The United Nations stepped up its battle against sexual violence in conflicts around the world today with the Security Council calling for perpetrators to be publicly listed and punished with sanctions.
“Even as we take this step here, catastrophe is unfolding for communities caught in the chaos of conflicts,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the 15-member body at the meeting where it unanimously adopted the resolution. It had been sponsored by 60 countries, including some where the worst cases of recent abuse have been perpetrated.
The Council resolution – voicing deep concern at the slow progress in combating the scourge and the limited number of perpetrators brought to justice – stresses the need to end impunity and vowed to take “appropriate steps to address widespread or systematic sexual violence in situation of armed conflict” in accordance with procedures of relevant sanctions committees.
It also asks Mr. Ban to include detailed lists of those credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for rape and other forms of sexual violence in his regular reports to the Council on the issue
“Armed elements are targeting civilians, raping women and men, and terrorizing entire populations,” Mr. Ban said. “Pre-meditated campaigns are being waged with the most sinister goals: to silence women leaders, to empty areas that are filled with rich minerals but poor people, to recruit others and perpetuate the cycle of abuse.”
He noted that in many places, the threat is so pervasive that women cannot cultivate land, collect water, or get the fuel they need to cook and feed their families for fear that they will be attacked in the process.
“And often, the perpetrators seem to reserve particular cruelty for children, intentionally traumatizing boys and girls by forcing them to watch as their mothers are attacked, or by attacking the children themselves,” the Secretary-General added.
One of the resolution’s sponsors was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where more than 300 civilians were raped between 30 July and 2 August in the eastern Walikale region by members of rebel armed groups, including the Maï Maï Cheka and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – an example cited by Mr. Ban today.
“Hundreds of women were raped, as were girls, boys and men. One elderly woman described her ordeal by saying, ‘Those boys who raped me could have been my grandchildren.’ One young girl, just five years old, suffered such severe physical damage that she may never fully recover. We can only imagine the psychological trauma she now endures,” the Secretary-General said.
Mr. Ban went on to note that the victims may survive these attacks only to be subjected to another form of abuse as sexual violence is one of the only crimes where the victims, and not the perpetrators, are left with stigma.
“This is true not only in the DRC but in other countries around the world. Victims are shamed and marginalized,” he said. “Their husbands reject them. Men and boys who are sexually attacked often suffer isolation and discrimination. Just when these individuals need support from their communities, it falls away.”
But Mr. Ban also used Walikale as an example of the successes concerted action by the UN, its partners and governments can have. Two months after the mass rapes, peacekeepers from the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), in a joint operation with DRC government forces, arrested ‘Lieutenant-Colonel’ Mayele, a member of the Maï Maï Cheka rebel armed group and allegedly responsible for commanding the atrocities.
“But many perpetrators are still at large,” the Secretary-General said. “MONUSCO and the UN system are helping the DRC authorities to investigate the crimes, protect witnesses and bring perpetrators to justice.
Mr. Ban’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, said today’s resolution will help ensure that mass rape is never again met with mass impunity.
“Instead of serving as a cheap, silent and effective tactic of war, sexual violence will be a liability for armed groups. It will expose their superiors to increased international scrutiny, seal off the corridors,” Ms. Wallström said. “The resolution the Council adopted today may not bring justice to every victim throughout the history of war – but it will help to ensure that conflict-related sexual violence no longer goes unreported, unaddressed or unpunished.”
Also addressing the Council were the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, and his military affairs adviser Lieutenant-General Babacar Gaye, as well as ambassadors from nearly 50 Member States.