UN chief calls for protecting women’s rights ‘before, during and after conflict’

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UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 (APP):UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday underscored the need for strengthening justice and accountability in dealing with sexual violence in conflicts.
Speaking in a Security Council high-level debate on the subject, he outlined a series of recommendations that were intended to “provide a comprehensive approach to conflict-related sexual violence”.
According to the UN chief, the term “conflict-related sexual violence” refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.
Sexual violence continues to be a horrific feature of conflicts around the world, the secretary-general said. “We must recognize that sexual violence in conflict largely affects women and girls because it is closely linked to broader issues of gender inequality and discrimination.”
“Prevention must therefore be based on promoting women’s rights and gender equality in all areas, before, during and after conflict,” he added.
This must include women’s full and effective participation in political, economic and social life and ensuring accessible and responsive justice and security institutions, said Guterres, adding that strengthening prevention in the context of larger peacemaking efforts is also critical.
Noting the need to strengthen justice and accountability, Guterres said that despite a handful of high-profile convictions, there is widespread impunity for sexual violence in conflict.
“Most of these crimes are never reported, investigated and much less prosecuted,” he added.
The UN chief’s recommendations include increasing support to national authorities as they reform laws, improve their capacity to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and protect survivors who testify from stigma and fear of reprisal.
He also emphasized the need for greater support for survivors and their families, including healthcare, reparations and other assistance.
Although stigma and other social barriers contribute to the chronic underreporting of sexual violence, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, told the Council that “we now understand much more about its many forms, drivers, and impacts, and about the devastating physical, psychological, and social burdens survivors bear”.
And yet, after a decade of concerted attention and action to deal with this crime, she spelled out: “Wars are still being fought on, and over, the bodies of women and girls”.
“Sexual violence fuels conflict and severely impacts the prospects for lasting peace” Ms. Patten stated, adding that it is used “precisely because it is such an effective means to target individuals and devastate entire communities”.
The UN envoy painted a picture of victims targeted because of their ethnic, religious, political or clan affiliation.
Ms. Patten recounted a visit to South Sudan where she was “horrified” by the “sheer brutality of the sexual violence, perpetrated along ethnic lines against women and girls, even children as young as 4 years”.
She described “utterly shell-shocked” communities in the UN Protection of Civilian site in the capital, Juba, who were ganged raped and abducted for sexual slavery.
“Imagine a desperation so raw that parents would marry their daughter off to one stranger to spare her rape by many”, she asserted.
“If we are ever to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place, we must confront the unacceptable reality that it is still largely cost-free to rape a woman, child or man in armed conflicts around the world”, she said. “To turn the tide, we must increase the cost and consequences for those who commit, command or condone sexual violence in conflict”.