UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Concludes First Visit to Mali, Urges Commitment from Government

By Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-Genera
Listen to article

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura, has concluded her first visit to Mali to discuss a Joint Communique that outlines critical actions that the United Nations and the Government of Mali must take together in the areas of security, justice and services.

“There is great hope and expectation for the peace process from the civil society and victims' associations that I met in Bamako and Timbuktu, but the situation for survivors of sexual violence and the acute vulnerability of communities to such crimes is very painful and shocking for me to witness,” said the Special Representative.

During her visit, she met with the Prime Minister Modibo Keita, and she held extensive consultations with the Ministers of Defence, Security and Civilian Protection, Justice, Religious Affairs, Health, and Women's Affairs, as well as the Head of the Army and the leadership of the Police and Gendarmerie. She also met with the President of the National Assembly, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, religious and community leaders, the diplomatic and donor community, women's groups, human rights associations, victims associations, service providers, and UN staff.

Crucially, Mrs. Bangura also spoke with representatives of armed groups under Coordination des Mouvements de l'Azawad (CMA) and Plateforme, who are signatories to the Peace Agreement. She urged them to make specific commitments to prevent and punish sexual violence crimes. A majority of violations are being perpetrated by armed groups as well as the extremist or terrorist groups operating in Mali, such as Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

She received assurances of religious leaders that they will speak out against conflict-related sexual violence, particularly in the context of violations being committed by extremists.

“As a Muslim woman, I understand the role religion plays and how it is being used in some contexts, including Mali, to further the strategic objectives of violent extremists groups. They are using it as a recruitment incentive to entice fighters with the promise of women, or for fundraising through the trafficking and sale of women and girls. This is an affront to the most sacred and fundamental tenets of Islam.”

The Special Representative also traveled to Timbuktu, in Northern Mali, where a large proportion of conflict-related sexual violence cases have been documented and where she met with several survivors to hear their painful stories.

“Not only do they endure the devastating physical and psychological trauma of rape, but long afterwards they continue to suffer as they and their children are cast out and shunned by husbands, families and communities. Sexual violence is the only human rights violation where the stigma and shame are focused on the victims rather than the perpetrators. Everyone has a role to play to change this unacceptable reality and raise the cost and consequences for committing these crimes.”

The Joint Communique being discussed with national authorities will serve as a framework for cooperation for action in key areas, such as fighting impunity that is essential for prevention; legislative reform and strengthening the justice system; and specific action plans of the Army and Police. “I call on the Government to sign the Communique as a matter of urgency, and pledge the support of the United Nations in its implementation,” she said.

One of the critical gaps that must also be addressed is the lack of adequate medical, psychosocial, and other services for survivors. The sexual and gender-based violence sector is the most underfunded area of the humanitarian response for Mali.

The visit was conducted jointly with Dr. Sarah Sewall, the United States Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, who pledged the support of her own Government and to help rally other international partners for a concerted and strategic response to address conflict-related sexual violence in Mali.

The Special Representative stressed that the unimaginable suffering of the victims must serve as a collective call to action.

“It is our sacred duty to survivors and their families to make this one of the central considerations of the on-going peace process, because if we do not, it will undermine the possibility and durability of our efforts to resolve the crisis in Mali. I stand in solidarity with the victims as well as all those women, children and men who remain acutely vulnerable to sexual violence in Mali and conflicts the world over.”