Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. reports for the Friday Fax — Last week the UN Security Council debated how to stop sexual violence in conflict. While most nations agreed to prioritize preventing violence and ending impunity, European nations said UN response must include abortion.
“We must strengthen services for survivors of sexual violence, including by ensuring comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights, such as access to emergency contraception and safe termination of pregnancies,” the Nordic countries said in a joint statement. Fifteen member nations of the UN Security Council met virtually last Friday for an annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence and discussed a UN Secretary General report on the issue.
The report documented almost 3,000 UN-verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence committed over the course of a single year. “The vast majority of incidents targeted women and girls (96 per cent),” UN Special Rapporteur for Sexual Violence Pramila Patten said. She added that there were only “a hundred cases [of] affected men and boys, and LGBTQI individuals.” The report found 848 cases were attacks on children. U.S. Actor Angelina Jolie told the Council that children are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation, particularly children born of rape who are stigmatized. The report called for special attention to these “children born of war.”
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom noted that the debate focused on how to enact the latest Council resolution on Women Peace and Security that called for a survivor-centered approach, with only “a few” statements trying to connect that goal to a “need for access to sexual and reproductive health and rights” for survivors. Besides the Nordic countries, those included the Dominican Republic and South Africa.
“Prevention is the best response,” UN Special Rapporteur for Sexual Violence Pramila Patten said. She laid out three courses of action for the coming years: empowering survivors to safely report violations and seek redress; acting on reported violence to bring parties into compliance with international norms; and enhancing accountability. “Sexual violence persists not because existing frameworks and obligations are inadequate, but because they are inadequately applied,” she said.
The Secretary General’s report listed 54 armed groups, state armies and non-state actors such as terrorist groups, which are credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of sexual violence. Nearly half of them are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and over 70 per cent are persistent perpetrators, having appeared on the list for five or more years.
The United States ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, told the Council, “We know that collectively we can hold perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict accountable and ensure compliance with commitments to end sexual violence in conflict as a tactic of war.”
Craft said that “response” for the Trump administration, that means “ensuring that survivors have access to appropriate, accessible, and quality services including health care, psychological and social support, security, and legal assistance.” The Global Justice Center complained that the U.S. intervention did not include abortion, tweeting “USA pledges a commitment to providing services for CRSV…but leaves out any mention of SRHR.”
“Sexual violence in conflict inflicts trauma that extends far beyond survivors,” Craft said, “It degrades individuals, fuels instability, forces people to flee their homes, and fractures families and societies. It is linked with other forms of violence and abuse, including child, early, and forced marriage, and sexual slavery.”