Sexual violence, brutal tactic of warfare, repression – UN chief

By Cecilia Ologunagba

UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, says sexual violence has become a brutal tactic of warfare and repression that terrorises populations, destroys lives and fractures communities.

Guterres, who said this on Friday, in his message to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, observed that perpetrators rarely faced the consequences of their actions.

The UN General Assembly (A/RES/69/293) proclaimed June 19 each year the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The Day is set aside to raise awareness on the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence, to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world.

“It is the survivors who carry the burden of stigma and trauma throughout their lives, often doubly brutalised by harmful social norms and victim-blaming.

“We stand in solidarity…supporting the most vulnerable women, girls, men and boys as they struggle to live in dignity and peace in the midst of humanitarian crises,” the UN chief said.

He said the UN would increase support for those victimised and displaced; those vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“Rural areas with weak protection systems also need to be a focus for extra support,” he added.

According to him, this means bolstering national justice systems to hold perpetrators accountable, ensure victims receive medical and psychosocial support, and uphold survivors’ rights.

Additionally, it requires support for women-led civil society organisations to break down social, economic and cultural barriers that deny protection, equality and justice as well as addressing underlying causes of sexual violence in conflict.

“With increased political resolve and financial resources, we can match words with action and end the scourge of sexual violence in conflict, once and for all,” stressed the secretary-general.

Similarly, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten and European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, issued a joint call for the international community to help eradicate conflict-related sexual violence, and “save succeeding generations from this scourge.”

“It is time to move beyond reactive approaches and address the underlying causes and invisible drivers of sexual violence…as well as harmful social norms related to honour, shame, and blaming victims,” they said in the statement.

They expressed deep shock over the impact that the war in Ukraine was having on civilians, and grave concern over the harrowing personal testimonies and mounting allegations of sexual violence.

“We strongly condemn such crimes and call for an immediate end to the violence,” said the statement.

From Afghanistan, to Guinea, Mali, Myanmar, and elsewhere, they drew attention to an “epidemic of coups and military takeovers” that had “turned back the clock on women’s rights.”

And as new crises escalate, wars elsewhere continue, including in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the

Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Each is marked by alarming levels of conflict-related sexual violence used as a tool of political repression, intimidation and reprisal against frontline actors and activists.

“It is critical to foster a protective environment that deters and prevents sexual violence in the first instance and enables safe reporting and adequate response.

“Prevention is the best form of protection, including the prevention of conflict itself,” they said.

To address sexual violence, they said greater political and diplomatic engagement was needed in ceasefire and peace agreements, threat analysis, greater gender-responsive justice and security sector reform. (NAN)