"If we are to end sexual violence in conflict, we must tackle its root causes as well as its symptoms"

Statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson, Deputy Permanent Representative of the UK Mission to the UN, to the Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security

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Thank you Madam President for calling this important debate and for giving it a lot of publicity through Twitter.

I welcome the Secretary-General’s report. It really is a vital framework for all of us and I particularly wanted to thank you Special Representative Bangura for your briefing and your brave and tireless work alongside the Team of Experts, and UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. You really are an example to all of us and every time you speak you give us new energy in this fight. I also wanted to pay particular tribute to Hamsatu Allamin. What you just said just now is really important testimony for all of us and I was particularly struck by how you talked about how you are using resolutions of this Council, including 1325 to make a real difference on the ground and I think that that’s a reminder to all of us about what all of this is about. We are essentially together creating norms and creating a sense of energy that allow people to take real action on the ground to change people’s lives in this important and very controversial area.

One year ago yesterday, when 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in the town of Chibok, the abductions shocked the world. Abductions, enslavement, sexual abuse and forced marriage of women and girls are central to Boko Haram’s methods of operations. As the fight against Boko Haram continues, we reiterate our support to colleagues from Nigeria and Chad, and to all Members affected in the region.

This anniversary is a stark reminder of the task we face to end conflict-related sexual violence. The Global Summit held last summer in London led to a number of important and ambitious commitments and I wanted to highlight just three of them.

First, the AU’s launch of a pilot project in the Central African Republic. Secondly, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s commitment to implement its action plan and thirdly, a number of countries signing up to the call for action on protecting women and girls in emergencies. Those are just some of the issues that we’ve worked hard on to implement and to deliver real change in the countries that are worst affected.

But the rise of extremist non-state actors such as Boko Haram and ISIL is now one of the greatest threats to our goal, as others have said. Sexual violence has become a tactic of their terror. There are three key ways that I think that we can fight this.

First, we need to do more to support affected countries. The need of survivors is great; this report highlights that more medical, psychosocial, legal and economic support is urgently required. Whatever support we provide, we must ensure that women and girls are at the heart of it.

My country is committed to this approach. In Syria, we are providing counselling for survivors of sexual and gender based violence as well as clinical care, reproductive healthcare and cash assistance to particularly vulnerable households. In Iraq, our Embassy has established working groups to promote women’s rights and combat the effects of sexual violence. And we support activities including legal assistance and support groups for women. We have given $1.5 billion in humanitarian support to the Syria crisis.

The UN also has a particularly important role to play. We strongly support the Secretary-General’s recommendation for greater links between Women, Peace and Security and fighting extremism. We hope that this will be addressed in the review of resolution 1325 this year and I very much welcome what Spain’s Permanent Representative has just said about the energy and commitment that the Spanish Presidency will bring to this in October.

Madam President,

Second, national military and security actors must be responsive to survivors’ needs. More focused training, incorporating gender and survivor awareness, and better information sharing between military and civilians is part of the solution, but so is making our police and military more representative of our societies, with greater recruitment and promotion of women. Until that happens we are not going to make real, substantive and lasting progress on this.

UN peacekeepers and police can also do more to address the needs of women and girls. We need to empower peacekeeping personnel to prevent and respond to sexual violence. That must be central to pre-deployment preparations at all ranks and fully integrated into mission-wide objectives and mandates, as France has emphasised earlier. We hope that the Peace Operations review later this year will reflect these important recommendations.

Thirdly, we must ensure greater accountability, for all perpetrators – and governments who do not uphold their responsibility to protect the vulnerable in society. Our support, whether improved training or more female personnel, can help encourage victims of sexual violence to come forward and help end the stigma associated with this crime.

We must match this with more investigations and more prosecutions, including through the International Criminal Court, to show that there is no impunity. We also encourage States to implement the International Protocol on Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, launched at the Global Summit in London last year. This important tool can help national and international justice and human rights practitioners to effectively and protectively document sexual violence and pursue accountability for these crimes. The United Kingdom has so far supported and trained practitioners on the Protocol in areas as diverse as Bosnia, DRC, Nepal and Colombia. We have also raised awareness of its importance with international faith leaders, bearing in mind their often unique position of influence with survivors.

Madam President,

Let me close with this point. If we are to end sexual violence in conflict, we must tackle its root causes as well as its symptoms. We all have a responsibility to end gender inequality and discrimination in our societies. And in this Council we have a unique responsibility to prevent conflicts that allow sexual violence to thrive.

Last year resolution 2171 affirmed that human rights violations and abuses, including sexual violence, can act as indicators for impending conflict. If we are to uphold international peace and security, this Council must heed, and act, on these warnings to prevent conflict taking hold. This is difficult work. It is not work that this Council is brilliant at, but it is an area where we can make progress using the tools that we have and we need to use whatever evidence we have to make progress here.

By doing that, we will give women and girls around the world a future that those at Chibok were denied.

Thank you.

Published 15 April 2015