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Fighting against sexual violence in combat areas

The presence of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at a performance of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Ruined” testified to the international community’s concern about human rights abuses committed during armed conflict and the need to bring perpetrators to justice.

The Pulitzer award winning play “Ruined” was performed on June 19 in New York © UN Photo/Evan SchneiderThe play “Ruined” is set in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where sexual violence is rampant. According to Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Equality Now, an international non-governmental organization (NGO) co-hosting the 19 June performance, the special event sought to bring the power of art and theatre to strengthen the commitment of those working at the UN on the issue of sexual violence in conflict zones.

“This is a very powerful drama that shows the unique vulnerability and tremendous courage of women and girls in situations of armed conflict like the DRC,” she said.

“So much more needs to be done by the international community to stop sexual violence and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the High Commissioner said following the performance. The decade-long war in the DRC has left over five million Congolese dead and hundreds of thousands of women and girls raped and tortured.

While the war is now formally over, fighting between the rebel forces and the Armed Forces of the DRC (known as FARDC) continues, as do human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated by both sides to the conflict. Just a few days before this play performance, the UN reported that a 3-year-old girl died as the result of a vicious rape by a rebel fighter. Her three sisters, aged 12, 14 and 17, were also raped by combatants in South Kivu in the DRC.

“These are not isolated cases,” Pillay said, pointing out that “horrific levels of sexual attacks continue on the sidelines of this conflict. Unless and until the perpetrators are bought to justice, there will be no stopping these atrocities.” 

According to the UN, sexual violence is increasing. All armed groups involved in the DRC conflict have committed acts of sexual and gender-based violence including sexual slavery, kidnapping, forced recruitment, prostitution and rape.

In May 2009, Permanent Representative of France to the UN Jean-Maurice Ripert said that on behalf of the UN Security Council, he had given the government of the DRC the names of five men - high ranking officers of the FARDC - who are wanted for sexual crimes against a number of women.

“We asked the President and the Prime Minister,” he said, “to arrest those five officers and bring them to trial publicly so as to begin restoring the confidence of the civilian population.”

The special performance of “Ruined” was co-hosted by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Equality Now – an international NGO that works to protect and promote women’s rights. The Secretary-General was accompanied by his wife and about 70 guests from the UN, the media, NGOs and others concerned with women’s rights. Following the performance, the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner and officials from Equality Now met backstage with the cast and the playwright, Lynn Nottage.

23 June 2009