Naming and Shaming Sexual Violence

There is a lingering myth that rape is inevitable in times of war. But if sexual violence can be planned, it can be punished; if it can be commanded, it can be condemned.
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Sexual violence in conflict is a serious, present-day crisis affecting millions of people around the world. Ending sexual violence as a tactic of war remains one of the greatest challenges to the protection of human rights. The UN Secretary-General's annual report this week is the first to contain a list of 'named and shamed' for crimes of conflict-related sexual violence. The list is the Security Council's most recent tool in the fight against impunity and sends a strong signal to those who tolerate sexual violence that they do so in defiance of international law.

Some of the individual stories included in the report are nothing but heart wrenching. In Syria, testimonies were received from men who stated they had been abused sexually and had witnessed teenage boys get raped. And in Libya, women were abducted from their homes, from cars or from the streets and were raped in places unknown to them, while men were sodomized in prisons and in places of detention as a means to obtain intelligence.

It is positive and encouraging that the Security Council continues to be seized of the issue of sexual violence in conflict. I am, however, gravely alarmed about the incessant violations of human rights, including the high rate of conflict-related rape, across the globe. Of particular concern is the fact that many of the reported cases of sexual violence seem to have been perpetrated by national security forces -- the very same people who have a mandate to protect their own citizens. Whereas the uniform should symbolize security, discipline and public service, in too many places it instead represents rape, pillage and terror.

Another concern is the use of sexual violence, or the threat thereof, as a tool of political repression in the context of elections and civil unrest. We also know of examples of different forms of sexual violence being employed in detention centers and at border crossings in several conflict situations.

Conflict-related sexual violence is used by political and military leaders to achieve political, military and economic ends, destroying the very fabric of society. It is a silent, cheap and effective weapon with serious and long-lasting effects, affecting both the individual and the chances of building a sustainable peace. There is a lingering myth that rape is inevitable in times of war. But if sexual violence can be planned, it can be punished; if it can be commanded, it can be condemned.

Impunity remains a major concern in many countries. That is why I have made fighting impunity for crimes of conflict-related sexual violence a priority. We have seen that this is starting to yield results, for example in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): In less than a year, more than 250 trials of elements of national security forces were held with the assistance of the United Nations. This resulted in more than 150 individuals being sentenced for rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Much still remains to be done in the fight against rape as a tactic of war. With the help of the Security Council, I will continue to push for an end to impunity and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. In this fight, I count on the Security Council's willingness to be prepared to use all means available.

Margot Wallström is UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict

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