Statement of Leila Zerrougui

Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict

Side Event, UN General Assembly Hall

19 June 2015

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I congratulate you for the adoption of the resolution for an international day for the elimination of sexual violence in conflict. Allow me to also warmly thank Ambassador María Cristina Perceval, the Permanent Representative of Argentina, for the tireless efforts and the convictions she put behind this project. This resolution is an engagement from all Member States to fight against sexual violence in conflict. It is another achievement in the universal recognition of this scourge – a scourge that, not so long ago, was still taboo, embarrassing for some and denied by many others because this violence was used as a weapon of war. Finally, this international day is a victory for all the survivors who stay too often silent by fear of consequences but also because they have developed a totally unjustified feeling of shame and guilt.

I thank you for inviting me to this event and I join my colleague, SRSG Bangura, in sharing gratitude to the General Assembly, the civil society and colleagues from the United Nations who are behind the designation of this international day and work tirelessly to support the victims and survivors of sexual violence, often in very difficult environments. Now, on the 19 of June every year, we will have a new opportunity to remind everyone about their engagement to end this scourge and to hold perpetrators accountable.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, rape and other forms of sexual violence are one of the grave violations children tragically suffer during conflict. It is one of the prominent facets of conflict and affects, in a disproportionate manner, girls and boys, often very young. Children are an easy target because of their vulnerability. Also, the structures upon which children rely for their protection – communities but ultimately the family – are frequently fractured during conflict.  Sexual violence is often associated with other violations affecting children such as recruitment and use or abduction. Each conflict situation bears its own dynamics.  And it is also undeniable that sexual violence has been used and continues to be used as a weapon of war by many parties to conflict, sometimes on large scale. Rape and the threat of rape is a means to instil fear among communities; intimidate, humiliate or punish, impose an ideology; and force populations to displace in order to take over their land or resources, or to change the demographics of the area. Recently extremist groups have illustrated themselves by using sexual violence as a tactic for that very purpose.  I have no doubt that we all have examples in mind.

Accountability is key to put an end to this scourge. Without accountability, without sending the signal to the perpetrators that they can’t go on unpunished, there are little prospects that we will see the end of it. Also, collectively we must provide and protect the space in which the survivors of sexual violence can speak out, report to the authorities, testify in a court or seek medical care, without fear, stigmatisation or, worse, reprisals. Survivors should not be punished for speaking about what happened to them. They must be encouraged to do so. Further, collectively we must make sure that the survivors of sexual violence are given all the support and assistance they need in order to heal and rebuild their life in a dignified manner. Reparations are an important aspect to that end.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The adoption of the resolution today is your commitment to put an end to sexual violence in conflict. It is your promise to garner the support and provide the space to tackle each and every aspect of this horrific phenomenon in order to stop it. It is your pledge that the children survivors of sexual violence will be given the means and support to rebuild a life full of opportunities, safely back in their families and communities. It is your vow that children born out of rape will not suffer stigmatization and enjoy the same rights and protections as all children.

I thank you.