Statement by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs
25 November 2009
"Ten years ago the United Nations decided that November 25 would be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
A day to mobilize efforts or simply to condemn the violence that is committed 365 days a year. An international day since there isn’t a single country in the world that is exempt from this plague which can take many forms: prenatal sex selection, refusal to provide schooling for girls, enforced and early marriage, spousal abuse, violence associated with dowries, murders committed in the name of honor, female genital mutilation, stoning, harassment and intimidation at work, school and elsewhere, prostitution and trafficking of women and rape used as a weapon of war.
The list doesn’t stop there and I know that many of these acts of violence are also committed in France. We should therefore not preach to others but should be aware that this is a new frontier for human rights; this is not a female cause but a cause that relates to all humankind.
We have been striving to break the silence on the international stage for ten years now. To ensure that violence is no longer seen as acceptable or as unavoidable. We are doing this systematically by publicly condemning the most symbolic violations: lashings for supposedly indecent clothing. We are also acting more discretely and more frequently: our embassies are questioning the governments concerned about their actions to combat this violence, encouraging them to change their legislation, develop cooperation programs with civil society, etc. Under the French presidency of the EU, we initiated the adoption of guidelines on violence against women which provide a European framework for these initiatives.
These guidelines also encourage efforts to combat discrimination against women in legislation and in practice. I would like the UN Human Rights Council to appoint a recognized expert, with unquestionable skills, to help all these countries make progress in this direction.
And then there is the utter perversion of using sexual violence as a weapon to terrorize and humiliate. We saw this in the former Yugoslavia and we see it many conflicts in Africa.
Given this observation, France has been appealing to the Security Council for several years to make sexual violence a key priority in the mandate of the peacekeeping operations, which have the authority to take action to prevent acts of violence, to specifically name those responsible for, or those that ordered, acts of violence and thus make it possible to bring them to justice, and immediately inform the Governments of these violent acts. France also played a leading role in ensuring that those responsible for the sexual violence committed on a massive scale during armed conflicts are brought to justice and punished. I can’t help thinking of the dreadful situation of the women in eastern DRC, who have been subjected to unbearable violence for many years, and for whom we must continue to mobilize efforts to put an end to their ordeal.
I am also thinking of the violent acts committed very recently in Guinea, which included atrocities against women. I am expecting full light to be shed on this matter and that those responsible be identified by the UN Commission charged with carrying out a credible international inquiry.
All these initiatives are important but I know perfectly well that they are not enough. I am urging everyone to mobilize their efforts, in particular those that are responsible for educating future generations, so that together we can build a world based on respect."
Translation of statement made in French
(Photo: MONUC Visits Shelter for Victims of Sexual Abuse
Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo - 7 March 2009
UN Photo/Marie Frechon)