On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict 2018, celebrated on the 19th of June, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim reiterates the need to put an end to the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence around the world, and to combat the fear and cultural stigma that converge to prevent the vast majority of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence from reintegrating societies.
We have recently witnessed the relentless work of women activists who, propelled by a mounting determination for change, and by means of powerful movements such as the Women’s March, #MeToo or #TimesUp, have been denouncing and raising awareness of sexual violence and abuse that has been going on in impunity in paradoxically the most visible industry of all - the entertainment industry. This has showcased, according to H. E. Dr. Al Qassim, that “the global epidemics of violence against women and sexual violence pervades all aspects of societies worldwide, irrespective of geographical setting, religion, revenue or culture. By not speaking out about it and allowing its perpetrators to escape consequences behind the smokescreen of fame and power, we become accomplices of this abhorrent practice that gravely hinders the achievement of gender equality and, implicitly, the overall development of our societies.”
The observance of the date of 19 June tackles a particularly sensitive aspect of sexual violence, namely the abuses and multiple forms of violence that occur in times of conflict. Women and girls are the most likely to become victims of sexual violence during conflicts. This constitutes one of the main obstacles to achieving gender equality and to fully realizing women’s rights today.
Women represent the pillars of societies and communities worldwide. As pointed out by H. E. Dr. Al Qassim, “particularly in rural areas, where the violence of wars tends to be intensified and its effects are even more devastating, women’s resilience has always been crucial in times of hardship for the reconstruction of societies.” From Liberia, to Nepal, Colombia, Palestine and many other countries around the world that underwent conflict and violence, women have shown great strength and leadership when faced with adversity: “Women, either organized in associations or small communities, or individually, are actors of peace that keep communities together during and after conflict, reconstructing the social fabric, restarting economies from scratch and advocating transitional justice and dialogue between the parties involved”, highlighted the Chairman of the Geneva Centre.
Their resilience and central role in communities turned them into main targets during conflict. For years, sexual abuse as well as other forms of gender-based violence, have been perpetrated as part of a brutal and inhumane strategy seeking to weaken the opponent and to destroy communities. “Women’s bodies have become battlefields, and as a result, it is often as dangerous to be a woman as to be a soldier in modern wars and conflicts”, pointed out H. E. Dr. Al Qassim. Sexual violence has similarly been recognized as a tactic of terrorism. The latest report of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on conflict-related sexual violencepointed out to the situation in 19 countries where sexual violence in conflict was perpetrated on a large scale. The report also highlighted that 47 parties to conflict were “credibly suspected” of committing atrocious forms of sexual violence, including seven designated as “terrorist groups” for links with Daesh and al-Qaida. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Mrs. Pramila Patten, also recently deplored the escalating use of sexual violence as a weapon in South Sudan.
This widespread use of rape and other forms of gender-based violence as a weapon of war against civilians must be stopped. The time has come to recognize the true value of women and to drastically change the narrative, from depicting women as vulnerable victims, to recognizing them as main actors of peace-making and peacebuilding. In this regard, H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim reiterated the urgency of implementing UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), as well as the subsequent resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), and 2122 (2013) which are the cornerstones of the fight against sexual violence in conflict and of the women, peace and security agenda, as well as the more recent resolution 2331 (2016), which is the first to address the nexus between trafficking, sexual violence, terrorism and transnational organized crime.
The Chairman of the Geneva Centre also noted that “It is imperative to take steps towards changing the status quo and integrating women into conflict management, as well as in the peace-building processes. Similarly, the inclusion of female leaders in military operations is crucial, as women are an integral part of comprehensive security, and constitute important catalysts for change, as they challenge impunity and pursue justice in post-conflict contexts.”
Furthermore, he noted that there was a need for concerted efforts towards prioritizing prevention and response efforts, as well as empowering and providing comprehensive assistance to victims: “Sexual violence remains heavily stigmatized”, he noted, “causing victims to fear negative societal repercussions for sharing their stories. Responses need to include appropriate medical care, including psychological support, as well as counselling, but also financial aid and other forms of support for their reinsertion in societies. Transitional justice is also of crucial importance, as it contributes to healing the wounds inflicted by conflict to communities, and provides closure to victims of sexual abuse”.
 Press statement by Mrs. Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict : United Nations Officials condemn targeted and widespread sexual violence in South Sudan and call for the immediate cessation of the attacks against civilians, May 2018: https://www.un.org/sexualviolenceinconflict/statement/united-nations-officials-condemn-targeted-and-widespread-sexual-violence-in-south-sudan-and-call-for-the-immediate-cessation-of-the-attacks-against-civilians/