Keynote Address for the Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict


Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

20 June, 2017

Watch Ms. Gamba’s presentation beginning at 20:00.

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Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank Ambassador Mr. Martín Garcia Moritán, Permanent Representative of Argentina, my colleague Ms. Pramila Pattern, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict, as well the co-sponsoring Member States for the realisation of this event. I am honoured to be amongst the distinguished panellists, to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict for the second time and discuss how we can overcome these violations by means of justice and deterrence.

Today is an important opportunity to raise broad awareness on the issue of sexual violence in conflict and pay tribute to the survivors of these crimes. Those overcoming the profound social, physical and psychological consequences of these atrocities deserve our utmost respect and unfaltering support.

Moreover, today should also serve as a reminder that we must never accept sexual violence as an inevitable phenomenon of war and prompt us to take decisive and coordinated action to end and prevent these violations. It is our collective responsibility to better protect those most vulnerable in times of war, afford survivors of sexual violence all possible assistance to reclaim their lives and hold perpetrators to account.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

With regards to my mandate which focusses on children and armed conflict, ‘rape and other forms of sexual violence’ represents one of the six grave violations against children. Since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1882 in 2009, the violation has become a trigger for listing parties to armed conflict in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. The process serves the dual purpose of publicly holding perpetrators to account for their crimes as well as creating the political space to engage them in view of ending and preventing future violations.

All too often, reports of conflict related sexual violence against children reach my Office. In the Secretary-General’s report covering the period of 2015 for instance, 14 parties were listed for rape and other forms of sexual violence, including 12 armed groups and two Government forces, and sexual violence affected children in 16 out of 20 conflict situations on the CAAC agenda. Notwithstanding these figures, as cases of sexual violence are particularly difficult to document and verify, the actual magnitude of violations is almost certainly underreported.

While there is a developing consensus amongst Member States, that sexual violence against children must be stopped and progress has been made in the area of accountability, it remains a central concern in the majority of situations of armed conflict.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Even in peacetime, children are an easy target for perpetrators of sexual violence. Their vulnerability is however further compounded during war, when traditional protective structures, such as families, schools and religious institutions disintegrate. Armed conflict also often diminishes the capacity of justice systems and thus their ability to hold perpetrators to account. When soldiers or elements of armed groups operate in the context of heightened vulnerability and decreased accountability, acts of rape and sexual violence against children often become commonplace. Bolstering protective structures and breaking the chain of impunity by investigating crimes and holding perpetrators to account must therefore be the cornerstone of any effort to prevent acts of sexual violence.

Ensuring accountability for crimes of sexual violence in conflict is however a delicate and complicated undertaking. Feelings of guilt and shame as well as fear of retaliation or stigma push boys and girls to avoid speaking about the abuses endured, and survivors of sexual violence often remain ‘invisible victims’. Before justice can prevail, we must therefore establish safe spaces allowing children to overcome their fear, speak out and testify; judges and prosecutors must be trained in dealing with cases of conflict related violence; and communities must be equipped to receive child survivors and understand that stigmatization must end.

Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between violations perpetrated by Government forces and armed groups. Eight of the twelve armed groups listed for rape and sexual violence in the annexes of the latest annual report on children and armed conflict, operate in countries where Government forces are listed for the same violation. Encouraging Governments to hold their own troops to account, including through supporting the implementation of action plans, reinforcing local justice systems and joint advocacy is therefore an important prerequisite to disrupt the cycle of impunity. In this regard, it is very positive that both listed Government forces have signed action plans which cover sexual violence against children. We must build on this achievement to replace the culture of impunity with one of justice.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In a few moments, we will be seeing a short video on the plight Khadija, a 17-year-old girl who was abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria and suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hand of her captors. Even following her rescue by the Nigerian military, she continued to suffer the consequences of her abuse; not least because she was publicly stigmatized as being a ‘Boko Haram wife’.

As the Secretary-General mentioned yesterday in his message on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, ‘each and every one of us has a responsibility to help put a stop to these crimes’. We owe it to survivors such as Khadija to ensure they receive support to overcome their trauma, obtain appropriate reparations and can reclaim their rightful place as full members of society.

Today, let’s renew our shared commitment and ensure that child survivors of sexual violence will be given the means and support to rebuild their lives and receive the justice they deserve.

I am now looking forward to the interactive panel and hearing the speakers’ views on how we can better leverage justice and deterrence to prevent sexual violence in conflict.

Thank you.