Statement at the UN Security Council’s Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict

by NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security Clare Hutchinson

  • 14 Apr. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 23 Apr. 2021 09:15

(As delivered)

Mr President,
Thank you for the opportunity to make a statement at this Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict. I would like to start by recognising and thanking SRSG Patten for her continued leadership and commitment to this agenda.

Since the adoption of UNSCR 1820, there has been growing public recognition that Conflict-Related Sexual Violence is used as a weapon of war against women and girls – and increasingly against men and boys. Sexual violence perpetuates conflict and instability. Its long-term, destructive nature has devastating effects, not only on survivors of this crime but on entire communities.

As a political and military Alliance, NATO recognises that sexual violence in conflict is not only a gross violation of human rights—it is also a real and persistent security challenge. This violence has consequences that increase the costs and complexities of armed conflict, rendering the prospects for peace and stability far more difficult. Wartime rape fuels displacement, weakens governance, and destabilizes communities, thereby inhibiting post-conflict reconciliation and imperiling long-term stability.

Despite the adoption of resolutions, policies and guidelines, Conflict-Related Sexual Violence is not only a persistent problem, it is evolving and growing. And as we have seen, it is increasingly used as a tactic of terrorism. State and non-state armed actors have used and continue to use sexual violence to intimidate, to terrorize, to displace and destroy. They see this tactic as both potent and profitable.

Mr President,

NATO’s core mission over the last 72 years has been to safeguard freedom and security. Our work on protection of civilians is key to this mission. Over the years we have put in place polices, doctrine and capacity building tools to enhance our ability to better protect populations at risk. We are shaping a human security approach to our work, including through our policies on Protection of Civilians and Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings.   We have military guidelines on Preventing and Responding to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, and we are in the process of drafting a formal NATO Policy to bolster the political foundation on which this vital work stands.

Conflict-Related Sexual Violence continues to pose significant threats to global peace and security. It is a threat to its victims as well as to our core values of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. We have a moral and operational imperative to address it.

We recognise that understanding and responding to the grievous, systematic sexual abuse of women and girls in and around conflict is mission critical and essential to our operational effectiveness. We understand that sexual violence does not have to be an inevitable consequence of conflict. And we understand that we can help to drive change.

The adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467 acknowledges that structural gender inequality and discrimination are the root causes of sexual violence, affirming the necessity of the participation and empowerment of women as the only viable route to sustainable peace and security.

NATO has taken up the Women, Peace and Security agenda and, over the years, our contributions to this work have grown, including in our understanding of the critical connections between gender equality and sustainable peace. We know that sexual violence does not happen in a vacuum. We recognise that we cannot combat this heinous crime if we do not understand the inequalities that lead to the destruction of women’s rights and their bodies.

Only by working closely with affected communities, including women’s groups, can we accurately and proactively identify Conflict-Related Sexual Violence threats, and identify essential early warning signs in areas of risk. Gender equality and the strengthening of women’s empowerment must be at the centre of every protection activity.

 There can be no protection without participation.

Developing and maintaining high standards for ourselves is crucial, and encouraging high standards in other militaries around the world is also essential. We have worked with many of our partner countries, strengthening our training on human rights and the protection of civilians, including against Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. And this is key – ridding the world of this blight will take concerted, cooperative effort among all committed to peace and security.

We have reaffirmed our international obligations to protecting women, girls, men and boys from sexual violence, and highlighted the need to develop further political and operational guidance on how to respond to this heinous crime, including in relation to reporting.

The scourge of sexual violence in and around conflict remains a pressing global challenge. Despite the definitions, resolutions, commitments, endorsements and financing dedicated to eradicating sexual violence, this intolerable crime continues in numerous conflicts around the world today, where the bodies of so many women and men, girls and boys are co-opted as part of the battlefield. It demoralises, destabilizes, and destroys individuals, communities, and societies around the world.

Mr President,

Preventing and responding to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence is not just a moral duty; it is critical to achieving durable peace and security. Actions that NATO has taken have made a real difference. But we all have a responsibility to do even more.

That is why NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has highlighted the importance of reinforcing our policy framework to strengthen the political foundation for our continued commitment to eliminating sexual violence in conflict. This is an urgent task to create the conditions for security that will allow everyone to live free from abuse and violence.

Ultimately in tackling sexual violence in conflict, we do more than help individual victims; we set the tone for the respect for fundamental dignities and human rights that is the basis for freedom and essential for peace. By doing this we can lay a foundation for lasting stability – a foundation that we can all play a part in building.

Thank you.