Goodmorning ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to participate in today’s event, organized by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, whose innovative policy research and strategic advocacy demonstrates the importance of gender equality for the prevention conflict and lasting peace. I would like to thank Ambassador Verveer for her steadfast leadership and for organizing this timely event. Today’s panel provides an essential platform to amplify the voices of civil society representatives from Myanmar and Ukraine, whose perspectives must guide our global search for solutions.
Since 2000, the United Nations Security Council has adopted ten resolutions on women, peace and security, five of which are devoted to preventing and combating conflict-related sexual violence. While the normative framework is solid, we are compelled to ask ourselves: what do these resolutions on the ground mean in practice right now for women in Ukraine, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Ethiopia? The Council’s resolutions represent a commitment to use all political, diplomatic, legal and economic tools to break the seemingly endless cycles of sexual violence, impunity and revenge, and to save future generations from this scourge. And yet, sexual violence continues to occur and reoccur with each new wave of war.
Today’s event unfolds against the backdrop of multiple and cascading crises that undermine the rules-based international order. We know that when the international rule of law is undermined, civilians, especially women and girls, bear the brunt of volatility and violence. We must reassure populations at risk that they are not forgotten and that international law is not an empty promise.
We have seen over the past year and a half an epidemic of coups in contexts affected by widespread or systematic sexual violence, such as Myanmar, Sudan, Mali and Guinea. In Myanmar, following the military coup in February last year, sexual violence was documented against women protesters, political prisoners and human rights defenders. Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August, women have been targeted for their work in the fight against sexual violence, including women formerly active in the security sector. In Tigray, Ethiopia, women have been horribly gang-raped at gunpoint.
The harrowing images and personal testimonies of women in Ukraine have shocked the conscience of the world. I have repeatedly expressed my deep concern over the growing allegations of sexual violence in Ukraine and have called for prompt and rigorous investigations to ensure accountability as a central aspect of deterrence, prevention and non-repetition. Critical civilian infrastructure has been reduced to rubble and ruin, making gender-based violence and reproductive health services less available when they are most needed. In the coming days, I will make an urgent visit to Ukraine to meet with national authorities and civil society actors on the front lines, as part of efforts to strengthen the response of the United Nations system.
The international community has the tools at its disposal to dramatically increase the cost of wartime sexual violence to perpetrators and potential perpetrators. But these tools must go hand in hand with the political will and the political courage to use them. One of these tools is targeted sanctions. The United Nations has fourteen sanctions regimes, eight of which now include conflict-related sexual violence in their designation criteria, either through specific reference to sexual and gender-based violence or under the broader rubric of violations of the law. humanitarian international. and human rights law. Since its creation in 2009, my mandate has had the opportunity to inform 5 of the 8 sanctions committees that include sexual violence in their designation criteria, namely the regimes of the Central African Republic, the DRC, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, in order to make targeted recommendations.
However, to date, these recommendations have only been implemented sporadically and unevenly. As a powerful tool based on the Charter of the United Nations, sanctions offer significant, but still largely untapped, potential to advance protection and respect for international law. When imposed specifically for sexual violence, they send an unequivocal signal about the seriousness of these historically hidden crimes. The imposition of sanctions solely for such acts is a relatively recent and welcome development. Sanctions can curb and restrict the illicit exploitation of natural resources that funds the operations of armed groups and disrupters of the peace in contexts such as the Central African Republic, the DRC and Somalia. Beyond limiting the influx of arms and ammunition or funding armed groups, almost all regimes today seek to uphold international humanitarian standards. A gender perspective should also inform the consideration of humanitarian exclusions and exemptions, to ensure that sanctions are not applied as a “brutal instrument” that can complicate the delivery of humanitarian assistance or have harmful and unexpected for women.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on conflict-related sexual violence, compiled by my office, lists 49 parties credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of sexual violence in situations on the agenda advice. More than 70% are repeat offenders, appearing on the list for five or more consecutive years without taking remedial or remedial action. Reconciling the practice of listing alleged perpetrators with the practice of imposing targeted and graduated measures by sanctions committees is essential to improve compliance. Leveraging the credible threat of sanctions can change the calculus of parties to conflict who operate on the assumption that rape is “gratuitous” or even profitable in the political economy of war, in which women and girls are victimized trafficking, exchanged and sold. In practice, very few of these entities are targeted by UN sanctions committees, and none are targeted specifically for sexual violence. This shortcoming is unfortunately reflected in the practice of States to impose unilateral sanctions.
The next generation of national action plans on women, peace and security should reflect the commitment to impose travel bans, asset freezes, arms embargoes and other targeted measures to deter attacks and deprive the perpetrators of the means to cause harm. We must ensure policy coherence, so that states do not directly or indirectly fund or equip the very violations they oppose.
In terms of promising practices, it should be noted that seven of the eight individuals listed under the 2206 sanctions regime against South Sudan have sexual violence included in their citation. In 2020, the 2140 Committee on Yemen sanctioned Sultan Zabin, director of the Sanaa-based criminal investigation department, for his role in a policy of intimidation and sexual violence against politically active women. In addition, last year the 1970 Libya Committee listed the de facto director of the infamous Al Nasr detention center for abuse, including sexual violence.
In several cases, the credible threat of sanctions directly influenced the behavior of belligerents. For example, the risk of sanctions was a factor that prompted Dr. Riek Machar, SPLA-IO commander in South Sudan, to issue a command order calling for the release of abducted women and girls in Western Equatoria, who had been subjected to sexual violence. Similarly, in the DRC, the threat of sanctions has opened up space to negotiate the release of women and girls abducted by armed groups. In cases where the leader of an armed group has political aspirations, the imposition of sanctions can undermine his political legitimacy. Sanctions and criminal liability can produce significant results when they work in tandem. In the DRC, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka was accused of commanding the forces responsible for 387 rapes in Walikale, North Kivu province, in 2010. When he tried to use military force to support his election candidacy legislative, sanctions were quickly imposed, preventing it from assuming a role. formal role in Congolese political life. After years on the run, Sheka was prosecuted for these crimes in 2020 and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Congolese military court.
Yet these cases represent only a handful of examples, while every year thousands of UN-verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence used as a tactic of war, torture, terror, political repression and retaliation, are recorded in our annual report. It is therefore essential to strengthen the capacity of national institutions to protect their populations and uphold the rule of law. Where governments are unwilling or unable to prosecute perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence, we must support the work of international courts and tribunals and encourage the use of universal and third-party jurisdiction, as in the case of former Syrian intelligence official, Anwar R. ., who was tried in Koblenz, Germany, for crimes of sexual violence committed in 2011 and 2012. Using the full directory of criminal sanctions and economic sanctions, we can translate commitments into compliance and resolutions into results. Prosecutions are also a form of prevention and deterrence. While impunity normalizes violence, visible and consistent accountability reinforces global norms.
Ladies and gentlemen, all tools must work in tandem to reverse the emboldening effects of impunity and reinforce the message that the only shame in rape is to commit it, order it or condone it. Policy makers need to match their promises with meaningful action to bring about behavior change. Protection from sexual violence, even in times of war, is not just an aspiration, it is a legal obligation. Sanctions are an essential part of broader political and diplomatic strategies aimed at ensuring that these obligations are respected, implemented and enforced.
Monday, April 25, 2022