UN envoy stresses need to prevent conflict-related sexual violence before it begins

By United Nations

14 April - It is critical to prevent conflict-related sexual violence before it happens, a top United Nations official stressed today, stating that the problem warrants continuous consideration by the Security Council as it deals with fighting in countries such as Libya, Côte d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“Even in the 'tyranny of the emergency,' before hard evidence emerges, and though it may not be obvious what gender has to do with 'arms embargoes' or 'no-fly zones,' we must remember women,” Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said in her briefing to the Council.

“Our endeavours to uphold international security will not be comprehensive unless they include efforts to end sexual violence before it has begun,” she added.

In December 2010, the Council adopted resolution 1960 in which it stressed the need to end impunity and vowed to take “appropriate steps” to address widespread or systematic sexual violence in situations of armed conflict.

“In one word, the promise of 1960 is: prevention,” said Ms. Wallström, noting the resolution is oriented towards deterrence.

“It sets out the elements of an accountability regime to influence the conduct of perpetrators, and would-be perpetrators.

However, she continued, recent resolutions on Libya, where ongoing fighting between pro-and anti-Government forces has been raging for several weeks, makes no mention of the risk of sexual violence, which she described as a very real threat amid escalating unrest and mass displacement.

Sexual violence warrants continued consideration by the Council, she stressed. “Otherwise, interventions on the frontlines may relegate women's security to the sidelines.”

At the same time, the Special Representative noted that a resolution adopted last month to impose sanctions on Côte d'Ivoire, where “shocking” reports of sexual violence have emerged as part of the post-electoral crisis, did specifically mention sexual violence.

“This is an encouraging sign that such violence is taken seriously and increasingly integrated into the Council's core business.”

She urged the Council to use its influence to ensure that any ceasefire agreement reached in relation to Libya or Côte d'Ivoire entrails the cessation of sexual violence as a tactic of war. In addition, commissions of inquiry must include dedicated expertise on this issue.

Ms. Wallström also provided details of her recent visits to the DRC and Angola, and her efforts to strengthen the prevention of sexual violence in those countries. She stressed the need to ensure that perpetrators are relentlessly pursued, noting that cases of sexual violence against vulnerable communities in DRC continues to be reported almost daily.

She also noted that serious concerns exist regarding sexual violence against Congolese women and girls in the context of illegal diamond mining activities and expulsions from Angola, and adding that the previously established Angola-DRC Mixed Commission should focus attention on the vulnerability of women and girls.

Ambassador Néstor Osorio of Colombia, which holds the Council's rotating presidency for April, told reporters that the 15- member body welcomed the cooperation between Angola and the DRC to “address sexual violence occurring around their border region and to put in place measures to prevent sexual violence and impunity related to such violence.”

The Council also voiced full support for the Special Representative's efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict, he added.