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Adopting resolution, UN creates International Day against Sexual Violence in Conflict

Victims of sexual violence at a shelter in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
UN Photo/Marie Frechon (file)
Victims of sexual violence at a shelter in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Adopting resolution, UN creates International Day against Sexual Violence in Conflict

In an effort to boost the global fight against the horrors faced by women and girls in zones of conflict worldwide, the United Nations General Assembly today approved by consensus a new resolution to commemorate 19 June as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

“Rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict constitute grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law,” President of the 193-member Assembly, Sam Kutesa, declared as he greeted the resolution’s adoption. “Yet these depraved acts still occur and are used to terrorize and control civilian populations in conflict zones.”

“Together, we must prioritize prevention and response efforts, empower victims, provide comprehensive assistance and shift the stigma of shame from the victims of these crimes to those who commit them and condone them,” he added.

The International Day – which will now be observed annually – will aim to raise awareness of the need to end conflict-related sexual violence and urge the international community to stand in solidarity with the survivors of sexual violence around the world.

The new initiative, moreover, comes amid an uptick in reports from areas controlled by militant groups aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of brutal acts of sexual violence against women and girls. Just last year, ISIL affiliate Boko Haram abducted some 276 girls their school in Chibok, located in Nigeria’s restive north-eastern Borno state, as the militant group ramped up brutal attacks targeting the African country’s children.

“Rape as a weapon of war must be stopped,” Mr. Kutesa continued. “We should ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes and their superiors who condone their actions are held accountable and that victims get justice.”

Also welcoming the creation of the Day, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, commended delegates, especially Argentina, which led the drafting of the text, for the increasing attention paid by the international community to the scourge of sexual violence but warned that the challenge now remained in converting “political will into concrete actions and protections on the ground.”

She said the Day will also create opportunities to pay homage to the thousands of survivors of sexual violence including women, girls, men and boys, who, despite the grievous harm suffered, have shown extreme determination, resolve and unflinching courage to speak out against this scourge.

“This annual commemoration will serve as a global call to action for security, justice and service actors on behalf of survivors of sexual violence in conflicts all over the world,” she stated.

Ms. Bangura recently returned from the Middle East where she met with female survivors of sexual violence committed by ISIL extremists. In an interview with the UN News Centre, she recounted grim tales of brutality and detailed new patterns of child and forced marriage to fighters as well as sexual slavery.

From information Ms. Bangura received during her visit, and from reports that came in, ISIL allegedly issued a “regulation” setting out the prices to be paid for Yazidi and Christian women and girls, the amounts varying according to age. The promise of sexual access to women and girls has been used in ISIL propaganda materials as part of its recruitment strategy and an estimated 1,500 civilians may have been forced into sexual slavery.

Adding her voice to the proclamations, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, who also joined delegates in the General Assembly Hall after the adoption of the resolution, hailed the creation of the International Day as “a victory for all the survivors who stay too often silent.”

“This is a day for all of us,” Ms. Zerrougui affirmed. “This resolution is an engagement from all Member States that commit to fight against sexual violence in conflict.”

The date 19 June commemorates the breakthrough adoption in 2008 of UN Security Council resolution 1820, which recognized sexual violence as a tactic of war and a threat to global peace and security, requiring an operational security, justice and service response. It further recognized that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and/or constitutive acts of genocide.