Sexual violence in conflict “reverberates down generations” and threatens both human and international security, the UN chief said on Thursday in his message for the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Already a “cruel tactic of war, torture, terror and repression”, Secretary-General António Guterres pointed to the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that “has made it even more difficult to hold perpetrators of sexual violence to account”.
“Even as we respond to the pandemic, we must investigate every case, and maintain essential services for every survivor”, he said.
Tackle the root causes
Even as COVID-19 has triggered new obstacles for survivors to report crimes and access support services, the UN chief said that recovery must also include tackling “the root causes of sexual and gender-based violence”.
“We cannot allow this already underreported crime to slip further into the shadows. Perpetrators must be punished”, he said.
He concluded his message for the day by saying: “Let’s resolve to uphold the rights and meet the needs of all survivors, as we work to prevent and end these horrific crimes”.
Prior to the annual commemoration on 19 June, a virtual event was co-hosted by the Offices of the Special Representatives on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SVC) and Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), along with the Argentinian Mission, to foster measures for an enabling environment that encourages survivors to safely come forward and seek redress.
Against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has laid bare intersecting inequalities that plague our societies, compounded by conflict, displacement and institutional fragility, the event framed “the only solution for these overlapping ills”, as an injection of political resolve and resources, equal to the scale of the challenge.
Key focus areas
CAAC Special Representative Virginia Gamba expressed concern for the children born of rape during conflict who face “distinct, sometimes life-threatening and enduring risks”.
To better protect children sexually abused “by, in and for armed conflict”, she stressed the importance of focusing on key areas, such as strengthening accountability measures to end cultures of impunity and ultimately prevent recurrences.
She underscored the need to recognize as “essential services”, the work of monitoring and reporting teams, and protection advisors for women and children, as priorities that must be adequately funded.
Finally, Ms. Gamba said there was an “urgent necessity to increase human and financial resources to reach child survivors, hear their stories and “secure the support they desperately need”.
Sparking ‘decisive change’
The Special Representative expressed her strong hope that this seventh annual commemoration would “spark decisive change” and that all children survivors of conflict-related sexual violence will be able to receive “tailored, gender-sensitive, age-appropriated services”.
“The post-pandemic world can only be built back better by including those affected the most. This is an imperative for societies if they wish to thrive and for peace to last”, concluded Ms. Gamba.