Geneva — UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has reiterated his agency's commitment to countering sexual and gender-based violence and said UNHCR had this year intensified its efforts to improve access to justice for survivors.
"Despite increased awareness of SGBV [sexual and gender-based violence] and efforts to combat it, an alarming number of women continue to face this horrific violation of their rights largely due to the gender inequalities that persist around the world," Guterres said in a message to mark the start yesterday of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
"It is crucial that we continue to make SGBV prevention and response a key component of all our operations," he added.
The High Commissioner stressed that SGBV was one of his top concerns, "which is why I have allocated US$6.9 million in 2012 for special SGBV prevention and response projects that are being implemented in 12 country operations."
He said that at a time when UNHCR is responding to several emergencies and continuing its efforts in protracted refugee situations, "it is crucial for us to acknowledge that SGBV interventions can be life-saving." UNHCR has been receiving alarming reports of rapes from one of those emergencies, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where there has been heavy fighting since the middle of November.
The High Commissioner noted that despite the prevalence of SGBV in all regions of the world, levels of reporting are low. "Numerous cultural and practical barriers prevent survivors from coming forward, and impunity for perpetrators is widespread," he said, adding: "This has prompted us to intensify our efforts to improve access to justice for survivors."
Guterres said activities to prevent and respond to SGBV should form a fundamental part of the UN refugee agency's legal assistance programmes in all contexts. And he noted that UNHCR was also marking this year's campaign by launching an e-Learning course on SGBV to ensure that a wide cross-section of UNHCR staff are equipped with the knowledge and tools to plan and carry out effective, multi-sectoral SGBV programmes.
The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute in 1991. The theme this year is, "From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!"
The 16 Days of Activism will run through to International Human Rights Day on December 10. It brings together UNHCR, partners, persons of concern and host communities worldwide in a united call to end sexual and gender-based violence in all its forms. UNHCR will also be highlighting the work of the White Ribbon Campaign, an initiative begun by men to encourage their male peers to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. People are invited to wear a white ribbon, signifying this pledge.