekeeping. Unfortunately, only four percent of uniformed peacekeepers are women. That number is even smaller in the most dangerous missions where women are suffering the most. Deploying more women peacekeepers will provide valuable insights that male peacekeepers often cannot obtain.
However, it’s not just about numbers. It’s also about the roles that women peacekeepers take on. Women peacekeepers should be empowered to engage with local communities and bring value to work of the missions.
Additionally, research shows that female participation improves dispute resolutions. Women need to be at the table during peace negotiations. The United Nations should strive to include female representation in negotiating bodies and mediating teams.
Finally, the UN should ensure that all peacekeeping training centers around the world include training to involve women in prevention and peace-building efforts. Without understanding the concerns of half a population, conflict can never be resolved.
Sexual violence primarily affects women, but at its heart this is an issue of human dignity. And it is an issue of how violations of human dignity – the denial of human dignity – impacts peace and security. As such, it is a vital issue of concern for this Council.
Thank you once again for arranging this debate.