Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Sexual Violence and Conflict

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
May 15, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed and Acting Special Representative Dieng, for your powerful briefings this morning. Ms. Jaf, we are honored by your presence with us here today, and we deeply appreciate your moving and inspirational testimony on behalf of the women, men, girls, and boys who have suffered from sexual violence due to conflict. Your voice, as civil society, is important for us all to hear.

In December 2016, this Council passed resolution 2331 condemning sexual violence and trafficking in persons committed by terrorists and armed groups. The resolution reflected a sobering truth about conflict today: rape is a weapon of war. Fighters aren’t just using guns, mortars, and rockets in their battles. What we see now is the systematic use of rape to decimate communities and force them to surrender or to flee. It is a sick and twisted reality.

The reports of rape and sexual violence from conflict zones are shocking but they have yet to move this Security Council to act in response. That’s why reports of sexual violence in conflict continue – and even grow – year after year.

In order to fully implement resolution 2331 and help end these atrocities, we as a Council should focus on three things. First, we should consistently recognize and condemn the impact of sexual violence on international peace and security.

In January 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that refugees arriving from the Equatoria region of South Sudan had cited rape and sexual abuse of women and girls as one of the primary reasons for fleeing. There are even reports that militias and armed groups are using rape as a sort of tax to be paid by female refugees fleeing the country.

Where rape is being used as a tactic of war, it is often public and committed in front of mass audiences, including family members and children. One refugee from South Sudan, when describing what happened to her while trying to escape the conflict, said, “We hired a driver to take us to the Oraba border point. When we reached Kimba, there were two soldiers. They told the women to get out, to remove their clothes and lie down. The children saw their mothers get raped.”

Clearly, the motive of these public rapes is to terrorize entire communities and to traumatize future generations. There can be no doubt that in South Sudan, the epidemic of rape and sexual assault exacerbates the threat to international peace and security.

Second, in responding to sexual violence, this Council must seek to hold those responsible accountable for their actions and call on Member States to ensure that victims and survivors receive comprehensive care, as has been noted by other speakers. Unfortunately, we know that the overwhelming majority of victims and survivors may never receive justice. Just as armed conflict can destroy societies, it also can destroy the very institutions that should hold those responsible to account. And in some places, the police who are supposed to investigate sexual violence are actually reported as the perpetrators.

Rebuilding courts and reforming law enforcement are never easy tasks. But we need to give victims of sexual violence access to justice. Otherwise, the deep scars caused by rape in armed conflict will be difficult – if not impossible – to heal.

We appreciate that even with a relatively small team, the UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence and Armed Conflict has traveled to conflict zones to engage governments and to negotiate agreements meant to curb such attacks. That work – while it may take time – is vital.

We are also encouraged that this Council recognizes that victims and survivors face challenges in accessing the medical, psychosocial and economic support they need to rebuild their lives. In March, for example, our resolution on the conflict in the Lake Chad Basin included a strong call for governments and humanitarian partners to provide rapid access for medical and social services for victims of sexual violence. Survivors need this access to heal and reintegrate into society.

Third and finally, I call upon members of this Council to set an example for the international community by advancing the Women, Peace, and Security agenda at home and in our engagement abroad. As you noted, Mr. President, we know that an essential element of preventing sexual violence in the first place starts with empowering women to be leaders in building and maintaining peace.

For our part, the United States will not waver in our commitment to end sexual violence in conflict, provide care for victims, and hold perpetrators accountable. We will continue to work with our friends and allies to address this scourge, and we call on all members in the United Nations to join us in this vital endeavor.

I agree with you, Mina. It is not enough to simply condemn acts of sexual violence in conflict. You are right: everyone here today is responsible for ending it and in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Thank you, Mr. President.