Sexual violence in conflict ‘terrorizes people, destroys lives and fractures communities’ |
In his message for the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, commemorated on Sunday, Secretary-General António Guterres also observed that perpetrators rarely face the consequences of their actions.
“It’s the survivors who carry the burden of stigma and trauma throughout their lives, often doubly brutalized by harmful social norms and victim blaming”.
Stand in support
And Virginia Gamba, special representative for children and armed conflict, noted that while at least 14,200 children have been confirmed as victims of sexual violence, that is “just the tip of the iceberg”.
Mr. Guterres testified, “We stand in solidarity…supporting the most vulnerable women, girls, men and boys as they struggle to live in dignity and peace amidst humanitarian crises,” including increasing support for victims and displaced persons; people vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Rural areas with weak protection systems also need additional support, he added.
This means strengthening national justice systems to hold perpetrators accountable, ensuring that victims receive medical and psychosocial support, and upholding the rights of survivors.
Furthermore, it requires support for women-led civil society organizations to break down social, economic and cultural barriers that prevent protection, equality and justice, as well as to address the underlying causes of sexual violence in conflict.
“With increased political will and financial resources, we can match words with deeds and end the scourge of sexual violence in conflict once and for all.“, underlined the Secretary General.
© UNICEF/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin
‘Save future generations’
At the same time, Pramila Patten, United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, issued a joint appeal to the international community to help eradicate conflict-related sexual violence. , and “save future 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 victim blaming,” they said in their joint statement.
They said they were deeply shocked by the impact the war in Ukraine is having on civilians, and deeply concerned by the heartbreaking personal testimonies and growing allegations of sexual violence.
“We strongly condemn these crimes and call for an immediate end to the violence.”
From Afghanistan to Guinea, Mali, Myanmar and elsewhere, they have drawn attention to an “epidemic of coups and military coups” that have “rolled back women’s rights”.
And as new crises escalate, wars continue elsewhere, 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 reprisals against frontline actors and activists.
“Fostering a protective environment that deters and prevents sexual violence in the first place is essential and allows for safe reporting and adequate response,” they said. “Prevention is the best form of protection, including conflict prevention itself.”
To address sexual violence, greater political and diplomatic engagement is needed, they said, in ceasefire and peace agreements, threat analysis, more gender-sensitive justice and reform the security sector; and to amplify the voices of survivors and affected communities.
“On this day, we stand united in our unwavering commitment to supporting survivors and ending impunity for perpetrators,” they said. “Survivors must be seen by their societies as holders of rights, to be respected and upheld, in times of war and peace”.
Bodies become battlefields
Natalia Kanem, head of the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, pointed out that “when wars start, so does terror and the devastation of sexual violence”.
“The bodies of women and girls become battlefields. Rape is used as a weapon of war just as surely as the bomb that blows up a building or the tank that drives through a crowd,” she said.
She explained the many consequences of sexual violence, from brutalized bodies to scarred minds.
It silences and shames women, she said, sowing fear and insecurity and leaves a destructive legacy through prolonged disability, sexually transmitted infections, lost wages, healthcare costs health and stigma of survivors and their families.
“Violation of human rights”
Ms. Kanem recalled that sexual violence is a “violation of human rights and a crime under international humanitarian law” which should never be ignored, excused or minimized. “In fact, it shouldn’t happen at all.”
“This shows the scale and pervasiveness of gender inequality and gender-based violence in all societies, everywhere, an unacceptable reality that is only exacerbated by crises and conflicts,” he said. she stated.
Regardless of the circumstances, all women and girls have the inherent right to be safe, to live in peace and dignity, to enjoy freedom and equality.
The UNFPA chief pledged to support survivor-centered investigations and prosecutions of allegations of sexual violence and to do “everything in their power to disrupt the gender inequalities that fuel all forms of gender-based violence”.