People's Stories Advocates

The history of wartime rape has been a history of denial
by Pramila Patten
UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict
April 2018
(UN Security Council Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict – Statement by Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Pramila Patten)
The focus of this debate, on “preventing sexual violence in conflict through empowerment, gender equality, and access to justice”, could not be more timely, or more in line with my own vision for advancing this mandate.
When I took up office last June, I outlined a three-pillar priority agenda, namely: converting cultures of impunity into cultures of deterrence through consistent and effective prosecution; addressing structural gender-based inequality as the root cause and invisible driver of sexual violence in times of war and peace; and fostering national ownership and leadership for a sustainable, survivor-centered response, that empowers civil society and local women’s rights defenders.
Another important first, is the participation in today’s debate of Ms. Razia Sultana, on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. Ms. Sultana is the first Rohingya woman, born in Northern Rakhine State, Myanmar, to brief this Council on the plight of her people.
Her presence here is a historic opportunity to give a face and a voice to a community that has been denied a nationality, denied an identity, and even denied a name.
Her perspective will be particularly valuable on the eve of the Council’s first visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh. Indeed, voices from directly-affected communities provide the “ground truths” that must guide our action, and I trust that her message will be heard and heeded.
The annual Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict provides a critical opportunity for taking stock of how we are progressing, or regressing, in this agenda. The data and trend analysis presented in the annual Report of the Secretary-General serves not only to measure progress, but also to inspire and accelerate it.
It was exactly one decade ago, in 2008, that this Council adopted the groundbreaking resolution 1820, which elevated the issue of conflict-related sexual violence onto its agenda, as a threat to security and impediment to peace. It urged us to “debunk the myths that fuel sexual violence”, and indeed the notion of rape as an “inevitable byproduct of war” or mere “collateral damage”, can never again serve as an alibi for inaction.
Since then, the issue has been systematically included in the mandates of peacekeeping missions, reflected in the designation criteria of sanctions regimes, addressed in ceasefire agreements, and excluded from amnesty provisions. Women’s Protection Advisers have been deployed to field missions to generate actionable information, and pursue a protection dialogue with parties to conflict. Today, we are supporting thousands of survivors we were not reaching a decade ago.
Resolution 1820 demanded nothing less than the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians”. In that respect, while significant normative and operational progress has been achieved, it is clear that words on paper are not yet matched by facts on the ground. We have not yet moved from resolutions to lasting solutions.
I believe we are at an inflection point in this agenda, and must urgently consolidate progress – by ensuring accountability – or risk a reversal, resulting in wartime rape being once again “normalized”, due to the frequency and impunity with which it is committed. The past decade of enhanced political momentum to combat sexual violence has coincided with a confluence of global crises, including mass migration and displacement, rising violent extremism and terrorism, the resurgence and spread of conflict, and the proliferation of arms. These factors have created the conditions for renewed patterns of violations.
Indeed, the report before us shows that sexual violence continued to be employed as a tactic of war, a tactic of terrorism, and a tool of political repression in 2017. Across a range of settings, it was used by parties to conflict to attack and alter the ethnic or religious identity of persecuted groups, and to change the very demographics of disputed regions.
The threat of sexual violence continued to serve as a driver of forced displacement, and has inhibited the return of uprooted communities to their areas of origin, especially in the absence of accountability for past crimes. In this way, conflict-related sexual violence has led to the dispossession of land, resources, and identity.
Trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation continued to be an integral part of the political economy of war and terrorism, generating revenue for combatants and armed groups. Women and girls have also been “gifted” to combatants as part of a perverse system of rewarding and socializing recruits.
A rising trend noted in the report is the recourse to negative and harmful coping mechanisms in response to the risk of rape, in environments of instability and indigence. Early marriage has spiked in contexts where families have no other means of providing for, or safeguarding, their daughters. This has resulted in more repression, in the name of protection.
Indeed, sexual violence both arises from, and reinforces, unequal gender relations, impeding the realization of women’s rights and freedoms. In several contexts, victims were forced to marry their rapist in the name of restoring social harmony and family “honor”.
Survivors endured multiple, intersecting stigmas in the wake of sexual violence, including the stigma of association with an armed or terrorist group, and of bearing children conceived through rape by the enemy. Often, these women and children are viewed as affiliates, rather than victims, of violent extremist groups, and vilified as threats to the communities they seek to rejoin. The divisive force of stigma prevents family reconciliation, in some cases leading to renewed displacement, with survivors fleeing to escape reprisals by their own relatives or communities.
Stigma can have lethal repercussions, including “honor killings”, suicide, untreated diseases (such as HIV), traumatic fistula, unsafe abortion, maternal mortality, extreme poverty, and high-risk survival behavior. Stigma and victim-blame give the weapon of rape its uniquely destructive power, including the power to shred the social fabric, and turn victims into outcasts. It is also the reason that sexual violence remains one of the least-reported of all crimes.
The plight of children conceived as a result of wartime rape demands urgent attention. These children may be left Stateless, in a legal limbo, and susceptible to recruitment, radicalization, trafficking and exploitation, with wider implications for peace and security. Colombia is the only country in which children conceived through rape are legally recognized as victims, though the fear of stigma has prevented many from coming forward to seek redress.
Male survivors of sexual violence have had their social status, identity, and sexual orientation called into question. In some countries, this can even result in their arrest.
Despite some landmark cases, such as the ICC ruling in the trial of Bosco Ntaganda in 2017, mass rape continues to be met with mass impunity. This means that the vicious cycle of violence, impunity and revenge continues unabated in many nations torn by war. For instance, it is a travesty and an outrage that not a single member of ISIL or Boko Haram has yet been convicted for sexual violence as an international crime.
Although the report before us paints a bleak, at times harrowing, picture of brutality, it is also important to highlight the progress achieved at country-level. For instance, the Armed Forces of Côte d’Ivoire were delisted last year, following the adoption of concrete action plans and concerted efforts to prevent and punish sexual violence. No new cases or allegations concerning members of the Ivorian armed and security forces were recorded in 2017, which shows what is possible when political will and risk-mitigation measures are in place.
Several other States continue to implement Joint Communiqués and action plans to curb conflict-related sexual violence, such as CAR, DRC, Guinea, Iraq, Somalia, and South Sudan. I look forward to other parties that appear in the list, such as the Myanmar Armed Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces, adopting similar communiqués or frameworks of cooperation with my Office.
Another instructive example is that of Colombia, which elevated gender justice to the heart of its peace process, resulting in thousands of survivors receiving reparations for sexual violence. In the DRC, a former parliamentarian in Kavumu, South Kivu province, was convicted in 2017 for the rapes of 39 children committed by his militia, as a crime against humanity. This trial brought an end to the serial rapes in Kavumu, and helped to disband a militia that was threatening local security. In addition, hundreds of prosecutions have been undertaken by the Congolese authorities, with support from MONUSCO and the Team of Experts on the Rule of Law, which is part of my Office. A number of significant law reform initiatives took place in 2017, to delink rape from adultery and “morality crimes”, as seen in Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan.
The history of wartime rape has been a history of denial. On my visits to countries of concern, I still encounter attempts to deny or downplay this issue. Yet such an approach serves no one: not the Government, not the credibility and efficacy of national institutions, and not the people trying to come to terms with the past and build a better future. No problem can be solved through silence. We will never be able to prevent what we are unable or unwilling to understand.
At this critical juncture, we cannot lose focus. We must keep the searchlight of international scrutiny on this historically-hidden crime. When I think of what is at stake, I think of the thousands of women and children who remain in the captivity of groups like ISIL and Boko Haram; I think of the women released – pregnant or with children – from the grip of a terrorist group, who are forced to choose between their babies and their communities of origin that refuse to accept them; I think of the faces of the survivors I have met in the DRC, Iraq, Darfur, Nigeria, Guinea and in the teeming camps in Bangladesh; I think of the Bosnian man who reduced the room to tears by describing his struggle for identity and belonging, having been born of wartime rape and orphaned by prejudice and stigma.
If the Security Council resolutions on sexual violence tell us one thing, it is that wartime rape is preventable, and not inevitable. Addressing it is our collective responsibility. The survivors are watching and waiting – we cannot afford to fail them.
Looking forward, I would like to propose three recommendations:
Firstly, I call on the international community to give serious consideration to the establishment of a reparations fund for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, to help them rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Reparative justice is what survivors want most, yet receive least.
Secondly, we need a more operational response to stigma alleviation, because stigma kills. Socioeconomic reintegration support for sexual violence survivors and their children must infuse peace-building, reconstruction and reconciliation efforts.
In cases where survivors face ongoing risks, I encourage States to adopt “special quota projects” to help relocate women and children to third countries, following the precedent set by Germany to protect members of the Iraqi Yezidi community. Similar consideration should be given to the most vulnerable Rohingya women and children.
And thirdly, we need to marshal sustained political resolve and resources equal to the scale of the challenge. The gender-based violence response in humanitarian settings remains chronically underfunded and we see, time and time again, how a lack of resources translates into a lack of protection. The report before us should serve as an alarm and a “wake-up call” to the onset of any “donor fatigue”.
Despite all the challenges, what gives me hope is the way that women – from Liberia, Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the DRC, and elsewhere – have used their experience as survivors of sexual violence to mobilize political movements for peace. They have become galvanized and organized in response to this threat, and have begun to channel that impetus into political aspirations, to ensure that the dark chapters of their nation’s history never repeat. We must support these efforts to enhance women’s participation and influence, because, after all, empowerment is protection.
* Access the 2018 report on Sexual Violence in Conflict via the link below.

Visit the related web page

Donors fail on pre-primary education funding
by Graca Machel
Theirworld, agencies
Children’s early learning is too often neglected, putting millions of children at a disadvantage before they even start primary school.
Investing in the first five years of a child’s life has been proven as critical in providing all children an equal chance at success, no matter who they are or where they are born. To allow the brain to grow and the child to develop to their full potential, children need quality nurturing care – including play, health, protection nutrition and early learning.
However, whilst progress is being made in some areas, children’s early learning is too often neglected, putting millions of children at a disadvantage before they even start primary school.
A pre-primary education has a significant impact on a child’s future prospects both in their education and adult life. Benefits of investing in pre-primary education are found to be the greatest for the most disadvantaged, who are often the least prepared when starting primary school and therefore most likely to be left behind.
In Mozambique, for example, children in rural areas who had enrolled in pre-school were 24% more likely to enroll in primary school and show improved cognitive abilities and behavioural outcomes compared to children who had not.
World leaders have recognised the key role the early years play in tackling inequality by agreeing a crucial target within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they agreed that by 2030 they would “ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.”
But despite the evidence and rhetoric the data is telling a different story. Of the 193 countries that committed to the SDGs only 38 currently provide free, compulsory pre-primary education. And when it comes to international donors giving to pre-primary education the picture is equally depressing.
New research published this week by children’s charity Theirworld shows that overseas development assistance to Early Childhood Development has gone up in recent years – which is good news. The progress has been driven by increases in health and nutrition after dedicated campaigns to improve children’s start in life. This is something to support.
But at the same time only 1% of all early year’s aid goes to pre-primary education with a shockingly small number of donors supporting this crucial area. In 2016 only three donors disbursed more than US$5 million globally to pre-primary education. In contrast 29 donors disbursed more than US$5 million to health.
Both national governments and donors are perpetuating inequality in the education system and wider inequalities by failing to support pre-primary for all children, instead they are disproportionately investing in higher education, which favours children from wealthier income groups.
Currently international donor governments give 26 times more to scholarships to help students study in rich countries in 2015 than to pre-primary. Poor children missing out on early years education are much less likely to reach higher education. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 1% of the poorer half of the population will enter into higher education – but this sector receives disproportionately higher levels of funding.
A new approach to education funding is needed urgently if we want to tackle inequality, with a greater measure of funding going to children at risk of being left behind, those living in rural areas, those discriminated against, children impacted by HIV/AIDs, girls and those facing multiple disadvantages.
This means countries must increase the amount and the percentage of their total education spending towards free and compulsory pre-primary services – and ensure funds are targeted towards children who need the most help. International donors have to do the same, increasing their share of education spending going to pre-primary to 10%.
The establishment of the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd) - similar to the one that exists for funding global vaccines – will help to fund overall education spending and be able to better target resources to pre-primary education. International donors have an opportunity to come behind the launch of the fund at the G20 in Argentina later this year.
We have seen progress in health and nutrition with concerted global campaigns making breakthroughs in tackling preventable child deaths and malnutrition. Now is the time to build on this progress and deliver quality pre-school services to all children, no matter who they are or where they are born.
* Graça Machel if the founder and president of the Foundation for Community Development and the Zizile Institute for Child Development. She founded the Graça Machel Trust in 2010 where she focuses on child protection and development, women’s economic and financial empowerment, food security and nutrition, leadership and governance. Access the report via the link below.

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook