Sexual violence in conflict destroys lives and fractures communities – UN Chief

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Sexual violence has become a brutal tactic of warfare and repression that terrorizes populations, destroys lives and fractures communities, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

The UN chief, in his speech commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on Friday, also said that perpetrators rarely face the consequences of their actions.

“It is the survivors who carry the burden of stigma and trauma throughout their lives, often doubly brutalized by harmful social norms and victim-blaming,” he said.

“We stand in solidarity…supporting the most vulnerable women, girls, men and boys as they struggle to live in dignity and peace in the midst of humanitarian crises, including by increasing support for those victimized and displaced; those vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.”

Rural areas with weak protection systems also need to be a focus for extra support, he added.

This means bolstering national justice systems to hold perpetrators accountable, ensure victims receive medical and psychosocial support, and upholding survivors’ rights.

He also stressed, it requires support for women-led civil society organizations to break down social, economic and cultural barriers that deny protection, equality and justice as well as addressing underlying causes of sexual violence in conflict.

“With increased political resolve and financial resources, we can match words with action and end the scourge of sexual violence in conflict, once and for all,” said Mr. Guterres.

Virginia Gamba, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, noted that while at least 14,200 children have been verified as victims of sexual violence, that is “only the tip of the iceberg”.

At the same time, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten, together with European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, issued a joint call for the international community to help eradicate conflict-related sexual violence, and “save succeeding generations from this scourge”.

“It is time to move beyond reactive approaches and address the underlying causes and invisible drivers of sexual violence…as well as harmful social norms related to honour, shame, and blaming victims,” they said in their joint statement.

They expressed deep shock over the impact that the war in Ukraine is having on civilians, and grave concern over the harrowing personal testimonies and mounting allegations of sexual violence.

“We strongly condemn such crimes and call for an immediate end to the violence. From Afghanistan, to Guinea, Mali, Myanmar, and elsewhere, they drew attention to an epidemic of coups and military takeovers that has turned back the clock on women’s rights.”

And as new crises escalate, wars elsewhere continue, including in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Each is marked by alarming levels of conflict-related sexual violence used as a tool of political repression, intimidation and reprisal against frontline actors and activists.

“It is critical to foster a protective environment that deters and prevents sexual violence in the first instance and enables safe reporting and adequate response. Prevention is the best form of protection, including the prevention of conflict itself,” Patten and Borrell said.

To address sexual violence, greater political and diplomatic engagement is needed, they said, in ceasefire and peace agreements, threat analysis, greater gender-responsive justice and security sector reform; and for amplifying the voices of survivors and affected communities.

“On this day, we stand united in our unwavering commitment to support survivors and to end impunity for the perpetrators. Survivors must be seen by their societies as the holders of rights, to be respected and enforced, in times of war and peace,” they said. (Source: UN News)

 

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