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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Arria Formula Meeting on Accountability for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

12 February 2019

Remarks by Mr. Andrew Gilmour,

United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Friday 8 February 2019, Trusteeship Council, 10 a.m.

Promoting accountability for conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) is a core mandate of OHCHR. We are grateful for this opportunity to share, as requested, some thoughts on OHCHR's contribution to the fight against impunity for gender-based crimes.

I want to make three points.

First, what are we actually doing on the ground in places like the DRC, South Sudan and Guinea to promote accountability, in close collaboration with the Office of SRSG Patten? Types of work include:

  • Working with military justice systems to implement national strategies on impunity for conflict-related sexual violence;
  • Putting in place a victims and witness protection program that includes specialized measures for survivors of sexual violence;
  • Working with national authorities to facilitate access to justice for victims of sexual violence in remote locations through mobile courts;
  • Sharing the results of human rights monitoring and investigation with national authorities and, when needed, with the Security Council;
  • Documenting the lasting physical and psychological impact of sexual violence against women and girls, men and boys;
  • Supporting the Team of Experts assisting national authorities to bring perpetrators to justice.

The second point is to stress that accountability for CRSV can be central to the mandate of the Security Council. OHCHR's experience of working with CRSV on the ground is that its particularly brutal nature harms not just individuals but, by inflicting the profoundest humiliation, it is designed to divide communities and peoples, thereby creating major obstacles for peace, stability and reconciliation.

Third, what is not working or needs to work better? Over the last decade, much progress has been made on addressing conflict-related sexual violence, including accountability. We recognize here the Member States co-sponsoring this event and the Office of the SRSG-SVC for their leadership. Nevertheless, CRSV continues to occur in many conflicts across the world with almost total impunity.

Far greater political pressure needs to be placed on forces that commit CRSV. When their leaders know that there will be political, and possibly legal and economic, consequences imposed by Member States, many will take action to prevent or stop CRSV.

At present, it is just too easy for leaders to evade responsibility by blanket denials – on the grounds that sexual violence is expressly forbidden by their orders, and alien to the culture and professionalism of their soldiers. I and my colleagues have raised this with political and military leaders in many conflict zones, and when confronted with such denials, we point out that it is indeed happening – which either means that convincing orders have not been received by troops, or else that the troops are ignoring the orders.

We must continue to improve monitoring and reporting, and the prompt presentation of information to national authorities and Member States. In addition, to ensure that CRSV accountability efforts are fully effective, the UN should work with Member States to include them within a larger 'basket' of efforts, including to address issues of stigma, dignity, education regarding sexual violence and gender discrimination.

We would urge members of the Security Council to ensure that accountability for sexual violence is systematically a core part of your messaging in support of peace processes and peace building efforts.

Just two weeks ago, in Niger, at a UNHCR transit center for migrants and refugees recently freed from detention in Libya, every single one of whom – women, men, girls and boys – had been raped, many repeatedly, I heard some of the most horrific stories of my life.

I would respectfully urge members of the Security Council to seek out and listen to – wherever possible – the voices of survivors of sexual violence. Doing so, in our opinion, can add immeasurably to the understanding of conflict – both its causes and its devastating impact on lives and societies.

Thank you.