UN chief declares era of impunity ‘over’ for sexual violence in war

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UNITED NATIONS, June 19 (APP): United Nations Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon, marking International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, said Sunday that the era of impunity for sexual violence as a tool of war was over, citing a host of landmark rulings against political and military leaders.

In February, a national court in Guatemala convicted two former
military officers of committing sexual violence during the country’s
civil war – the first time that a national court anywhere in the world considered charges of sexual slavery during armed conflict.

Women’s organizations worked for years with indigenous women to
develop their case, which was presented in the court by Guatemala’s
female Attorney General before a female presiding judge.

In March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down its
first conviction for sexual and gender-based crimes.

An all-female panel of three judges presided over the case against former Congolese Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was brought to justice by a female prosecutor, thanks to unprecedented levels of participation of women victims and witnesses from the Central African Republic.

In May, the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal convicted
the former president of Chad, Hissene Habre, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery. This was the first universal jurisdiction case to make it to trial in Africa, and the first time a former head of state was held personally accountable for committing rape as an international crime.

This conviction would not have been possible without the testimonies
of women and the inspiring determination of lawyers, victims’ advocates, human rights defenders, and local and international civil society organizations.

All of these were long overdue and all had one thing in common: the unstoppable force of women’s voice and leadership, said UN Women, an
agency tasked with promoting gender equality.

“With widespread sexual violence still a devastating reality in too
many conflicts in the world, it is heartening to see that steps are
being taken towards securing accountability for these acts, and that
women are persevering with strength and unity in not letting these
crimes go unspoken or unpunished,” said a statement released by UN
Women.

The secretary-general said that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Boko Haram and other extremist groups were using sexual violence as a means of attracting and retaining fighters, and to generate revenue.

The abduction of more than 200 girls from Chibok in Nigeria, and the continued tragedy of women and girls subjected to forced marriage or
sexual slavery by extremist groups in the Middle East, are two of the most horrific examples of the use of sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism, Mr. Ban said, calling for the immediate release of all those taken captive, and for the care and support of those who return.

On a positive note, there had also been clear progress and
unprecedented political momentum to address these crimes, he stressed.

Sexual violence is now widely recognized as a deliberate strategy
used to shred the fabric of society; to control and intimidate communities and to force people from their homes, the UN chief said.

It is rightly seen as a threat to international peace and security, a serious violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, and a major impediment to post-conflict reconciliation and economic development, he added.