Survivors’ rights must be at the heart of all efforts to gather and share information about conflict-related sexual violence
Remarks by Ambassador Ferit Hoxha at the Security Council Open Debate on Conflict-related sexual violence
Thank you for organizing this open debate on this crucial issue. The number of speakers is, in itself, a testimony of the paramount importance.
We were moved by the powerful message from Ms. Murad and thank her as well as Ms Karkoutly and Ms Berhanu.
Thank you, Mr. President and UK team, for bringing these important voices in our discussion, a testimony of how much we need to hear the civil society in the Council.
We all know where we come from on this issue: for a very long time, conflict-related sexual violence crimes have not been recognized as crimes against humanity and war crimes, and as such were not or were very rarely prosecuted. Thankfully, this has changed in the course of the last three decades, but, on the lower side, atrocities and conflict-related sexual violence continue to persist in many parts of the world. Sexual violence continues to be used as a weapon of war and terror to punish civilians and terrorize communities, break up families and for the sheer sick choice of the perpetrators.
Women are raped, men are tortured, girls are exploited and sold, children are born to raped mothers, and end up being excluded by their communities. This is what has or is happening in many war theatres from Tigray to Syria; from Myanmar, Afghanistan to Yemen, but not only, the list is much longer.
There is unfortunately a new situation where, as the days go by, we see new gruesome pictures getting out of the darkness of the war in Ukraine and we hear new chilling testimonies of women and girls raped by the Russian aggressors. Only two days ago, the Executive Director of UN Women speaking on the situation in Ukraine, said, in this Chamber, that “they were increasingly hearing of rape and sexual violence”. It was a stark warning of what is to come.
In a remarkably well documented investigation, an example of excellence of the kind, the New York Times tells a part of the story of Bucha, this landscape of horror. The evidence uncovered shows that Russian soldiers not only killed recklessly and sadistically in revenge for their defeat. There is this woman held as sex slave, in a cellar, before being cold bloodily executed. Ukraine’s ombudswoman speaks about horrific cases of sexual violence of a group of women and girls kept in a basement of a house for 25 days. Nine of them are unwillingly pregnant now.
By committing such despicable crimes and systematically denying them, perpetrators kill twice. This is the only “nobility” of this war. We know: the lie is the backbone of every dictatorship and Russia has made it its flagship communication tactic. These crimes must not be left unanswered; perpetrators are being identified and they must be prosecuted and convicted.
All parties to conflict, whether they are state or non-state actors, are bound by international law! While in the past, sexual violence was often seen as a by-product of war, it is now recognized as a war crime and a core security challenge. It is outlawed by many international legal frameworks and SC resolutions.
So, and I echo here SRSG’s Patten question, why is it still so widespread in conflicts from Ukraine to Myanmar, from Afghanistan to South Sudan? Why some state actors still do condone sexual violence as a means of warfare?
The unacceptable and deploring reality is that, despite collective efforts, conflict-related sexual violence goes largely unpunished. We have the law but there is lack of proper implementation. We express outrage but end up with little action. This must end!
Coming from a region which in the not-so-distant past has been the stage of major conflicts and human suffering, we have witnessed how sexual violence has been used as a tactic of war against civilians. Sexual violence was a despicable weapon of war, an instrument to humiliate, widely used in the conflict in Kosovo in 1998-1999; this horrible crime has left a profound imprint on survivors and society alike.
While the conflict-related sexual crimes committed in Kosovo have regrettably never been included in the SG report on CRSV and annex, we commend UN Women for its work in assisting and training the Kosovo authorities to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate cases of conflict-related sexual violence and address their legacy by integrating a survivor-centered human rights-based approach. Because the voices of more than 20 000 abused women and girls during the conflict in Kosovo must be heard. The voices of all the survivors of sexual violence around the world must be heard.
In this respect, we commend SRSG Patten for the publication of the anthology “In their own words – Voices of Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence”, which contains 150 powerful and heartbreaking stories of the survivors. Reading their words, one understands the destructive force and the dehumanizing nature of this horrendous crime. It doesn’t just harm a single individual or a single family or even a single group. It negatively affects entire families and communities, erodes social and political stability, and undermines economic progress, as you Lord Ahmad, put it so powerfully.
If we want to finally end this universal scourge of war, we must be able to do more and better, by taking action.
First, we must prioritize prevention – and we can contribute by including the prevention of and response to conflict-related sexual violence when we design and renew mandates of peace operations. The deployment of women’s protection advisers has proven to be very effective in ensuring more timely, accurate and reliable information regarding conflict-related sexual violence in the field.
Second, improve and strengthen accountability – ensuring accountability and putting an end to impunity for violations and abuses must be a priority. We strongly support the work of the UN Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict as well as the Model Legislative Provisions and Guidance launched by the Office of SRSG. Albania welcomes the steps taken by some countries under universal jurisdiction in their national courts, and we encourage a more coordinated approach among states toward this end.
We will be pleased to follow the Murad Code for collecting evidence. Because only evidence leads to accountability, and accountability helps healing wounds. In the Council, we should incorporate sexual violence as a stand-alone designation criterion for targeted sanctions.
The message should be one and clear: No one that has promoted, used or plans to use sexual violence as a tactic of war, will escape justice.
Third, ensure the effective and secure participation of civil society, in particular women’s organization in efforts to address conflict-related sexual violence at all stages, including reparation and rehabilitation. We must protect women activist, including women human rights defenders, journalists and peacebuilders and those working directly on conflict-related sexual violence from any form of reprisals.
Spending time to only condemn such crimes is not an option. We must take concrete action in the entire chain of steps: prevent violence, protect individuals, punish perpetrators, and provide redress to victims and survivors.
The legal framework is worth only if it is implemented! Otherwise, it is just printed paper.
We must use the recent accounts of victims of sexual violence in Ukraine and elsewhere as a most urgent wake-up call: No perpetrator should go unpunished – not in Ukraine, not in Yemen, not in Afghanistan, not in Syria, not in Kosovo, not anywhere.