Statement at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict
Speech23 April 2019
Statement on behalf of Ireland
Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason
United Nations Security Council Open Debate on
Women, Peace and Security: Sexual Violence in Conflict
23 April 2019
I would like to thank Germany for convening today’s debate, and all briefers for their powerful interventions. I am also very pleased that SRSG Pramila Patten, whose work we fully support, is still with us now, listening to the debate.
As war is fundamentally about power, the abuse of power, so too is sexual violence. Sexual violence is rooted in women’s political, social and economic exclusion and insecurity. It is an abuse of power rooted in historical power imbalances, primarily between men and women. To eliminate the scourge of sexual and gender based violence our first and most fundamental task is to achieve gender equality, at every level.
Ireland recently concluded two years in the Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, working on precisely this task: progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. The debates which take place at the CSW are as intense and polarized as any which take place in the Security Council. Let nobody be under any illusion: efforts to balance the power relations between men and women are deeply, deeply political – and today’s debate no less so.
I am proud that the recent CSW conclusions contain vital language on the need to address the effects of armed conflict and post-conflict situations on women and girls, including victims and survivors of sexual violence. Doggedly and with determination we need to keep building the structures, in language and in laws, to bring an end to sexual violence.
Today’s resolution is a step on the road. But it is only a step, and we share the regret expressed by Belgium, France, South Africa and others that the text did not include sexual and reproductive healthcare services for victims and survivors of sexual violence in conflict. This is not the end of the road and we believe the Security Council must assume its responsibility and recognise these needs.
We should be mindful too that gender based violence affects not just women and girls, but men and boys and members of sexual and gender minorities. Poverty, displacement and vulnerability, increases the risk of sexual violence, especially for those in flight. Again and again we see that dynamic of power and vulnerability playing out.
Gender equality is at the heart of Ireland’s foreign, development and humanitarian policy.
This year already we have increased our funding to preventing gender-based violence in conflict affected and fragile states by more than one third. Our determination in this work comes not just from conviction but also from experience. Northern Ireland lived this experience in technicolour. There we saw, for instance, that the decommissioning of weapons, demobilisation of paramilitary groups and growing confidence in the police service greatly reduced the threat of firearms in domestic violence situations. One goes with the other.
In partnership with the International Rescue Committee, in 2016 Ireland established the world’s first ever response mechanism dedicated solely to GBV programming and we have seen how a survivor-based response saves the lives of women and girls every day.
Our support has helped survivors such as Nyamal, one of millions displaced in South Sudan as conflict swept through her village. Nyamal was separated from her family and in the chaos that followed she was gang raped. She was able to access a women and girls’ safe space where she received psychosocial support and medical services. But for Nyamal, as with millions of other survivors, the impact and trauma of sexual violence endured, including through social stigma. After she discovered she was pregnant, Nyamal was rejected by her family. When the baby was born, the IRC worked with local women leaders who intervened with Nyamal’s family and she was eventually reintegrated. The example of Nyamal demonstrates the intersecting complexities and deep impact of sexual violence, and how addressing harmful, embedded cultural norms can play an important role in recovery.
Our support to Nyamal would not have been possible without working with a local partner. We must do everything we can to increase our support to local organisations, civil society and women human rights defenders.
In our peacekeeping work, we are also proactive. Our Defence Forces, as seasoned peacekeepers conduct patrols with mixed gender teams around camps where young women and girls are collecting firewood or water, a small practical example of the kind of gender-sensitive approach that should be integrated at every level of our work. This year, Ireland will conduct training for peacekeeping contingents in the investigation of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence for AU, UN and NATO partners.
Ireland provides support to mechanisms such as the IIIM in Syria, and for the work of Justice Rapid Response in ensuring gender expertise is made available in the investigation of serious human rights violations. We also strongly support efforts by the Security Council to bolster the use of conflict-related sexual violence as a criterion for imposing sanctions and for greater alignment across, thematic and country-specific UN sanctions regimes.
Put simply, the horrific scale of ongoing conflict-related sexual violence is a stain on our common humanity. We have to close the accountability gap with determination and unashamed zero tolerance.
For our part, as an aspiring elected member of the Security Council for the term 2021 - 2022, Ireland will continue to work for gender equality and aim to break down those power imbalances we see as being at the heart of such violence. We will support bringing that agenda again and again to this table.
We are listening carefully to survivors about their needs, which naturally will include sexual and reproductive healthcare services. We want to see women in all aspects of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. It is there that we, as women, belong and where we will make a difference- if only we be allowed to get on with the job.