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

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
April 23, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President. A warm welcome and our thanks to today’s briefers for their very important contributions.

Mr. President, allow me to begin by offering the United States’ heartfelt condolences to the people of Sri Lanka for the Easter Day terrorist attacks that killed nearly 300 and wounded hundreds of others. The U.S. condemns these attacks in the strongest terms. We stand with the Sri Lankan people and remain ready to provide our assistance to local authorities as they work to investigate the attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Mr. President, the United States is resolute in recognizing that conflict-related sexual violence is a matter of international peace and security. It demands collective action to promote prevention, hold perpetrators accountable, and support survivors. None of us can turn our backs on this issue. It requires the engagement of all Member States and of the United Nations to support the efforts of those fighting to protect women, provide accountability, and support survivors.

Mr. President, it is for survivors that the United States invests in early warning and response initiatives to prevent sexual violence in conflict. The promise of a future without sexual violence that often accompanies conflict begins with supporting communities to identify and address violence before it spreads and to partner with security and governance institutions to expand the effectiveness of prevention efforts.

It is for survivors that the U.S. commitment to justice and accountability is at the heart of our response to this issue. As Special Representative Pramila Patten noted, despite widespread reports of sexual violence in conflict, such acts are often not investigated, let alone prosecuted. Fear and stigma prevent survivors from coming forward. Ending impunity would help deter the recurrence of such crimes while ensuring survivors access to the justice they deserve.

I would like to welcome especially Nadia Murad, and commend her for her bravery in the face of unimaginable terror and as a leading advocate for supporting the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh.

We support accountability for ISIS and other perpetrators of these crimes, and are working with the Government of Iraq and other partners to help ensure ISIS is held accountable.

Mr. President, as the United States announced last year, we are providing two million dollars to support UNITAD’s efforts, which include exhuming a mass grave in Kocho, Nadia Murad’s home village, last month.

It is for survivors that we implement and fund unique rapid-response programs for extreme forms of gender-based violence, including the Voices Against Violence fund that does and has directly supported Yezidi women and girls who escaped from ISIS.

Ensuring survivors have access to the resources they need to heal and recover is the first step in breaking the silence and stigma that they experience, changing the norms that enable and exacerbate violence in conflict, and securing the justice they deserve so they can use their voices as agents of peace, live free from violence, and have access to equal opportunities.

Mr. President, solutions require strategic responses that start with best practices learned on the ground, with actors across the UN system, civil society, and Member States playing important roles.

Our commitment to the maintenance of international peace and security begins with those most affected by war, violence, and terrorism. By putting survivors at the heart of our work, we enhance our understanding of the barriers to security and are better positioned to build partnerships with communities that lead to justice and prosperity.

Mr. President, we welcome today’s Open Debate as an opportunity to recognize how we can support survivors in building the solutions that will help prevent and eradicate sexual violence in conflict. The United States commends the work of the UN in this regard, and looks forward to continued efforts that look at the entire cycle of conflict and gender-based violence.

Mr. President, the best long-term protection from sexual violence in conflict comes from building societies where women and girls are valued and their human rights are respected. This includes institutionalizing equal protections under the law and access to education and opportunity, which are essential to enabling women’s participation in public life. We must also address the root causes of sexual violence, such as structural inequality and gender discrimination, which drive this crime and results in perpetual cycles of violence and injustice.

In humanitarian and disaster response efforts, it is essential that we promote safe communities and protect vulnerable populations from all forms of violence. This includes providing services, reducing risks, creating a secure environment, and challenging the norms that exacerbate violence in conflict and perpetuate gender inequality.

Finally Mr. President, we urge the UN and Member States to invest in enhanced efforts to update early warning indicators and the investigation, monitoring, and disaggregation of sexual violence reports in conflict, with a view toward informing prevention, mitigation, and accountability measures.

I thank you for your attention.