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Sexual violence: A shadow over humanity

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28 April 2014 - Sexual violence in conflict is a “great moral issue of our time”, according to UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura.

“This crime, in its utter destruction of the individual and the pervasive way in which it undermines the prospect of peace and development, casts a long shadow over our collective humanity”, the special representative stated as she presented harrowing reports of wartime rape and other forms of conflict-related sexual violence during at an open debate in the Security Council.

The report, covering 21 countries of concern, makes a number of concrete recommendations, both to the affected states themselves and to the international community as a whole.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his statement at the debate defined crimes of sexual-violence as, “an issue of pressing importance. This grave human rights abuse is as destructive as any bomb or bullet.” He also applauds the positive efforts taken by states to combat crimes of sexual violence, “Every day more countries are building the technical capacity to prevent and redress sexual violence.”

The report also describes a number of concerning trends, including the acute vulnerability of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the need for justice and assistance for all victims, regardless of gender. The plight of children born of rape, and the linkages between sexual violence, displacement and organized crime were also highlighted in the report.

Most perpetrators of wartime rape are never brought to justice.

“Unfortunately, the unacceptable reality is that today it is still largely ‘cost-free’ to rape a woman, child or man in conflict. Sexual violence has been used through the ages precisely because it is such a cheap and devastating weapon.”

Thirty four armed groups from countries on the Security Council’s agenda that are credibly suspected of rape and other forms of conflict-related sexual violence are named in the annex of the report.

Special Representative Bangura delivered a message directly to the perpetrators: “There is no hiding place. If you commit, or command, or condone such crimes against humanity, humanity will pursue you relentlessly, and eventually you will be held to account. This is our solemn promise to the survivors.”

In her statement, the Special Representative did emphasize that there have been positive developments.

“While the road ahead to eradicate sexual violence in conflict remains long and hard, there is some light on the horizon. Never before in history have we seen such a level of political will and momentum.”

UNRIC related links:

UNRIC's article on sexual violence in CAR
UNRIC's article on prevention of sexual violence in conflict
UNRIC's article on fighting rape as a weapon of war
UNRIC's article on accountability of perpetrators of sexual violence

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