Noting that an increasing number of women and girls are falling victim to the “silent war” of sexual violence in conflict areas, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today led a chorus of United Nations officials in urging greater efforts to combat the scourge.
“Violence against women has reached unspeakable and pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from conflict,” Mr. Ban told a Security Council debate focusing on sexual violence in situations of armed conflict.
Today’s meeting comes almost eight years after the Council adopted its landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, and is chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of the United States, which holds the 15-member body’s rotating presidency for this month.
Mr. Ban stressed that responding to this “silent war against women and girls” requires leadership, comprehensive strategies and the involvement of everyone, from the UN and national governments to rape survivors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
In March the Secretary-General launched a global campaign to end violence against women, including the practice of sexual violence in armed conflict. He announced today that he will soon appoint a UN envoy tasked entirely with advocacy for ending violence against women.
In response to calls from women’s groups, rape survivors and NGOs, he is also bringing together a dozen UN entities in a concerted effort called UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. It brings together experts on various issues, including peacekeeping, HIV/AIDS and human rights, to help stop rape and other sexual crimes in conflict-ridden countries.
Mr. Ban noted that the UN can act more forcefully when the Council adopts resolutions with strong language on sexual and gender-based violence, and called for all future mandates of UN operations to contain clear provisions on protecting women and children in conflict.
And on the issue of UN operations, the Secretary-General added, “Let me be clear: the United Nations and I personally are profoundly committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel.”
He also called for the greater involvement of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and recovery after the guns fall silent. “By creating a culture that punishes violence and elevates women to their rightful role, we can lay the foundation for lasting stability, where women are not victims of violence, but agents of peace,” he said.
Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro also addressed today’s meeting, saying that sexual violence has not only grave physical and psychological health consequences for its victims but also direct social consequences for communities and entire societies.
“Impunity for sexual violence committed during the conflict perpetuates a tolerance of abuse against women and girls and leaves a damaging legacy by hindering national reconciliation,” she said.
The Deputy Secretary-General added that tackling this complex problem on all fronts will require the combined effort of all, including governments, the UN system, civil society organizations and NGOs.
She called women “one of our greatest assets” in the fight against such horrific crimes. “If we promote the full and equal participation of women in the security sector, we can ensure that security services effectively identify and respond to their needs.”
General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim noted that while both the Assembly and the Council have adopted groundbreaking resolutions on the issue, stronger and more coordinated efforts are need to address sexual violence against women.
“Clearly we all have to do more to prevent human rights violations against women and girls in situations of armed conflict, do more to punish the perpetrators, and end the impunity of war crimes violators.”
He added that women must be assured equal and full participation in conflict resolution and peace-building processes, and represented in the structures and institutions realized from any peace dividend to ensure that it lasts.