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  • Writer's pictureThe Gender Security Project

Remarks by SRSG Patten, Women & Armed Forces: Parity in Uniform Conference

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

The following script comprises the Remarks by SRSG Patten, Women & Armed Forces: Parity in Uniform Conference organized by the Italian Ministry of Defense.Cross posted from The United Nations

I commend the Ministry of Defence for organizing this very important and timely conference and for shining the spotlight on “Women and Armed Forces”.

Today, I will be speaking about conflict-related sexual violence, which has been the least-reported and least-condemned crime of war; a crime shrouded in a conspiracy of silence that shields the perpetrators and isolates the victims.

The last annual Report of the Secretary-General for the year 2019, which was debated before the Security Council in July, paints a harrowing picture of sexual violence used as a tactic of war, torture and terror, and a tool of political repression. Some 3000 cases of conflict-related sexual violencein19 countries were recorded with women and girls accounting for more than 2,500 of the reported cases. In 848 cases, the victims were children with girls accounting for 803 of the cases.

The report also highlights how conflict-related sexual violence remains chronically underreported -fueled by patterns of entrenched gender inequality, fear, stigma or unavailability of services, which all become obstacles impeding survivors to report or seek for assistance.

Comprehensive services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence remain chronically underfunded, leaving many unable to simply meet their basic needs in the aftermath of these atrocities. This situation is now compounded by COVID 19. While the virus does not discriminate, its impact does and victims of CRSV are also bearing its brunt.

The pandemic is already having a negative impact on:

  1. the reporting of cases of sexual violence;

  2. Service provision; and

  3. Justice and accountability

Already a dramatically underreported crime, CRSV now risks being further obscured by the pandemic. A direct outcome of the pandemic is an increased burden on health services as resources are being prioritized for the COVID-19 response. COVID 19 is posing serious challenges to the effective functioning of justice systems. There are major limitations on the availability and capacity to receive and process reports on incidents of sexual violence by law enforcement and judicial authorities.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am grateful for this invitation to share with you the work of my mandate on prevention and response to CRSV. Indeed, the 20thanniversary of Resolution 1325 provides a critical opportunity to step back from our daily work, take stock of progress as well as challenges and to chart ambitious new ways forward.

I take this opportunity to commend the Government of Italy for its political and financial support to my mandate and the WPS agenda. Italy’s tenure on the Security Council in 2017 was remarkable with its focus on the root causes of conflict and crisis; the nexus between sexual violence, trafficking, terrorism and transnational organized crime; and its efforts in reinforcing the role of women in all peace, security and mediation processes.

My mandate

It was only in 2009, through resolution 1888 that the Security Council created the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Office of the Special Representative was established in 2010. Ten years is a short time in the history of warzone rapea crime as old as war itself. Yet, the past ten years have seen more concerted action to combat this scourge than the rest of human history combined.

Indeed the past decade has ushered in a dramatic shift of paradigm and perspective. It has heralded a new consciousness, and a new consensus, that conflict-related sexual violence is a threat to international peace and security. What had long been dismissed as inevitable is now understood as preventable. What had once been deemed collateral or cultural is today condemned as criminal.

The understanding that sexual violence is often commanded, committed or condoned as a means of pursuing the military and ideological aims of armed groups has generated new strategic approaches to fighting back. It has prompted political, as well as humanitarian solutions.

The progress we have made to date has been transformative in three key respects: namely, in terms of the normative framework, our institutional capacity, and operational impact.

On the normative evolution, it was in 2008 that resolution 1820 – for the first time – recognized sexual violence as a threat to international peace and security and elevated the issue onto the agenda of the Security Council. For survivors this meant that their ordeal would be understood not only as a violation of individual human rights, but also as a threat to collective security. For the Council, this meant dismantling the divide between so-called “hard security” and “soft issues,” and seeing war through the eyes of women and girls whose bodies had been part of the battlefield.

This new approach affirmed that there could be no security without women’s security. It served to directly engage a broad constituency of peace and security stakeholders responsible for imposing targeted sanctions; mandating, training and deploying peacekeepers; supporting ceasefire and peace negotiations; establishing Commissions of Inquiry and hybrid tribunals; and referring situations to the International Criminal Court. Resolution 1820 gave security actors new responsibilities and paved the way for a wide range of partnership that went beyond the traditional gender experts, to now engage multilateral security institutions such as NATO, uniformed peacekeepers, ceasefire monitors, war crimes prosecutors and military justice officials. This enables the full range of protection actors to bring the full range of tools and resources to bear.

In terms of institutional arrangements: In 2009, the Security Council adopted resolution 1888, to equip the United Nations with new infrastructure to respond. This included the creation of my mandate, to provide coherent and strategic leadership to global efforts, including as Chair of the inter-agency coordination network, UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict. It also established a Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict, to strengthen institutional safeguards against impunity at the national level and called for Women Protection Advisers (or WPAs) to be deployed to the field, to enhance our monitoring, reporting and response, as a basis for engaging with parties to leverage behavioral change.

In 2010, resolution 1960 authorized new monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements at country-level, as part of a system of deepening the evidence-base for action, and pressuring parties to comply with international norms by listing or “naming and shaming” those credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of conflict-related sexual violence.

In 2016, resolution 2331 condemned sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism, including trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation, which has been used to fund and fuel the operations of armed and violent extremist groups. This was a response to transnational terrorist groups, such as Da’esh, which reduced women and girls to an expendable currency in the political economy of war.

Last year, resolution 2467 called for a holistic, survivor-centered approach in the prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence, one of my three strategic priorities since taking office in 2017. Such an approach recognizes that survivors are not just stories or statistics; their lived experience must inform the search for solutions, including decisions about policy, programming, and resource allocation.

Today, in terms of operational impact, the United Nations system is supporting thousands of survivors who had once been invisible and inaccessible. The two operational arms of my mandate, the Team of Experts on the Rule of Law, and the UN Action network, are supporting survivors through concrete projects in several countries from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan amongst other places.

My operational methodology is to secure commitments with national authorities in affected countries to prevent and address sexual violence, in line with relevant Security Council resolutions. The aim is to anchor these commitments at the highest level through Joint Communiqués and Frameworks of Cooperation, which generate specific action plans for security sector institutions.

To date, my Office has signed Joint Communiqués to prevent and address conflict-related sexual violence with Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Mali and Myanmar. Significantly, a number of non-State armed groups, which constitute the majority of perpetrators, have also issued unilateral communiqués and commitments in the framework of my mandate, notably in Mali and South Sudan.

These frameworks enhance internal accountability for sexual violence. This typically entails the issuance and enforcement of command orders and zero tolerance policies, and the training and mentoring of military justice actors. Some of the armed forces we work with have committed to consider the undertakings signed by commanders as one of the requirements for promotion and deployment. As part of efforts to address sexual violence, we also advocate for gender-responsive and inclusive security sectors, which improve their outreach to, and communication with, women in affected and at-risk communities.

Experience from our security sector engagements to date demonstrates that sexual violence crimes can only be addressed comprehensively and sustainably when national authorities commit to lead the response. Therefore, we will continue to place emphasis on fostering national ownership and responsibility, and on gaining specific commitments from political leaders in our priority countries.

To highlight just one positive example at the national level, the first delisting pursuant to my mandate was of the Armed Forces of Côte d’Ivoire in 2017. Following their adoption of concrete action plans for the security sector, developed with my Office, the number of cases declined significantly until in 2017, when there were no new allegations of sexual violence. Seven State armed forces have undertaken similar plans.

In all of these endeavors, partnership is essential to success. We have deepened partnerships with the military components of United Nations peacekeeping operations. Peacekeepers are now systematically trained to detect, deter and respond to sexual violence as part of their operational readiness standards. Commanders can engage with national security and defense forces, as well as with all parties to the conflict, to advocate on sexual violence issues.

We are also working with multilateral security institutions. We have been encouraged by the fact that the NATO Military Guidelines on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, endorsed by the nations in 2016, not only cross-reference the framework of Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, but go further by making explicit references to NATO’s role in reinforcing the compliance regime established by the Security Council.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my view that if civilians continue to suffer sexual violence in situations of armed conflict, it is not for a lack of international norms and institutions to protect them. It is because existing norms are inadequately implemented and enforced. It is because existing institutions are not backed with sustained political and financial support.

We continue to rely on your expertise and support to translate commitments into compliance, and resolutions into results. To this end, I would like to make three concrete recommendations for enhanced collaboration with Governments and armed forces:

Firstly: As part of international deployments, military components can take concrete actions in support of strategies to combat sexual violence. For instance, military components may include incidents and patterns of sexual violence in their monitoring of armed groups and in the design of prevention and response strategies. They can assess threats to vulnerable groups in high-risk areas, such as women collecting water or firewood, and ensure this informs patrolling plans. The military chain of command should also issue guidance on how to respond to survivors, including appropriate referral pathways.

Secondly: To increase operational effectiveness, armed forces should enhance the representation and participation of women. There is a positive correlation between the percentage of female uniformed peacekeeping personnel and police officers and reporting rates for sexual violence crimes. The role-modeling effect of women peacekeepers also galvanizes the aspirations of local women to join the national security sector.

Thirdly: Governments may consider supporting affected countries financially and with technical expertise to strengthen their response to conflict-related sexual violence. In the context of security sector reform, this could include: enhancing the capacity of military justice institutions to address sexual violence and vetting to prevent individuals suspected of violations from being recruited, retained or promoted.

There is so much at stake. Sexual violence is a crime that shatters the lives of victims. Their voices must anchor our efforts. I was struck recently by how a survivor from the DRC articulated the direct link between individual suffering and societal impact. She said: “We often hear that educating a woman is educating the whole nation. But have we understood that destroying a woman means destroying the whole community?

Twenty years after the adoption of resolution 1325, it is time to hear her message and heed her call to action. There can be no security without physical security from sexual violence, and no peace without peace of mind for the women, girls and communities at risk.

I look forward to our ongoing collaboration, and commend your commitment to ending this scourge, which – although as old as war itself – is preventable, not inevitable.

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