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Statement by Ambassador Byrne Nason at UNSC Open Debate on Conflict Related Sexual Violence

Thank you for convening today’s Open Debate and in particular for ensuring that we have had such strong representation of civil society among the briefers.


To Caroline Atim and Denis Mukwege – thank you for being truth-tellers of the reality of sexual violence that is all too often shrouded in stigma and obscured.  Your focus on empowering survivors helps them to regain the sense of agency that these violations so horribly undermine.


I also want to pay tribute to Special Representative Patten. Your work in documenting the evidence of these heinous crimes and calling to account their perpetrators makes an enormous contribution. It serves to elucidate our understanding. Importantly, evidence-based reporting reinforces our ability to address impunity. Today’s work of documenting crimes will lead to tomorrow’s convictions.  Your work is badly needed and deeply appreciated.


I was especially pleased to hear from Beatrix, the Women’s Protection Adviser working with MINUSCA. In our view, ensuring the adequate resourcing of Women’s Protection Advisers from regular mission budgets is crucial. This Council has an obligation to follow through on the promises it, the promises we, make  in the establishment of mandates. This absolutely includes Women Protection Advisor posts, and to assume our clear responsibilities, we should expand their deployment.


Mr President,


The Secretary General’s report warns of the risk that COVID-19 will reverse hard-won gains on gender equality, reminding us that inequality is a root cause and a driver of sexual violence in times of conflict. Of course it is a driver in peace times too.


Let’s be clear, to eliminate sexual and gender based violence, including in conflict, our most fundamental task is to achieve gender equality, at every level.


We should not fool ourselves that the shocking sexual and gender based violence in times of war, disease and disaster is somehow extraordinary, or aberrant. Let’s not fool ourselves that things will go ‘back to normal’ once the crisis has passed. What we witness in times of conflict and crisis is the transfer of violence from the private to the public sphere. We see the deliberate weaponisation of the gendered violence that one in three of us who are women will experience in our lifetime. Most of the violence is suffered by women and girls from men they know. This is a kind of “normal” no woman wants to return to. The kind of normal we cannot afford to return to. 


I echo, therefore, the words of the Secretary General that recovery from this pandemic demands us to ‘silence the guns and amplify the voices of women peacebuilders, and to invest in public welfare rather than the instruments of warfare’. To succeed, we must support the courageous work of grassroots and women-led organisations, as well as brave women human rights defenders. At a minimum, we must protect them from reprisals.


Our recovery policies must also recognise the intersecting forms of discrimination. The discrimination that compounds vulnerability to violence, as Caroline so powerfully attested today. To build back better we need to advance equality and participation for all, including those with disabilities, LGBTI+ persons, migrants and refugees, and members of racial and ethnic minorities. 


And let’s remember, this Council has the means to act. We have put in place a robust framework to deal with conflict-related sexual violence over the last decade. And yet, compliance by parties to conflict is appallingly, shamefully low. 70% of parties listed in the Secretary General’s report have been appearing in the list for five years or more – without taking corrective action. The fact is – we are failing in our responsibility if we do not ask ourselves why this is.


This Council can and must do more with the tools at its disposal. It is our responsibility. To do what?


We believe that we must fully implement the recommendations of the IEG on Women, Peace and Security. 


We believe that we should ensure that monitoring and early warning processes on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) are incorporated into all peacekeeping and special political missions that include a protection of civilians mandate.


We believe we need to examine our use of targeted sanctions – specifically the designation criteria of conflict-related sexual violence and listing of sanctioned individuals.  This is an under-utilised tool to deter and punish sexual violence in conflict.  We need to bring together our work on sanctions and on gender more systematically. Ireland supports the call by the Secretary General to invite the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict to share information with sanctions committees, and we will play our part in advancing that effort. 


Sanctions are not our only tools for seeking accountability. As Special Representative Patten has said, the fight against CRSV is the fight against impunity. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are not somehow lesser crimes – they can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, or constitutive acts with respect to genocide.  Let’s face it. The persistently paltry record of investigations, prosecutions and convictions for conflict-related sexual violence is fundamentally a failure of political will. 


Today’s debate, Mr. President, is not about some vague concept. It’s about the reality of our work on international peace and security.


The ICC’s recent conviction of Dominic Ongwen and its affirmation of Bosco Ntaganda’s conviction are encouraging developments, as is the continued work of Colombia’s Transitional Justice mechanisms. But they are all too rare and we believe that this Council must reflect on its failure to make effective use of the accountability tools at its disposal, including the referral of situations to the ICC.


We can draw a straight line from impunity for sexual violence in the past to the recurrence of violence in the future. In 2017, sexual and gender-based violence was a hallmark of the Tatmadaw’s operations in northern Myanmar and in Rakhine: today they turn their guns on civilians.


As we heard from the SRSG today, deeply distressing reports of horrific sexual violence continue to emerge from Ethiopia, including abuses perpetrated by armed actors in the conflict in Tigray. The SRSG has spoken of acts that may amount to ‘sexual atrocities.’ These and other violations must cease immediately. We call on all armed parties to the conflict to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and end hostilities, which will also help to facilitate humanitarian access. We call on them to ensure their forces respect and protect civilian populations, particularly women and children, from all human rights abuses; and that they explicitly condemn all sexual violence. We welcome the announcement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirming plans for a joint investigation with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission into human rights violations in Tigray, including sexual violence. This is an urgent task to bring an end to ongoing violations and it is also vital for accountability, to bring perpetrators to justice, whatever their affiliation. We are in full support of the High Commissioner in this critical undertaking.


Mr President,


As I conclude, the war correspondent, Christina Lamb, has noted the absence of women’s names in war memorials.  The stigma of rape in war belongs not to its victims but to its perpetrators. The stories of survivors of sexual violence, mostly women, need to be told. Importantly they need to be truly heard. But that’s not enough.


We must demand the prosecution of the crime of conflict-related sexual violence on an equal basis with other war crimes and crimes against humanity. The survivors of these crimes deserve nothing less than justice. They deserve redress, they deserve access to comprehensive survivor-centred services including sexual and reproductive health. Above all, they are entitled to the right to participate on a full, equal and meaningful basis in public life.


Mr. President, that would be a fitting memorial.

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