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Ensuring accountability for Sexual Violence and other violations of International Humanitarian Law

Ensuring accountability for Sexual Violence and other violations of International Humanitarian Law (22 September 2022).

Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister. Thank you, Minister Lahbib. I am delighted to be co-chairing today's event with Belgium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Let me also thank all of you for participating, in particular our panellists.

Today's event is premised on a sad reality. Sexual and gender-based violence is among the most widespread crimes committed in armed conflicts all over the world. Women and girls, but also men and boys, are at risk of facing sexual and gender-based violence, often deliberately used as a weapon of war.

We have seen way too many examples of this in the recent past.

  • In Ukraine, where disturbing reports of sexual violence against both women and girls but also men and boys caught the world's attention only weeks after the start of the Russian War of Aggression.
  • And in Ethiopia's Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions, where sexual violence appears to have been used as part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize, degrade and humiliate the victims and the ethnic minority group that they belong to.
  • From Afghanistan, we have reports of women and girls being sold or forced into marriage and sexual slavery by Taliban.

These are but a few examples. And behind each example there is a survivor, whose life has been destroyed, with ramifications for entire families and communities. We must not leave them behind.

First of all, survivors need access to immediate, uninterrupted and quality services.  This means access to protection. Access to health services, including life-saving sexual and reproductive health services to ensure physical healing. And access to mental health and psychosocial support to ensure healing of the mind. This also means legal support with respect to the status of children born out of rape.

And let's be blunt. Survivors and their communities are also sometimes in dire need of support to overcome the stigma that is associated with rape and other gross forms of sexual violence.

This is why we in the EU are committed to funding services for survivors, as part of our humanitarian response.

In 2021, we allocated around EUR 33 million of our humanitarian aid budget to the prevention and response to gender-based violence worldwide. One of our most important partners in this regard is UNFPA. Dr Kanem, it is an honour to have you in the panel.

And we were a founding member of the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence, which we led in 2017-2018. I am happy to see the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, which holds the chairmanship of the Call this year.

But ensuring some form of remedy for the terrible events faced by survivors doesn't end with the services provided to survivors.

Survivors need to access to justice.

And perpetrators need to be held accountable for their crimes.

As international community, we have made some progress towards holding accountable those responsible for conflict-related sexual violence.

The International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, as well as the International Criminal Court, have been instrumental in advancing international criminal justice for conflict-related sexual violence. So, I am very pleased that we will hear from the ICC during the panel discussion.

There have also been efforts at national level. Courts for example in Bosnia-Herzegovina or Colombia have heard cases of conflict-related sexual violence. These efforts remain limited however, and States must do more to act on these violations, as they are required to do.

The UN Security Council has also taken some welcome steps.

For example, by the recognising in Resolution 1820 that sexual violence is used as a weapon of war and emphasizing that sexual violence can constitute a breach of international law.

And by the adoption of Resolution 1888, which established the important mandate of the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict. Ms. Pramila Patten, I want to commend you and your Office's work. We are pleased to have you with us today.

In order to promote accountability, there have also been welcome efforts to promote respect for International Humanitarian Law by all parties to conflict.

I am pleased to have in the room Geneva Call, who do vital work to increase the knowledge by non-state armed groups on the prohibition of sexual violence in armed conflict.

These efforts are all welcome but faced with the thousands of cases of conflict-related sexual violence verified by the UN every year, much more needs to be done, both to support collection of evidence and accountability.

First of all, survivors' voices must be heard clearest of all, to understand what justice means for them. Also, both the international community as a whole, and states need to put in place victim-centred procedures, policies and laws to ensure that. I look forward to the presentation of Legal Action Worldwide on how to achieve that.  

Moreover, it is important that we advance the broader agenda on peace, security, and gender equality. That is why I am pleased that Charles Michel, President of the European Council, will also be touching upon this important topic today in another side event, from a Women, Peace and Security angle.

And finally, the issue of sexual and gender-based violence needs champions to bring it into the mainstream of our humanitarian, but also political and development work. This is a task both for women, so well represented on today's panel. But also, for men.

I look forward to the discussion.

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