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24 June 2013 - Security Council - Women and Peace and Security: Sexual Violence in Conflict - Statement by Mrs. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women’s Rights, Government Spokesperson

(Unofficial translation)

Mr. Minister,

Thank you for organizing this debate on the issue of sexual violence, which is too often the tragic fate of women in situations of conflict. I would like to tell the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, how much his speech was appreciated, and would also like to thank Ms. Bangura, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Ms. Jolie and Ms. Adong Anywar for their commitment to these issues. We now live in a world in which rape is used as a weapon of physical, psychological and social destruction where “women’s bodies have become a true battlefield.” Sexual violence committed during conflict must not under any circumstances be forgotten or go unpunished.

The international community has been addressing this issue for 10 years now, notably by adopting resolution 1325, and then successive resolutions. These resolutions have led to progress which we should commend, by unanimously condemning this violence, by calling for increased efforts to better protect women in order to fight against impunity but also by stating an important principle that I would like to reaffirm here – the equal participation of women in the reconciliation and reconstruction processes. We shouldn’t forget that the best way to protect these women is to make them active participants and no longer just a topic.

Important progress has been made since then.

Political progress, thanks to the efforts of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, whose commitment I would like to applaud once again, because she helped to increase international awareness of this issue.

We also welcome the “zero tolerance” policy which has been conducted here with respect to all forms of sexual abuse by UN personnel, particularly within the forces deployed on the ground. It is critical that this policy be pursued with the same determination and firmness because the UN must be exemplary with respect to this issue.

Legal progress has also been made; the ad hoc tribunals created by the Council and the International Criminal Court have included sexual violence among the crimes under their jurisdiction. The recognition of sexual violence, notably rape, as a war crime, a crime against humanity, and genocide was a major step forward and an effective instrument in the fight against impunity and a deterrent – this is precisely what we’re looking for.

Regulatory progress, with the recent adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty, which is the first legally-binding treaty aimed at regulating the transfer of arms and which recognizes the link between the international arms trade and gender-based violence. France strongly supported this component and we hope that this type of analysis will continue to prevail in the discussions that we will be having.

Nevertheless, we haven’t reached the end of the road. The extent and frequency of sexual violence in today’s conflicts remain intolerable.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, sexual violence remains omnipresent, despite the mobilization of the international community. Such acts are committed by all the parties, both within the M23 and the Congolese armed forces. The Minova tragedy, in South Kivu, where more than 130 women were raped in November 2012 by DRC Armed Forces troops who were supposed to protect them, reminded us of this brutal reality. France will continue to lobby for the prosecution and punishment of those responsible for these crimes as well as their commanders. Only two Congolese soldiers have been arrested for rape.

Mr. President,

I also wanted to tell you how concerned I am about the humanitarian tragedy that’s unfolding in Syria and being faced by women, who played a leading role in the peaceful protests and are rallying on the ground to rebuild a new Syria and play a major role within the Syrian National Coalition. They are key to the solution that we must urgently find for this country. We know that the regime and its militias have been using sexual violence from the beginning to terrorize the people.

Today, with the militarization and radicalization of the conflict, Syrian women are reduced to silence. Whether they are in Syria, where the regime continues to target them, or in refugee camps, where they are pressed into forced marriages, they are becoming increasingly vulnerable.

We hope that the UN reports, notably the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, as well as the information provided by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which included concrete evidence of the crimes described, will swiftly result in a referral to the International Criminal Court. Those responsible for these crimes should know that they will be punished as severely as their barbarity justifies. We also support the principle of ensuring the participation of women in the Geneva II discussions on Syria.

In Mali, the President emphasized just how much the French intervention was also based on the need to defend the rights of women who were the victims of violence. The deployment of MINUSMA, the ongoing political process and the coming elections will, we hope, help restore peace and stability in the country. But the sexual violence committed by armed groups in the north in 2012 traumatized Malian society.

Justice must be done for all the victims of sexual violence. Victims and survivors must receive psychological and legal aid. The Malian authorities, with the help of the UN and the International Criminal Court, must not ignore this issue.

Four actions must be taken to combat sexual violence in conflicts. They have four objectives, the four “P”s: prevention, protection, prosecution and the participation of women in the peace and reconstruction processes.

This means, first, strengthening protection on the ground. Advisors specialized in protecting women play a key role here. France wants them to be deployed in peacekeeping missions, for peacekeeping and political missions to extend beyond the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali, and for them to receive the necessary resources to carry out their work.

Second, access to services for victims and survivors, particularly sexual and reproductive health services. In addition to psychological trauma, young girls, teenagers and women who are the victims of sexual violence may suffer serious physical consequences. Teenagers and women risk pregnancies that are often premature and never desired, so we must draw all the necessary lessons from this reality. Why are the sexual and reproductive rights of victims of sexual violence still in dispute? Restricting access to sexual and reproductive health services is an attack on a woman’s right to control her own body. We made substantial progress toward forging a global consensus at the last session of the Commission on the Status of Women. We must consolidate these gains and make sure that victims have access to real sexual and reproductive health services.

Third, we must wholeheartedly fight impunity. The stigma and shame must be directed at the other side, so that it is no longer the victims who suffer the consequences of the crimes committed against them. This task is first and foremost up to national governments, which are responsible for prosecuting and punishing those who have committed such crimes. But when they fail to meet their responsibilities, the International Criminal Court, which is universal in nature, can and must take over.

Finally, strengthening women’s participation in conflict resolution remains the only sustainable response. The international community’s implementation of resolution 1325 must be unwavering. Since the adoption of this resolution, awareness of this situation has improved, although concrete progress remains to be made on the ground. In Mali and Syria, in the DRC, Afghanistan and Côte d’Ivoire, in the Central African Republic, Sudan and Libya, women must fully contribute to stabilizing their countries. I believe that no such stabilization is possible without the consideration and participation of half of humanity.

In this regard, national action plans to implement resolution 1325 are a key instrument and must exist everywhere.

As part of its national action plan, France is financing programs to counter violence against women in Africa and in the Arab world, in partnership with UN Women. We recently allocated a specific amount to programs in Mali, to be administered by local NGOs, to support women’s participation in peace talks and the political process. In DRC, more than €2 million have been earmarked since 2012 for Congolese NGOs to fight sexual violence and bolster women’s participation in decision-making processes.

In this same spirit, the French President announced the organization of a summit on “Peace and Security in Africa” this December in Paris.

Let me conclude by emphasizing that behind the nameless brutality of sexual violence, it is also important to be aware of the World Health Organization’s tragic observation: one in three women in the world has experienced conjugal and sexual violence. No region is spared by this phenomenon, which, like ignorance, spreads like an epidemic and becomes endemic in certain counties.

It is absolutely essential to continue our relentless efforts on all these issues, because women’s rights, like human rights, are universal and indivisible.

Thank you.

Learn more on Women and Peace and Security.



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