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Special Representative describes rape as cheap, devastating weapon, telling Security Council it remains largely ‘cost-free’

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SC/11365 Security Council 7160th Meeting (AM)

Prevention Our Collective Responsibility, Stresses Secretary-General

Rape was a “cheap and devastating weapon” affecting thousands of women, children and men and demanded the Security Council’s singular attention and action, senior officials told the 15-member body as more than 60 delegates expressed a range of views during a day-long debate on conflict-related sexual violence.

Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, describing the “heartbreaking” work of meeting wartime sexual violence survivors, said that the horrors they had suffered reaffirmed that it was “a great moral issue of our time”. Underlining that it was almost “cost-free” to rape a woman, child or man in conflict situations, she pointed out that in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone, more than 50,000 women had survived sexual violence during that country’s three-year conflict, with perpetrators largely going unpunished.

Yet despite greater political will, the historic G-8 declaration and the 2013 commitment by 144 Member States to reinforce the Security Council’s consensus on the issue, she said the road to combating conflict-related sexual violence was long and hard. Referring to the Secretary-General’s report on that issue, she said 34 State and non-State parties were listed as being credibly suspected of perpetrating sexual violence.

For the perpetrators, she had a clear message: “The spotlight is now turned on you, and we are coming after you with all the ways and means at our disposal. There is no hiding place. If you commit, or command, or condone such crimes against humanity, humanity will pursue you relentlessly, and eventually you will be held to account.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said combating conflict-related sexual violence was a Council priority. “This grave human rights violation is as destructive as any bomb or bullet,” he said, given that it inflicted unimaginable suffering, destroying families, contributing to enduring poverty and insecurity, and impeding reconciliation, peace and reconstruction.

Recalling that successive Council resolutions had created a strong global framework for prevention, he said that even though grievous violations occurred too often, tangible progress was being made. Examples of progress could be seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, as well as with efforts of the United Nations Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict in Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Somalia and South Sudan. “Prevention is our collective responsibility. Only through coordination and partnership can we succeed in protecting the most vulnerable,” he added.

Rhoda Misaka, representing NGO (non-governmental organization) Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, told the Council that she lived in fear of what would happen next in her country, South Sudan, where sexual violence was indicative of the larger systemic global crisis.

To address wartime sexual violence, Member States and United Nations agencies must ensure that survivors could access non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, she said, and ceasefire agreements and peace agreements must not provide amnesty for sexual violence. Further, the Security Council, Member States and the United Nations, she said, must advocate for ending impunity.

Téte António, Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, speaking on behalf of the Special Envoy of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission on Women, Peace and Security, said that ending impunity was a priority. He emphasized that the cries of the South Sudanese must not go unheard. “We must not say that we do not know,” he said, describing the work of the Union’s Commission on South Sudan in documenting atrocities with a view to ensuring accountability.

Given the “staggering” number of victims of sexual violence worldwide, he said tackling the problem was a critical concern in the Chairperson’s new mandate. For its part, the Commission had signed in January a framework for cooperation with the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, which complemented efforts by the African Union Peace and Security Department to establish a code of conduct and a zero-tolerance policy.

Calling for the accelerated implementation of all African Union instruments to combat sexual violence, he highlighted that conflict prevention and early warning mechanisms must fully and equally involve women and men.

The Minister for National Defence of Ecuador addressed the Council.

Also delivering statements were representatives of the United States, Chile, Australia, China, Republic of Korea, Chad, Luxembourg, France, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Jordan, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Argentina, Nigeria, Guatemala, Japan, Brazil, Syria, Sweden, Mexico, Canada, European Union, African Union, Italy, Germany, Malaysia, Estonia (also speaking for Latvia), Israel, Portugal, Morocco, Spain, Austria, Colombia, Uruguay, Nepal, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, South Africa, Sudan, Viet Nam, New Zealand, Myanmar, Croatia, Slovenia, Pakistan, Liechtenstein, Sri Lanka, Netherlands, Switzerland, Namibia, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago, Ireland and Sao Tome and Principe.

Taking the floor for a second time, Syria’s representative spoke in response to comments made by Israel’s representative.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 5:20 p.m.