12 June 2014

Africa: Helen Clark - Statement At the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

I commend the United Kingdom for hosting this summit calling for greater political commitment and action to end sexual violence in conflict. Sexual violence in armed conflict and beyond has devastating impacts on people's lives, families, and communities. As a tactic and weapon of war, it is specifically used to intimidate, displace, hurt, and humiliate.

The testimonies of women and girls, and men and boys, who have bravely come forward to describe rape, castration, forced impregnation, and sexual torture, paint a picture of unspeakable cruelty and targeting of those already most vulnerable. Many more suffer in silence because these crimes remain significantly underreported for a range of reasons. Where services are unavailable and justice is unattainable, this silence is not surprising. Impunity for perpetrators remains a major issue.

Yet, governments and the international community can and must do much more, both to prevent sexual violence in conflict and to respond to the needs of survivors across the legal, psychological, social, medical, shelter, and livelihoods spheres.

At UNDP, we believe that that political commitments to act to end sexual violence in conflict must be accompanied by investment in the systems and capacities which will effect real change. Initiatives in these areas should also form part of broader efforts to address the causes and consequences of violence and to promote gender equality and women's empowerment.

UNDP works in conflict and post-conflict settings to improve women's security and access to justice. Our efforts are integrated into our programming to strengthen the rule of law, and access to justice; support transitional justice mechanisms; and build citizen security. We play a role in responding to the needs of survivors while also contributing to building systems which can prevent violence and address impunity.

For example, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, we have supported the authorities to investigate many hundreds of sexual and gender-based violence cases, and transfer them to the formal judicial system. We have supported hearings in mobile courts which are more accessible to survivors.

In Sierra Leone, a post-conflict country, we have carried on our work to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence through support for regular sittings of 'Saturday Courts' in Freetown, Bo, and Kenema. The backlog of cases in the magistrate courts on sexual and gender-based violence was eliminated in Freetown, ensuring more speedy delivery of justice for survivors.

These efforts, and many more which UNDP has supported, send a powerful signal that establishing the rule of law can only be fully achieved when women's security and access to justice are central to those efforts. That means building justice and security systems which respond to and help prevent sexual violence, tackle impunity, and ensure that women are active within the justice and security sectors in positions such as lawyers, judges, and police officers. From Somalia to Pakistan, we have supported the entry of women into positions in these sectors.

In closing, let me note that violence against women and sexual violence exist in all our societies, and are often related to structural factors which drive gender inequality more broadly. Where there is conflict, these factors are exacerbated. While sexual violence against women is most common, it is also perpetrated against men and boys. In post-conflict and refugee settings, women remain particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, including domestic violence and trafficking. Governments everywhere need to take meaningful steps to promote gender equality and women's empowerment, and to address the scourge of sexual violence in conflict and in societies supposedly at peace too.

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