Security Council Open Debate on Women and Peace and Security: Sexual Violence in Conflict
Thank you, Mr. President, for organizing today’s debate and for the priority that you are devoting to combating sexual violence in conflict. I also appreciate the remarks and presence of Secretary-General Ban this morning. And thank you, Special Representative Bangura, Special Envoy Jolie, and Ms. Adong Anywar for your briefings and your leadership on this critical issue affecting international peace and security.
The United States welcomes this opportunity to reaffirm the indispensable role of women in bringing peace and security to countries embroiled in conflict or emerging from it. Women’s active – indeed integral – involvement in peace processes and transitional justice mechanisms, including to address sexual violence, is critical to laying the foundation for lasting peace.
The resolution that we have adopted today reinforces our collective efforts to prevent conflict-related sexual violence, hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, and provide support and justice to the survivors. It also recognizes that national governments have primary responsibility for addressing this issue.
We see signs of progress, as some national governments are making justice systems more responsive and accessible to survivors of sexual violence. For example, Sierra Leone’s new Sexual Offense Law gives stiff minimum sentences to perpetrators. Sri Lanka’s Women’s Protection Units provide female staff at police stations and privacy for women to report crimes. And this May, Somalia committed to ensuring the protection of victims, witnesses, journalists, and others who report on sexual violence – a necessity for strengthening legal cases and bringing these issues into the public sphere. Special Representative Bangura deserves special thanks for her significant work with authorities to reduce sexual violence in Somalia, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mr. President, we applaud and appreciate the critical role that civil society, especially local women’s groups, play in assisting survivors by providing them with medical care, counseling, and a political voice, and by facilitating their access to justice. The United States is proud to support Congolese organizations that provide free legal aid for survivors as well as training to provide provincial lawyers and mobile courts — courts that heard almost 3,000 cases in the DRC last year. The efforts of local civil society remain vital and deserve even greater support from national authorities and the international community.
We also commend international initiatives that bolster national capacity on this issue. The United Kingdom and Foreign Secretary Hague, in particular, deserves praise for leading the G8’s development of an international protocol on the investigation and documentation of rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict. Through efforts like Justice Rapid Response, UN Women and others have provided valuable technical support to promote accountability by helping to document evidence for judicial processes. And the Security Council has adopted targeted sanctions against those who commit, command or condone sexual violence in places like the DRC. We strongly encourage UN sanctions committees to expand their use of this tool to fight impunity.
Indeed, we have made strides in addressing sexual violence in conflict, but there is still a long way to go. More countries should criminalize conflict-related sexual violence. Provisions that prohibit amnesty for perpetrators must be put into cease-fire and mediation agreements. And it is imperative that the international community and senior UN officials, at headquarters and in the field, support the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict.
Mr. President, the Security Council must continue to treat this threat to international peace and security with utmost gravity. Sexual violence in conflict cannot and must not be viewed narrowly as just a “women’s issue,” as sexual violence remains a horrific weapon of war that destroys individuals, devastates communities, and even destabilizes countries. Above all, let us remember, sexual violence is not cultural, it is criminal.