May 15, 2017
Open Debate on Women and Peace and Security: Sexual Violence in Conflict

Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
United Nations

United Nations Security Council Open Debate on
Women and Peace and Security: Sexual Violence in Conflict

 New York, 15 May 2017

Mr. President,

The Holy See thanks the Presidency of Uruguay for bringing this unsettling topic to an open debate in this Chamber and thus to the entire International Community.

My Delegation wishes to thank the United Nations Secretary-General for his latest report on conflict-related sexual violence (S/2017/249), which describes the horrendous impact these crimes have on women and girls and on entire communities.

The term “conflict-related sexual violence” covers a wide range of sexual violence, including rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced sterilization, forced marriage, as well as trafficking in persons when perpetrated in situations of conflict for the purpose of sexual violence or exploitation.

As appalling and criminal as these forms of sexual violence are, my Delegation wishes to draw specific attention to the use of sexual violence in conflict as a tactic of terrorism. The motives behind this particularly heinous crime, enumerated in the Secretary-General’s report, is a litany of evil and includes: incentivizing recruitment of terrorists, terrorizing and displacing populations, forcing conversions through marriage, suppressing women’s fundamental rights, generating revenues through sex trafficking, extorting ransoms from desperate families, giving women and girls as war spoils to compensate fighters who are then entitled to resell or to exploit them as they wish, and using women and girls as human shields and suicide bombers.[1]  The immeasurable suffering of so many women, who continue today to be victims of such cruelty, cannot but put fire under our feet to spur us all to action.

The Holy See therefore appeals to the International Community through this Council to give priority to this particularly horrendous violence against women and children. There is no need of further evidence to document that women and girls are being specifically targeted as a tactic in order to incite fear, crush their will, and generate revenues for the terror machine. Pope Francis has reminded the diplomatic community that we must not overlook this horrendous crime of rape in conflict, which is “a most grave offense against the dignity of women, who are not only violated in body but also in spirit, resulting in a trauma hard to erase and with effects on society as well.”[2]

In the face of these heinous crimes, there exists, first for States and then for the International Community, a grave responsibility to protect those who are exposed to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. The International Community is called upon to “encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility.”[3] Conflict-related sexual violence and, in particular, sexual violence as an instrument of terrorism, undoubtedly fall within this pressing and profound responsibility to protect. The prevailing impunity of those who have committed these crimes clearly illustrates the urgency of fulfilling this duty.

The urgent need to act in order to spare women and girls from becoming the prey of such atrocious tactics in conflicts should accompany and even embolden the States’ common efforts and resolute will to bring conflicts to an end and to adopt coordinated solutions through dialogue and mediation efforts, as well as post-conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation measures. There is no need to recall also that the role of women in such an endeavor is essential. It should not be an afterthought or considered simply as something politically correct, but rather as an indispensable contribution to all our peace and security efforts to spare our world from further scourges of war and violence.

Mr. President,

A week ago, Pope Francis, once again, warned that a “culture of destruction” has spread throughout the world and that we are experiencing a “new massacre” of men, women and children who suffer and die due to war and migration, or who are exploited for personal interests.[4]  In response to this culture of violence, the world, especially women and girls whose dignity is being savagely violated, looks to this Council for hope and action. Let us remember their faces and show them by our action that they do not hope in vain.

Thank you, Mr. President.
1. (S/2017/249), para 8-15.
2. Pope Francis, Address to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 12 January 2015.
3. 2005 World Summit Outcome n. 138.
4. Pope Francis, Audience to Students of the National Coordination of Local Governments of Local Governments for Peace and Human Rights, Vatican, 6 May 2017.