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Statement of SRSG-SVC Pramila Patten Side-event: Enhancing the Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders and Journalists 12 April 2022

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, let me extend a warm welcome to our distinguished participants in today’s event, and to all of you from around the world watching and supporting our shared efforts to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence.

I would like to thank the Permanent Missions of Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States for co-sponsoring this event and for their continued support to my mandate. I would like to warmly welcome the Vice President of Colombia, Ms. Martha Lucia Ramirez for making time in her busy schedule in New York and joining us today. She is a fervent ally in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Colombia.

Today’s meeting is a critical opportunity to take stock of both the persistent and entrenched, as well as new and emerging, challenges that women activists, women human rights defenders, and women journalists face in their daily lives. The annual Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, which is due to be debated tomorrow by the Security Council, notes that in 2021, women peacebuilders and human rights defenders were specifically targeted, including through sexual violence and harassment as a form of reprisal, in order to exclude them from public life in a number of country settings, such as Afghanistan, Libya, Myanmar, Yemen and elsewhere. Moreover, activists working to highlight the plight and rights of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, and to support their access to justice and services, were also subjected to reprisals and intimidation, which has a chilling effect on their critical work.

The high-risk environment in which women leaders and activists are compelled to operate is directly correlated with the trend of intersecting humanitarian, security and political crises, including coups, military takeovers, and unconstitutional shifts of power seen in recent months. This has exacerbated the root causes and drivers of conflict-related sexual violence, including militarization, the proliferation of arms, impunity, the collapse of rule of law institutions, structural gender-based inequality, and harmful social norms.

Today, we will hear directly from powerful women activists who have raised their voices against injustice, at great personal risk, and continue to advocate for the eradication of conflict-related sexual violence, and the closure of accountability and protection gaps. Today’s panel of speakers will highlight the tireless efforts of women human rights defenders and journalists, as well as the risks they endure working on the frontlines of armed conflict and civic strife. In the work of my mandate, I am continually reminded that we are only as strong as our partnerships. Since I took up this mandate in 2017, I have consistently emphasized the importance of working directly with survivors as the co-creators of solutions. It is in this spirit that today, I recognize Ms. Jineth Bedoya Lima, a trailblazing survivor, activist, and agent of change, with the demonstrated ability to lead and influence others to take action to end the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence. I commend her courage and commitment in elevating the issue of conflict-related sexual violence onto the public agenda and historical record in Colombia and globally, and her two-decade quest for justice, truth and reparations for these heinous crimes. Her vision and determination contributed to the establishment of the National Day for the Dignity of Women Victims of Sexual Violence in the context of the internal armed conflict in Colombia, which is commemorated every year on the 25th of May.

I also congratulate Ms. Bedoya on the emblematic judgment delivered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on 18 October 2021, in connection with her case, which sets a powerful precedent for women activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and peacebuilders the world-over, who are subjected to, or at risk of, sexual violence. This ruling marks the first time that a court has specifically considered the use of sexual violence as a tool to silence a female journalist in the context of the Colombian armed conflict. Significantly, the judgment also entailed important reparative measures, such as the creation of a fund for the prevention, protection, and assistance of women journalists who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

I am pleased to announce that today I am naming Ms. Jineth Bedoya Lima a Global Champion for the Fight Against Sexual Violence in Conflict. In this capacity, she will contribute to the efforts of my mandate to enhance advocacy and awareness-raising, and to amplify the voices of survivors.

Please join me in showing our appreciation for Jineth’s remarkable journey and infinite courage. Jineth, I look forward to working with you in common cause to break not only the silence of history, which has hidden these crimes, but also the vicious cycle of violence and impunity, which must be replaced with a virtuous cycle of recognition and redress for all survivors. It is only by facing difficult truths that we can transcend them and end the seemingly endless cycle of violence.

Thank you.

END

Tuesday, 12 April 2022