I congratulate the United Kingdom on today’s launch of the International Alliance on the PSVI, and commend their steadfast leadership on this agenda. As I emphasized at the PSVI Conference last November, strengthening the global response is our global responsibility. It is time for a concerted, multi-stakeholder approach to replace impunity with unity. In the face of deepening geopolitical divides, we must remain principled about the universality of international law. We must demonstrate to perpetrators, and potential perpetrators, that the law is not an empty threat; and to survivors that it is not an empty promise. This Alliance is being launched at a time of great global turbulence, marked by rising militarization and an epidemic of coups and unconstitutional shifts in power, notably in Afghanistan, Guinea, Mali, Myanmar, and the Sudan, which have turned back the clock on women’s rights.
New crises have multiplied, even as entrenched conflicts have deepened, resulting in shrinking civic space and rising reprisals against human rights defenders, activists, and journalists. Reprisals have targeted frontline actors delivering lifesaving services to survivors, and sexual violence has itself been used as a tool of retaliation against protestors, detainees, victims, and witnesses. Sexual harassment and gender-based hate speech have also surged in the relatively ungoverned digital space. Across the globe, we see that every new wave of warfare brings a rising tide of sexual violence. In recent months, the scope of my mandate has expanded to address new and emerging concerns, such as the situations in northern Ethiopia, Ukraine, and Haiti, as well as the nexus with violent extremism, human trafficking, climate insecurity, and the plight of children conceived as result of wartime rape. We have reached an inflection point in this agenda, which is marked by heightened awareness, and yet ever-increasing risk. Today, we know more than ever before about the drivers and dynamics of wartime sexual violence. We are aware of the visible drivers, such as arms proliferation, the proximity of troops to civilian population centres, and the collapse of vital civilian infrastructure; and the invisible drivers, such as gender-based discrimination, harmful social norms, and the emboldening effects of impunity. We know the contexts in which sexual violence is concentrated, namely in displacement settings, detention sites, at checkpoints, on military bases, and in rural areas where women undertake essential livelihood activities. And we know that socioeconomically marginalized women and girls, living in areas beyond the reach of rule of law institutions, are at greatest risk. We have reached a new level of consciousness and consensus. Today, it is recognized that sexual violence is not a by-product of war that can be dismissed as inevitable; but a crime of war that is always preventable. It is understood that addressing the causes and consequences of sexual violence also contributes to reconciliation, social cohesion, and the consolidation of peace.
To translate this unprecedented level of awareness and momentum into practical results, my mandate has developed a range of tools to build the skill and the will for effective action. These include model legislative provisions to help harmonize national laws with international standards; guidelines on private sector engagement; and a prevention framework, which sets out a two-track approach to preventing sexual violence in the first instance, and mitigating its secondary harms, such as stigmatization. My Office is currently compiling the 14th annual Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, which provides a historical record for a crime that has been chronically underreported and overlooked. This report includes a list of credibly suspected perpetrators as a basis for targeted action by sanctions regimes and accountability mechanisms. Last January, we also published a Special Report on women and girls who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence in conflict and children born of such violence, which sets out a platform of legal, policy, and operational recommendations for affected States, allies, and partners to take forward.
As part of the integrated architecture established by the Security Council through resolution 1888 of 2009, the Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict has assisted national authorities to strengthen institutional safeguards against impunity in over a dozen countries. The interagency coordination network, UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, which I chair, has supported 54 projects across 17 conflict-affected settings since 2009. Women’s Protection Advisers in the field convene the Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Arrangements, which provide an evidence-base for action to catalyse compliance and behavioural change. Through a dozen Joint Communiqués and Frameworks of Cooperation signed with conflict-affected countries, most recently with the Government of Ukraine, my mandate has helped to anchor national ownership for a comprehensive response, including security sector reform, service-delivery, access to justice, and an enabling environment for civil society.
The persistence of sexual violence on 21st Century battlefields, as a tactic of war, torture, terror, and political repression, is not due to a lack of normative frameworks or institutional arrangements. It is because existing norms are inadequately enforced, and existing institutions are not backed with the requisite level of resources. Moving forward, my mandate will count on this new Alliance and its members to help strengthen the existing architecture, including through sustained funding to the Conflict-Related Multi-Partner Trust Fund, which supports a range of survivor-centred interventions. Despite mounting needs across the globe, gender-based violence funding still generally accounts for less than one percent of the humanitarian response. Within this allocation, specific needs associated with conflict-related sexual violence are rarely reflected. As an international community, we must face the fact that to short-change survivors is to fail survivors. Indeed, despite many ground-breaking resolutions, the reality on the ground is that most cases never reach a clinic, let alone a courtroom. In Iraq, I met Yezidi women and girls who, months after their release from Da’esh captivity, had received neither medical nor psychological support. In eastern DRC, I met women and girls who were left isolated and impoverished following the double tragedy of rape and rejection. In the Central African Republic, I met survivors who were forced to walk for days on end to reach a basic healthcare facility.
We must close the service-delivery gap, as a step toward closing the accountability gap, and breaking the vicious cycle of violence and impunity. We must make sure that the only thing “inevitable” about rape is that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Every member of this Alliance can lead by example in reflecting the categorical prohibition of sexual violence in their national legislation and military manuals, as well as in IHL dissemination and training, codes of conduct, zero tolerance policies, accountability measures at all levels of the chain of command, and in their bilateral and multilateral sanctions practice. Every member of the Alliance who lends their voice to this cause is helping to disarm the weapon of rape, by reducing its power to silence and shame.
My key message to members of this new International Alliance is that survivors need more than our solidarity: they need sustained and adequate resources to rebuild shattered lives and livelihoods. So let us seize this opportunity for decisive and united action that is equal to the scale of the challenge.
Source: UN Office of the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict