Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Security Council, Open Debate on
Women, peace and security: Sexual Violence in Conflict
New York, 23 April 2019
My Delegation would like to thank the German Presidency for convening today’s Open Debate to consider Sexual Violence in Conflict.
This topic is sadly all too familiar to the Members of this Council. Reports of the Secretary General, informing of crisis situations, refer regularly to crimes of sexual violence. Used as a weapon of war to subjugate and humiliate victims and cause them physical, emotional and psychological harm, sexual violence also has profoundly negative impacts on the communities to which victims belong and from which, sometimes, they find themselves ostracized. Far too often rape, gang rape and other forms of sexual violence, including unspeakable crimes committed against children and infants, happen when the rule of law is weak or non-existent and when there is no respect for principles of humanitarian law. What is more, impunity is often the norm and consequently victims are often afraid to speak out. The silence must be broken. We cannot remain indifferent when such widespread cruelty is inflicted on the innocent. Impunity must give way to accountability, so that there can be justice and reparation.
The landmark Resolution 1325 demands that parties in armed conflict take special measures to protect women and girls from violence, particularly from rape and other forms of sexual abuse. It also calls for the participation and full involvement of women in all efforts to maintain and promote peace and security. One way indeed in which women and girls can help lay the foundations for durable peace and justice is when their own voices are heard. In particular, survivors of conflict-related sexual violence should be considered experts; their pain should be acknowledged, their strength recognized and their wisdom harnessed.
In today’s world where conflicts are protracted and complex, terrorist organizations and other non-State actors, including criminal gangs, have committed crimes of sexual violence on a massive scale. We know, however, that these are regrettably not the only perpetrators of such crimes. Members of armed forces and even some of those who serve under the UN flag, sent to serve the noble cause of peace and security, have, in some instances, added to the misery and suffering of the most vulnerable and fragile populations. My Delegation notes with appreciation the initiatives to prevent and combat sexual abuse in UN Peacekeeping operations, including through specialized training of personnel with the specific aim to reduce risks in host countries through campaigns to enhance sensitivity, promote respect for the dignity of others and encourage populations to speak up.
Those who have suffered conflict-related sexual violence are victims at multiple levels. They are burdened by war and then condemned to carry the marks of this trauma in their own person. Their educational, developmental and other basic needs are often not being met. Among the victims are also men and boys; a reality so taboo in some cultures and contexts that it is hidden, shrouded in even greater silence. To add insult to injury, in many cases, victims are afraid to speak out for fear of being shunned by their own communities, making their plight even more desperate.
Discussion on this delicate topic inevitably raises the equally sensitive question of children conceived and born as a result of sexual violence in conflict. The human rights of these children need to be respected and even guaranteed, as for any other child. It is the view of the Holy See that these young, innocent lives should be welcomed, cherished and given the means necessary to flourish and reach their full human potential; these children need to be supported and loved, not shamed, stigmatized or banished — or worse still denied the most basic right to exist and be born. The fate of these children needs specific attention and programs should be put into place that guarantee their protection, as well as foster healing, reconciliation and full integration.
Sexual violence in conflict, be it against women or men, girls or boys, is unacceptable. Parties to conflict should be made aware that such egregious acts can never be weapons of war or considered its spoils.
Our hope is that today’s Open Debate and the attention it brings to the subject will give more space to survivors and victims to come forward to find healing and hope through the recognition of their personal dignity, and to see established more robust mechanisms to bring those who have committed violations against them to justice.
I thank you, Mr. President.