Sexual Violence and War


8-12-09, 8:55 am

Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative To the United Nations, During an Open Security Council Debate On Resolution 1820 and Women, Peace, and Security, August 7, 2009

Thank you Mr. President. I want to begin by thanking you and your delegation for hosting this very important event and for ensuring that it remains front and center on the Council’s agenda. I also want to thank very much the Secretary-General for his important report and very helpful recommendations, as well as his presence here today.

Throughout history, sexual violence has often occurred in places wracked by armed conflict. But over the past decade, reporting from several countries has confirmed that rape is becoming increasingly frequent and brutal—and, in some places, a systematic weapon of war. In response, this Council has adopted Resolution 1820, repeatedly condemned these crimes, and called on all parties to immediately end acts of rape and sexual violence during armed conflicts. But thousands of women and girls are still being gang-raped, mutilated, assaulted, and forced into sexual slavery every single day. This, my colleagues, we must end.

I will never forget when we took our trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and we met with two very eloquent victims of rape and sexual violence at the Heal Africa hospital. And they spoke movingly of the horrible, horrible crimes they had experienced. Well, after our discussion I had the opportunity to speak privately, briefly, with the older of those two women, who pulled me aside I think looking to me as the one woman on the Security Council at the present. And she asked me, with tears in her eyes, to do every thing that I could and that we could to end this horrible systematic violence that she and so many others had experienced. And I gave her my word that I would. And I intend to keep my word with your cooperation and your support.

Because sexual assaults against women are often committed in front of their husbands and children and they do more than just inflict appalling physical, mental, and emotional injuries on their victims. They can also spread HIV/AIDS and other diseases, produce unwanted children who become neglected or orphans, and undermine families and communities when the survivors are stigmatized and shamed. All too often, the result is a smoldering anger and insatiable desire for revenge that only worsens the violence and makes peace agreements all the harder to reach or sustain.

We must end these atrocities, we must better protect women and girls, halt the impunity that perpetrators often enjoy, and make it easier to achieve lasting and inclusive peace.

To succeed, we need to ensure that rapists and other perpetrators of sexual violence are identified and punished. We need sustained efforts to prevent new acts of sexual violence, including by increasing human rights training and vetting for members of domestic security forces. We also need quality and accessible treatment for the survivors of rape and abuse. At the same time, we need to collect more data on sexual violence, share UN reporting more widely, and bring that information into this Council in real time. The Secretary-General’s report includes several recommendations that could dramatically improve current practice. Building on Resolution 1820, the United States urges this Council to consider seriously and to act swiftly on these recommendations.

Job one is to hold perpetrators accountable, and so the US supports credible domestic, or hybrid, and international accountability mechanisms that investigate and prosecute these crimes, particularly in countries incapable of bringing such criminals to effective justice. We aim to build state capacity to enforce the rule of law through a range of measures, from technical assistance, to training by international lawyers, to assistance in legislative drafting.

In this regard I want to say a few words in specific about the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the interlinked problems of sexual violence and impunity are particularly grave. According to the UN Population Fund, nearly 16,000 new cases of sexual violence were registered throughout the country in 2008—with 65 percent of these cases involving children. Yet data collected from provincial health centers between 2005 and 2007 suggest that Congolese courts heard only 2 percent – 2 percent – of the registered rape cases in the conflict-ridden eastern Congo.

Some cases against accused Congolese perpetrators of mass atrocities are pending at the International Criminal Court, but we should establish other mechanisms for ensuring accountability and bringing perpetrators to justice. A Commission of Inquiry, as suggested by the Secretary-General, is one option that deserves serious consideration. The Council should also explore deployment of technical assistance teams to develop the capacity to combat sexual violence in all conflict zones. These teams could determine the feasibility of establishing a dedicated chamber in domestic courts that would prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, with a substantial focus on sexual and gender-based violence.

We welcome the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s recently announced zero-tolerance policy for members of its security forces who commit sexual violence. We also welcome the April 2009 launch of a comprehensive strategy by the UN and the DRC’s government for combating gender-based violence. And we will continue to insist on the complete resolution of the five cases discussed by this Council earlier this week. We welcome MONUC’s efforts and the recent approval of a six officer sexual violence unit to help the mission implement its protection mandate, and we encourage MONUC to work further with the DRC government on this immense problem. And we will work with the Congolese, and all stakeholders, to help craft more effective solutions.

Next, we need specialized leadership and high-level attention at the UN to focus on implementing the goals of Resolution 1820. The United States believes that the appointment of a high-level Special Representative on Women, Peace, and Security by the Secretary-General for a specified period of time would help focus the Secretariat’s efforts. This time-limited mandate would be to review and streamline multi-sectoral responses to sexual violence in conflict situations, promote integrated and coordinated approaches, bolster the role of women in peace negotiations and peacekeeping operations, and promote accountability for the implementation of Resolution 1820.

Third, we should use targeted measures to thwart sexual violence as a tactic of war. We fully support the report’s recommendations to incorporate provisions on sexual violence in armed conflict into existing sanctions regimes, as appropriate. To best apply such targeted measures and give the Council up-to-date information as it needs, information-sharing among all Council-mandated bodies is essential. The Secretary-General’s relevant Special Representatives and Emergency Relief Coordinators should work with member states to develop comprehensive, joint government-UN strategies for combating sexual violence, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders. They should also provide regular updates on sexual violence in their reporting to the Secretary-General and the Security Council.

Fourth, to curb rape and sexual violence by military officers, we must create a culture of awareness and accountability inside of national militaries, starting with the top commanders and marching all the way down the chain of command. Neither soldiers nor officers should be able to commit sexual violence, especially with impunity. Perpetrators must not be promoted. We must work to build up effective vetting mechanisms that will exclude persons who face credible allegations and evidence of crimes. We in the international community need to explore ways to foster such a culture of accountability through better training, capacity building, and other targeted programs.

And Mr. President, the United Nations needs to lead by example by actively enforcing the zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. Simply put, abusers cannot be allowed to serve in UN peacekeeping missions, now or in the future.

Efforts to combat sexual violence must be placed squarely on the political agenda as well when countries are searching for lasting stability and peace. The UN and its member states and future mediators should address sexual violence in today’s peace processes—and include them from the very start in future peace talks. In addition, we must include more women as mediators and members of negotiating teams. During last year’s open debate on sexual violence, MONUC’s Deputy Force Commander warned against a troubling dynamic: “men with guns forgiving other men with guns for crimes committed against women.” If peace processes are to succeed and endure, they must avoid this pitfall.

Finally, reporting by the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict zones is critically important to all these efforts, and we endorse the Secretary-General’s recommendation to extend a standing invitation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, and the Chairperson of UN Action to provide additional briefings on sexual violence and to supplement the information received from the Special Representatives and the Emergency Relief Coordinators as the situation arises. We also want continued annual reporting on this topic by the Secretary-General, and we welcome your commitment to do so.

Beyond the measures that the Security Council can take, important aspects of the problem of sexual violence must be pursued in other bodies, including the General Assembly’s discussion of a new gender architecture. We will work with other stakeholders, within the UN system and nongovernmental organizations, to end impunity and assist the victims of rape and sexual assault.

We have a great deal to do, Mr. President, to fully implement Resolution 1820. Putting this topic on the world's agenda was an important step forward. But it was just a first step. We now look forward to working with our fellow Council members, the Secretariat, and other partners, to bring a halt to and prevent further sexual violence in armed conflict once and for all. The task is massive and the time is now.