Perpetrators of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict Must Be Brought to Justice, Security Council Delegates Demand amid Calls for Explicit Sanctions Criteria
‘Make Accountability Inevitable’, Special Representative Insists as Nobel Laureate, Civil Society Defenders Denounce Years of Abject Failure
With conflicts proliferating and the world’s social fabric increasingly under strain, the use of sexual violence as a tool of power and dominance is also on the rise, experts warned the Security Council today, as delegates from around the world considered the current status of “war’s oldest, most silenced and least-condemned crime”.
During the open debate, the 15-member Council — alongside dozens of representatives from the broader United Nations membership — considered the latest annual report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence (document S/2022/272). Focusing on issues of accountability, prevention and deterrence, they shared national experiences and explored recent developments in international law, including judgments recently handed down against perpetrators in cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction. They also heard passionate testimony from experts, survivors and civil society activists, who briefed the Council at the meeting’s outset.
Pramila Patten, Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, began by asking what the Council’s 10 resolutions on women, peace and security — including five squarely focused on sexual violence in conflict — mean right now for a woman in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Myanmar or Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Noting that their promise is one of prevention, she said the Council’s efforts to refocus on that goal are particularly relevant in today’s “dark and difficult times”. Conflicts are proliferating, with a concurrent rise in attacks on women leaders and misogynistic hate speech.
Noting the horrors unfolding in Ukraine — even as other crises escalate behind the scenes — she described the harrowing personal testimonies of victims as a “call to action”. The Secretary-General’s report details stories of gang rapes in Ethiopia, rapes and killings in the Central African Republic, sexual violence among Myanmar refugees and instances of forced marriage, targeted political attacks and torture from Colombia and Somalia to Yemen and Afghanistan. Pointing out that the number of verified cases of such crimes increased significantly from 2020 to 2021, she said survivors are silenced by trauma, shame, despair and the paucity of available services, adding: “Survivors cannot be expected to denounce what the State itself denies.”
Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador, agreed that today’s debate is taking place at a moment of global instability, shaped by pandemic, war and a climate crisis. “In times like these, issues that affect women and girls — such as conflict-related sexual violence — tend to be pushed aside, as though they are somehow secondary to the ‘real’ issues,” she said. She described sexual violence as a war tactic as old as human history itself, recalling that when Da’esh began targeting the Yazidi community in 2014, thousands were massacred and thousands more women and girls were sold into sexual slavery. (Da’esh is the name used by the United Nations to designate Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in line with General Assembly resolution 75/291.)
While investigations of those crimes continue, and a German court recently convicted a former Syrian general of war crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction, she raised concerns that rather than moral outrage “we need action”. In the case of crimes against the Yazidis, the world should put Da’esh on trial for genocide and sexual violence and send the matter to the International Criminal Court. She warned against any further delay of justice and demanded more government support for victims, who are too often left alone to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Meanwhile, Mariana Karkoutly, Co-Founder of the civil Syrian society group Huquqyat, said government forces and armed groups murder, torture and use sexual and gender-based violence against civilians as a matter of policy. “Yet, despite discussing Syria for more than a decade, this Council has failed to take actions to hold perpetrators accountable,” she said, noting that its members have vetoed resolutions and shielded Syria’s regime from accountability. By targeting women, perpetrators know they are targeting their families and communities as a whole, she said, emphasizing that domestic accountability will remain impossible as long as the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad remains in power.
Also briefing the Council was Hilina Berhanu, a civil society representative from Ethiopia, who recounted testimonies and described injuries seen first-hand in that country’s conflict-affected Tigray region. There, rape has been wielded systematically as a tactic of war, used to terrorize communities, framed as a means of reprisal and even leveraged as a bonding tool for members of allied military forces. She expressed concern that amid an Internet and telecommunications blackout, the trauma being experienced by communities across Tigray remains unknown. Against that backdrop, she urged the Council and the African Union to rethink the prevailing view that investigating conflict-related sexual violence could somehow derail progress made by Ethiopia’s Government.
More than 70 delegates took the floor in the debate that followed. Many outlined national initiatives aimed at enhancing women’s empowerment and supporting victims of gender-based violence, as well as international assistance delivered to victims of conflict-related sexual violence. Several speakers voiced opinions on particular conflict situations — with some naming Government regimes as perpetrators — while others focused on crimes committed by non-State armed groups, stressing that those often remain more difficult to investigate and prosecute. Numerous representatives also raised the matter of including sexual violence as a criterion in Security Council sanctions regimes, a contentious issue among members.
Norway’s representative said the Secretary-General’s report “puts into stark relief how we continue to fall short” in effectively addressing crimes of sexual violence in conflict. “We are still discussing what a ‘comprehensive, human-rights based and survivor-centred approach’ means”, rather than putting forward ideas for action. To that end, she listed three areas that will promote accountability and prevention, including building the capacity of law enforcement, security and military personnel; investing in access to coordinated health care, legal services and information; and placing the needs of survivors at the centre of all efforts.
The representative of Kenya was among those sounding alarm over too few international efforts to ensure accountability for sexual violence committed by terrorist groups. Urging the Council to list all those responsible — including their chains of command — for sanctions, he said Member States must also escalate prosecution for gender-based violence and enhance efforts to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence. While the Council’s series of resolutions has helped to raise the cost of what has long been perceived as the “cheapest weapon of war”, that bar should be even higher, he stressed, calling for a separate listing criterion for sexual violence crimes in relevant sanctions regimes.
Echoing that point was Canada’s delegate, who spoke on behalf of the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security. Expressing profound concern over the persistent and widespread use of sexual violence with impunity by State and non-State actors in many conflicts, he urged Member States to invest in tackling the root causes of such abuse. Prevention starts with a commitment to gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls in diverse situations and conditions, the protection and promotion of human rights, and women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making, he said.
Marta Lucía Ramírez, Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, said one need not be a victim of sexual violence to feel a moral obligation to speak out against such an atrocious crime. “Nobody can claim the right to use the body of any human being as a chessboard in war,” she stressed, adding that sexual violence against women in conflict is often the fruit of broader gender inequality. Underlining the importance of women’s economic empowerment, she warned that both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine may undo progress in that domain.
The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that the Council has heard unsubstantiated and baseless allegations about his country’s military personnel carrying out duties in Ukraine, said those troops have been subject to stringent rules. Amid the war unleashed by Ukraine and its Western patrons, real incidents by Ukrainian radicals — dating back to 2014 — have been concealed, including the denial of medical assistance to detainees and the threat of sexual violence or death. Warning that crimes committed under Ukraine’s Government must not be passed over in silence, he cited a skyrocketing “bacchanalia of murder and humiliation”, with recent incidents of rape and torture in Donetsk and Mariupol.
As for bolstering the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations, Indonesia’s representative called on the Council to consider the link between the presence of female peacekeepers and the number of sexual violence offences registered. There are four peacekeeping missions with a specific mandate to address sexual violence in countries with conflicts, yet female representation remains low. Stopping sexual violence is “the first step to fulfil our commitment to save lives,” he said.
Chairing the meeting as President of the Council for April was Tariq Ahmad, the United Kingdom Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, who also spoke in his national capacity.
Also speaking were the representatives of the United States, United Arab Emirates, India, Brazil, China, Albania, Ireland, France, Mexico, Ghana, Gabon, Jordan, Malta, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Slovenia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Luxembourg, Estonia, Morocco, Greece, Switzerland, Turkey, Croatia, Poland, Portugal, Iran, Lebanon, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Liechtenstein, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Maldives, Ecuador, Malaysia, Spain, Slovakia, Iraq, Georgia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Latvia, Austria, Nepal, Ukraine, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Sweden (also on behalf of the LGBTI Core Group), Republic of Korea, Algeria, Guatemala and Nigeria.
The representative of the European Union also participated in its capacity as observer, as did the representative of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Observer for the Holy See.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and was suspended at 1:31 p.m. It resumed at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 7:48 p.m.
PRAMILA PATTEN, Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, introducing the Secretary-General’s latest annual report on conflict-related sexual violence (document S/2022/272), asked what the Council’s 10 resolutions on women, peace and security — including five squarely focused on sexual violence in conflict — mean right now for a woman in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Myanmar or Ethiopia’s Tigray region. “Every new wave of warfare brings with it a rising tide of human tragedy, including new waves of war’s oldest, most silenced and least-condemned crime,” she said. And yet, the promise expressed in the Council’s resolutions is one of prevention: the texts articulate the elements of an accountability regime to influence the conduct of current and potential perpetrators.
Welcoming the Council’s focus on accountability as prevention — which is particularly relevant during today’s “dark and difficult times” — she said the lived experience of survivors must guide the search for global solutions. She voiced concern over the multiple, cascading crises, recalling the Secretary-General’s calls for a global ceasefire when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, more than two years ago. The pandemic should have sparked a global paradigm shift, but instead, conflicts have only proliferated, and now include an “epidemic of coups” that has turned back the clock on women’s rights. Old conflicts linger even as new ones emerge around the globe.
Spotlighting a rise in attacks on women leaders and women in public life — as well as in misogynistic hate speech — she said the world is now transfixed by the horrors unfolding in Ukraine, even as other crises escalate behind the scenes. “The world is too small for so many hotspots,” she stressed, assuring those suffering that they have not been forgotten, and that “international law is not an empty promise”. In her previous statements on the crisis, she expressed concern about the mounting evidence of crimes being committed against civilians and called for swift investigations to ensure prompt accountability. “All the warning signs are flashing red,” she said, noting that gender-based health services for women are lacking just when they are needed most.
Describing the harrowing personal testimonies of victims around the world as a call to action, she said the Secretary-General’s report contains countless such stories, including of gang rapes in Ethiopia; rapes and killings in the Central African Republic, where sexual violence has doubled in the past year; and sexual violence among the 900,000 Rohingya refugees still living in Cox’s Bazaar, in Bangladesh, which is becoming a “crisis on top of a crisis”. She also cited cases of sexual violence documented in Somalia, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, which include instances of targeted political attacks, torture and early and forced marriage. The report covers 18 country situations and documents 3,293 United Nations-verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence committed in 2021, representing a significant increase of some 800 cases compared with the previous year.
Meanwhile, she said, survivors continue to be silenced by trauma, shame, despair and the paucity of available services. “Survivors cannot be expected to denounce what the State itself denies,” she stressed, noting that the report’s 2022 theme focuses on the need to support victims with safe reporting and responses. Outlining some of the factors that lead to conflict-related sexual violence, she drew attention to high rates of displacement, rising violent extremism, arms proliferation and hostilities waged near civilian centres.
However, prosecution is also a form of prevention, and justice reinforces global norms, she explained. Urging Member States to support the clear, categorical prohibition on sexual violence — and to make it more visible in their military manuals, international humanitarian law trainings, codes of conduct and disciplinary measures at all levels of the chain of command — she declared: “It is time now to make accountability inevitable.” In addition, “societies must realize that the only shame of rape is in committing, commanding or condoning it”.
She went on to cite examples of positive progress, including the adoption by Iraq of the Yazidi Survivors Law; a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against those accused of abducting and sexually abusing a journalist in Colombia; and the judgment by a German court of a former Syrian general for crimes committed in 2011 and 2012, under the principle of universal jurisdiction. However, those emblematic instances are only the exceptions that prove “the rule of justice denied”. In that context, she urged States to deliver justice that is accessible, empowering in line with a victim-centred approach, while cautioning that justice is no replacement for adherence with international law in the first place.
Going forward, she said the Secretary-General’s report recommends targeted action to reinforce structural prevention. That includes political and diplomatic engagements to address sexual violence in ceasefire and peace agreements; the use of early warning indicators; curtailing the flow of small arms and light weapons; gender-responsive justice and security sector reform; amplifying the voices of survivors and affected communities; supporting women’s human rights defenders; and protecting victims and witnesses. She also called for efforts to leverage the credible threat of sanctions, which could change the minds of those who see rape as “cost-free” or even profitable in the theatre of war. “We must deliver justice, not just law, in communities, as well as court rooms,” she added, underscoring the need for reparations to help survivors rebuild their lives and calling on States to replenish the Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Multi-Partner Trust Fund.
NADIA MURAD, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador, said the Council is gathered at a moment of global instability, shaped by pandemic, war and a climate crisis. “In times like these, issues that affect women and girls – such as conflict-related sexual violence – tend to be pushed aside, as though they are somehow secondary to the ‘real’ issues,” she said. However, “these are precisely the moments when protecting, supporting and investing in women and girls should be urgent priorities”.
“For every setback our societies face, women and girls are forced 10 steps back,” she continued. History shows that whenever armed conflict erupts anywhere in the world, rape and brutality follow. That dynamic is now being seen in Ukraine, as reports emerge of sexual violence “that should alarm us all”. Noting that sexual violence is a war tactic as old as human history itself, she recalled that when Da’esh began targeting the Yazidi community in Iraq in 2014, thousands were massacred. Others fled on foot, facing thirst, starvation and blistering temperatures. In addition, Da’esh captured more than 6,000 Yazidi women and children — like her, her sisters and nieces — who were then sold and raped. “Those of us who survived were considered lucky,” she said, but the nightmare continues, eight years later, for more than 2,800 women and children who are still living in captivity and sexual slavery.
Turning to the critical issue of accountability, she highlighted the importance of justice, support for survivors and commitment to gender equity in the long term. Welcoming the recent verdict of a German court for crimes committed under the universal jurisdiction principle, she noted that the Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) has also collected reams of evidence documenting the atrocities that group committed against women and girls. Other terrorist groups and oppressive regimes have watched as Da’esh members openly brag about enslaving Yazidi women while facing few — if any — consequences on the world stage. “What is next?” she asked, stressing that, more than mere moral outrage, “we need action”.
“Now is your moment to put [Da’esh] on trial for genocide and sexual violence,” she told those gathered in the Council chamber. She urged them to send the case to the International Criminal Court or establish a hybrid court by treaty to prosecute the group’s crimes. In the meantime, other nations should follow Germany’s example, and use the principle of universal jurisdiction to try war criminals for the atrocities they commit, including sexual violence. The matter is one of sending a clear message to perpetrators, she said, warning against any further delay of justice. In addition, she demanded more Government and international support for victims, who are too often left on their own to pick up the pieces of their lives. In that context, reparations and recognition are an essential part of justice, she said, noting that she co-founded the Global Survivors Fund to provide interim reparations for victims. But more is needed, as “Member States have a moral responsibility not to abandon genocide survivors”.
“Every time we see a new conflict, there is an outpouring of thoughts and prayers,” she continued. “But, as I know from personal experience, a few days or even a week in the news cycle does nothing to address the systemic challenges women face.” It is not enough to talk about accountability and prevention in times of crisis. The world needs long-term commitments to advancing global gender equity, which is key to democracy. That means combating gender bias and stereotypes everywhere they occur — in homes and families, as well as in education systems. Women must be listened to at all levels, including in the halls of power. Also noting how difficult it is for survivors to speak out, she said for that reason she will join the United Kingdom on 14 April in officially launching the Murad Code — a set of guidelines intended to change norms around how journalists, investigators and anyone tasked with documenting and investigating conflict-related sexual violence interacts with survivors.
MARIANA KARKOUTLY, Co-Founder of Huquqyat, said her organization is a membership-based initiative of women lawyers and legal practitioners advocating for accountability in Syria. “Accountability” is a difficult word to say in the Syrian context, she noted. Government forces and armed groups continue to murder, torture and use sexual and gender-based violence against civilians as a matter of policy. “Yet, despite discussing Syria for more than a decade, this Council has failed to take actions to hold perpetrators accountable,” she said. The Syrian Government has systematically violated not only international law, but many of the Security Council’s own resolutions. Meanwhile, members of the Council have blocked urgent action on Syria, shielded the Syrian regime from accountability, and vetoed resolutions on humanitarian assistance and investigations of the use of chemical weapons against civilians 16 times.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria has documented that sexual and gender-based violence against civilians has occurred during ground operations, at checkpoints and in detention and across the country since 2011, primarily by Government forces and associated militia, but also other armed groups, she continued. The Syrian regime knows that by targeting women, they are targeting their families and communities as a whole. The systematic occurrence of these crimes across the country demonstrates that the regime has weaponized gender-based violence as a matter of State policy. On pervasive gender discrimination, she emphasized that the Syrian regime’s actions have been possible because of a corrupt legal system and entrenched discrimination against women and girls. “Laws in Syria do not criminalize sexual or gender-based violence against women or marital rape,” she pointed out. Until 2019, Syria’s Personal Status Law restricted the freedom of movement of women with minor children unless approved by the child’s father, trapping women in dangerous situations with no means to escape. Even where laws have changed, social practice has not.
“Domestic accountability is impossible as long as the Assad regime remains in power,” she stressed. While multiple European countries are pursuing universal jurisdiction cases against suspects allegedly involved in crimes committed in Syria, such efforts have limitations, including the need to take into account the realities of the local context in Syria, such as fear of retaliation for reporting to local authorities. The Security Council must call on the Syrian Government to respect international law, end attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, and ensure an immediate, permanent nationwide ceasefire. It must immediately end torture, inhumane treatment and sexual violence, including in places of arrest and detention. She urged the Council, Member States and the United Nations to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. “When people in Syria watch conflicts rage in Ukraine and other parts of the world today, we are reminded of our own suffering, and the abject failure of this body to stop the violence,” she said.
HILINA BERHANU, a civil society representative, said that as an Ethiopian woman who has heard testimonies and seen injuries first-hand in Tigray, she carries the guilt of survival and silence. Rape has been perpetrated systematically, and used as a tactic of war, framed as a means of reprisal, and leveraged as a bonding tool for members of allied military forces. Citing the case of Blen — a 21-year-old Tigrayan waitress who was held against her will and subjected to sexual slavery, starvation and gang rape by a group of Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers — she stated that sexual violence is used to terrorize communities, and as a bonding tool among allied Eritrean Defence Forces, Ethiopian National Defence Force and Amhara regional militia. The consistency across victim accounts shows that these crimes were committed intentionally with a degree of organization and planning. Sexual violence is also ethnically motivated — with the Amhara militia declaring to one victim that “a Tigrayan should never give birth” — and used to humiliate survivors and their communities.
She said sexual violence has often been perpetrated in front of family members. Men and boys have also been sexually assaulted — with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission finding that in the town of Samre, Tigray, 600 were stripped and forcibly paraded, while Eritrean female soldiers mocked them and took pictures. She also noted that women with disabilities and other vulnerable communities have been at particular risk during the conflict. The conflict in northern Ethiopia has increased women’s vulnerability, irrespective of their ethnicity, and in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates globally, the conflict immediately places lives in grave danger.
She went on to stress that reports also indicate disproportionate rates of suicide among internally displaced persons across Tigray. “And amid a total Internet and telecoms blackout, I fear the extent of the trauma felt by the community remains unknown,” she said. She recommended that the Council use its platform to demand that efforts to document, investigate and prevent sexual violence in conflicts are survivor-centred and that all parties ensure full and safe humanitarian access to Tigray and other areas of conflict. She further urged the three African countries in the Council to work in that body, and in the African Union, to take a harder look at the prevailing view that supporting investigations of conflict-related sexual violence in Ethiopia could somehow derail the proposed reform agenda of the current Government. “This war has been so devastating to witness — first, because of the sheer scale of human suffering and, second, because many Ethiopians defended this violence in the name of patriotism,” she said. However, her patriotism and allegiance lie exclusively and firmly with Ethiopian women.
TARIQ AHMAD, Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict of the United Kingdom and Security Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, underscoring that, as more disturbing reports of rape emerge from Ukraine, the international community is reminded that when conflict erupts, sexual violence soon follows. In northern Ethiopia, Syria and now Ukraine, it is clear that that impunity continues to be the norm for perpetrators, rather than the exception. “The fact this is happening in 2022 is shocking and unacceptable,” he said, calling for justice for survivors, as well as ensuring they can safely record their experiences — the first step towards accountability. Too many survivors are not told about their options, and face unnecessary re-interviewing — 27 times, in one survivor’s case. Survivors are being re-traumatized. Their rights must be placed at the heart of evidence gathering. He stressed that the Murad Code should become the gold standard for any non-governmental organization, government agency or human rights institution in the field.
His country has committed more than £7 million to support survivors in northern Ethiopia and improve national accountability systems, he reported, noting that 30 African countries now have a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. The United Kingdom has also spent over £4 million through its Conflict, Stability and Security Fund in response to instances of rape in Syria since 2016 and will continue to support Afghan women, who face some of the highest rates of violence in the world. Highlighting that Islam is clear on equality for girls and rights for women, he said that his delegation will continue to press the Taliban on this issue. “We are collectively shocked at the abhorrent testimonies which are emerging from Ukraine,” he went on to say, adding that reports of rape and sexual violence committed by Russian Federation armed forces must be properly investigated. In March, his Government announced an additional £1 million in funding for the International Criminal Court to help uncover evidence of war crimes. Sexual violence in conflict is a vile stain on humanity, and “wherever it occurs, it is our moral duty and obligation to work together to help survivors, and do all we can, to stamp it out,” he emphasized. Addressing perpetrators, he stated: “You will be found, you will face justice, however long it takes.”
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said the briefers had shown courage in sharing their powerful stories. Sexual violence is a horrific and deliberate tactic in conflict, intended to break communities and people. Recalling her meetings with Somali women in the 1990s, she expressed regret at hearing similar pleas today. Noting that the Council on 11 April had outlined the threats to women and girls in Ukraine and that sexual violence has been used in Ethiopia and Syria, she stated it “must now act, as expressions of concern are not enough”. The Council and Governments must hold perpetrators accountable, acknowledge and address the crimes and stop silencing the voices of victims. Calling for stronger documentation efforts, she said “we have the tools we need — we just need to use them”. Holding perpetrators accountable also deters others from acting and strengthens the rule of law. The international community must defend and empower survivors, listening and responding to their unique needs. It is also important to avoid re-traumatizing survivors, help them to heal and recover, and break the silence and stigma around the crimes. All gender-based violence is rooted in gender inequality, she emphasized, requiring that the rights of women and girls be advanced, in all their diversity. The United Nations and Member States must apply conflict-sensitive and participatory gender analysis, address societal norms and power relations that, when combined with weak or absent State institutions, lead to gender-based violence. Calling for greater participation of women in decision-making and for their integration into atrocity-prevention efforts, she stated that, “in the long term, the best defence against conflict-related sexual violence is an equal and just society”. True democracy is not possible without the full participation of women, she stressed, and “survivors don’t want our pity — they want justice”.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said the Council hears again and again how sexual violence is being used as a tactic of war, and each year, the Secretary-General’s report “puts into stark relief how we continue to fall short” in effectively addressing it. The crime is seen in Syria, where it is used in detention settings and against displaced women, while child labour and early and forced marriages proliferate. It is seen in Ethiopia, where numerous reports of systematic rape and gender-based violence are emerging, and now in Ukraine, where atrocities committed against civilians in places held by Russian forces have shocked the world. “In this Council, we are still discussing what a ‘comprehensive, human-rights based and survivor-centred approach’ means,” she said. To make the move to actual implementation, it is crucial to recognize the root causes of conflict-related sexual violence and “dare to suggest concrete measures” to end it. To that end, she listed three areas that will promote accountability and prevention, if sufficiently scaled up and addressed collectively. The first is building the capacity of law enforcement, security and military personnel in both United Nations peace operations and national institutions. The second is investing in access to coordinated health care and services, legal services and information. The third area requires placing the needs of survivors at the centre of all efforts and supporting their agency, she said, stressing that survivors must be able to define and design measures for prevention, protection and accountability.
AMIERAH AL HEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said the Council must do more to prevent the despicable scourge of sexual violence in conflict situations. Women and girls in Afghanistan are subjected to sexual slavery and rape, while in Syria and Iraq, heinous acts by Da’esh continue to have an impact. At the Ukrainian border, women and girls are targeted by human and sex traffickers as they flee the conflict. Welcoming the Secretary-General’s focus on structural prevention, resilience-building and accountability, she said the Council and the wider United Nations membership have a responsibility to prioritize those elements “and end this horror”. She recommended the implementation of prevention strategies that address the causes of sexual violence, most notably structural gender inequality and harmful social norms. Accountability must also be pursued by upholding and strengthening the rule of law, she said, calling for capacity-building and a survivor-centred approach. Third, the international community must hold non-State armed groups accountable, not least because they are increasingly central actors in conflict settings, she stressed.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) noted that sexual violence in conflict situations continues unabated amidst a culture of impunity, especially by non-State actors. The Council must focus on preventing such atrocities and facilitating the rehabilitation and reintegration of survivors. As well, Governments have the primary responsibility for prosecuting and deterring such crimes, even for incidents alleged to have been committed by non-State actors. Noting that the United Nations must assist national authorities in strengthening legal capabilities for speedy investigations and prosecutions, he stressed that the States must adopt a victim-centred approach to preventing and responding to such crimes. Highlighting women’s disproportionate suffering in conflicts, he urged that the nexus between terrorism, trafficking and sexual violence in armed conflicts be broken, and that sanctions regimes and other targeted measures by the Council be strengthened to deter perpetrators. India sent the first all-women Police Unit contingent to Liberia in 2007. The Unit mitigated incidents of crime against women, deterred sexual and gender-based violence and helped rebuild safety and confidence among the Liberian population. These Indian policewomen patrolled Monrovian streets at night, taught Liberian women self-defence skills and conducted classes on combating sexual violence. He also highlighted his country’s commitment to the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy and the deployment of Women Protection Advisers, to name a few.
LUÍS GUILHERME PARGA CINTRA (Brazil) emphasized that the fight to end sexual violence as a weapon of war, a tool of intimidation and social control in conflict and post-conflict situations is very far from over. In Ukraine, red flags are flying all over, she added, calling for an urgent independent investigation of such allegations. Citing recent reports on South Sudan, including a horrific account of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war — and the grave consequences of widespread impunity for such behaviour — he noted that the recently approved Council resolution 2625 (2022) underlines the urgent need for timely investigations, not only to support accountability, but also to provide assistance and protection to survivors. The Council must urgently address funding shortfalls, guarantee pre-deployment training of United Nations troops and other personnel, he said, adding that it must also continue to advocate for the inclusion, in peace agreements, of references to the situation of those subjected to violence during conflict and in its aftermath. He went on to stress that promoting full, equal and meaningful participation of women in decision-making and negotiations also means tackling the root causes of sexual violence in conflict, including structural gender inequality and harmful social norms that lead to the stigmatization and discrimination of survivors.
DAI BING (China) condemned all sexual violence against women and girls and called on the international community to take measures to tackle the problem. Building a solid foundation for peace is needed as the most vulnerable victims in conflicts are women and girls. The Council should make more efforts to address this issue through peaceful means such as good offices and mediation. “She power” must be amplified to support women’s development and empowerment. Sexual violence in conflict is related to the causes of gender inequality and under development. The issue should be tackled within the framework of women’s empowerment and under development. It is essential to amplify women’s participation and transformative power in the field of peace and security. The leadership of the countries concerned must be upheld as they have the primary responsibility to prevent sexual violence in conflicts and protect women and children. In East Asia, there is a group of victims who have been unable to receive justice: the comfort women who were forcibly drafted by Japan’s army during the Second World War. They became “prisoners in hell”, he said, but some forces in Japan have stubbornly adhered to misconceptions and attempted to whitewash this history.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said sexual violence is being used not only as a weapon of war to punish civilians, terrorize communities and break up families, but for the sheer sick pleasure of the perpetrators. All parties to conflict, whether State or non-State actors, are bound by international law. The unacceptable reality is that, despite collective efforts, conflict-related sexual violence goes largely unpunished. Sexual violence was widespread during the conflict in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 and the horrible crime left a profound imprint on survivors and society. While noting that the situation in Kosovo has regrettably never been included in the Secretary-General’s report, he commended the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) for its work in training the Kosovo authorities to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate cases of conflict-related sexual violence. The Council needs to make prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence a priority when designing and renewing the mandates of peace operations, he stressed. It must strengthen accountability and end impunity for violations and abuses. It must ensure the participation of civil society, particularly women’s organizations, as it addresses conflict-related sexual violence at all stages, including reparation and rehabilitation.
BRIAN FLYNN (Ireland), spotlighting the international community’s failure to prevent the escalation of sexual violence and to protect survivors, expressed concern that testimonies like those documented from Ethiopia in the joint United Nations-Ethiopian Human Rights Commission report would arise from the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine. A robust framework exists, outlawing conflict-related sexual violence and holding perpetrators to account and ensuring justice for victims and survivors. The real gap is in implementation. The gathering and preservation of evidence, fundamental for ensuring accountability, has enabled convictions for sexual violence crimes, as seen recently in the Koblenz proceedings in Germany. The prevention of conflict-related sexual violence must be embedded in operational provisions of all mandates agreed by the Council. As recommended by the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security, women’s protection advisers must be integrated into the budgets of United Nations peace operations, particularly during transition processes. The use of targeted sanctions on grounds of conflict-related sexual violence is another important but underutilized tool at the Council’s disposal. A survivor-centred approach for all, including men and boys, as well as members of the LGBTQI+ community, must be prioritized. Moreover, access to gender- and age-sensitive services, including sexual and reproductive health services and psychosocial support, is essential. The Council has made countless commitments to address the issue of conflict-related sexual violence, he said, calling on the 15-nation organ to implement them now.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) said her country was appalled to learn of allegations of rape and sexual violence in Ukraine. The mounting testimony is terrifying and must be investigated. Condemning the use of sexual violence as a tactic or means of warfare, torture or terror, as well as any and all sexist or homophobic rhetoric, which exacerbates such violence, she said France is committed to providing assistance to victims and survivors and takes pride in having contributed €6.2 million to the Global Survivor’s Fund. It also supports the establishment of projects on the ground in Iraq and South Sudan, among others. She condemned the culture of impunity and denounced reprisals endured by rights defenders, stressing that 49 parties are listed in the annex to the Secretary-General’s report, and most have been listed there for a number of years. French jurisdictions have been acting alongside Sweden to put together a team to investigate crimes against the Yazidi population. It is incumbent on the Council to leverage all tools at its disposal, specifically sanctions, she said.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) said that the Secretary-General’s report depicts overwhelmingly devastating scenarios in which sexual violence in conflict continues to occur and goes unpunished. It is used with frequency as a weapon of war, he said, pointing out that perpetrators are often repeat offenders and enjoy total impunity. “Victims remain marginalized and are beset by absurd lines of questioning and cumbersome legal procedures,” he said. He condemned all war crimes and crimes against humanity and joined those who have spoken up to say, “enough is enough”. The United Nations has to be more effective and demonstrate greater commitment to combating these unacceptable crimes. Still, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, armed groups continue to use sexual violence as a tactic for the control of natural resources. In Ethiopia, practically all parties to the conflict have participated in acts of brutality, including gang rapes and the intentional transmission of the HIV virus. Despite the normative framework in place, impunity remains the norm. Explaining the underlying causes of sexual violence in conflict is not sufficient to eradicate them, he said.
GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation), voicing concern over violence in Africa, Colombia and Syria, said that thousands of people in Syria are being detained in areas under United States-occupied control, where prostitution, theft and sexual exploitation of minors are rife. He noted that the Council had heard unsubstantiated and baseless allegations against Russian Federation military personnel carrying out duties in Ukraine, which he categorically dismissed. While Ukraine and its Western patrons have unleashed war, Russian Federation personnel have been subject to stringent rules, irrespective of rank or title. He cited the concealment of real incidents by Ukrainian radicals since 2014 against residents of Donbas, including numerous egregious instances of beatings, electric shocks to genitals and other acts. Detainees are denied medical assistance and subject to threats of sexual violence and death. Crimes committed under the Ukrainian Government must not be passed over in silence, he said, adding that the acts of Ukrainian Nazi battalions are carbon copies of the tactics used by Da’esh terrorists. A “bacchanalia of murder and humiliation” is skyrocketing, with recent incidents in Donetsk and Mariupol of torture and rape, as well as other incidents of sexual violence. “I’m talking about facts that are accessible to all,” he said — acts characteristic of medieval Europe, now common in Ukraine — and he called upon colleagues not to keep silent about these alarming trends and evidence.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said that when an individual sexually violates another, indelible and life-changing wounds are inflicted on the victim which can only be purged if the perpetrator is brought to justice. Citing the multifaceted, diverse and extensive nature of sexual violence crimes in conflict situations, he reiterated the Secretary-General’s recommendation that the Council ensure that such crimes are treated as a basis for targeted sanctions against culpable actors, and to see to it that sanctions committees have the requisite expertise on conflict-related sexual violence. Commending efforts to deploy Women’s Protection Advisers as part of peacekeeping and special political missions, he called for their timely and adequate resourcing, which will ensure that the Council receives the frequent, reliable and accurate information needed to take action on conflict-related sexual violence. In addition, the United Nations and other organizations must be intentional in their recruitment of survivors into decision-making and advocacy mechanisms on sexual violence, in order to meaningfully impact policy, legal processes and implementation, he said.
LILLY STELLA NGYEMA NDONG (Gabon) said that the day’s topic compels the Council to consider the fate of civilians, particularly women and children, who pay the highest price in fragile contexts and in conflict and post-conflict situations. The report sheds light on women peacebuilders and rights defenders who are often the targets of discrimination and harassment with the goal of excluding them from public life. Gabon recognizes the deep well of potential that women have to find a lasting peace, she said, adding that her Government remains steadfast in its call for accountability for the perpetrators of sexual violence. Sustained commitment and the effective participation of women in conflict resolution processes will allow not only the achievement of a lasting peace but will also ensure that decisions made as part of transitional justice processes are fairer to the damage done to victims, she said.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya) said that his country has enacted strong laws and policies to stop sexual and gender-based violence. These include its Constitution and the Sexual Offences Act. However, there is too little effort to ensure accountability for sexual violence perpetrated by armed and terrorist groups. The Security Council should undertake strong efforts to list those responsible, including their chains of command. It should also call for cases of sexual violence to be prosecuted in the context of terrorism. To implement the existing normative framework, Member States must escalate prosecution for gender-based violence and enhance efforts in preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence. All efforts must be made to address discriminatory laws and other cultural barriers that stand in the way of reporting and accountability. The current report of the Secretary-General underlines that the series of Council resolutions on conflict-related violence has helped to raise the cost of what has long been perceived as the cheapest weapon of war. The bar should be even higher, he said, noting that beyond listings and incorporation of sexual and gender-based violence as a separate listing criterion in relevant sanctions’ regimes, the Council must also take specific steps and deterrent measures to increase the costs of acts of conflict-related violence.
MARTA LUCÍA RAMÍREZ, Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, said one need not be a victim of sexual violence to feel a moral obligation to speak out against such an atrocious crime. The multilateral system must be strong to prevent and punish crimes without impunity, whether committed by terrorists or criminals, or cases of sexual violence in war between States. “Nobody can claim the right to use the body of any human being as a chessboard in war,” she stressed. Often, sexual violence against women in conflict is the fruit of gender inequality, and Colombia attaches great importance to the economic empowerment of women. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine may undo progress in that domain. The cause of women must not be championed by women alone, she stressed, but by humankind. Noting that the best way to prevent violence against women is to allow them greater economic autonomy, she called on the multilateral banking system to attach conditions to loans by the World Bank, with no credit issued to those that perpetrate violence against women. She cited an agreement between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army (FARC-EP) featuring 51 indicators, with 50 per cent of them already implemented and significant resources devoted to women-related projects. Colombia has recorded 33,000 people as victims of sexual violence — 90 per cent of them women. While it is important for women to participate in public bodies, and as soldiers, in senior leadership positions, she voiced distress that female soldiers in Eritrea are often the perpetrators of sexual violence.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH HMOUD (Jordan) said conflict-related sexual violence is a tactic used to target civilians, inflicting long-term trauma and humiliation, fracturing families and the social fabric. A coordinated and comprehensive approach across civilian, military and police components is critical for peacekeeping missions to effectively prevent and respond to the issue. He noted that Jordan, a host country to millions of refugees, had its already scarce resources strained, but has carried out numerous outreach activities to change social norms and promote gender equality, with a focus on preventing child marriage and ending sexual and gender-based violence. He called for existing United Nations, international and national mechanisms to be provided with the needed resources to support survivors and prevent tragedies, with perpetrators — whether State or non-State actors — held responsible for their acts. States should further harmonize their legislation to criminalize conflict-related sexual violence under national laws and remove any procedural impediments. The focus must be on the well-being of survivors, including equal access to medical care and psychological support during conflict and in post-conflict situations.
FRANCESCA MARIA GATT (Malta), associating herself with the statement to be made by the European Union delegation, the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security and the LGBTI Core Group, called upon States to reject the notion that sexual violence and rape are unfortunate but inevitable consequences of war. “They are war crimes,” she emphasized, also urging all parties to end and prevent sexual violence against children. Justice and accountability must be crucial parts of the response, and survivors must be provided with access to resources, such as gendered psychological and medical support, she said. It is equally important that women and girls in all their diversity enjoy full, equal, and meaningful participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making. Underlining that there can be no impunity for those who violate human rights law and international humanitarian law, she said the International Criminal Court can contribute to the fight against conflict-related sexual violence by developing and consolidating a gender-responsive legal framework and jurisprudence. She went on to affirm the importance of Governments, in particular their judiciary, police and military components, as well as civil society in gathering evidence and strengthening prosecutions, and the need for training on sexual violence issues to military and police personnel, peacekeepers, grass-roots organizations, and human rights defenders.
ROBERT KEITH RAE (Canada), speaking for the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, expressed profound concern regarding the persistent and widespread use of sexual violence with impunity by State and non-State actors in many conflicts. Those responsible for such heinous acts must be held accountable by national justice or, where applicable, international justice. Member States must fight impunity by strengthening the rule of law and enhancing protection, investigation and prosecution, undertaken by gender-responsive and independent judicial systems. As well, the Council should incorporate and apply sexual violence as a designation criterion in United Nations sanction regimes. Member States must take concerted action and invest in tackling the root causes of conflict-related sexual violence. Prevention starts with a commitment to gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls in diverse situations and conditions, the protection and promotion of human rights, and women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making.
Speaking on a national platform, he underscored the importance of tackling impunity, adding that Canada will continue to support the International Criminal Court’s work and where it lacks jurisdiction, will explore alternative ways to ensure accountability for these crimes. In that regard, Canada led a statement in November, joined by partners in the International Atrocity Prevention Working Group, urging the Governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence, and to support victims with health and psychological services. Further, Canada intends to intervene in the Gambia’s case against Myanmar, under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide at the International Court of Justice, with a focus on sexual and gender-based violence. As well, his country supports the Human Rights Council’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, as well as the ongoing investigation by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The increasing reports of sexual violence in Ukraine, including in Russian-controlled areas, are shocking and those responsible must be held accountable.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) said his country plans to redouble its assistance to national efforts aimed at ensuring accountability of perpetrators and supporting the survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Since 2014, Japan has provided funding for the Team of Experts on Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict under the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative. The Team has supported investigations and prosecutions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia and Iraq. Japan also provides support to survivors through multilateral frameworks, including as a board member of the Global Fund for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. In addition, since 2014, it has supported the Trust Fund for Victims of the International Criminal Court and has earmarked most of its contribution to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, he said.
MITCHELL FIFIELD (Australia) expressed support for the work of the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, while voicing grave concern over the use of military interventions at the expense of political processes and the devastating and disproportionate affects these actions have on women and girls. “The ongoing targeting, including through sexual violence and harassment, of women peacebuilders and human rights defenders, is unacceptable,” he said, stressing that women, girls, men and boys affected by sexual violence must have access to comprehensive support, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal and other crisis support services. Australia is proud to partner with the International Planned Parenthood Federation and other organizations to provide such assistance, and to include a survivor-centred approach in its national action plan on women, peace and security (2021-2031). Acknowledging that “impunity remains the norm” and the pace of justice remains “unacceptably low”, he said Australia trains and deploys military and civilian gender advisers on military, police, humanitarian, relief and recovery, as well as crisis management operations and missions.
YOKA BRANDT (Netherlands), associating herself with the statement to be made by the European Union delegation, Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, and the LGBTI Core Group, warned that the sexual violence perpetrated by Russian armed forces against Ukrainian women and girls will not go unpunished. Emphasizing that leadership is an essential part of a survivor-centred approach, she called upon States to prioritize the diverse voices and needs of survivors, and to ensure their access to essential services, as well as sexual, reproductive and mental health. She went on to stress the need to keep investing in civil society as key enablers of democracy and the rule of law, and called upon all States to do more, for example, by implementing the recommendations of Women Human Rights Defenders on how diplomatic missions can protect them and ensure access to flexible funding. Calling upon national authorities to strengthen laws governing the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence, she pointed out that those crimes are too often handled by local mediation mechanisms that lack the appropriate tools and capacity to address such cases and provide survivor-centred referral.
BOŠTJAN MALOVRH (Slovenia), associating himself with the statement to be made by the European Union delegation and the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, cited persisting reports of sexual and gender-based violence and emphasized that it is the responsibility of all States to prevent conflict-related sexual violence and ensure accountability for such crimes. Noting the essential need for a survivor-centred approach, he called for access to sexual and reproductive health services, as well as psychosocial and economic support for victims and survivors. He stressed the need for full and meaningful participation by women and survivors in decision-making processes. Highlighting his country’s commitment to eliminating all forms of discrimination and the importance of access to information, he said Slovenia continues to finance projects related to gender-based violence in emergencies and allocated €400,000 to support relevant humanitarian projects in Lebanon from 2020 to 2022.
RYTIS PAULAUSKAS (Lithuania) said that it quickly became evident that the Russian Federation is attacking civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Evidence shows that Russian soldiers are using rape as a deliberate weapon of war and there are reports of minors being subjected to such abuse. In areas occupied by Russian forces, women are unable to evacuate for a variety of reasons and face sexual violence. Many survivors experience post-traumatic stress and are vulnerable to social stigmatization. Many women lack access to health-care services. Sexual violence by the Russian army occurs for various reasons, including punishment and to lower morale, he said, stressing that all of those directly responsible must and will be held accountable. Expressing full support for the investigation by the International Criminal Court Prosecutor into possible war crimes, he warned that “conflict-related sexual violence cannot be perceived as the inevitable consequence of war”. While there is a solid international framework to address these crimes, implementation must be improved as impunity remains widespread, notably in Syria, Mali, Afghanistan and Ukraine.
CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand), associating herself with the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, said her country was one of 13 signatories to a joint statement in November 2021, which condemned the use of sexual violence and rape as weapons of war as a “red line”, akin to chemical weapons. Conflict-related sexual violence is no longer seen as an inevitable by-product of war, crises or emergency. It is a crime that is punishable under international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. Holding perpetrators to account, whether they be States, non-State actors or individuals, must be a priority, along with supporting survivors. It is disturbing that these crimes have become a daily occurrence in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere. New Zealand is determined to strengthen international and national responses by supporting the legal accountability architecture, including the United Kingdom’s initiative for a new convention on conflict-related sexual violence. The prevalence of sexual violence in conflict will continue unabated unless the culture of impunity is addressed. All Member States must make the implementation of laws and policies that create a meaningful response a priority.
MARTÍN MAINERO (Argentina) said that sexual violence related to conflicts continues to prevail in a culture of almost complete impunity. It may be exacerbated in contexts where there is drastic gender inequality. Preventing systematic sexual violence begins in peace time, through national laws that are robust enough to criminalize this conduct. States must have legal institutions in order to deal with this set of problems. Crimes related to sexual violence have a gender impact. Discussions on these focus on violence by men against women and girls. But they must be expanded when these criminal acts are enacted against men, boys and LGBTIQ+ people. Accountability of perpetrators is essential to ensure justice for the victims and deter further crimes. States have the primary obligation to prosecute the perpetrators. When the State does not have the ability or the will, the international community should take the necessary steps to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
TIYANI RAYMOND SITHOLE (South Africa) said sexual violence is increasingly used to intimidate women, particularly during elections. Member States must direct their attention to gaps in Council resolutions addressing the scourge, strengthen political will and increase financing, and take urgent action at political and operational levels. Reforms must include a safe environment for reporting incidents, address discriminatory stereotypes and empower women in conflict situations and civil society organizations. Non-State actors must be prosecuted for crimes committed during conflict, and in addressing impunity, victims and survivors must have access to support in a survivor-centric approach. He further called for the Secretary-General’s annual report to incorporate information on sexual violence in situations of occupation, such as Western Sahara and Palestine.
OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg), associating himself with the European Union, the LGBTI Core Group, and the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, said Council resolutions since 2008 have called on all parties to conflict to refrain from sexual violence. However, crimes persist in Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia and other areas, committed in total impunity. Rape and sexual violence are war crimes, he stressed, and may constitute crimes against humanity. He voiced concern over reports of Russian personnel in Ukraine targeting women and children, drawing attention to Luxembourg’s feminist foreign policy, which protects the rights of women and girls in all their diversity. The Government supports the Stand Speak Rise Up! International Forum against sexual violence and has contributed to a special trust fund. It also works to strengthen the care model in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in Iraq, it supports the Yazda non-governmental organization helping Yazidi survivors of sexual violence by Da’esh. He recommended that the international community implement existing legal frameworks, tackle the causes of sexual violence, document crimes with investigation mechanisms and work to end impunity. Citing the key role of the International Criminal Court, working complementarily to national jurisdictions, he said victims must have access to judicial systems and psychosocial treatment without fear of reprisal. He called on Member States to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and on the Council to incorporate sexual violence as a criterion in sanctions regimes.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), associating himself with the statement to be made by the European Union delegation, said that, during his country’s membership of the Security Council, its delegation focused on addressing conflict-related violence wherever it occurred and is still continuing this work. The world has heard repeated accounts from the United Nations and organizations on the ground of the pattern of horrifying sexual violence by the army of the Russian Federation during the course of its unlawful military aggression against Ukraine. These reports show how the Russian Federation wages war and are a reflection of an ideology that sees those living in Ukraine as less than human, he said, underscoring that “we have seen this before, and we as Member States have vowed to never let this happen again”. In Estonia, there are still people living who recall such systematic violence. His Government is determined to ensure that there will be accountability for violations of international law, he said, stressing that the perpetrators of these atrocity crimes must be held to account.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) said that sexual violence in conflict situations persists and takes new forms that impact not only victims themselves but the whole society. Such crimes continue to be of concern to the international community. Other violations include sexual slavery and the trafficking of women and girls, as well as the use of sexual violence as a weapon of terror and a source of income. A rigorous application of the international jurisdictions available is indispensable. It is important to respond to the root causes of sexual violence in conflict by strengthening peacebuilding and putting an end to gender-based discrimination. There must be access to justice for the victims, and perpetrators must be prosecuted. Women must fully and equally participate in decision-making. “Religious leaders have a role to play and must prevent religion from being used to justify violence,” he said.
MARIA THEOFILI (Greece) expressed her grave concern about mounting allegations of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls in Ukraine. In all conflict situations, investigation of allegations of sexual violence must be carried out to ensure justice and accountability. This is a core aspect of deterrence and prevention of such heinous crimes. Those responsible for such acts must be held to account by national and, where applicable, international justice. All States must adopt specific commitments to prevent and address conflict-related sexual violence, protect survivors and bring perpetrators to justice. At the same time, civil society members need protection, especially women human rights defenders, including women journalists, who face increasing challenges and threats. Greece has recently joined the Group of Friends for the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda, recognizing the need for concrete and results-oriented international policies, which are aligned, coherent and mutually reinforcing. The first National Plan of Greece on Women, Peace and Security will be adopted soon and make the main pillars of the Council agenda a priority. This includes the prevention of all forms of conflict-related, sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls and the relief and recovery of survivors.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAUR (Switzerland) noted that despite the establishment of a normative framework with the adoption of Council resolution 1820 (2008), sexual- and gender-based violence continued to be used as a tactic of war in many conflicts in 2021. Expressing concern about the alarming increase in allegations of sexual violence in Ukraine, he called on all parties in all conflicts to stop immediately committing such crimes. Stressing the importance of addressing the causes of conflict-related sexual violence by guaranteeing women’s participation and autonomy, he added that the Council must include provisions for the promotion of gender equality when mandating missions. Women Protection Advisers must be deployed and appropriately resourced, he said, also underscoring the need for including designation criteria that focus on sexual violence in sanctions regimes.
OLOF SKOOG, Head of the European Union delegation, in its capacity as observer, expressed horror over the testimonies and reports of sexual violence and rape perpetrated by Russian soldiers in Ukraine and by the repeated Russian attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. The European Union is supporting independent investigations to ensure justice and accountability and providing urgent support to survivors of sexual violence. The Russian Federation must immediately stop its military aggression, withdraw all forces from Ukraine and fully respect its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence, he said, stressing: “We need action.” For its part, the bloc is conducting programmes to support women activists and sexual violence survivors in Afghanistan, Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, Yemen and Venezuela. He urged the Council to incorporate and apply sexual and gender-based violence as a designation criterion in United Nations sanction regimes in a systematic manner, noting that the European Union’s autonomous measures contain listing criteria related to human rights violations and abuses, which makes it possible to list perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence. Moreover, prevention, mitigation and response programmes must be considered as life-saving by humanitarian actors and appeals and as part of standard women, peace and security funding, while a survivor-centred approach must guide international action. The European Union will continue to use all its tools for holding perpetrators accountable and enabling women to contribute to dialogues promoted by the European Union and the international community, he said.
Mr. KUZMIN of the Russian Federation, taking the floor a second time, expressed disappointment that the Head of the European Union delegation did not make a balanced statement and instead gave way to Russophobia.
Mr. SKOOG of the European Union delegation replied that there is no Russophobia; rather, there is a strong rejection of the aggression that the Russian Federation is committing against Ukraine.
RAZIYE BILGE KOCYIGIT GRBA (Turkey), while acknowledging the progress made within the United Nations system with the Council connecting sexual violence to peace and security in multiple resolutions, lamented the gap between words and action. Noting the nexus between human trafficking, forced displacement and sexual violence, she said that victims of sexual violence are likely to face additional violations if they are displaced. Therefore, she added, any protection framework should cover additional support to ensure the safety of victims and provide psychological support. Highlighting the devastating impact on survivors but also their communities, she stressed the role of punishment as a key deterrent. Stressing the importance of ensuring accountability for the crimes committed by the Syrian regime, she expressed solidarity with women and girls around the world who bear the brunt of conflict.
IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ (Croatia), associating himself with the European Union, noted the mounting evidence of widespread rape and sexual violence in areas under Russian control since the start of the invasion and expressed support for a rigorous investigation of allegations of sexual violence. He called on all States to ratify the International Criminal Court Statute or to align their laws with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, General recommendation 35 on gender-based violence against women and model law on rape proposed by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women. For victims unable to seek compensation through the judicial process, it is important to provide other victim-centred solutions. In Croatia, survivors of sexual violence perpetrated during the Homeland War are entitled to financial reparations and special care packages even if the perpetrators are never found or brought to justice. He expressed support for the Security Council to systematically incorporate and apply sexual violence as a designation criterion in United Nations sanction regimes, where such crimes are persistently perpetrated, emphasizing that prevention of sexual violence in conflict should start at home and in peace. As one of the participating countries in the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, his country is open to discussing further options for strengthening the prevention of sexual violence, putting an end to impunity, and improving implementation of the existing framework, he said.
KRZYSZTOF SZCZERSKI (Poland), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, said the inclusion of women as full, equal and meaningful participants in all aspects of peace processes is a basic prerequisite for ending conflict-related sexual violence. Their participation can best guarantee a survivor-centred approach, including rehabilitation of survivors, ensuring post-conflict reparations and accountability, and the establishment of vetting mechanisms to exclude perpetrators of sexual violence from the security forces, he added. Expressing concern about accounts of Russian soldiers deliberately using sexual violence as a tactic of war, he noted that the massive displacement caused by the war has heightened the risks of all forms of gender-based and sexual violence. He urged the international community to ensure all perpetrators, including the leadership, will be brought to justice, while cautioning that a vast majority of survivors do not report due to discrimination and stigma. Poland was among the first to refer the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court and will support its efforts to collect relevant evidence, he affirmed.
SERGIO AMARAL ALVES DE CARVALHO (Portugal), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, called on all States to ensure implementation of the comprehensive legal frameworks adopted by the Council, including by making conflict-related sexual violence a designation criterion in all relevant sanctions regimes. It is important to provide support to both military and civilian justice systems, invest in justice for victims, and ensure delivery of services and material assistance as a form of protection against exploitation and abuse, he said, emphasizing that preventing sexual violence is even more important than holding perpetrators accountable. Investing in human rights education and training, and in women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making is a key investment in that regard. He went on to suggest including training on the prevention of sexual violence in security sector reform programmes to build capacity for local security actors.
ZAHRA ERSHADI (Iran), noting that the four Geneva Conventions and their two Additional Protocols explicitly and implicitly condemn different forms of sexual violence as serious violations of humanitarian law, said all States and non-State parties to conflict have the responsibility to fully comply with their obligations thereunder. Preventing and combating that inhumane practice requires a collective effort and will not be successful until its root causes — namely the circumstances surrounding the occurrence of an armed conflict — are addressed. “Unfortunately, as long as terrorism, violent extremism, foreign occupation and foreign interference persist, such a solution will remain elusive,” she said, noting that in the Middle East, the main threats to women’s security remains foreign occupation and invasion. “The situation of Palestinian girls and women is a clear case in point,” she said, reiterating Iran’s position that issues concerning women and girls should be dealt with by the General Assembly and other United Nations bodies, and that the Security Council should only address those issues if they are directly relevant to international peace and security.
RAWA ZOGHBI (Lebanon), expressing pride at seeing women ambassadors preside over the Council for three consecutive months, voiced her hope that Ms. Murad is the last young woman in the world with a story like hers. She recalled the suffering of Yazidi women and girls, subjected to barbaric and inhumane treatment by ISIS including rape, sexual violence, sexual slavery and torture. Unfortunately, such atrocities persist unabated. While recognizing that women and girls are disproportionately the victims of sexual violence in conflict, reference to sexual violence perpetrated against men and boys should not be excluded. “In their case, the stigma and shame is much more intense and many victims and survivors choose to remain silent,” she pointed out. Particular attention should be given to women activists, human rights defenders and journalists, who are often specifically targeted. Quoting the Secretary-General’s affirmation that the world is experiencing the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945 — with 2 billion people, or a quarter of the world’s population, now living in conflict-affected areas — she said the most important step to is “to shut the guns, put an end to conflicts and above all to deploy all efforts to prevent them before they erupt”. Women’s bodies can no longer be collateral damage or used as a weapon of war, and “women’s bodies cannot be turned into battlefields anymore,” she stressed.
KARL LAGATIE (Belgium), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, said he was appalled by reports of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian forces in Ukraine and called for a full investigation. Turning to the situation of gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he noted that while the overall situation remains worrisome, there are some signs of hope. Member States remain primarily responsible for prosecuting the perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence, with assistance from the United Nations if needed. He also expressed support for international mechanisms of accountability, including the International Criminal Court and hybrid tribunals. Further, sexual and gender-based violence should become an autonomous criterion in the Council’s sanctions regimes. Meanwhile, complementary justice and reparation programmes are crucial, as is a survivor-based approach. That includes the right to medical care and to have an abortion following rape, he stressed, highlighting Belgium’s support for the United Nations Trust Fund.
LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), associating herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, said the reports of sexual violence — including rape — emerging from Ukraine are shocking and alarming. It is appalling that children are also being subjected to sexual and gender-based violence crimes, she said, pointing out that Ukraine is far from an isolated case — “it is only the most recent one”. As a firm proponent of survivor-centric approaches, Bulgaria supports access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for victims, as well as psychosocial support, she said, calling for more support for civil society groups that provide assistance to survivors. She also voiced support for referrals to the International Criminal Court in cases where sexual violence in conflict appears to have been committed, as well as for the inclusion of sexual and gender-based violence as a stand-alone criterion in Council sanctions regimes.
MAURIZIO MASSARI (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security and the LGBTI Core Group, agreed with other speakers that the Secretary-General’s report “paints a bleak picture” of the rising use of sexual violence as a weapon of war around the world. Condemning the unjustified aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, he voiced deep concern over reports of attacks against women and children, including rape perpetrated by Russian armed forces. The prevention of widespread sexual violence “begins in peace”, he said, calling for efforts to enhance women’s empowerment and their participation in decision-making. He also called for survivor-centric approaches and noted that United Nations peacekeeping operations have a key role to play in protecting women from conflict-related sexual violence as part of their civilian protection mandates.
MYRIAM OEHRI (Liechtenstein) said that ongoing reports of rape and abduction in Ethiopia and Myanmar are cause for alarm. In the case of Ukraine, she expressed hope for expeditious investigations by the International Criminal Court. Such acts are morally repugnant and categorically prohibited under international human rights law. Measures outlined in the relevant Security Council resolutions are necessary to bring conflict-related sexual violence to an end, she said, calling on the Council to list such violence as a targeted criterion in sanctions regimes. International criminal justice mechanisms have significantly advanced efforts to break impunity, she said, noting that in 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda ruled that rape and sexual assault constitute acts of genocide. In cases where the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction, other options must be found, she said, underscoring the role of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 as a path towards justice for crimes committed in that country, including sexual violence.
ANTJE LEENDERTSE (Germany), expressing alarm over the increase in conflict-related sexual violence illustrated by the Secretary-General’s most recent report, said her delegation is appalled by reports of sexual and gender-based violence against women and children in Ukraine committed by the Russian armed forces and mercenaries. In Afghanistan, women and young girls are subjected to forced marriages and sexual and gender-based violence on a daily basis. Also outlining similar crimes in Myanmar, Syria and Yemen, she recalled that Germany has taken over as co-chair of the State and Donor Working Group of the multi-stakeholder Call to Action to End Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies. At the national level, a Higher Regional Court in Koblenz convicted a former official of Syria’s General Intelligence Service for crimes against humanity, including acts of sexual violence, committed in 2011 and 2012. In addition, Germany recently announced a commitment of €1 million to the International Criminal Court for the investigation of Russian war crimes in Ukraine. “We must protect and enable organizations defending international humanitarian law and human rights law and ensuring accountability for violations thereof,” she stressed, echoing other speakers in calling for a survivor-centred approach.
MARTIN HERMANN (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said conflict-related sexual violence is used to inflict trauma upon, dehumanize and humiliate civilians, a violation cutting across many geographies. Women and girls have been systematically targeted in Afghanistan, with rape used by both sides in northern Ethiopia on a horrific scale. In Ukraine, initial reports of violations by Russian forces are extremely alarming, also increasing the risks of human trafficking. The Nordic countries cannot accept impunity for these horrific acts. He called for sexual and gender-based violence to be incorporated as a stand-alone criterion for targeted sanctions by the Council. Citing the low level of compliance with the framework on such crimes, he noted an alarming 70 per cent of parties listed in the Secretary-General’s report are persistent perpetrators and have appeared therein for five or more years. State parties to conflict are often not scrutinized enough; nor is there enough focus on private armies, including the Wagner Group. He called on Member States to support prosecutions and ensure accountability, compliance and reparations. The Council must reflect prevention in peacekeeping mandates, while the international community must urgently accelerate implementation of the existing legal and normative framework.
JAKUB KULHÁNEK (Czech Republic), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, stated that conflict-related sexual violence, mostly on women and girls, adds in a sickening way to suffering in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and now Ukraine. Discrimination against women and girls in all their diversity inevitably worsens in armed conflict and undermines their full, equal and meaningful participation in political, social, economic and peacebuilding processes. Perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence are often unidentified, and justice for the victims is thus rarely delivered. “We have the international framework. The time for its implementation is long overdue,” he stressed. He reiterated a call for the Russian Federation to end the aggression, withdraw its forces from the entire territory of Ukraine and stop violating international humanitarian and human rights law. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are used as Russian tactics of war to intimidate civilians and protesters, and punish and deter non-governmental organizations, journalists and media workers. “There are reports about cases of rape and sexual violence as some perverse form of entertainment for the members or the Russian armed forces in Ukraine,” he stressed. The Russian Federation must be held accountable for these and other unacceptable breaches of the Charter of the United Nations and international law.
THILMEEZA HUSSAIN (Maldives), recalling resolution 1325 (2000), which compels all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, stressed that the perpetrators of these crimes — regardless of which side of the conflict they fought on or whether the conflict is still active — must be held accountable. Encouraging all investigations and prosecutions to be full, fair and centred on justice for the victims, she stressed the importance of women’s inclusion in and leadership of security and rule of law institutions. Highlighting her country’s zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of gender-based violence, she said it has also enacted the Social Protection Act to raise awareness and create the necessary conditions for the protection of all women and girls.
ANDRÉS EFREN MONTALVO (Ecuador) said that sexual violence is unfortunately one of the common denominators of all conflicts. Condemning all forms of sexual violence, regardless of where it happens, whether in Afghanistan, Syria or Ukraine, he said “it makes no sense to call ourselves a civilization when such barbaric acts take place”. Stressing the importance of using effective mechanisms to prevent sexual violence, he said there should be no impunity for perpetrators and those who encourage them or conceal them.
SYED MOHAMAD HASRIN AIDID (Malaysia) underlined the need to address conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, both during conflict and in post-conflict settings, in an integrated and holistic manner. Measures to prevent and address those crimes should be aligned with policies to prevent terrorism, he added, noting that accountability is a duty under both national and international law. National judicial systems should be pushed to meet international standards, and States must prioritize assistance to victims. Additionally, there are merits to strengthening cooperation between the Security Council and the Human Rights Council towards ensuring accountability for sexual assault and violence against women and children, he said, also calling for efforts to end reprisals and harassment of women who are engaged in peace processes around the world.
MARÍA BASSOLS DELGADO (Spain), associating herself with the European Union, the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security and the LGBTI Core Group, said almost 15 years have passed since Council resolution 1820 (2008) first recognized the threat posed by conflict-related sexual violence. Today’s debate shows how much remains to be done to address those crimes, she said, advocating for the inclusion of sexual and gender-based violence as a criterion for sanctions regimes and for the deployment of women’s protection officers in all peace operations. Noting that tackling the crime of sexual violence in war goes hand in hand with dismantling systems of oppression, she said the weakness of many national judicial systems hinders attempts to hold perpetrators accountable. She called on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its invasion and withdraw all its troops from Ukraine’s territory and strongly condemned all the crimes now coming to light in Bucha and elsewhere in Ukraine “no matter who their perpetrators may be”.
MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia), associating with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, said that various Security Council resolutions recognize that sexual violations can constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, most of these crimes evade justice. The Council should consider referrals to the International Criminal Court for sexual violence and gender-based violence. The primary responsibility lies with States, he said. He condemned the Russia Federation’s aggression against Ukraine in blatant violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, stressing that acts of sexual violence perpetrated by the Russian forces — including gang rape and rape in front of children — are hideous violations of international law. The Russian Federation should bring the perpetrators to justice instead of using lies and excuses. This is unforgivable behaviour in any circumstances and there is no impunity for such crimes for anyone. This should be crystal clear, he stressed.
MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq) said that from 2014 to 2017 the world saw the worst crimes perpetrated by ISIS against the Iraqi people — decapitation, sexual slavery, forced marriage and disdain for the very principles of human rights and human dignity. These crimes can constitute genocide and crimes against humanity. Given this terrible situation, Iraq is sparing no effort to promote peace and bring justice to the victims. Parliament has adopted the law on Yazidi survivors to offer compensation. Women and girls were in slave markets, forced to change their religion, became pregnant and had forcible abortions. There will be no amnesty for the perpetrators of the crime of abduction. Iraq is also doing its utmost to strengthen its judicial system, in line with international commitments, and will receive evidence being gathered by UNITAD to use in a special tribunal, he said.
GVARAM KHANDAMISHVILI (Georgia), associating himself with the European Union, said sexual violence in conflict is alarmingly widespread, and the international community must do more to prosecute perpetrators. Reiterating solidarity with Ukraine, he condemned the unjustified and unprovoked full-scale military attack by the Russian Federation, with disturbing reports of attacks on maternity wards and schools and of sexual violence and rape used as a weapon of war against women and girls. Calling for prompt and impartial investigations, he said Council resolutions pave way for States to establish a firm normative framework to address conflict-related sexual violence. Georgia’s Ministry of Defence developed a strategy to prevent and eradicate all forms of discrimination and counter gender violence. His country spares no efforts to keep women’s issues on the agenda of the Geneva International Discussions, the only format for negotiations between Georgia and the Russian Federation on security issues. He voiced regret that Moscow’s illegal occupation of Georgian regions remains the main obstacle to his country’s implementation of the United Nations human rights framework for women and girls there.
ROBERT MURPHY, an observer for the Holy See, noted that sexual violence in conflict is now widely recognized by the international community as a war crime. However, such actions often remain hidden, both during and after the conflict, he said, emphasizing the need for accurate reporting systems. He went on to describe sexual violence in conflict as a crime ignored, pointing out that it is perceived as less attention-worthy or alarmingly viewed as intrinsic to conflict and, therefore, a fixed feature of it. What is more, impunity is often the norm and victims are consequently often afraid to speak out, he continued, urging for accountability, justice and reparation. Commending Nadia Murad’s courage and dedication, he stressed that women are not only victims but also protagonists in the promotion of peace and reconciliation at all levels and called for their full participation of women at each stage and in every aspect of peace processes. He went on to urge the Council to take concrete actions in promoting initiatives to prevent and combat sexual abuse in United Nations peace operations, including through specialized training with the specific aim of reducing risks in host countries.
MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica) expressed regret that sexual violence in armed conflict is the norm and accountability is the exception, rather than the rule. To bring an end to impunity, all State and non-State actors must be held accountable. This work begins at home by guaranteeing victims and survivors access to justice and full reparations, she said, adding that the International Criminal Court plays a fundamental role in this regard. Costa Rica believes in changing a reductionist, binary vision in which sexual violence in armed conflict has been addressed. For too long, boys and men, as well as LGBTI people, have been excluded from these efforts and she called on the Council to ensure their inclusion.
MICHAL MIARKA, Head of the Liaison Office to the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), said the organization has long demonstrated its commitment to preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence. In 2015, it developed specific military guidelines — which are now currently under revision — on the prevention of, and response to, such crimes. They provide strategic direction with the aim of reducing the risk of conflict-related sexual violence and improving responsive measures for the protection of vulnerable populations. For example, NATO personnel are obliged to prevent, act and stop such violence in areas where they operate, as well as to develop the analytical tools necessary to understand risk levels and cooperate with relevant actors, including the United Nations. In that vein, she outlined work alongside the Civil Society Advisory Panel — an independent coalition of women’s rights experts, aimed at assisting NATO in the effective implementation of the women, peace and security mandate — and emphasized the organization’s commitment to integrity and accountability.
ANDREAS HADJICHRYSANTHOU (Cyprus), associating himself with the European Union, said that while focus on perpetrator accountability and survivor support are vital, prevention measures to stop sexual violence from occurring in the first place must be established. Conflict-related sexual violence is preventable by systematic action. Central to that approach are investments in strengthening the rule of law and State institutions, economic stability, infrastructure and social development, as well as measures to address deep-rooted inequalities and ensure women’s participation in all spheres. A survivor-centred approach cannot focus solely on providing support or promoting women’s empowerment, he clarified; it must also address the economic, social and political structures that underpin their disempowerment. In that regard, post-conflict settings provide an opportunity for transforming societal structures in ways that ensure women’s greater enjoyment of human rights. Post-conflict societies recover and rebuild more effectively when women participate in reconstruction and their experiences in conflict are addressed. History, including in the case of Cyprus, has shown that the role of women in conflict resolution, post-conflict rehabilitation, reconciliation and sustainable peace is key. As a country that has experienced conflict-related sexual violence, Cyprus attaches great importance to ending all forms of gender-based violence, he said, calling on the international community to accelerate efforts in that regard.
ALHAJI FANDAY TURAY (Sierra Leone) said his country is fully aware of the horrifying impact sexual violence crimes have on the lives and livelihoods of women and girls. Sierra Leone experienced one of the bloodiest and fiercest civil wars, during which sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage, were used as tactics of war. The Government recently amended its national law on sexual violence to set up a special court on rape and establish one-stop centres to provide services for survivors. The Government remains committed to combating sexual violence within national borders. In a speech to the General Assembly in September 2021, President Julius Maada Bio called for global solidarity on this issue in the form of a stand-alone Assembly resolution, hopefully to be adopted during the seventy-sixth session. The text will highlight the gravity of sexual violence and call out the crime as abhorrent to international peace and security. He urged all Member States to support the initiative, as it views accountability as prevention. It is time to accelerate efforts to address these crimes and restore the dignity of survivors by enforcing compliance with relevant normative positions that have been adopted, he stressed.
MOHAMMAD K. KOBA (Indonesia) expressed support for multifaceted United Nations efforts to end the cycles of sexual violence in conflict, noting there is no instant way to fight and end impunity. On 12 April, Indonesia enacted its law on the protection of women and girls against sexual violence, and in 2014, a Presidential Regulation was signed to provide instruction on the protection of women and children in conflict situations. Noting that there are four peacekeeping missions with a specific mandate to address sexual violence in countries with conflicts, he nonetheless observed that female representation remains low, calling on the Council to consider the link between the presence of female peacekeepers and the number of sexual violence offences. Noting that international cooperation plays an important role, he said Indonesia stands ready to help build the capacities of States, especially through triangular or South-South cooperation, and recommends exploring avenues for innovative financing, including through the Bretton Woods systems and regional cooperation.
MD MONWAR HOSSAIN (Bangladesh) said his country had its own horrific experience of sexual violence in conflict during its war of liberation in 1971. Despite the numerous challenges faced in rebuilding a war-ravaged country, perpetrators were brought to justice through trials, and victims’ contributions were officially recognized. This experience prompted Bangladesh to host more than a million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals, the Rohingyas. A majority were women and girls. Unfortunately, there is no progress yet in ensuring accountability for the perpetrators in Myanmar of the crimes committed against Rohingya women. Without holding them accountable, the desired conducive environment cannot be created in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Bangladesh’s national action plan on women, peace and security recommends activities for updating and localizing modules and training materials for peacekeepers. Stressing that accountability should be the top priority to prevent abuse, he said the collection of real-time, credible data on sexual violence can help create early warning mechanisms. The implementation of national action plans can also play an instrumental role, yet 95 Member States have not yet adopted such plans.
MOHAN PEIRIS (Sri Lanka) described the Council’s recognition of sexual violence as a tactic of war as a “milestone” in acknowledging how conflict impacts women. In order to better address that issue today, the global community must shift conflict-associated sexual violence from a secondary concern to a primary one. All Member States need adequate training, research and information-sharing, aimed at making intervention techniques better understood and accessible. Citing the “hyper-masculine culture” that exists in conflict, which seems to encourage exploitation and abuse, he said such behaviour has been dismissed in the past with a “men will be men” attitude. “This forms a bond of misplaced camaraderie that helps protect the reputation of the offender, but also results in the stigmatization and ostracization of the complainant,” he said, noting that it also results in sexual abuse being swept under the carpet. Personnel investigating such crimes must be trained with sharp skills and integrity. “We must bridge the gap in addressing the canvas of sexual offences” and also hold the perpetrators of domestic abuse and mental harassment to account.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said that while women enjoy a high social standing in his country thanks to national laws and customs that prohibit any violations of women’s dignity, since 2014, such violations have “taken on a social dimension” due to the attacks by the terrorist Houthi militia. The Council’s Panel of Experts on Yemen documented some of these crimes, he noted, adding that Sultan Zabin, the leader of the Houthi militia, used torture and sexual violence against women. Yemen is responding to such attacks with an action plan focused on increasing women’s participation in legislative, executive and judicial sectors, he said, adding that it is also putting in place guidelines and programmes to rehabilitate women and girls subjected to violence.
ANDREJS PILDEGOVIČS (Latvia), associating himself with the European Union, condemned the Russian Federation’s atrocities and grave violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in Ukraine. Stressing that it must and will be held accountable, he said that Latvia has initiated national criminal law procedures to gather evidence on crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against peace perpetrated by the Russian military. It has also decided to provide additional financial contribution of €100,000 to the International Criminal Court to support its investigation of crimes perpetrated in Ukraine. Welcoming criminal procedures initiated against the Russian military at the national level in other countries, he encouraged State parties to the Rome Statute to support the International Criminal Court. As the Council’s deliberations often fail to generate solutions, including in situations where atrocity crimes are already being committed, he underscored the need to maximize the Council’s efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and accountability. In that context, he encouraged Member States to join the Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, elaborated by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group, as well as the Political Declaration on Suspension of Veto Powers in Cases of Mass Atrocity, initiated by France and Mexico. He called on all relevant United Nations mechanisms, including the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, to maintain focus on civilians affected by the Russian aggression in Ukraine.
JOCHEN HANS ALMOSLECHNER (Austria), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on Women, Peace and Security, said the International Criminal Court is the most effective and relevant international instrument to help Member States establish accountability and end impunity. “The Security Council should not shy away to address conflict-related sexual violence in all country-specific situations and to apply the sanction regime without any gaps to any perpetrators of conflict related sexual violence,” he emphasized, while pointing out that sexual violence also affects men and boys, as well as persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Pledging that Austria will continue to support efforts to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe of the Ukrainian people, he stressed that there will be no impunity for the Russian military and the decision-makers responsible for the killing of civilians and the sexual violence.
AMRIT BAHADUR RAI (Nepal) said that while it is the State’s primary responsibility to prevent violence against women, a State’s ability is largely restricted by its level of socioeconomic development, legal and institutional frameworks and commitment to rule of law. Therefore, strong international support is necessary. Women’s greater participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions would greatly help protect women and girls from violence. As one of the largest troop- and police-contributing countries, Nepal is committed to increasing the number of women peacekeepers, as well as to a zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse. As a post-conflict country, Nepal has worked to ensure women’s dignified representation in governance. In 2011, Nepal was the first country in South Asia, and the second in Asia, to adopt a national action plan to implement Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008). Women’s participation in decision-making, the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence and ending impunity were the top priorities of its plan, which includes the participation of conflict victims and civil society organizations. The Government’s second plan, now being finalized, incorporates measures to address the concerns of victims of sexual violence, female combatants and children born of wartime rape. Nepal is committed to resolving conflict-related sexual violence cases to ensure justice for victims, he said. The process is led by two transitional justice commissions: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons.
NATALIA MUDRENKO (Ukraine) said several hotlines were opened for the survivors of and witnesses to reported acts of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian soldiers in her country. The head of La Strada-Ukraine, which manages one such hotline, briefed the Council on 11 April about nine reported cases of rape by Russian soldiers in the temporarily occupied towns and villages of Kyivska, Khersonska, and Chernigivska regions; 12 women and girls suffered. Now Ukrainian officials talk about hundreds of such cases, yet they cannot assess the full scale of these atrocities. Some victims were killed by Russian soldiers, who tried to hide their crimes. The Russian Federation continues to “deny the obvious” and Ukraine has not heard of any investigation launched by that country. This could mean only that the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers against civilians in Ukraine, including sexual violence, were coordinated, systemic and sanctioned. All these crimes contravene international law and Council resolutions. Ukraine has called immediately for a full and transparent investigation of all war crimes, including sexual violence, she said, commending the creation of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry, and referral of the situation in Ukraine to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. She also welcomed the initiative by the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict to enhance joint actions and programmes with Ukraine to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence and to strengthen survivor-centred responses, notably by supporting and reinforcing national mechanisms and institutions.
JORGE VIDAL (Chile), condemning all use of sexual exploitation and abuse as a tactic of war, expressed concern that rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy continue to be common in conflicts while perpetrators benefit from the prevailing impunity. Highlighting the devastating consequences on the survivors, their families and their communities, he added that the cycle of violence continues with social stigmatization and post-traumatic stress. “We cannot speak of participation unless protection is guaranteed,” he said, adding that survivors must have access to justice and comprehensive legal services.
MOHAMMED ABDULAZIZ H. ALATEEK (Saudi Arabia) said the international community must stand in solidarity with victims of conflict-related sexual violence at all levels. “Our world is witnessing rapid change and overlapping, multidimensional crises,” he said, noting that such circumstances require comprehensive, joint strategies to support women. Saudi Arabia has put in place programmes that respond to the needs of women in conflict situations, including humanitarian projects set up without discrimination, in an effort to help women in conflicts live a more dignified life. Citing the many violations committed by the Houthi terrorist militia in Yemen — including crimes against women and children — he underlined the need for more international efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, adding that the donor community should strengthen its efforts as “prevention is better than cure”.
YOSEPH KASSAYE (Ethiopia) said the attack against his country’s National Defence Force on 24 November 2020 caused unprecedented security challenges that have affected the lives of its people in Afar, Amhara and Tigray Regions, with women and children becoming victims of atrocious violations waged by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. His Government established three layers of investigations in the aftermath of that attack, he reported, also highlighting the March 2021 agreement between the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to conduct joint investigations. These investigations disproved many accusations against the Ethiopian Defence Force, including systematic commission of sexual violence. For the allegations that were substantiated by evidence, 30 security officials have been charged, of which 10 have been convicted. Stressing the need to approach conflict-related human rights violations with care, he said that human rights are often politicized and instrumentalized against countries such as his.
ANNA KARIN ENESTRÖM (Sweden), speaking for the United Nations LGBTI Core Group, said women and girls, including lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex persons, are particularly negatively impacted by conflict. The Group stands in solidarity with all women and girls affected by the situation in Ukraine, she said, expressing shock by the personal testimony of rapes and sexual violence that are now emerging. “It is alarming and unacceptable that actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity can increase the chance of someone becoming the target of rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence linked to a conflict,” she continued. Further, the number of reports about these violations has increased in various conflicts. Such crimes are underreported due to factors such as the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity, fear of stigmatization and reprisals, cultural norms, lack of awareness, adequate support services and avenues for accountability. All survivors, including LGBTI persons, are unique individuals with different experiences and needs. Any support to empower survivors must be contextualized, paying particular attention to multiple and intersecting vulnerabilities, she said.
BAE JONGIN (Republic of Korea) emphasized the need for a survivor-centred approach to rape and sexual violence in Ukraine, while calling upon States to ensure that survivors receive non-discriminatory access to all the services they need and to end the culture of impunity. Noting that the Secretary-General’s recent report documents a large number of sexual violence cases in conflict and post-conflict areas — including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria, Libya and Myanmar — he stressed the need to protect survivors and witnesses from reprisals. He called for tackling the root-causes of conflict-related sexual violence, including by addressing structural gender inequality. Urging the Taliban to reverse their recent decision not to reopen secondary schools to girls in Afghanistan, he also emphasized the need to promote women’s participation in peacekeeping. He pledged his country’s efforts to increase the number of women military observers and staff officers serving in United Nations peace operations to 25 per cent by 2028, pledging: “As a country that experienced the tragedy of conflict-related sexual violence, so-called ‘comfort women’, the Republic of Korea will continue to restore the honour and dignity of the victims and survivors and to turn their painful experiences and courage into a historical lesson to prevent conflict-related sexual violence.”
ZAKIA IGHIL (Algeria) underlined the pivotal role of women in building sound societies, noting that her country’s Constitution empowers women and protects them in all areas. The Algerian Government views women as drivers for peace at the national and regional level in line with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). Within the League of Arab States, her country works to protect women in conflict zones — including by establishing a network of female mediators for peace. As an African country, Algeria also hosted the first meeting of the Network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation and supports women’s leadership across the continent. Spotlighting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the availability of justice and services, she said that has worsened the situation of women in many conflict hotspots. Against that backdrop, she underlined the need for human rights-based and survivor-focused services for victims, the promotion of protective legal frameworks, efforts to fight impunity and enhanced gender-equality initiatives at the national level, among other things. She also cited documented and repeated instances of sexual violence used by Moroccan forces in the Western Sahara, calling for more attention to that issue.
OMAR CASTAÑEDA (Guatemala), noting that sexual violence against women during armed conflicts has historically been used as a war tactic, pointed out that today it is also being used to generate income through trafficking and sexual slavery. Such actions have become systematic and widespread, reaching an alarming degree of brutality, including the increase in incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children in 2021. He called on Member States to prioritize and maintain support services for child survivors of sexual violence. Emphasizing the important role that women can and must play in the construction of peace, conflict prevention and resolution, he urged the international community to remove the barriers that prevent strengthening their role in decision-making processes. As a State party of the International Criminal Court, he emphasized that the Rome Statute is the most progressive international legal framework on gender-sensitive war crimes to date; its provisions must be folded into the national context so that States have a comprehensive framework for investigating those crimes — including specific procedures to support victims and witnesses, programmes aimed at teaching women the laws that concern them, and resources to monitor implementation of gender-sensitive laws and provisions to compensate victims. Each component has a significant effect on women’s access to justice.
TIJJANI MUHAMMAD BANDE (Nigeria) said sexual violence in conflict has devastating impacts on women, their families and societies more broadly. Referring to the actions of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria — which have led to the mass displacement of people and included rape and forced marriage — he recounted successful efforts by the State to combat the group. Nigeria has taken a range of survivor-centric steps to provide support to victims, prioritizing the root causes of conflict such as poverty, exclusion and climate change. He also outlined efforts to include women in peace processes and in future conflict prevention and peacebuilding, stressing that the United Nations remains the central platform for raising awareness and coordination on all those issues.
Mr. KADIRI of Morocco, taking the floor a second time, said Algeria continues to attack his country and try to mislead the international community through the repetition of fabrications on the subject of the Moroccan Sahara. The individual mentioned by that representative in her statement is not a human rights activist but a trained agent of Algeria and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) and has incited violence on several occasions. Meanwhile, sexual violations continue to occur at the hands of POLISARIO authorities — including in detention centres and in the Tindouf refugee camps — with Algeria’s complicity. “Algeria is not in a position to talk about human rights before the Security Council,” he said, adding that the country also recruits children and arrests human rights defenders, civil society activists and protesters, as recently documented by OHCHR.
Ms. IGHIL of Algeria, responding to her counterpart, said Morocco’s representative has once again stated baseless fabrications and lies before the Council. The phenomenon he described “simply does not exist in [the Tindouf camps],” she stressed, noting that those lies are simply a desperate attempt to defame the residents of Western Sahara.