Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 13, 2022


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you so much, for convening this very important discussion today. I also want to thank Special Representative Patten for your remarks. The United States is proud to support the important work of the SRSG’s office. And most of all, thank you to the three briefers. Thank you for sharing your powerful stories. Your courage and your strength is an inspiration to all of us.

As we all know, sexual violence is a horrific and deliberate tactic in conflict. It is used to terrorize, to destabilize, to break communities and people down. Its impact ripple out far beyond survivors and it fuels instability. Unfortunately, this unspeakable practice is not new. I was recalling as you well spoke, in the early nineties, attending meetings with Somali women who were victims of violence in Somalia and hearing their horrific stories of rape and their plea to all of us to support them. And here we are today, hearing those same pleas from all of you. The same acts of violence are still being committed around the world today. And women, like those Somali women that I spoke to in the 1990s, are sitting here listening at us today.

On Monday, we outlined the threats to women and girls in Ukraine from Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war. And we cannot forget, or look away from, the way rape and sexual violence have been used as a weapon of war in Ethiopia, in Syria, and in other conflicts around the world. This Council has spent a great deal of time discussing these issues, noting them with great concern. Well, now it’s time for us to act.

As we heard today, expressions of concern are not enough. First, we and all governments need to hold perpetrators accountable. We must do more as a global community to actually implement the international commitments we have all agreed to, as Ms. Patten said to us today. Governments, instead of denying these acts, must acknowledge them and they must address them. They have to stop intimidating victims, silencing their voices, silencing those who raise concern and advocate for them, and hold those responsible accountable.

We must explore ways to use the diplomatic tools we have, as both individual Member States and as a collective, to do everything we can to ensure perpetrators do not get away with these acts of conflict-related sexual violence. That means strengthening quality, ethical, and effective documentation efforts.

We caution against any action that would duplicate or dilute the efficacy of our existing Security Council mandates and legal frameworks. We have the tools we need – we just need to use them. We cannot let ourselves get distracted from the urgency of accountability – especially in those settings where we continue to receive reports of conflict-related sexual violence.

After all, holding perpetrators accountable is not only the right thing to do. It deters others from enacting this violence in the future. It strengthens the rule of law. It makes reconciliation more likely and it makes inclusive and democratic transitions possible.

Second, we must defend and empower survivors through a survivor-centered approach. That means listening to survivors, responding to their unique needs, and providing the resources and legal support they ask for and that they need. We have learned just how important it is to create a supportive environment to avoid re-traumatizing those who have experienced conflict-related sexual violence and to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect.

When we provide survivors with the resources they need to heal and to recover, we help them tremendously and we help break the silence and the stigma surrounding sexual violence in conflict as well. Centering our support around survivors – while securing justice for them – is the clearest and the most powerful way to empower survivors to become agents of peace and voices of change. As we see from our colleague Nadia across this room. And again, Nadia, thank you so much for bringing your voice to us today.

Third and finally, because all gender-based violence is rooted in gender inequality, we must advance the empowerment of women and girls in all of their diversity. To that end, the United Nations, and all Member States, should apply conflict-sensitive and participatory gender analyses to our interventions and to our work.

We need to ensure we are addressing the underlying societal norms and power relations that, when combined with weak or absent state institutions, lead to gender-based violence. We need to advance gender-sensitive early warning and response. And we must persevere in our promotion of the meaningful participation of women in decision-making roles, especially in conflict-prevention, resolution, and peacekeeping processes.

When we integrate women and girls into atrocity prevention efforts, we do more to prevent those atrocities. It is that simple. In the long-term, the best defense against conflict-related sexual violence is an equal and just society – one where all women and girls have respect for their human rights, and where we enjoy equal protection under the law, where we have timely access to justice, and where we have the educational opportunities we all deserve.

As the late Secretary Albright used to say, “Democracy is a parent to peace – and common sense tells us that true democracy is not possible without the full participation of women.” So let us make democracy possible. Let us build those just and inclusive societies. And in the meantime, let us hold perpetrators accountable, take a survivor-centered approach, and integrate gender equity in everything we do. And as Nadia said, survivors don’t want our pity. They want justice. They all have made – all of the women who spoke today – they all have made recommendations to us today. Let’s pay homage to them and follow their lead.

Thank you, Mr. President.