Deputy Secretary-General, other members of the Panel, your Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to be here with you today for the launch of the Secretary General’s Guidance Note on Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, which OHCHR jointly coordinated with UN Women. I would also like to thank SRSG Bangura in her capacity as Chair of the UN Action Network against Sexual Violence in Conflict for the valuable inputs that her Office and the Network made to the process.
Conflict-related sexual violence is deeply rooted in gender-based discrimination and in its worst forms systematically used to subjugate and humiliate victims. The stigma attached to it exposes victims to life-long disempowerment and marginalization. It also creates hurdles in the path to justice, fuelling a vicious cycle of impunity.
In addressing sexual violence, it is important that we place victims at the centre and ensure that their right to an effective remedy and reparations is fulfilled. Yet, this has been one of the most neglected aspects in the response to sexual violence.
Reparations are particularly important for victims of sexual violence. They have the potential to break the cycle of silence around this crime while empowering victims to come forward and restore a sense of dignity and justice.
The Secretary-General Guidance Note on Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence provides a comprehensive overview of the principles to be applied in a reparations programme. Let me briefly highlight some of them:
Firstly, reparations programmes must be accessible and inclusive. This implies that they must be sensitive to the difficulties that victims, especially women and children, may face in effectively participating in reparations programmes, for example, literacy and linguistic barriers. Similarly, reparations programmes must be flexible in terms of application deadlines, bearing in mind that stigma, fear of exposure or trauma may hinder victims in coming forward. For example, in Sierra Leone and Timor Leste, the truth commissions decided that the potential list of victims should be kept open in order to ensure the widest possible access.
Secondly, it is crucial that reparation programmes be designed with the participation of victims, including the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim, and persons who have suffered harm. These persons are best placed to determine the forms of reparations that should apply to their situation, whether individual, collective, material and / or symbolic. Effective participation of victims requires outreach and awareness-raising activities. In DRC, Uganda, Nepal and Kosovo for example OHCHR has engaged with local stakeholders, to ensure that victims’ voices are heard in developing reparation programmes. In the case of Uganda we have conducted research and developed trainings with the Human Rights Commission while ensuring the inclusion of victims in conflict affected communities. In the case of Kosovo, victims considered that in order to address the harm suffered they needed medical and psychological care, financial compensation, additional monetary support to assist with the education of their children and an official declaration aimed at restoring their dignity and reputation.
Thirdly, reparations should have the potential to transform the structural conditions within society that allowed the violence to happen in the first place. Priority should therefore be given to reparations that can empower victims and offer opportunities traditionally denied to them. In DRC, the UN Joint Human Rights Office provided five grants to local NGOs to ensure victims receive psychosocial therapy, medical insurance, school fees, training and supplies for small business opportunities. In addition, it supported the construction of transit houses or shelters that provide lodging, food and advisory services for the victims awaiting trial in Bukavu and Shabunda. The victims who benefitted from these projects reported the positive changes in their lives when for example they were able to start their own business or go back to school. Despite these efforts, there are many victims whose right to reparations is not yet fulfilled. In 2012, I met with victims of sexual violence in Shabunda and visited an NGO-run legal clinic established to facilitate their access to justice. Until then, no victims had received any reparations - just a goat or two as a result of an out-of-court settlement. Unfortunately I am hearing that up until today no victim of sexual violence in the DRC has effectively received any reparations. This unacceptable situation has to change.
In recent years, progress has been made in defining the framework for just and effective reparations, including through the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparations for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, the report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against women entitled Reparations for Women subject to Violence, and now this Guidance Note. However, implementation continues to be a challenge.
While lack of resources has often been cited as an impediment to the implementation, it should be recalled that States have a legal responsibility, under international law, to provide a remedy and reparations for victims, including victims of conflict-related sexual violence. International cooperation and assistance can help but should not be seen as a substitute for the role of the State. Good practices, such as those that we will hear from Colombia, should be followed.
In the national and international justice arena, we have gone a long way in recognising conflict-related sexual violence as a war crime, a crime against humanity or an element constituent of genocide. In the international dialogue on accountability for conflict-related sexual violence, reparations must be treated as equally important as prosecution.
Some victims have waited for a long time -even decades- to get reparations. However, recent reparations initiatives, clearly indicate that it is never too late for justice. However, the sooner it comes, the sooner the healing process for victims can start and the sooner their sense of dignity be regained.